This is my eighth Halloween list on the site. I've been democratic to all countries, eras and genres, but at this point in my life, where free time seems impossible to come by, I only have time for the essentials, and for me, that means slashers. Below I offer to Samhain ten slashers that still really mean something to me and to this holiday. Ten slashers wherein, this busy time of year, I’ve found solace. I’ve been a member of this site since 2000, I’ve been writing reviews since 2002 and started doing yearly Halloween top tens since 2004. Considering I was only 17 when I signed up for these boards, that’s a significant chunk of my life writing horror. Throughout the years I’ve always tried to keep a varied and balanced top ten, offering a smattering of horror picks from different eras, countries and sub-genres to provide a little something for everyone. Over the years though, I’ve come to realize a few things. One is that with age comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes less time to watch horror movies. When I was in college I was watching at least one movie a day, usually significantly more than that. When I first started writing for the site I was pumping out reviews almost daily, to the point where Dave couldn’t even keep up posting them. It was a growing phase, a time when I just wanted to explore what was out there, regardless of the quality. Now I certainly value my time a lot more considering I have so little free time to enjoy. While I’d love to catch up on movements in 40s or 50s horror or significant contributions from Japan or Korea, more often than not I’m just wanting to sit down with something familiar. Something comfortable. That brings me to my other point: As someone who values a good review just as much as a good movie, I’ve learned that the best film criticism is not the most exhaustive or the most topical or the most scholarly. The best writing is the stuff that comes from the heart. Writing that shows the passion the writer has for a genre or a film, not merely how much he knows. With all this in mind, I’ve decided too to both return to my roots and to return to what I’m most passionate about for this year’s top ten list: The slasher film. My first official review for this site, back in June of 2002, was Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (check it out here on the old site). My original trial submission before that? The full frame DVD of Black Christmas. Some of my oldest memories are going with my father to the video store and scaring myself silly looking at the back of the Halloween and Friday the 13th VHS box covers trying to fathom the context of all those stills (poplar theory between me and my friends was that Jason had an alien son when Paramount put the still of Tommy’s alien mask collection on the back of the The Final Chapter box). The first horror movie I remember watching was Prom Night, and I had to sleep on the floor in my parents' room for a few days afterwards. Buying the 2-disc limited edition of Halloween on DVD was the impetus that got me to join this site. I love the sub-genre, that tried and true template, so much that even the bad slashers (and over the years I think I’ve seen more of those than good) are still good to me. By now we should all know and love all the good slashers that I started out writing about here, so below I offer to Samhain ten slashers that still really mean something to me and to this holiday. Ten slashers wherein, this busy time of year, I’ve found solace. 10. To All a Goodnight (1980) I spent two weekends this busy October filming a desolate horror western about a young man coming to terms with death. I came home and upon seeing the post about David Hess’s sudden passing, I had to deal with it myself. He’s played some of cinema’s most vile characters, but the difference is that he did it with such frank, unabashed confidence that he almost singlehandedly reinvented cinema’s notion of the horror villain as some kind of folk anti-hero. It’s tough to imagine feeling sympathy for Michael Myers or the Texas Chainsaw clan, or rooting along with a pederast in Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street without Hess’s Krug Stillo to pave the way. You won’t find any of Krug in the yuletide slasher, To All A Goodnight, but Hess infuses that kind of no-nonsense sensibility to his directing, starting with one of the fastest pre-credit death sequences you’re likely to see: someone dies four shots into the movie! So what if it’s set in December…as much as Halloween is a time for scares, it’s also a time for paying your respects. The whole custom of carving a jack-o-lantern, even, is based on the practice of hollowing a turnip into a lantern to remember the souls of those in purgatory. For his contributions to the genre, David Hess deserves nothing less, and there’s no title more fitting than his sole directorial credit. Goodnight, indeed. 9. Sledgehammer (1983) Maybe it’s because the white balance is all browned and messed up on this shot-on-video shocker, but somehow whenever I watch it I think October. That the killer wears a pretty ghastly clear mask that makes his heavyset frame look similarly mushy and melted also certainly helps sustain the illusion. Released on DVD for the first time earlier this year, Sledgehammer (not a Peter Gabriel slasher flick, as someone once surmised in jest on these boards) really deserves a good watch. Its director, David A. Prior, went on to do the very enjoyable aerobicide romp, Killer Workout a few years later, but it’s the weird, open shudder style here and uncompromising home interiors that really play to the strengths of the video format. As one of the first horror films shot entirely on video, it stands as an interesting footnote in cinema history, and unlike low rent oddities like Boardinghouse, this one is actually quite good. 8. Lady Stay Dead (1981) Part of what I love about Halloween is how you learn a lot about your culture just by seeing how people decorate their homes or themselves. In North America we often keep a lot of our feelings and judgments on the inside, but on this one day we externalize everything, dressing up as people we want to be, the things we fear, or the stereotypes we hold. Year in and year out, it’s a great barometer of where our culture is at. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I like all those Aussie slashers from the early eighties in the same sort of way. Next of Kin (a real gem, by the way) seems to really capture the rural life down under, while Nightmares and the dreadful The Day After Halloween provide a nice time capsule of Aussie urbanity. Lady Stay Dead, though, teaches us that Aussies know their sleaze, too. In what has to be one of the sleaziest openings of all time, we see the killer go at it with a blow up doll imagining it’s a (really bad) pop singer, all the while flashing back to previous conquests he had tied up in bondage. Nice. It also says a lot about their collective fears (or hopefully it doesn’t!) that the killer is some slight, bearded man with unassuming black rimmed glasses. The Aussies had quite the run with slasher pictures during the golden age, and Lady Stay Dead is certainly the nuttiest of the bunch and perhaps the best window into a different culture of all the English language slasher films from the time. 7. Scream (1981) There is no movie over the years that has left me so ambivalent as 1980’s Scream. On one hand it is inexplicably awful, with murders you never see, actors who never make any sense and a start and an end so maddening obtuse it’s likely to drive you insane. On the other it’s able to capture this spiritual omnipotence that makes it feel like all the ghouls of Halloween frozen in a physical space. Back to that ending, it has Woody Strode mumbling on about shipyards in the 19th century, and over all the times I’ve watched it the only time it about makes sense is now, when the horrors of the past – plagues, disease, death, are singled out and exorcised generation to generation through the spoken word in campfire tales and Halloween rituals. That the whole picture is set in a ghost town makes this even more apt for a Halloween revival. 6. Madman (1982) Speaking of campfire tales, there really are none better than the one told at the beginning of Madman (though the series-building mythology of Jason Voorhees first told ‘round the rocks in Friday the 13th, Part II certainly comes close). Introducing, and even conjuring, the film’s killer, the burly, axe wielding Madman Marz as a campfire legend gives the film this ageless, mythical presence that feels apropos on a holiday like October 31st. That it’s told with kind of a song just adds to the folk origins of our celebrated horror holiday. Other than John Carpenter’s surefire Hallows’eve treat, there’s no film I’ve revisited more on my Halloween top ten than this, a film that just gets better and better every time I watch it – even if the acting gets a little worse. But hey, what’s Halloween without bad acting - see how many trick or treaters convince you that they are who their mask tells you they are! 5. Bloodbeat (1985) Like this is another slasher that is set around Christmas, but looking at those brown, twiggy eastern exteriors, this is a movie that screams fall. And killers brought on by female masturbation. And a vengeful Samurai. In Wisconsin. You probably won’t find a weirder combination of killer and story than this one, but that’s what you get when you let the French direct slasher movies (see my #2 pick or the masturbation-friendly Haute Tension). That said, you probably won’t find the film at all, since it’s never been on DVD and it probably never will be. If you can though, it’s definitely worth a Halloween watch, one of those movies so outlandish and sincere at the same time that it makes the concept of little kids dressing like charred child molestors and coming to your door seem perfectly normal. 4. House of Death (1982) Even at its origins, where Celtic cultures would congregate to celebrate the end of the harvest, Halloween is essentially a chance to party with friends. And what friends you get when you watch House of Death. While the film itself is scattershot, albeit with a gratifyingly gory climax, the thing that keeps it going is the eclectic and engaging cast of characters. More than the allotment of amateurs that are usually brought together last minute for a horror film, this cast consists of a respectable stable of theatre actors, and what’s better, many had worked together the year before for the mystifyingly bizarre Christian capitalism parable cum period slasher A Day of Judgement. You can see how that familiarity brought a spark to their performances (as did probably the direction by respected studio actor David Nelson, who like Hess passed away this year), and it’s probably the only slasher (well, maybe Final Exam) where I’d recommend the performances over anything else. Since horror, especially slashers from the era, are so usually shot on low budgets, it’s always a rarity to ever see any of the cast work again, let alone work together on another horror film. But that’s what happened with A Day of Judgment and House of Death, and while I don’t even think Jesus Christ could like Judgement, House of Death is one of those fun romps that has a cast that wins you over before the killer wins out. 3. Night of the Demon (1980) As someone who doesn’t really get much of a fall in Canada, where the leaves blow off quick and snow blankets the ground most Octobers, I find myself vicariously living off any horror films set in leafy, wooded environments this time of year. Night of the Demon, just released on DVD by the crazies at Code Red, is one of those movies where the setting is inseparable from the rest of the film. That’s saying something, too, considering the movie features a scene with bigfoot ripping off a guy’s dick! As anthropology students trek deep into the wilderness to find bigfoot, that feeling of the outdoors, so tantamount to what fall is all about, really comes through here. That and most of the kills are told in flashback by the professor help once again solidify the notion that Halloween, and horror in general, is all about the telling. 2. Halloween 5 (1989) This one, like Madman, has made it in my top ten list before, but it was always with a bit of back peddling or defensive justification. For some reason, Halloween 5 has always been given a reputation by horror fans as a lesser sequel. No more. For all the praise the 4th gets, it suffers where it counts – the feeling and style just does not fit with the time. Shooting the film in the spring and using squashes to stand-in for pumpkins is one thing, but half the movie is set with a cool blue hue that feels more fitting for a bayou by starlight in the spring. The Return of Michael Myers also removes one of the central appeals of the genre, isolating victims for a killer hellbent on revenge. In Dwight Little’s film, it’s execution by committee throughout, with a lynch mob on the hunt for Michael and the rest of the people shacked up together in a big ol’ house. Not. Scary. Halloween 5, on the other hand, gets the intangibles so right – Michael’s mask is grungy and scary again (second only to the original, if you ask me), the color palette is back to oranges and browns, and Michael again returns to being a vulnerable byproduct of a broken health system rather than a Jason clone like he is in the 4th. As Bloodbeat and High Tension prove, French directors always make slasher movies awesome, and Dominique Othenin-Girard gives the film a nutty, outlandish style that really injects visual life into a film on its fourth sequel. The laundry chute sequence always gets a mention, but the car chase through the field near the end is also a wild ride. As much flack as Girard takes for bringing in the weird Thorne cult thing with the man in black, or the circus-music cops, he also elicits the best performances from Pleasence, who’s allowed to go full on batshit here, and Harris, who seems about ten years her age as she emotes through being a mute through half the film and crying through the rest. Right from the opening sequence, an ingenious set of close-ups of stabbings and cuttings later revealed to be a voracious carving of a pumpkin, this is a film of manic, unbridled energy. Having revisited the entire franchise this fall, I can say that this is the sequel that stands up best. It’s about time it starts getting the respect it deserves. 1. Sleepaway Camp (1983) I am absolutely in love with fall in the east coast. Our own Jeremy bemoans leaving the seasons behind in Maine as he basks year after year in the California sun, and I get what he means. Those New Jersey autumn colors of burgundy, earthy green and flavescent yellow are absolutely stunning during the canoe reprieve at the end of the original Friday the 13th. Even better for me, though, are the scenes in Sleepaway Camp. Even if it’s supposed to be a summer camp, the leaves have clearly changed, and in that wonderful opening credit sequence post-trauma, the camera pans across emptied buildings, a blowing wind and children as they run from their bunks. Since the film “boils” down to one brutal treatise on sexual dysfunction, that memorably scenic opening can be said to be a changing of the seasons. Innocence lost. Much more than the setting though, Sleepaway Camp is one of those rare movies that just works on every level. It’s got wild characters, wilder dialogue and a comedic sensibility that always projects the illusion of levity throughout. Yet it’s also got a fairly dark and layered look at sexuality and repression, and its handling during some surprisingly accomplished black room bits of surrealism are a lot more than what one would expect from a cheap little camp slasher. And then there’s the ending, that shocker to end all shockers, one that even if you guess the killer by the end you couldn’t possibly guess just what you are going to see. Time certainly hasn’t been kind to those outfits the boys wear during the ballgame, but the more slashers I watch over the years, the more I appreciate just how different this one ultimately becomes. I’ll never forget the night when I watched this in my packed basement and how upon the final reveal every single person in the room just stopped what they were doing with their mouth agape. My little brother, who’d been affirming to everyone throughout that the movie was anything but scary, quietly ran upstairs after the credits and was not to be seen the rest of the night. We still talk about that night, and watching the movie again this year, I still want to talk about it, too. If Halloween is ultimately about sharing horror with those you know, then none does it better than Sleepaway Camp.