Ready for a deep dive into horror? Each week, acclaimed director, writer and producer Eli Roth compiles a curated list of films that best exemplify horror’s various sub-genres. Whether you’re a new horror fan or a die-hard expert, “Eli Roth’s Deep Cuts” has a recommendation ready for you.
In this latest collection of Slasher films, Eli Roth takes fans on a fun, sometimes seedy deep dive into the most exceptionally gruesome, explicit and downright bizarre movies of genre. Featuring a bonafide classic Hollywood star, psychoanalytical thrillers, cutting-edge cinematography, Broadway musical numbers, sky-high ’80s hair and enough blood and guts to fill a swimming pool, horror fans are sure to find a new film to add to their watch list.
3 on a Meathook! (1972, dir. William Girdler)
Memorable mainly for the fact that the movie doesn’t begin to live up to its sleazy title and video box art. A group of gals run out of gas outside of a creaky old farmhouse, and the hippy-ish young dude who lives there invites them to stay. His father is not pleased, exclaiming “You know what happens when we bring girls in the house!” You probably know what happens, too. There actually is an oddly understated scene involving women on meathooks in a shed, which bears a strong resemblance to a more disturbing sequence in Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses. The movie also features a bizarre romantic interlude in which our potential killer and his new girlfriend frolic through a field of flowers, and a random sad monologue by a woman who lost her husband in Vietnam.
Wicked, Wicked (1973, dir. Richard L. Bare)
At a slightly decayed luxury resort (set in the Hotel del Coronado, where Some Like It Hot was also filmed), a murderer practices on the hotel’s various weirdo guests as he gears up to off its new lounge singer. Wicked, Wicked was the first and last film shot in Duo-Vision, meaning that the entire film is shot in split screen. You might think that the gimmick would be annoying, but it’s amazing. Director Richard L. Bare uses the split screen to allow the audience to be in multiple places at once and experience the present and the past at the same time. It keeps the story absorbing and even suspenseful, even though the film is decidedly campy. It’s a blast.
Driller Killer (1979, dir. Abel Ferrara)
One of Abel Ferrara’s first seedy depictions of New York outsiders. An artist and punk music aficionado is slowly driven crazy by a creative block, his needy roommates, and general 1970s New York chaos. Finally, he takes a power drill and attacks various homeless people. It’s meandering, bizarre, and a bit boring—but if you’re a fan of really seedy urban slasher films like Maniac, it’s worth checking out. It also has a lot of footage of New York’s punk scene in 1979, which weirdly gives it appeal as a semi-documentary.
The Toolbox Murders (1978, dir. Dennis Donnelly)
The Toolbox Murders starts with a gross, misogynistic killing spree (one woman is stalked in the bathtub and then chased with a nail gun). However, Eli Roth’s History of Horror contributing expert Amanda Reyes points out that it evolves into a surprisingly complex and oddly Hitchcockian depiction of grief and loss. The murderer kidnaps a girl who looks like his daughter who died, and acts as though she is his daughter. As their relationship develops, and we learn more about his daughter, The Toolbox Murders turns into a bleak exploitation version of Vertigo.
Absurd (1981, dir. Joe D’Amato)
A super-gory Italian mélange of Frankenstein, Halloween, and Halloween II. A priest who is really engaged with bioscience creates a monster. The monster then escapes and stalks a babysitter and her charges in a castle, then hits a hospital! D’Amato lends his unique touch to the proceedings by spewing gore and viscera with gleeful abandon.
The Fan (1981, dir. Edward Bianchi)
Lauren Bacall plays a Broadway diva stalked by an obsessive bisexual fan. He cuts up her assistant (Maureen Stapleton) and several others before their final confrontation. In between, Bacall appears in various big Broadway musical numbers written by acclaimed “EGOT”-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch (really!). Bacall was pissed when the sophisticated psychological thriller that she signed on for became a gory slasher film when Paramount decided to follow market trends. The result is bizarre and fascinating.
Pieces (1981, dir. J. Picquer Simon)
The poster said “It’s exactly what you think it is!” and “You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!” Somebody is killing female college students and stealing their body parts. Who?! Why?! (The why relates to a childhood trauma involving a sexually explicit jigsaw puzzle). Secret Agent Mary Riggs goes undercover as a tennis instructor to solve the case. At one point she becomes so exasperated that she screams “Whyyyyyy whyyyyyyy whyyyyyyy?!” in one of slasher movie history’s most notorious over the top acting moments. The last scene is nuts.
The New York Ripper (1982, dir. Lucio Fulci)
A killer who quacks like a duck randomly and gorily kills young women who brush up against the seamy side of New York City (in the early ’80s, that was most of it). A detective and a psychoanalyst team up to catch him. This is one of the nastiest, most misogynistic slasher films ever made. However, like most of Fulci films, it’s beautifully shot and effective. It also provides a fascinating portrait of sleazy New York.
Blood Rage (1983, dir. John Grissmer)
On Thanksgiving, a single mother (Louise Lasser) discovers that her evil identical twin son, who murdered her boyfriend with an axe years before, has escaped from the mental hospital. She and her good twin son ponder what to do as a killer stalks their apartment complex. The best of the few Thanksgiving slasher movies (not counting the epic trailer for the non-existent film Thanksgiving seen in Grindhouse). The ’80s outfits and hair are as over-the-top as the gore. The killer has a great catchphrase said after each murder: “That isn’t cranberry sauce!” Perhaps most importantly, Lasser, known for the bizarre sitcom spoof Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, acts like she’s in a performance art piece. The scene in which she sits on the floor in front of the open refrigerator and eats all of the leftovers is worth the price of admission.
The Mutilator (1984, dir. Buddy Cooper)
Small distributor Open King Releasing took Fall Break, a very cheap slasher film with great gore effects, and made it legendary with a new title and a killer ad campaign (the tagline: “By sword. By pick. By axe. Bye bye.”) Years after he accidentally murdered his mother, a teenager and his friends go to the family’s beach condo and are murdered in creatively grotesque ways (most memorably, a vivisection). This film is known as one of the most generic slasher films ever made, yet its North Carolina location renders it creepily atmospheric and you kind of feel for its tortured characters.
Crimewave (1985, dir. Sam Raimi)
Bruce Campbell returned for Sam Raimi’s studio follow up to The Evil Dead. The Coen Brothers co-wrote the screenplay. Raimi and the Coens disowned the film, and Campbell cites it as a dismal failure (possibly because then failing studio Embassy Pictures overly interfered). It still has its fans. A security company owner’s partner hires two weirdo hit men to murder him. The hit goes wrong, leading them to go on a killing spree and frame nerdy Vic (Campbell was supposed to play Vic, but the studio replaced him with Reed Birney and gave him a small but flashy role as a lounge lizard). It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but Raimi gets a chance to let his love for The Three Stooges and ’30s comedies go wild. The great Louise Lasser shows up as a typically bizarre nosy neighbor.
Aerobicide aka Killer Workout (1986, dir. David A. Prior)
A woman is burned to death in a tanning bed accident (a not uncommon occurrence in slasher movies; see Final Destination 3). Years later, her sister opens a gym that specializes in dance classes (the movie features endless scenes of people boogying in spandex). Obviously, the past cannot rest, and people must die. The movie slyly sneaks in commentary about the deadly perils of society’s obsession with physical beauty, amidst all the ’80s tackiness. Here’s a fan made music video below:
Anguish (1986, dir. Bigus Luna)
One of the most mind-bending slasher movies that you will ever see. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading here, or else all of the madness will be spoiled for you. Zelda Rubenstein (Tangina in Poltergeist) plays an overbearing mother who hypnotizes her dorky son and makes him kill people and collect their eyes. But wait! After 30 minutes or so, we realize that this is actually a film within a film, and that Anguish is actually about a man who is obsessed with a Zelda Rubenstein movie and feels compelled to murder the people watching it in a movie theater. Crazy as this may sound, this summary only scratches the surface of the places that this film goes.
Slumber Party Massacre II (1987, dir. Deborah Brockman)
Courtney, one of the survivors of The Slumber Party Massacre, is suffering from PTSD. To get her mind off things, she and her all-girl rock band go to a vacation condo for a weekend getaway. Terrifyingly (?), she’s plagued by visions of an Elvis-like rocker wielding an electric guitar with a power drill coming out of it. Is he going to appear for real?! Come for the horror, stay for the wacky ’80s musical numbers and Courtney’s hallucination that her best friend has a giant killer zit on her face!
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