Friday, October 31, 2014

Not Another Halloween Movie: The Rise of Slasher Films

Dun, dun, duuuuuun! Another conveniently holiday themed blog post! And every year when Halloween comes round, the first thing that comes to mind for us film buffs is usually the slasher film genre. So stick around... if you dare, and let's do this thing.

A Little Bit of History

The sub-genre known as "Slasher Films" dates back to the 19th century French theatre plays known as The Grand Guignol. It was a violent, shocking form of theatre that was a pioneer for horror films in general, but that's a whole other blog post's worth of information. Oh wait, I did do a blog post on it. Check it out here if you want more info, or wikipedia it or whatever. Anyway the real stuff started with Alfred Hitchcock's infamous film, Psycho (1960). Although the character Norman Bates wasn't technically a serial killer, he paved the way for the big stars like Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. The subgenre itself was a hybrid of thriller and horror films from the 70s and 80s, starting with Black Christmas (1974) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). But, the movie Halloween (1978) really defined the genre. Close after came Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), which solidified the famous trio of psycho killers (mentioned above) places in film history.

What's a Slasher Film?!

For those of you who grew up under a rock, the definition of a slasher film is a subgenre of horror and thriller, usually involving some kind of psycho who kills a lot of people. But, what sets it apart from splatter film or psychological thrillers is that most of the time, it follows a pretty recognizable formula:

1. Sexy Lookin' Teenagers: That's right folks, what's a slasher film without a bunch of beautiful, unsuspecting, high school/college kids? I guess it's less satisfying to watch ugly people get murdered in horrible, horrible ways.

2. Sex, Drugs and Alcohol: You know the drill. All the beautiful kids get together at a party and participate in risqué activities and drunken debauchery, until it's broken up by many of the guests' guts being spilled all over the place.

3. Psycho Killer: There's no slasher film without someone doing the slashing. The psycho killer is usually equipped with some kind of unconventional weapon (chainsaw, blade, axe, etc...) and may possess supernatural abilities, like never, ever, ever dying. Ever.

4. Teenagers Get Killed Off: One by one they fall. If you're sexually active, stupid, ridiculously heroic or a minority, then sorry, you're probably not going to make it. Which leads us into the final rule of a slasher film:

5. Final Girl (aka Survivor Girl)

The final girl of a slasher film is the last woman/girl alive to face the serial killer. To be a final girl, you usually have to have some of the following characteristics:
  • Sexually unavailable or virginal
  • Avoids alcohol/drugs
  • Have a unisex name (Laurie, Sidney, Teddy, Billie, Georgie, etc...)
  • Short hair
  • Spend half of the film terrorized, then overcome your fear through masculinity
  • Become masculinized through "phallic appropriation"
That last one refers to stabbing the psycho killer with some kind of long, pointy object (get it?). Typically, a final girl has quite a few masculine qualities (like the short hair, or the name) and steps into that role when they overcome their fear of the killer and fight back. There are many theories about whether or not slasher films are feminist or anti-feminist, but the best discussion about it that I've seen so far is Carol J. Clover's Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992). Check it out if you have the time.

Examples of Slasher Films

And finally, here's some examples of slashers films:

  • He Knows You're Alone (1980)
  • Dressed to Kill (1980)
  • The Boogeyman (1980)
  • Hell Night (1981)
  • Jagged Edge (1985)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • Friday the 13th (1980) - which was notably the most successful horror franchise of the 80s.
And if you're like me and love a good satire, you should check out the film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006). It's shot mostly in documentary format and follows a film crew who interviews an alleged legendary psycho-killer, and how he keeps up the appearance of the supernatural aspects of the legend. It's a funny film, but also provides a really good insight to the sub-genre of slasher films.

Happy Halloween folks! And if you decide to drink tonight, remember that there's always a chance that you may be murdered by a psychopathic killer.

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