Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Slasher Movie Posters
Slasher Flicks
Slashers were largely an invention of the 1980s although previous examples abound. The Menace is an unstoppable Supernatural force, often masked or mangled, on an unquenchable campaign of revenge. While the earliest Slashers of the late 1970s and early 1980s were largely Psychological Horror, most historians agree that the runaway success of the low-budget Halloween truly established the field and it is from this franchise that almost all of the common, modern slasher tropes were taken.

To be sure, weapon-wielding "psychos" had been featured in numerous films prior to the explosion of the 1980s. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is often credited as the roots of the sub-genre but most of the tropes and clichés that came to define it followed. Similarly, while the film Peeping Tom may have been the first to employ the Menace's POV as a camera angle, Halloween made it popular. As did another horror classic released around the same time: Bob Clark's classic, Black Christmas.

Furthermore, the success of the drive-in classic, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, proved that horror movies could turn a tidy profit, even if not done well - such as the Friday the 13th franchise, which began as nothing more than an ad in a trade 'zine. The advent of the VCR and home-viewing also opened up an entirely new distribution model which allowed many horror films to be made as "direct-to-video."

By the mid- 1980s, nearly every Slasher was branded with a quirk or gimmick -- distinctive masks, specific and sometimes exotic weapons, and/or some tortured modus operandi -- and most were specifically associated with a holiday or theme. These Mad Slashers were on an irrational, neverending quest for revenge and remained faceless almost to the end. While the nigh-unstoppable villain was rarely seen, the audience experienced many kill scenes from his perspective. 

Also by this time, Slashers had moved from Psychological Horror into strictly Moral Tales that directly served the purpose: Giving the Menace a reason to become active once again. This formula was so successful that it fueled several of the largest movie franchises in American cinematic history. The villains of these franchises became celebrities in their own right.

The Moral Tale approach may also have been related to the political climate of the time, as the rise of the Moral Majority -- fueled by "Satanic Panic" -- lead to a return of Conservative political leadership and social morés. Slashers came under attack around the same time as the music industry for a general suspicion of contributing to American moral decline and association with Satanism. This may have been an approach by filmmakers to avoid confronting such accusations directly, as the victims were invariably engaged in some illicit activity prior to their violent demise.

This also did not become apparent until well after the field had become firmly established. While it is a common cliché that the kids who did drugs or had sex were always victims, so were the nerds and social outcasts, the unwitting trophy girlfriends of the leading love interest, innocent campers and party-goers, et. al.  So, while the strict Moral Tale on sociopolitical grounds theory may be true, it hardly explains the villain's rationale or the popularity of these Mad Slashers.

Slashers did come under heavy fire from the Moral Majority, which included representatives from both American political parties, but all of the major franchises were well into their fifth or sixth installment by that time and had largely run their course. The Slasher genre burned itself out by the 1990s and lay dormant for several years.

It was the release of Kevin Williamson's Scream, directed by Wes Craven, that revived them. Craven had left an indelible mark on the sub-genre years earlier with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Williamson's script also ushered-in the cynical self-awareness some later termed "Meta." 

But, while Scream both reinvigorated and reinvented the Slasher sub-genre, the majority of Horror films over the next decade would be rated PG-13 with vaguely Supernatural themes.

Image courtesy of Prototype Productions.

Copyright 2014, The B-Raters

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