We here at RT went deep into the vault of horror franchises to tally up the victims of some of film and TV’s most deadly psycho killers. Take a peek at the results — if you dare!

 


Norman Bates  – Psycho (1960) 96%

Norman-Bates

Haunting Grounds: Bates Motel
Estimated Body Count: 20
Has there ever been a cinematic slasher more pitiable than Norman Bates? The poor guy is practically at war with himself, and his mom nags him from beyond the grave. Heck, every time he makes friends, they seem to end up dead. If Psycho exerted a profound influence on the slasher genre (and onscreen violence in general), it wasn’t because Norman was a particularly prolific killer. Alfred Hitchcock’s original (and the sequels) depicted a man in the clutches of inner torment and madness that was so gripping and scary that it didn’t need buckets of blood (or, in one memorable case, chocolate syrup) to be deeply unsettling.  Nine deaths are attributed to Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) on the five-season AMC prequel TV series Bates Motel. But, really, who can say for sure?

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THE CREEPER – Jeepers Creepers (2001) 46%

creeper

Haunting Grounds: The Jeepers Creepers series
Estimated Body Count: 20
When Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer wrote “Jeepers Creepers” in the late 1930s, they surely never guessed their snappy little pop ditty would go on to provide the theme song for a murderous winged creature who possesses a bee- and dog-like ability to smell fear, and who can regenerate body parts by ingesting those of his victims. And that’s not all — the Creeper can also overcome overwhelmingly negative reviews, too! Although critics kept 2001’s Jeepers Creepers from a Fresh certification, the Creeper was back just two years later with a sequel, and there was even talk of a third installment. Not bad for a bad guy who’s limited to a single 23-day feeding frenzy every 23 years, right?

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THE THING – The Thing (1982) 82%

The-Thing

Haunting Grounds: The Thing from Another World, The Thing, The Thing
Estimated Body Count: 20
Human beings have long wondered what otherworldy monstrosities might be lurking out in the far reaches of space, which helps to explain the enduring appeal of John W. Campbell’s 1938 short story, Who Goes There? It’s the tale of an Antarctic research team that unwittingly rescues a malevolent alien from an icy grave. The creature repays the favor by forcibly (and messily) assimilating every living being within reach, including 20 unlucky scientists and a handful of dogs. Campbell’s monster — referred to as the Thing — has provided rich fodder for filmmakers over the decades, inspiring 1951’s The Thing from Another World, John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic The Thing, and, most recently, the 2011 prequel/reboot of the same name.

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JAWS – Jaws (1975)

Jaws

Haunting Grounds: The Jaws series
Estimated Body Count: ~21, if you count the whale in Jaws 2
Most of the slashers on our list are bona fide film icons, but few of them can boast of having changed the entire industry the way Peter Benchley’s great white shark did: Before Jaws‘ 1975 debut, studios actually held their big films out of the summer market, believing the vacation months to be a commercial graveyard. Almost $500 million (and lots of bloody ocean water) later, a franchise was born — and although the third and fourth installments aren’t good for much besides unintentional humor, the original remains a certified classic with a 98 percent Tomatometer rating. Granted, the kill count here takes into consideration the havoc wreaked by multiple great whites over the course of the franchise, but it merely illustrates what Benchley already knew: the ocean is scary enough even without a gigantic bloodthirsty shark chasing you around, so tossing one in the mix just ups the ante.

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LEATHERFACE – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) 89%

Leatherface

Haunting Grounds: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series
Estimated Body Count: 30
The twisted true-life tale of grave robber Ed Gein has inspired many notable cinematic grotesques, from Norman Bates in Psycho to Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. However, Tobe Hooper may have done the most to immortalize Gein in the annals of perverse pop culture by emphasizing his habit of making clothing out of human flesh. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduced Leatherface, a developmentally disabled fellow under the control of his cannibalistic family. Though he started out as a pretty timid guy who was as afraid of visitors as they were of him, Leatherface came out of his shell in the sequels and reboots, making up for lost time in liberally employing his Poulan 306A.

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PINHEAD – Hellraiser (1987) 72%

PinheadHaunting Grounds: The Hellraiser series
Estimated Body Count: 35
By the late 1980s, the slasher genre was starting to feel a little stale — and then along came Pinhead, the sadomasochistic leader of the extradimensional pack of hooligans known as the Cenobites. The spike-headed hook fetishist wasn’t featured heavily in 1987’s Hellraiser, but Pinhead’s combination of creepy appearance, selective taste for victims, and clear fondness for gruesome torture stole the movie; throughout the eight-film series (four of which were released straight to DVD), Pinhead has remained the only constant, and for good reason: although his body count may be relatively low, no one else can match his prowess with a sharp, well-placed hook.

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CHUCKY – Child's Play (1988) 71%

ChuckyHaunting Grounds: The Child’s Play series
Estimated Body Count: ~38
Chucky may have devolved into a pint-sized Tony Clifton at this point, but the original Child’s Play was a superior genre piece — creepy, suspenseful, and blessed with an insidious sense of humor. Child’s Play riffed on the idea of innocence gone horribly wrong, with a quasi-Cabbage Patch Kid embodied by a vicious serial killer thanks to a voodoo ritual. Subsequent sequels — the most recent of which, Curse of Chucky, just recently made its way onto home video — have delivered more camp than scares, but Chucky’s left a trail of more than 35 corpses in his wake — and probably didn’t enamor himself to Teddy Ruxpin.

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FREDDY KRUEGER – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) 95%

Freddy-KruegerHaunting Grounds: The Nightmare on Elm Street series
Estimated Body Count: ~39
Arguably the most recognizable movie monster of the 1980s, Freddy Krueger may not be able to compete with other horror icons when it comes to killing in bulk. But the dermatologically-challenged Elm Street resident certainly wins points for style; in addition to his expert use of claw-tipped leather gloves, Freddy is adept at shape-shifting, strangulation, and generating geysers of blood from the bodies of future heartthrobs. Even accounting for the various forms Freddy has taken over the years in his efforts to turn the sweetest dreams dark and bloody, we’ve got his kill count somewhere in the vicinity of 39. That might be fewer than one might expect, but Mr. Krueger is an artiste who chooses his victims very specifically.

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FATE – Final Destination (2000) 35%

Final-Destination-2Haunting Grounds: The Final Destination series
Estimated Body Count: 39
Remember the old margarine commercials that said you can’t fool Mother Nature? Well, according to the Final Destination series, you can’t cheat Fate, either. It’s often said that revenge is a dish best served cold — but for the unseen hand of Fate, it tastes even better when garnished with a series of incredibly brutal (and, it must be said, very morbidly entertaining) booby traps. The series’ unseen antagonist has dispatched 39 victims, using everything from the mundane (death by falling brick) to the cleverly rewind-worthy (shower cord strangulation, ladder through the eye, death by falling cherry picker). By the time we surpassed The Final Destination and got Final Destination 5, the series was clearly aware of its silly appeal, and each creatively choreographed death was equally as hilarious as it was cringeworthy.

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GHOSTFACE – Scream (1996) 79%

GhostfaceHaunting Grounds: The Scream franchise, Scream (TV series)
Estimated Body Count: 49
One of the rare slasher antagonists who’s a killer by committee, the Scream series’ Ghostface is played by a revolving door of mask-donning, knife-wielding psychopaths. Their motives are different (peer pressure, revenge, etc.), but the results are the same, no matter who wears the Edward Munch-inspired getup: teenagers will turn up dead, following the conventions of horror movies. And, as with other horror franchises, the body count increases with each sequel. Adding to the mayhem was the first season of MTV’s Scream, which aired this summer. All in all, this council of killers is responsible for at least 49 slayings.

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LEPRECHAUN – Leprechaun (1993) 27%

LeprechaunHaunting Grounds: The Leprechaun series
Estimated Body Count: 50
The Leprechaun series is the embodiment of the finest that Irish culture and letters has to offer, easily surpassing the works of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. The titular antihero is murderously committed to acquiring a pot o’ gold, an undertaking that prompts travel to such exotic locales as Las Vegas, Compton, and outer space. Despite his diminutive stature, the Leprechaun’s super-sharp claws and teeth have helped him tally 50 onscreen fatalities, including a very young Jennifer Aniston, who made her big screen debut in the first film.

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JIGSAW – Saw (2004) 51%

JigsawHaunting Grounds: The Saw series
Estimated Body Count: 60
John Kramer was first christened “Jigsaw” by detectives who discovered the serial killer’s calling card was a puzzle piece-shaped hunk of flesh carved from the corpses of his victims. The name stuck as the cops closed in on Kramer and realized his elaborate, irony-laden traps were designed to punish those he deemed guilty of criminal acts or taking life for granted (he must have been a fan of Se7en). More characters and plot twists (Jigsaw doesn’t work alone! Something about cancer!) were introduced as the series wore on, and Saw evolved into a labyrinthine annual soap opera drenched in blood and agony. A Grand Guignol for our times.

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HANNIBAL LECTER – The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 96%

Haniibal-Lecter

Haunting Grounds: Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising, Hannibal (TV)
Estimated Body Count: 98
Before 1991, you may not have even known what fava beans were — but after Anthony Hopkins’ first appearance as Doctor Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, nobody ever thought of them the same way again. Like Jason Voorhees, Lecter doesn’t appear in much of the famous reboot — he’s only in a little over 15 minutes of Lambs — but it was the first time we actually witnessed the good doctor rack up a few kills on screen (both Manhunter and its remake Red Dragon only imply Lecter’s murdered some folks), and audiences had a clear, um, appetite for the flesh-craving serial killer’s brand of mayhem: he’s gone on to appear in a number of other books and movies. Although we just saw the end of Hannibal‘s three-season run on NBC, series creator Bryan Fuller insists we haven’t seen the last of Lecter just yet.

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MICHAEL MYERS – Halloween (1978) 96%

Michael-Meyers
Haunting Grounds: The Halloween series, minus Season of the Witch
Estimated Body Count: ~107
The best-known escapee of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, Michael Myers has never been a big fan of babysitters, nor is he particularly fleet of foot. He digs Blue Oyster Cult, and makes special use of Star Trek paraphernalia and kitchen cutlery. Since the release of John Carpenter’s landmark Halloween, Myers’ legend has been told in a number of sequels, and if his reasons for killing are obscure, he’s still coldly efficient at the task; he’s racked up a whopping 100-plus notches on his belt.

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THE INVISIBLE MAN – The Invisible Man (1933) 94%

InvisibleManBodyCount
Haunting Grounds: The Invisible Man (1933)
Estimated Body Count: 123
We were shocked (shocked!) to discover that killers with high body counts could even be found in Old Hollywood fare. Based on the H.G. Wells 1897 novel, James Whale’s pre-code horror film featured Claude Rains (Casablanca) in his American film debut as the titular villain, also known as Dr. Jack Griffin. Hiding away in a snowy village, Griffin experiments on himself while working on a drug called “monocane,” which he believes is the secret to invisibility. Although he does succeed in turning himself invisible, he also becomes a crazed murderer. Killing those who get in his way, and a train full of people just for kicks, Griffin eventually causes the death of 123 people – including himself.

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JASON VOORHEES – Friday the 13th (1980) 63%

HalloweenHaunting Grounds: The Friday the 13th series
Estimated Body Count: 146
Rocking facial protection that would do Jacques Plante proud, Jason Voorhees terrorized Camp Crystal Lake with cold precision (and an ability to cheat death that Rasputin would envy) in Friday the 13th. Occasionally, he breaks out of the bucolic confines of the countryside to wreak havoc in the big city (Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan), Hades (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday), and the future (Jason X). According to our research, Jason has put a whopping 146 unfortunate souls on ice. Pretty impressive for a cat who drowned in 1958.

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En español: Read this article in Spanish at Tomatazos.com.

After a blockbuster detour with Furious 7, director James Wan returns to his horror roots for like the fifth time in his career with The Conjuring 2, which follows Conju-Uno‘s Ed and Lorraine Warren into their next really true scary case. The original 2013 film was a Certified Fresh smash for Wan and company, notable because it’s rare for horror movies to get Fresh Tomatometer scores, and even rarer for their franchise sequels. So the fact Conjuring 2 is drawing sorta the same praise as its predecessor…well, that inspires this week’s gallery: 24 best-reviewed horror sequels!

It’s shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the home video choices this week are rather slim; most studios try to make sure they have all of their best stuff ready to go before Christmas, naturally. With that in mind, we bring you an abbreviated edition of RT on DVD, focusing on just five new releases that are hitting shelves. For those of you who are also avid television-watchers, some items of interest we won’t be covering include Season 2 of the animated series Archer, the first seasons of two Showtime dramas The Borgias and Shameless, and the first season of IFC sitcom The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, which stars Arrested Development alumni David Cross and Will Arnett. That said, we will be covering two horror movies, a raunchy comedy, a Romanian film, and a fascinating documentary. See below for the full list!



Final Destination 5

62%

If you were a tad bit surprised at the release of yet another Final Destination film, we can’t blame you, considering the last installment was titled The Final Destination. Then again, the horror genre is notorious for reviving franchises thought to be dead and buried. No, the real surprise here? That Final Destination 5 actually managed to get the best reviews of any the franchise’s films. This time around, a bunch of coworkers are saved from a collapsing bridge when one of them has an eerie premonition, and Death (note the capital D) slowly hunts them down, one by one. At 60%, FD5 is the only film of the series to earn a Fresh rating, and those who liked it say that, while it’s still mostly for established fans, the flashes of dark humor and creative death sequences make it more enjoyable overall. In other words, perfect for new year’s celebrations.



Apollo 18

23%

On paper, Apollo 18 sounds pretty awesome: it’s purportedly found footage of an ill-fated lunar mission in which a pair of astronauts discover a deadly secret. So what went wrong? Well, critics found Apollo 18 to be — gasp! — kinda boring; despite some eerily suspenseful images, the movie takes way too long to achieve liftoff. Apollo 18 is the only surviving footage of NASA’s final moon mission — a mission that went so horribly wrong that the U.S. Government has denied its existence ever since. But what did those intrepid explorers find on earth’s only satellite? If you’re curious, check out the new Apollo 18 Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy set, which also includes deleted scens and audio commentary from director Gonzalo López-Gallego.



A Good Old Fashioned Orgy

35%

Saturday Night Live mainstay Jason Sudeikis has been busy this year, starring in three ensemble comedies; unfortunately, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy is the worst of them (albeit by a small margin). The story revolves around a group of 30-something friends, who typically spend their weekends partying at the home of their buddy Eric (Sudeikis). When Eric’s parents decide to sell off the house, the gang decides to throw one last bash, i.e. the titular orgy. Unfortunately, critics say the film fails to live up to the promise of its outrageous title, with lazy writing, indifferent acting, and just a handful of laughs. At 31%, you’re probably better off looking for raunchy kicks elsewhere.



Tuesday, After Christmas

74%

We promise: it’s mere coincidence that Tuesday, After Christmas will be releasing on Tuesday, after Christmas. The Romanian film is, as noted by its promotional materials, the latest to come from an emerging cinematic movement in the country that has already brought us 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (95% Tomatometer) and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (93% Tomatometer). While Tuesday doesn’t quite measure up to those two, critics say the film, about a family dealing with the repercussions of the husband’s infidelity, is nevertheless a subtly and superbly acted, with help from a smart script. At 74%, Tuesday, After Christmas may not blow your mind, but it’s a solid domestic drama for those looking to brood a little this holiday season.



Buck

90%

Remember that Robert Redford movie The Horse Whisperer? Yep, that was loosely based on a real guy, and the remarkable documentary Buck tells his story. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Buck Brannaman’s life never followed a script — director Cindy Meehl demonstrates that Buck’s remarkable patience and wisdom was incredibly hard fought. The man who trains horses like nobody else was the victim of child abuse for many years, but Buck endured, and testimonials to his gentle teaching methods — including high praise from Redford himself — help to make Buck, Certified Fresh at 87%, an inspiring documentary.

This week at the movies, we’ve got deadly premonitions (Final Destination 5, starring Nicholas D’Agosto and Emma Bell); a wacky bank heist (30 Minutes or Less, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Danny McBride); societal change (The Help, starring Viola Davis and Emma Stone); and Gleek mania (Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, starring Lea Michele and Chris Colfer). What do the critics have to say?



Final Destination 5

62%

Listen up, Final Destination fans: we’ve got good news, and we’ve got bad news. The good news first: the critics say Final Destination 5 is probably the best entry in the series, with tense, well-crafted set pieces that provide some welcome freshness to the franchise’s signature Rube Goldberg-esque kills. The bad news: critical success is relative here, since the Final Destination movies aren’t exactly rife with interesting characters or tight plotting. Once again, a group of attractive young people survive a horrible disaster (this time on a collapsing bridge) and once again the hand of fate picks them off in diabolical ways. However, this time there’s an interesting twist: if those marked for death can kill some random innocent person, they can delay the Grim Reaper’s scythe. The pundits say Final Destination 5 boasts better craftsmanship and more genuine suspense than previous installments, but it’s still bogged down by its devotion to formula, and the actors – game as they may be – are merely cogs in the machine. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we run down some of cinema’s most memorable dead teenager movies.)



30 Minutes or Less

45%

There are plenty of good movies about criminal ineptitude – check out the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre for examples — but it’s a thin line between riotous farce and grim villainy. And critics say 30 Minutes or Less never quite walks that tightrope — despite some maniacally funny scenes, it’s tonally all over the place, and never quite as tight as it should be. Based upon (pretty horrific) true events, 30 Minutes or Less tells the story of Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a pizza-delivery guy who’s forcefully enlisted to rob a bank with a bomb strapped to his chest by a pair of wannabe criminals. Thereafter, Nick must dodge the cops and the crooks while working out his personal problems. The pundits say 30 Minutes or Less has moments of absurd hilarity and some interesting twists, but it’s pretty uneven, jarringly shifting from goofy laughs to brutal violence to sentimentality without finding a consistent tone. (Check out Crime Doesn’t Pay, our feature on some of the dumbest criminals in the movies.)



The Help

Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling 2009 novel The Help, which chronicles the close relationship between three very different women in Jim Crow-era Mississippi, quickly became a book-club favorite, so a movie adaptation was inevitable. Fortunately, critics say The Help largely succeeds – it’s moving and heartfelt, and features such terrific acting that its missteps are easy to forgive. Aibileen (Viola Davis) works as a maid for white families and is mourning the recent death of her son; she’s close friends with Minny (Octavia Spencer), whose outspokenness has hurt her employability as a domestic. Meanwhile, Skeeter (Emma Stone), a well-to-do college grad and an aspiring writer, is troubled by the disappearance of the black maid who helped raise her, and turns to Aibileen and Minny to learn more about their underappreciated lives and labors. The pundits say The Help sometimes sugarcoats the ugliness of its era, but the performers – particularly Davis – are so outstanding that the film works as a poignant, inspirational tale of empathy and understanding.



Glee: The 3D Concert Movie

Glee has a dedicated primetime audience, and the songs from the show have dominated the pop charts. So how does the gang from McKinley High do in its big screen, three-dimensionally enhanced debut? Pretty well, say critics, who call Glee: The 3D Concert Movie an infectious, toe-tapping experience that successfully distills the show’s equal-opportunity exuberance for multiplex consumption. Glee documents the cast in performance at the Meadowlands, giving fans an up-close-and-personal view of the New Directions crew as they belt out pop favorites from the likes of Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, and, um, Men Without Hats. The Pundits say Glee may not convert nonbelievers into diehard Gleeks, but it’s still mightily entertaining, with plenty of showstopping songs, some backstage banter, and an egalitarian spirit that’s tough to resist.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Senna, a documentary about the life and death of the Formula One legend, is Certified Fresh at 94 percent.
  • Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, a documentary portrait of artist Anselm Kiefe and his large-scale works, is at 86 percent.
  • Scheherazade Tell Me a Story, about an Egyptian talk show host whose outspoken political views threaten her husband’s career, is at 83 percent.

  • Littlerock, an indie drama about a small town as seen through the eyes of a pair of Japanese tourists, is at 83 percent.

Final Destination 5

Cue another round of “truth in advertising” jokes, film fans: the fifth Final Destination hits theaters this week, bringing moviegoers one more round of screaming teenagers meeting their doom in a variety of fiendishly clever ways. Like the romantic comedy, we love to disparage the “dead teenager” movie (the term was famously coined by Roger Ebert as a pejorative for 1980s slasher flicks), but we clearly can’t get enough: some of Hollywood’s longest-lasting franchises (not to mention a few horror classics) have been built on the fresh corpses of teen characters who ran afoul of supernatural forces or homicidal maniacs. For this week’s Total Recall, we decided to take a look back at a few noteworthy examples from an often critically maligned — yet always quite popular — subgenre. Which ones made the (ahem) cut? Read on to find out!

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

76%

Cross Scream with The Blair Witch Project and you’ve got Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a mockumentary-style look at the trail of bloody terror left by a budding serial killer (Nathan Baesel) who’s so excited about his new career field that he invites a film crew along to watch him plan (and, ahem, execute) his dastardly deeds. “The dialogue has wit, and the rug gets pulled out from under us and the characters in several short, sharp jolts. At a certain point,” observed the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr, “Behind the Mask loses the tatty digital-video and immerses us in cinema.”

Carrie

Repressed sexuality, religious fundamentalism, peer pressure, high school cliques, bullying — Stephen King rolled them all into one tightly wound bundle of supernatural horror with his debut bestseller, and Brian De Palma brought it screaming to the screen with this 1976 adaptation. Starring Sissy Spacek as the miserably put-upon victim of her brutally vindictive peers — not to mention her lunatic mother (Piper Laurie) — Carrie includes some of the most memorable sequences in the genre, as well as what TIME’s Richard Schickel called “An exercise in high style that even the most unredeemably rational among moviegoers should find enormously enjoyable.”

Christine

69%

There’s nothing quite like the bond between a young man and his first car — especially when that car is a 1958 Plymouth Fury with a bloodthirsty evil spirit lurking under the hood. It’s kind of a silly premise, but it was explored effectively by Stephen King in his 1983 bestseller Christine — and, later the same year, by John Carpenter in the film adaptation, starring future Waking the Dead director (and noted cinematic nerd) Keith Gordon as Arnie Cunningham, a high school misfit who develops an unhealthy bond with the titular, murderous vehicle. But as much as Arnie loves Christine, the car loves him even more — which is why anyone who hassles him, including the pack of delinquents who vandalize her to teach him a lesson, soon tastes hot asphalt. “This is the kind of movie,” wrote an appreciative Roger Ebert, “where you walk out with a silly grin, get in your car, and lay rubber halfway down the Eisenhower.”

Evilspeak

Starring the redoubtable Clint Howard as a military school outcast who copes with his torment by using his computer to translate the Satanic texts of a long-dead priest (played by Richard Moll!), Evilspeak is an early ’80s masterpiece of so-bad-it’s-good horror. What can you say to a movie that includes a pentagram-flashing computer, supernatural black boars, a gratuitous shower scene, Clint Howard wielding Satan’s sword, and a puppy named Fred? Only that it is, in the words of Movie Gazette’s Anton Bitel, “a satisfying blend of Revenge of the Nerds and satanism.”

Final Destination

35%

By the year 2000, teenagers had been getting chased around by serial killers in movies for decades, and it was hard to imagine a new film coming along and bringing anything new to the dark, vicarious thrill of watching young malcontents run for their lives. And then came along James Wong’s Final Destination — which, if it didn’t put an entirely new spin on the genre, at least added a deranged layer of intricate art to the mayhem. Here, the villain isn’t a psychotic murderer or impossible-to-kill boogeyman — it’s actually Death himself, annoyed because a group of teens cheated him out of his due by getting off a plane before it explodes. Their punishment? A series of hands-over-eyes-worthy Death traps, unleashed with Rube Goldbergian panache. “There’s some mind-numbing dialogue as teenagers spout philosophical soundbites about Life and Death,” admitted Jumana Farouky of the Boston Phoenix, “but it’s worth the wait just to see a guy’s head sliced in half by a sheet of steel.”

Friday the 13th

63%

Its name has become synonymous with low-grade teen slashers, but before Friday the 13th was a franchise based on a lumbering goon who roamed with woods with a limitless supply of lives and an axe (or machete, or meat hook, or anything else he could use as a weapon) to grind, it was a cautionary fable about teen bullying, promiscuity, and the importance of swimming lessons. As Film Threat’s David Grove put it, “Long before Jason, and the endless machinations of dumb sequels, Friday the 13th represented the purest form of terror.”

Halloween

96%

It’s been one of the more thoughtlessly curated franchises in the genre, but before all the cheap sequels and the Rob Zombie reboot, John Carpenter’s Halloween scared the heck out of audiences — and earned almost universal praise from critics — with its smart, minimalistic, and utterly brutal take on the tale of a boy who grows up to be a silent, remorseless serial killer simply because he’s evil. Starring Donald Pleasance as the doctor who pursues the escaped Michael Myers, Jamie Lee Curtis as Myers’ screaming teen quarry, and future Major Payne director Nick Castle as Myers himself, this 1978 classic inspired Roger Ebert to write, “Halloween is an absolutely merciless thriller, a movie so violent and scary that, yes, I would compare it to Psycho.”

Idle Hands

15%

Blending Cheech and Chong-inspired stoner humor with a soap opera’s casually impermanent approach to death, Idle Hands is one of the more decidedly strange entries in the genre, but it does have a certain kooky charm. The tale of a lazy teen (Devon Sawa) whose right hand becomes possessed and goes on a killing spree, Hands features a pair of undead slackers, bit parts for Fred Willard and Connie Ray, and a final act that includes a scene where the evil disembodied hand is felled via hotboxing. It was not, in other words, a hit with most critics — although Slasherpool’s Andreas Samuelson praised it as “stupid, silly fun with a decent amount of gore and heavy dose of teen humor.”

I Know What You Did Last Summer

44%

Adding a slick dollop of 1990s style to the “mysterious campaign of bloody revenge for accidental death cover-up” motif previously explored in Prom Night, Jim Gillespie’s I Know What You Did Last Summer united some of the decade’s freshest young faces (including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze, Jr.) against a hook-wielding maniac. Of course, the kids did sort of start it when they ran over a guy and dumped his body in the ocean, but that didn’t make the movie any less enjoyable for the Sacramento Bee’s Joe Baltake, who wrote, “Teasing and taut, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a teen horror flick with a different kind of kick to it.”

The Lost Boys

77%

Dead teenagers, undead teenagers… for the purposes of our list, one’s as good as the other, especially if it means we get to pay tribute to Joel Schumacher’s oh-so-1980s teen vampire classic, The Lost Boys. Featuring an assortment of the era’s hottest young stars (including Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, and Coreys Feldman and Haim), Boys follows the adventures of a pair of brothers (Patric and Haim) who move to the fictional California paradise of Santa Carla, only to discover the darn place is infested with vampires. Fortunately, they meet the vampire-hunting Frog brothers (Feldman and Jamison Newlander), setting in motion a battle between good and evil that has carried over into a pair of sequels (and counting). “The Lost Boys is to horror movies what Late Night With David Letterman is to television,” wrote Caryn James of the New York Times. “It laughs at the form it embraces, adds a rock-and-roll soundtrack and, if you share its serious-satiric attitude, manages to be very funny.”

A Nightmare on Elm Street

95%

What’s freakier than a serial killer hunting down nubile teens and ripping them to shreds with the razor-tipped fingers of his gross homemade glove? Said serial killer doing it in their dreams. With its devilishly inventive premise, thrillingly gory kills, and a talented cast that included the up-and-coming Johnny Depp, Wes Craven’s original Nightmare on Elm Street proved that high school horror could be scary and smart. “There has never been a movie like it,” argued Cinemaphile’s David Keyes, “and there never will be.”

Scream

79%

Well, of course. Because if you’re going to send up the “dead teenagers” movie, who better to do it than the guy who directed one of its definitive classics? This Wes Craven-directed deconstruction of teen slasher flicks came along at a real low point for horror at the box office; fittingly, its sharp blend of bloody action and self-aware humor single-handedly revived the genre, spawning an ongoing franchise in the process. “Scream is a rarity,” wrote James Berardinelli for ReelViews, calling it “a horror movie spoof that succeeds almost as well at provoking scares as laughs.”

Sleepaway Camp

78%

Yeah, it’s a bloody teenage slasher flick that takes place at a summer camp and boasts a shocking twist ending, but Sleepaway Camp isn’t just a ripoff of 1980’s Friday the 13th — it’s actually got a certain sleazy charm of its own. And while its cheerfully low-budget legacy was besmirched somewhat by an increasingly jokey pair of sequels (starring Pamela Springsteen!), that doesn’t take away from the gory charm of what Antagony and Ecstasy’s Tim Brayton called “Not a particularly effective movie…but an exceptionally memorable one — one that lingers in the brain, disturbing and discomfiting.”

The Slumber Party Massacre

Teen slashers tend to come with descriptive titles, and Slumber Party Massacre fits into that tradition perfectly — there is, indeed, a slumber party, as well as a massacre. But if its title sort of spoils the plot, this 1982 cult classic isn’t without its surprises — including the fact that it was written and directed as a feminist parody of a thoroughly male-dominated genre. Unsurprisingly, the efforts of screenwriter Rita Mae Brown and director Amy Holden Jones sailed over the heads of the studio executives, who marketed the movie by unsubtly flaunting the cast’s most obvious, ahem, assets. Still, the point wasn’t lost on critics like Slant’s Nick Schager, who called it “A gruesome, T&A-filled feminist tract about female fears of mature male sexuality.”

Strange Behavior

80%

If for no other reason than the fact that it was originally titled Dead Kids, this pulp horror pastiche deserves a place on our list. Starring Michael Murphy as John Brady, an intrepid small-town policeman investigating the mysterious murders of several local teenage boys, Behavior admittedly ventures into some pretty silly sci-fi territory — and limps along under a plot that hinges on a few eyebrow-raising coincidences — but it’s stylishly creepy, and it gets bonus points for having Tangerine Dream on the soundtrack. While calling it “too frequently clumsy to be an unqualified success,” Janet Maslin of the New York Times praised Strange Behavior as “certainly a refreshing departure from the mass-produced Hollywood fare of the moment.”

Suspiria

93%

Long before the 1990s gave us a stylish coven of teenage witches in The Craft, Dario Argento mined the same territory — with bloodier and altogether more horrifying results — in 1977’s Suspiria. The disturbing tale of an American ballet student (Jessica Harper) who arrives in a prestigious German dance academy, only to discover that it’s under the control of an ancient sorceress named Helena Markos (played, according to Harper, by “a ninety-year-old ex-hooker Dario had found on the streets of Rome”), Suspiria kicked off Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy — and won praise from critics like the Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr, who argued, “Argento works so hard for his effects — throwing around shock cuts, colored lights, and peculiar camera angles — that it would be impolite not to be a little frightened.”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

89%

Poor Sally and Franklin Hardesty. All they wanted to do was check on their grandfather’s gravestone to make sure nobody was vandalizing it — they even enlisted some of their friends to come along for their thoughtful errand — and what did they get for their trouble? Chased around rural Texas by a chainsaw-wielding maniac and his cannibalistic, inbred family. No, being responsible family members didn’t work out so well for the Hardesty kids, but it paid bloody dividends for filmgoers — and for critics like Eye for Film’s Anton Bitel, who praised what he saw as “some of the most prolonged scenes of sustained panic ever captured by cinema” and wrote, “Hooper infects characters and viewers alike with the thrill of a madness from which there can be no real escape.”


Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Final Destination 5.

 

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