The slasher subgenre is perhaps the most popular among long-time genre fans, with iconic franchises such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th remaining prominent through several decades of horror. While several entries to even these popular slasher franchises are undeniably cheesy, there are moments of pure terror that stand out among the horror genre’s greatest scenes. Today we’re looking back at five of those scenes and reflecting on what makes them the scariest slasher movie moments.
Spoiler Warning: No films of the Friday the 13th series made the cut. The Voorhees duo are quite scary, but no particular scene stands out as being the definitive scary moment of the franchise- so we didn’t force a scene onto our list of scariest slasher movie moments, despite our adoration of the franchise.
5. Cat and mouse (Scream 2)
The first entry on our list of scariest slasher movie moments is sure to prompt discussion. Justifiably, there are many who feel that the death of Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) in the original Scream is the scariest scene of the franchise. It serves as our introduction to the ideology of Ghostface and showcases a nerve-racking amount of tension and suspense as Casey is at the mercy of the killer and his rules. While the first film remains the greatest of the series, the sequel, in many ways, is scarier.
Whereas Scream painted the majority of its core characters as seemingly indestructible survivors, bringing them back to life when they appeared to have bitten the dust, Scream 2 tragically reminds us of the mortality of our heroes. This is evidenced early on when Randy, the fan-favorite who abides by every horror movie rule, is gruesomely murdered in broad daylight. That particular moment sets the stage for our fear as Gale and Dewey are attacked by Ghostface. In that tensely executed moment, we fear for characters that we’ve come to care immensely about because we know that the danger they’re in is real.
Gale sneaks around the office-like setting, remaining (barely) a step ahead of Ghostface, who is searching for her. Wes Craven effectively uses the setting to the advantage of the scene, highlighting the suspenseful game of cat and mouse between Gale and the killer. The scene finally culminates in Gale finding a seemingly safe place, but she is forced to watch on as Dewey is murdered… or so she thinks.
Watch the scene here.
4. Gunther’s Reveal (The Funhouse)
The Funhouse is Tobe Hooper‘s most underrated film, and it just so happens to feature one of the scariest slasher movie moments in horror history. Typically, slashers follow a format in which the killing begins early on, showcasing the danger our characters are in as they get picked off one by one. The Funhouse, however, bravely treads a different path.
Focusing primarily on eerie atmosphere and odd characters, Hooper’s film doesn’t truly settle into its slasher roots until the latter half of its runtime. Hooper’s deliberate slow-burn pace admirably and effectively builds to the horrifying reveal of Gunther, the awkward character dressed as Frankenstein’s monster, after dropping hints about his bizarre deformity throughout the film.
After deciding to hide during closing hours and stay at the carnival overnight, four teenagers find themselves locked inside of a ride called “The Funhouse”. They watch on as the awkward, masked Gunther engages a prostitute for a $100 fee, using his father’s- the barker of the ride- money to pay her. He experiences premature ejaculation, and when the woman refuses to give back the money, he murders her in a fit of rage. The teens try to leave, and as they do, one of them steals the barker’s entire stash of money. Trapped in the ride, they see the barker confront Gunther about the money, abusively tormenting him to his breaking point. Gunther rips off his mask, exposing his deformity that consists of sharp protruding teeth, long white-thinning hair, and red eyes. It’s what nightmares are made of.
The scene was unavailable on YouTube, but I highly recommend revisiting it for yourself.
3. Hooked on a feeling (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre)
Tobe Hooper’s second entry on the list is one of the most iconic moments in horror history, regardless of subgenre. 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains one of the most realistic-feeling horror films ever made due to the raw, gritty terror that it presents. It’s standout scene, which involves a meat hook, a chainsaw, and lots of screaming, is undeniably one of the scariest slasher movie moments to date.
The scene is unforgettable. Kirk and Pam stumble across a secluded house and Kirk calls out, asking if the homeowners can spare any gas for their van. When he receives no answer, Kirk enters the home while Pam waits outside on a swing. Leatherface appears and kills Kirk with a hammer, unbeknownst to Pam, who enters the house after several minutes to check on Kirk. What she finds, though, is a room filled with furniture made from human bones. She attempts to escape, but Leatherface appears from behind a closed door, grabs her, and hangs her on a meat hook- forcing her to watch on as he butchers Kirk with the chainsaw.
Check out the horrific scene here.
2. Tina’s deadly nightmare (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Before Freddy Krueger became a comedian in the sequels, he was straight-up terrifying. While I’ve argued that the most frightening iteration of the character belongs to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the scariest moment of the series is undoubtedly Tina’s nightmare and subsequent death.
This scene earns its place among the scariest slasher movie moments for several different reasons. Among them, the betrayal of safety among friends. Tina is afraid of the nightmares she’s been having, but with her closest friends and her boyfriend staying over for the night, she feels safer- as we all do in a group. This scene makes it abundantly clear, however, that Krueger doesn’t give a damn about your group of friends. If you’re sleeping, he’s going to strike regardless.
It’s also our first real introduction to the abilities of Krueger within these dreams. He appears, his arms stretched as wide as the alley, pronounces his glove to be “God,” and begins chasing Tina. Though she has a head start, Freddy simply appears from behind a tree and catches up to her. The fact that you can’t run away from the killer makes the situation feel all the more helpless- as does Freddy demonstrating his inability to be harmed by slicing off his own fingers.
Freddy gruesomely murders Tina while she’s in the room with her boyfriend, dragging her bloody body up the walls and onto the ceiling. There’s nothing that Rod can do to help her, because Krueger is invisible to him. It’s horrifying still to this day.
You can find the scene here.
1. Michael chases Laurie (Halloween)
John Carpenter’s Halloween is not only the greatest slasher film ever made, it’s arguably one of the five best horror films of all time. Carpenter effectively utilizes a small budget by showcasing an unrelenting amount of suspense, which is never more evident throughout the Halloween franchise as it is when Michael chases Laurie across the street.
After finding the bodies of her friends elaborately placed in an upstairs bedroom, Laurie cowers in the hallway. As she does so, Michael Myers appears from the dark room behind her, wounds her arm with his knife, and causes her to fall down the stairs. Carpenter’s iconic musical score kicks in, highlighting the increasing amount of danger that Laurie is in as she limps through the house, attempting to escape- something she’s barely able to do.
Strode screams for help as she exits the Wallace house, banging on the door of the neighbors and being refused help. The distance between houses in a suburban neighborhood has never felt further apart than it does while watching Laurie race back to the Doyle house across the street. Conversely, the houses have never felt closer together as they do while watching Michael close in. The suspense is unbearable as Laurie screams for Tommy to wake up and unlock the door, and by the time he gets down stairs to do so, the viewer has chewed off whatever’s left of their fingernails. If John Carpenter is the master of horror, this is the scene that bestowed that crown upon him. It’s the definitive slasher movie moment.
See it for yourself here.
Thanks for checking out our list! Which other scenes belong among the scariest slasher movie moments? Sound off in the comments and let us know.