Fandor Focus: Slashers of the 1980s

by Jake Rubenstein   

Often considered one of the most infamous subgenres within the scope of horror, or perhaps even cinema as a whole, the slasher film is best known for involving a killer that stalks and murders a group of people (most commonly teenagers), usually by utilizing a wide variety of bladed tools. Although we saw early iterations of the slasher film through classics such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), it wasn’t until the success of John Carpenter’s masterpiece known as Halloween (1978), that history saw the rise of the slasher. Steadily throughout the 1980s, the success of the subgenre began to climb as more-and-more production companies began to see the big box office numbers that these low-budget films were raking in.  

During this time, we saw the birth of an onslaught of highly success franchises including the likes of: Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Child’s Play (1988). But with their rolling success, the powers that be along with parents alike began to criticize these films for excessive violence, nudity, and disturbing sequences that were deemed too intense for the average viewer, ultimately resulting in the crack down on these grime-filled pictures from ratings boards from across the globe. In these situations, filmmakers were granted no other option other than to alter their pictures, otherwise the work would be deemed unacceptable to screen in theatrical settings. Many of these films eventually had to tone down their blood-soaked gore sequences in order to gain financial success, but thankfully some of these filmmakers saw the value in their art by opting out of a rating, and sticking to the grindhouse theaters of 42nd Street and elsewhere. This weekend in honor of these egregious pictures, Fandor will be showcasing three gore-tastic slashers that are not for the faint of heart.  

Edge of the Axe (1988). Serving as the middle entry into Spanish director José Ramón Larraz’s slasher trilogy, Edge of the Axe has clear intentions that start right from the get-go. The film opens with a shocking sequence in which a nurse is viciously murdered by Charlie the axe-wielding maniac, ultimately setting the malicious tone for the remainder of the film’s duration. With Charlie leaving a trail of terror with no end in sight, do you have the courage to witness the atrocities that took place in the picturesque Northern Californian community of Paddock County?  

Although the killer leaves a blood-soaked trail throughout the 90-minute runtime, what differentiates Edge of the Axe from the rest of the herd is the psychological and emotional layers to the picture. Much to my surprise, the film manages to successfully explore the complexities of relationship dynamics and trauma as they pertain to the development of a serial killer. Now streaming on Fandor, Larraz’s Edge of the Axe features twists and turns that will leave you guessing up until the film’s final moments, while simultaneously serving as one of the penultimate Spanish entries into the slasher subgenre, alongside Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon (1981), and Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces (1982).  

The Mutilator (1984). Within the context of the 1980s slasher film, none really hit quite the same stride as Buddy Cooper’s cult classic known as The Mutilator (or maybe even Fall Break to some). Hence the title, it is no surprise that the film is filled with extreme gore and violence, but what really fascinates me about The Mutilator is the exploration of relationship dynamics between a father and son, in the wake of family tragedy. This narrative is immediately developed from the opening sequence in which Big Ed (Jack Chatham) nearly kills his son, Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler), for committing accidental matricide on his mother’s birthday. With their relationship soured as a result of the incident, the film then fast-forwards a number of years to when Ed Jr. receives a mysterious request from Big Ed to close up his Atlantic Beach condo for the Winter season.  

Ultimately, Ed Jr. manages to persuade his girlfriend and some fellow classmates to head up to Atlantic Beach with him, with Big Ed’s bloody revenge soon to follow. Once reaching the condo, Ed Jr.’s friends start to get picked off one-by-one through provocative kill sequences, that are both disturbing and extremely vicious in intent. Filled with ghoulish gore effects, popcorn thrills, and a catchy theme song that is extremely reminiscent of a 1980s American sitcom, The Mutilator serves as a quintessential 80s indie horror masterpiece that slashed its way into my heart, and will surely do the same for you.  

The Slayer (1982).  In 1984, Wes Craven shocked the world with the creation of his frightening dream slayer, Freddy Krueger, in the masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street, but did you know that another slasher had previously explored the concept of a killer committing their malicious acts through an individual’s dreams? J.S. Cardone’s The Slayer serves as an eerie thriller in which our protagonist Kay (Sarah Kendall), is haunted by nightmarish visions of brutal killings while vacationing on a remote island, that soon become all too real.  

Admittedly, the film does have its slow moments, but easily makes up for them with bone-chilling kill sequences, nail-biting suspense, and extremely haunting atmosphere. Much like other slasher films and giallo pictures of the era, The Slayer plays into its mysterious elements through the utilization of a whodunnit plot, in which a majority of the kills do not reveal the identity of the killer. As the kill count unfolds on this remote island, Kay begins to question the divide between fantasy and reality as she tries to escape the grips of this supernatural stalker. Now streaming on FandorThe Slayer is a must-see entry into the subgenre that would serve the perfect amount of bloody suspense for any dark and dreary evening. 

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