As a writer who specializes in articles about horror movies and horror symbolism, I am often asked what the difference is between slasher films and splatter films. While there are many people that believe that the two descriptions mean the same thing, they do not. The terms are never truly interchangeable.
Horror movies that fall under the category of slasher films would be those in which the antagonist (the bad guy) is a knife-wielding maniac that is hell-bent on killing everyone in site. Classic horror movies that would fall under the category of slasher films would be Psycho, the original Friday the 13th, and Maniac.
A slasher film has to have an antagonist that wants to take some kind of anger out on either the general populace, or a small group of people. While there is usually blood seen in the movies, there is usually very little in the movie that could be considered as gory.
Splatter films are those movies in which gore takes precedence over drama and tension. Unlike slasher films, splatter films do not have to have a serial killers as an antagonist. Almost any kind of creature or person could be the antagonist in a splatter film. A major difference is the amount of blood, guts, and gore that one will find in a splatter film.
Some horror movies that would be classified as splatter movies would be Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw, Puppet Master, and Dawn of the Dead (either version). All of these movies spend more time focusing on the gory aspects of a kill, than the kill itself.
Slasher or Splatter Films
There are many horror movies that are categorized incorrectly when discussing slasher films or splatter films. As a rule, I like to say that slasher films spend more time on the build up to the kill, where as splatter films spend more time on the kill itself. Essentially, if there is more gore than tension, the horror movie is a splatter film.
Keep these ideas the next time that you see a horror movie. Try to figure out if the movie could be categorized as a slasher movie or as a splatter film. You might be surprised when you realize the true meanings of the director when dealing with gore over tension.