Dark Dreams
Resurrect the Slasher Film!

Devan Sagliani | 12 Aug 2014 13:40
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Serial killers, found footage, supernatural threats are all well and good, but it's long past due to revive the genre that gave us Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers.

The year was 1983. The Space Shuttle Challenger was flying overhead with Sally Ride busting glass ceilings and keeping our eyes glued to the heavens. IBM was dropping their sweet PC XT and Apple would be running commercials for their Macintosh by the end of the year. The war machine was booming from Beirut to Russia to Libya to Granada. American Senators were being blown out of the sky on Korean Airlines over Soviet air space. We were all scared shitless of Russia using nuclear missiles against us, pensively going through our days with our ears cocked for a hint of some invisible signal, listening between the pauses in conversations for the distant screech of the air raid sirens that would signal the end of mankind if we didn't duck under our flimsy wooden desks in time.

1983 was also the peak of the Golden Age of Slasher movies, with nearly 60% of all box-office sales being rung up for what was essentially a subgenre of horror films. Sleepaway Camp and the sequel to Psycho and Frightmare and Sweet 16 and Double Exposure and The House on Sorority Row and A Night to Dismember were killing it in theaters, no pun intended. Even Charlie Bronson was getting in on the fun with his thriller 10 to Midnight. America just couldn't seem to get enough of seeing helpless, half naked women torn to pieces by psychopathic killers in new and terrifying ways, despite increasing pressure from Christian groups and appalled film critics openly asking people to stop supporting these cheaply made, thin plotted "Dead Teenager Movies." Who would have guessed then that the genre would slowly decline over the next decade, evolving from being the top of the box office food chain to a straight to DVD punchline?

Part mystery, part thriller, and all horror, Slasher flicks usually revolve around a deranged killer stalking and slaying a sequence of victims in the most graphically violent manner imaginable. (Usually with a sharp object like a knife, machete, chainsaw or fingers made from razor blades - hence the term "slasher.") The genre traces its roots back way before Hitchcock to the Italian Giallo film genre, which centered around enigmatic killers, epic soundtracks and gratuitously explicit violence. Director Mario Bava, credited as the man behind the idea of the body count that has become endemic to all great Slasher films, is considered by most horror experts to be the first to bring the Giallo genre to full fame with his 1963 film The Girl Who Knew Too Much. His influence still looms large, with impact as recently as the Scream franchise.

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Slasher films also drew life from the Splatter genre, as well as from the exploitation films of the late 60's and early 70's; both thrived on comically low budgets, generous and obligatory nude scenes with top heavy babes, and shocking gore that left fans squirming in their seats yet unable to turn away. Each new release spurned on competing directors' darkest fantasies, urging them to come up with new and inventive ways to kill their victims. One such example was Francis Ford Coppola's controversial 1963 film Dementia 13, which was rushed into production following Psycho's success at the box office*.

One thing that sets Slasher movie killers apart from those featured in the Giallo and Splatter genres is their dark history: generally, wrongs have been done to them, often in early childhood, and as a result, they've become seemingly unstoppable, impossible to fully kill. This emphasis on the killer's motivations and backstory made it inevitable that the most successful franchises would quickly switch their focus from endangered, emotionally scarred heroines (and it was almost always a heroine), to the monster, launching the era of the horror movie antihero. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, The Leprechaun, Freddy Krueger, Jigsaw, Pinhead, Leatherface, Chucky, Candyman and Pennywise, they are the most famous and recognizable 20th century American popular culture horror symbols.

Another thing that sets them apart? Their staggering body counts. Jason reigns supreme to this day, with 300 plus murders over the life of his Friday the 13th franchise, the vast majority of which occurred before he went into space in the laughable last movie Jason X (not counting Freddy vs. Jason or the reboot). A former groundskeeper for Camp Crystal Lake gone mad, he taught teens to keep it in their pants if they wanted to live, a message that ironically aligned him with many of his critics, including former first lady Nancy Reagan.

* A quick aside for those of you who haven't seen the amazing film Hitchcock: The director went through hell to get Psycho made in the first place, risking his reputation and, since he ended up having to finance it himself, his fortune. Imagine his surprise when his risk sparked a giant bandwagon!

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