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Slasher Flicks: The Unappreciated Sub-Genre of the Horror Movie
What is a Slasher Flick?
In the most basic of terms, a slasher flick is a horror movie. But it's not just a horror movie. The slasher film is a sub-genre of the general horror genre. Slasher flicks, for the most part, follow a pretty basic formula, or at least they did at the start. We will get into that a little bit more later, though. The slasher flick is a classic, and often discredited, style of movie. They have gotten a bad rap for being sexist, violent, and sometimes cheesy. Some of them are ridiculous, but some are also absolutely wonderful, and yes, often very cheesy! I will explore the birth of the slasher flick, it's untimely demise, and the recent re-birth of one of my favorite genres of movies.
A Recipe For Mayhem and Murder
The tried and true formula for a great slasher flick was laid out with the very first movie of it's kind, Halloween. Halloween is one of the best horror movies of all time, and laid the groundwork for a whole new genre of horror movies...the slasher flick! There are lesser known movies of this type that set the stage, but Halloween was the first big slasher flick. So, what is the recipe for a great, or even a really bad, slasher flick? It's pretty simple.
You need teenagers. Specifically, you need a group of teenagers that will be put into perilous danger. It can't be just any group of teens, though. You need a group of hard-partying, crazy teens, and one good girl, and often one nerdy guy, to balance out the mix. How this virtuous, young girl, and the nerdy guy end up being friends with these sinful teenagers is never really explained. I guess it doesn't matter. Of course, the drunken, sex-crazed teens are always the ones that end up dying, but the good girl triumphs. Of course, with partying teens comes the need for partial nudity. This is where critics get their panties in a bunch, so to speak. Slasher films are seen as misogynistic, and degrading to women, yet it is usually the smart, independent, and moral female lead that triumphs over the evil at the end, so what is sexist about that? It sounds a lot better than the pathetic damsel in distress of most movies.
You also need a killer. The killer is more than likely wearing a mask. It hides the killer's humanity, making him seem almost superhuman. There is often a very twisted backstory to every killer; a reason for why he must kill, why he wears a mask, etc. The killer often appears almost invincible, leaving even a movie in which the killer clearly dies, open for a sequel. It is all carefully orchestrated, and very, very clever.
The killer never, ever uses a gun! If he did, how much fun would that be? Everyone gets shot and that's it? That's no fun at all, and would make for a pretty short, and frankly, boring movie. Slasher flicks get their name because the killer often uses an instrument of murder that literally slashes; a large knife, for example. Of course, this isn't always the case, and quite often, the killer takes advantage of the environment around him. He may impale a victim on a spike, attack them with a chainsaw, or throw them against a wall, where oh so conveniently, there is something sharp and pointy sticking out, just waiting for a flying victim, only to be left there for his friends to find later on in the movie.
Part of the fun of a slasher flick is waiting to find out who is going to die next, and how exactly, they are going to be killed. It can be violent and gory, but not always. In Halloween, there was actually very little gore. Of course, after that, movies pushed the envelope further and further in an effort to entertain, and terrify audiences. Some movies got to be pretty ridiculous in the amount of gore. An example of this is from the movie Evil Dead, the original version, not the remake. It is a silly movie, but full of crazy blood and gore.
From Halloween to Halloween
Confused? Don't be. In 1978, the slasher flick was born. Halloween was a remarkable movie, that redefined horror as we know it. Michael Myers kills most of his family and is locked away in a mental institution, only to escape years later, on Halloween, and comes after his only remaining relative, a younger sister, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Michael kills his sister's friends, in an attempt to get to her. He is shot repeatedly and yet, does not die. Thus setting the formula for the multitude of slasher flicks to follow.
Closely following on the heels of Halloween, was the also amazing, Friday the 13th. Of course, we all are familiar with Friday the 13th, and the iconic Jason Voorhees, but Jason wasn't the killer in the first movie, now was he? Nope, it was his mother. (Spoiler...I know. If you haven't seen the movie by now...sorry) Most people forget that. Grief stricken by the death of her son, she goes on a rampage in an attempt to get revenge on the irresponsible teens that,in her mind, caused the death of her son. Having a female as the murderer was a twist on the formula, seeing that most slasher flicks have a male in the role of the killer. All the elements of a slasher flick were firmly cemented after Friday the 13th was made.
Many, many slasher flicks followed in short order over the next few years. From Prom Night, also starring Jamie Lee Curtis, to Sleep Away Camp, which has the most unusual, and disturbing surprise twist at the end. No spoiler on that one, sorry. You have to see it for yourself. Slasher flicks were a part of the horror culture for several years to follow. In fact, it got to be a bit too much. The market was oversaturated with the blood and gore of the slasher flick, and the genre started to loose it's creativity.
That is, until 1984, when a new, and wonderful twist to the classic formula was born. Out of the ashes and into our very nightmares came Freddy Krueger, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Now, we weren't even safe when we were asleep in our own beds. It was a creative reminder of our earliest childhood fears of the monster under our beds. Freddy stalked the dreams of the children whose parents had burned him alive years earlier. It is said that if you die in your dreams, you die in real life, and thus Freddy was born. The slasher flick had new life, and new blood.
With anything good, there comes a point where it just becomes too much. Once we find something we like, we tend to ride it out, full force, until we have pretty much killed it. It's like that with the slasher flick. As the 80's wore on, more and more slasher films were made, and a lot of them were just not very good. They were running out of ideas, and the genre became somewhat of a parody of itself. This was sometimes intentional, but often it was not.
April Fool's Day was one such movie that was intended to be a spoof on the genre, but too many people took it far too seriously. The end of the movie actually angered some viewers. As one can imagine, considering the title, it was all an April Fool's joke; all the murders, all the bloodshed, all a joke. Sorry if I ruined it for you, but come on...the movie is over 20 years old.
The era of the slasher flick seemed at an end. Audiences wanted something a little more sophisticated from their horror movies, and the slasher flick was far too predictable and terribly played out. Even Freddy couldn't save it, in the end. In fact, the over commercialization of the three icons of the slasher flick; Michael, Jason, and Freddy, contributed to the demise of the slasher flick. How scary could they be when they were being made into action figures and slapped on lunch boxes?
It seemed as if the slasher flick was all but dead. The bad guy couldn't be dead for real, could he? That was, until the mid-90's. One movie had the power to breath life into the not quite dead sub-genre that is the slasher flick. That movie was Scream. Scream was part parody, part slasher flick, part survival guide. A group of movie buffs analyze the genre, all the while being the victims of a crazed killer who plays off the genre. "What's your favorite scary movie?" has made it's way into our movie line dictionary thanks to Scream. A movie filled with humor, violence, and gore that follows the classic slasher flick formula, and at the same time, mocks that classic formula for being so predictable.
Scream gave new life to a much loved, and almost forgotten genre of movies. The slasher flick was alive and well, and other similar movies followed, like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend. Scream was also the first slasher film to feature well-known actors in major roles. This gave a whole new vehicle for a lot of television actors to break out into films.
The new millennium brought with it a whole new take on the slasher flick. Saw didn't follow the classic formula. Instead of a faceless, crazy killer running around killing helpless teenagers, you have a mad genius (though he never actually appeared in the first movie) and his contraptions, "teaching" lessons about treasuring your life, and of course, LOTS of blood and gore. You can't forget that.
Hostel was another example of a slasher style film that breaks the mold and refuses to follow the tired formula. I see Hostel as almost a slasher school. A place for those who want to murder, to kind of learn what it's all about, to hone their craft, and of course, kill a few Americans along the way. Hostel doesn't disappoint in the gore department, and both Hostel and Saw have the moral elements that are tied into every slasher film.
Most recently, a few of my favorite horror films were remade. Rob Zombie had a great idea to remake the first two Halloween movies. While I tend to hate remakes, especially remakes of already great movies, his are more of a stand-alone reworking of the same idea. His re-makes were not standard fare, rehashing the same story, basically making the same movie. He delved deeper into the evil that is Michael Myers. More of the movie was focused on the child Michael, what made him what he was. I loved that he took a different approach, but still held to the elements that made Halloween one of the best horror movies of all time. He did the movies justice, and while some don't see them as being as good as the original, I look at them as their own entity. Something similar, but set apart from the originals. So, from Halloween to Halloween we have journeyed.
What Lays In Store?
Who knows what is in store for the future? The next crop of slasher films could be truly unique and remarkable. I can't wait to find out. Recently, a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street was made, and I eagerly anticipated that one. Of course, without Robert Englund as Freddy, I was wary. Unfortunately, it didn't hold a candle to the original. Also remade recently was the campy, but wonderful, Evil Dead. The remake takes out the camp and ups the scare factor. I know people who refuse to see it because they liked the original so much. Again, I will try to watch it as if it were it's own entity, instead of a remake.
With the recent popularity of 3-D movies, I can only imagine the level of gore and violence that awaits me. Can you imagine, a severed head flying at you from the screen? Or blood appearing to spurt right into your face? Oh, the thought of it sends chills up my spine and puts a smile on my face. Long live the slasher flick!
Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
© 2010 Anna Marie Bowman