Tag Archives: halloween

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #31 – Halloween (1978)

57ad15d4680df79cf9e6d35e36b8d713

Tagline: The Night He Came Home

Director: John Carpenter

Writer(s): John Carpenter & Debra Hill

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Budget: $325,000

Box Office: $70m

Release Date: 25th October, 1978

IMDb Rating: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Donald Pleasance – Dr Sam Loomis

Jamie Lee Curtis – Laurie Strode

Nancy Loomis – Annie Brackett

PJ Soles – Lynda van der Klok

Charles Cyphus – Sheriff Brackett

Kyle Richards – Lindsey Wallace

Brian Andrews – Tommy Doyle

Nick Castle – The Shape

Trailer

Plot According to Google: On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17 year old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30th, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21 year old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims.

Inertia’s Insight: The slasher sub-genre and its films are often derided as being tactless, kill-by-numbers cash cows that only serve to fuel the appetites of blood-thirsty teenagers who cheer for the masked killer as its one-dimensional victims are slaughtered in new and inventive ways. Halloween is debatably the Godfather of the slasher genre: most subsequent slashers tended to follow its trend of a holiday theme, a masked killer, a group of drug-taking alcohol-drinking pre-marital sex indulging teens and the iconic virginal Final Girl. For all its derision, the slasher genre still has some gems, and Halloween is a stone-cold classic.

1127790_orig

Touted as an idea called “The Babysitter Murders”, relative newcomer John Carpenter was tasked with creating a horror film on a small budget. With producer and then-girlfriend Debra Hill, they crafted a genuinely terrifying horror film that features barely any blood and has its first murder 53 minutes into its 90 minute run-time.

High school student Laurie babysits the neighbour’s kids on Halloween night, preparing for an evening with no more excitement than pumpkin carving and a pre-watershed horror film. Her friends Lynda and Annie are preparing to get their rocks off with their boyfriends in what is just another evening in little old Haddonfield. But Michael Myers, the guy that murdered his sister when he was just six years old, has escaped Smith’s Grove and is on his way to Haddonfield to wreak havoc in this sleepy town.

1786317_orig

The opening shot is infamous and will be taught in film school for years to come. Aesthetically Hitchcockian, the opening continuous shot (thought technically not) sees us in the perspective of an unknown assailant, peeping in from outside before entering the property, taking a knife from the kitchen, putting on a mask, ascending the stairs and murdering the beautiful girl. It isn’t until the end of this scene that its revealed that this merciless killer is in fact a six year old boy. It’s a powerful opening, effective by immersing us into the horror but also for establishing the killer as an emotionless, remorseless, soulless individual.

4200270_orig

From here the film, in horror terms, moves slowly as it establishes Laurie, her friends and their environment whilst tracing Michael’s story via the determined Dr. Loomis, the man intent on keeping Michael Myers locked away for the rest of his life because he recognises him as being “purely and simply… evil.” Whilst her friends are out to play, the shy and reserved Laurie, though showing signs of ‘slasher transgressions’ by smoking pot and talking about going to the Homecoming dance with a boy, is prepared for an evening of babysitting and homework. Instead, whilst the sex and drinking goes punished, Laurie fights for her survival against a ruthless and seemingly unstoppable killer.

8024558_orig

Carpenter had said that it wasn’t intentional for him to make Laurie’s virginity a heroic part of her Final Girl prowess; rather, the fact that she is not distracted by boys is the reason she is able to survive. It works to her favour, naturally, but you can’t help but feel that in the age of the rebellious teenager, it’s societies way of reflecting on and punishing their transgressions, isolating the virginal girl as the heroine and survivor.

902571_orig

Once the killing starts its relentless and doesn’t let up until Loomis’ intervention at the end. The killings are bloodless, Carpenter relying on the effect and impact of Michael’s imposing force and faceless mask to amplify the scares. The scene in which he pins Bob to the wall with the kitchen knife then stands back, his head moving slowly off-tilt to study his victim with curiosity is just plain terrifying.

Michael Myers is actually an extremely calculated killer. He stalks Laurie for the best part of two thirds of the film, and for me its him first ensuring that she is his sister (though we don’t discover this fact in this film) and then planning how best to isolate her; Michael is clever in his pursuit of his victims, hiding before attacking; he wears the bed sheet in an attempt to win trust from Lynda; his positioning of Annie on the bed with the Myers headstone above her is beautifully macabre. This sets Halloween apart from the slew of slashers that ensued.

7512360_orig

The shot of him rising, seemingly from the dead, as Laurie sits panting, thinking that it’s all over is perfect popcorn launching Halloween night fare. There are so many shots in the film that are more frightening than most horror films could offer – the shot of Michael stood outside Laurie’s school, or inbetween the sheets of washing; the shot of Michael walking calmly towards Laurie as she frantically tries to get back into the house; the shot of Michael’s pale mask emerging from the dark after Laurie discovers her friends bodies – all this and more renders Halloween a timeless, classic horror film that, at 38 years old, shows no signs of losing its terrifying impact.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • The infamous mask now has an equally infamous story – its a William Shatner Star Trek mask with the eyes widened then spray painted white.
  • John Carpenter considered the hiring of Jamie Lee Curtis as the ultimate tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, who had given her Mother, Janet Leigh, legendary status in Psycho.
  • The original script, “The Babysitter Murders”, had the events take place over several days. It was a budgetary decision to change the script to have everything happen on the same day.
  • The opening POV sequence took two days to film.
  • Tommy and Lindsey are watching the 1951 version of The Thing, a film that Carpenter would go on to remake in 1982.

Quotes

DR. SAM LOOMIS: I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realised that what was living behind that boys eyes was purely and simply… evil.

SHERIFF BRACKETT: It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.

LAURIE: It was the boogeyman…
DR. SAM LOOMIS: As a matter of fact, it was.

LYNDA: See anything you like?

SHERIFF BRACKETT: Every kid in Haddonfield thinks this place is haunted.
DR. SAM LOOMIS: They may be right.

All images courtesy of Blushots: https://blushots.weebly.com


Until Next Year… Happy Halloween!

enhanced-buzz-23640-1380901599-11

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 5 Film Rec’s for Halloween 2015

The second-best but least acknowledged season of the last quarter is almost upon us; the time we hear parents and neighbours lament that we are not American therefore should not be disturbed by hordes of children dressed like Kinder Egg versions of horror icons. Yes, it’s Halloween.

For me it’s an excuse to unashamedly indulge in watching a plethora of horror films across all sub-genres. There are always the staples of the Halloween movie diet that are as synonymous with the holiday as toffee apples and tooth decay: Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Hellraiser, The Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc, etc.

However, its also an opportunity to peruse the horror aisle of HMV in search of gems that would otherwise be overlooked. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a broad range of horror films from the independent scene this year, and I’ve got five must-sees that would be perfect with the lights off this Halloween…

5. We Are Still Here (2015)

We Are Still Here

A haunted house horror story set in the 1970’s, the film follows Anne and Paul, who move to a small New England town to grieve the loss of their college son Bobby. As with any small town in America, the town and the house itself harbour a dark secret that Anne and Paul uncover. There will be blood…

We Are Still Here harks back to the golden days of 70’s horror. There’s no technology so their remote location is truly isolating. The tension and scares build to a bloody climax that has an ending only independent film could save from the cutting room floor. The loss of their son enables the leads to believe more in the possibility of the supernatural, and when the signs start to show, they build in a believable way and with tension that is sure to see you hiding behind the bowl of popcorn.

4. Julia (2014)

Julia

Another throwback, this one to the exploitation rape and revenge thrillers of the 70’s and early 80’s. Julia Shames is a woman who has spent most of her life dealing with abuse in one form or another. One night she is drugged and raped by several men after seemingly believing she had finally found a nice man. Dealing with the trauma, Julia learns of an experimental new kind of treatment for women who are victims of such crimes, putting the power back in to their hands. Through the mysterious Sadie, Julia joins the ranks of this reverse-Hostel group of women, taking everything she has learned and funneling it into revenge against the men that wronged her.

Julia takes the revenge element of this sub-genre to new heights, using a society of like-minded and similarly troubled women to evolve her character into a seriously badass woman you would not want to cross. Similarly, it plays to the character’s strengths and shows depth by not allowing the audience to believe that it took this kind of crime for her to become who she is. A strong film of the vein of the brilliant American Mary.

3. The Canal (2014)

The Canal

The first of two Irish horror films to feature in this list, The Canal is a psychological horror film following David, a film archivist who is suspected of murdering his wife whom he had recently discovered was cheating on him. In the midst of trying to prove his innocence and shake the suspicion of a particular Detective, David discovers through police film archives that his house was once the setting of a brutal murder. After awhile David begins to see things in the home, his wife turns up dead, and an early 20th century camera begins to reveal the truth…

The Canal is an incredibly well-paced psychological horror film with an impressive turn by lead Rupert Evans. The perspective the film applies leads the viewer to question everything they see, and that’s also the beauty of this film: horror can often show too much or too little, but this strikes the balance perfectly, and the scene in which David plays back footage he has filmed at the side of the canal is genuinely scary stuff.

2. From the Dark (2014)

From the Dark

The second Irish film to appear, From the Dark is another throwback classic to the Vampires of ‘Salem’s Lot and Coppola’s Dracula. The film stars Niamh Algar and Stephen Cromwell as Sarah and Mark, a couple driving through the Irish countryside. Early on the relationship is posited as on the brink, with tense conversations about marriage and directions flowing between the two leads. In classic horror fashion, the man gets lost and the car breaks down. In search of help, Mark stumbles upon a remote farmhouse where the inhabitant is displaying unusual behaviour and injuries to boot, and soon the two find themselves hunted by an ancient and thirsty predator.

From the Dark is an incredibly nerve-wracking experience. From the opening sequence that examines the vast isolation of the Irish countryside whilst introducing our protagonists’ most recent origins, writer/director Connor McMahon crafts a superbly tense horror film by going back-to-basics. The location is simple, the cast is small and the villain is a classic one that makes them all the more scary. A must-see.

1. Honeymoon (2014)

Honeymoon

Newly married Bea and Paul retreat to Bea’s family cabin  in the woods for their honeymoon. In isolation with nothing but the woods and lake around them, they aim to spend their honeymoon blissfully together. But after Paul discovers Bea naked and afraid in the woods one night, tension builds as Bea begins to change and Paul desperately tries to understand just what drew Bea out to the woods that night and, more importantly, what happened to her…

Like the other films in this list, the beauty of this film is that it chooses a popular and often seen narrative in horror but completely eschews conventions. A unique ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ tale, the tension builds slowly and is aided by Paul’s obvious love for Bea as he tries to understand the changes taking place. Similar to From the Dark, this film plays to its strengths the remote location and small cast by setting most of the action inside the cabin, the tension between the two leads building to an emotional yet terrifying ending.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 Days of Horror: Day 6 – Horror Franchises

‘Franchise’ is a title banded about the film world to describe a number of films in a series that can span decades, but the defining difference between a franchise and a series is usually the profit involved – a series is planned, whereas a franchise capitalises on the success of an original film that may never have intended to produce a slew of sequels. Films in a franchise are  not necessarily sequential and not always canon, as the producers or studios will hire anyone to change the course of the film’s history in order to secure the continuation of the franchise.

The one thing that stands out with each horror franchise, and in the majority of instances the reason why these franchises exist is the antagonist that leads the film. Each successful franchise with its high number of entries invariably features an iconic anti-hero whose name is synonymous with horror. Jason, Michael, Freddy, Leatherface, Jigsaw, Pinhead – it is the killers over the characters that ensure the popularity and success of each franchise.

Paranormal Activity Franchise

My appreciation for franchises is a bit of a juxtaposition – I love them but I hate them in equal measure. My love is usually centered around a fascination with the characters, the antagonist and where the story might be going; my hate is most definitely centered around the fact that the original has been completely spoiled by the poorly considered, quickly produced sequel and successive franchise entries that continue only because we as the audience continue to pay to see them. Think about it: at least six of the top ten horror franchises (by entry) have an original, unique first film that was never intended to be a potential franchise. It’s somewhat comforting to know that despite the regurgitated sequels, the original films haven’t been tainted by them and still manage to stand alone as unreserved classics.

It’s hard to track the popularity of a franchise based on its financial success due to inflation as well as the fact that some franchises (Paranormal Activity and now Saw) are continuing and don’t currently have an end. Rather, it’s best to list franchises by number of entries, as after all this is the best way to track just how successful franchises are.

FILM

ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

Friday the 13th

12

Halloween

10

Amityville Horror

9

Hellraiser

9

A Nightmare On Elm Street

8

Saw

7

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

6

The Exorcist

6

Paranormal Activity

5

The Omen

5

Crystal Lake

Friday the 13th is undoubtedly the most recognisable horror franchise, with Jason Voorhees being the poster boy for the slasher sub-genre and the leader of the franchise anti-heroes. The fact that the original film, produced in 1980, was produced solely to profit off the back of other successful horror slashers says everything about the fact that there are 12 entries in the series. Friday the 13th is also successful for the fact that the killer changed from the Mother to the Son in order to ensure the continuation of the franchise. The films make no bones about their intentions – there are no existential crises to explore, no subtext surrounding the killer vs victim scenes, no attempt at explanation for why the fuck Camp Crystal Lake hasn’t been condemned with a nuclear bomb. Despite them lacking even an ounce of creativity (all the ingenuity mustered is concentrated into the most elaborate way that Jason can kill someone – post-coitus of course…) the films just kept coming as audiences’ diet and desensitisation to bloody horror kept them trailing behind Jason for most of the 80’s.

Jason

Most – if not all – of the most successful horror franchises started as a low budget, low release idea that quickly garnered success. The success does not have to be critical for the dollars to start rolling in the eyes of producers intending on blowing it up into a franchise because it’s the revenue gained. These low budget horrors – like A Nightmare On Elm Street which earned back its $1.8m budget during its opening weekend, and Saw that earned 100 times its budget over the course of its release – were never intended to be a series and certainly never intended gain such traction at the box office, but it’s the box office that ensures this film won’t stand alone. Saw filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Wannell were told after the phenomenal success of their first film that the sequel would be happening with or without them, such is the power of the studio machine. So, deciding to maintain artistic integrity over their little gem they lent their craft to ensure that at least the story would continue in some way that was respectful to the original. The Saw franchise went on to produce an astonishing six sequels, with another now planned despite the supposed ‘end’ to the story…

Billy the Puppet - Saw

But that’s the thing about franchises – there is never really an end to the story. And that’s my problem with them – every story has to end. True, the lives of the characters continue post-celluloid but that’s exactly where they should remain, in the minds of the audience. Yet when a franchise has shown box office potential (and that is all that matters to the producers – not the fans, not the original creators – just the money) the producers will find someone who has a way of continuing the franchise for as long as audiences will bear to part cash to see them. Friday the 13th (and now Saw to an extent) are prime examples of this. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was the fourth and planned final entry in the series, released in 1984. Jason died at the end, but the producers attempted to continue the franchise with a new antagonist in mind. This didn’t work and though the film was successful it didn’t garner the financial success they had come to expect so Jason was brought back to life in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning – if there’s money involved, they will always find a way to keep him alive. Halloween is another perfect example of this, as filmmakers attempted to delve behind the mask and irrevocably altered Michael from a feared human to an inhuman Samhain baby with demonic intentions. Frequently when filmmakers delve in and out of franchises at the producers behest the canon is not adhered to, and just like Halloween, when H20 was released in 1998 it completely ignored every entry since Halloween II in 1981. This is another difference between a franchise and a series – a series is a continuation of a story; a franchise does whatever the fuck it wants.

Halloween Franchise

The recent success of Paranormal Activity, another low budget film that has cut swathes through the horror film and developed four sequels since its release, only proves the continued success of franchises. The intimacy and the genius of the original film will always be lost as franchises continue; there’s not one beginning film that has been improved by the sequels that follow it. Despite my love for a good franchise as I like to see the same story told in different ways (a la Paranormal Activity) it is impossible to improve on the original and as we continue to entice the antagonist with our cinema ticket purchase we inevitably sully the creativity of the original.

Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones

TOMORROW: The Saw Franchise

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 Days of Horror: Day 3 – Horror Masterpiece: Halloween

In 1978, a film first billed as The Babysitter Murders travelled across multiplexes one state at a time, building momentum as word spread of this creepy horror film about a masked murderer who had returned to his home town 15 years after killing his sister to finish what he started. Halloween is a unique film as it is a perfect blend of commercial intention and creative gusto; the film was intended to be a quick dollar making exercise for producers Moustapha Akkad and Irwin Yablans, who hired young filmmaker John Carpenter to bring their basic idea to life. Little did they know that with Carpenter and Debra Hill, his then partner, they had hired two artists in touch with the ethos of the teenage mantra of the 1970’s as well as being die hard fans of the horror genre. Since its release, Halloween has become a financially successful franchise spawning no less than seven sequels, one remake with its own sequel as well as countless comic books and merchandise. It has also been considered the first true slasher film that inspired a number of seasonal slashers, and has been analysed by film theorists for its apparent subtext and social commentary.

Halloween

Halloween is a masterpiece. It sets the precedent for the slasher sub-genre as well as the horror genre itself and it does this primarily by being a character focussed film. This concept might surprise some, as theorists argue that the sexually promiscuous characters in the film are the ones that meet their demise, but the focus throughout the film is on Laurie and it is in this character that the film is set apart from the countless other horror films that are produced in order to make a quick buck. Having said that, there is also something intricately appealing about Michael Myers, the antagonist who is the antithesis of your archetypal horror boogeyman. It is also a masterpiece because of its measure between genuine scares versus blood shed. Think about it: if you’ve watched Halloween, think about when you might have seen blood? Not often. It’s only when the body’s are seen posthumously that the blood is seen. Halloween manages to construct scares entirely from suspenseful shots and suggestive imagery as opposed to the shock value of seeing the victims insides on the outside.

The film’s opening shot is one of the most famous in horror history, as a seemingly continuous shot takes us from the outside of the Myers house – peering in with voyeuristic intention – into the house itself where the viewer is soon transformed from spectator to facilitator as a mask is placed over the camera lens and we see this house from a different perspective. A knife is picked from the kitchen drawer and protrudes steadily ahead as we make our way up the stairs and into the room of a sexually promiscuous young girl who is combing her hair. She recognises the perpetrator – is it us? – as he proceeds to stab her to death. The shot then cuts to a young Michael Myers, stood emotionless outside his home as his parents return. The pathological look in young Michael’s eyes tells us all we need to know about this antagonist – he is void of any emotion or remorse and will be relentless in his pursuit. That sublime tracking shot that opens the film – which actually has three cuts in it – establishes the primary focus of this film: a masked killer with no compunction stalks the young and vulnerable.

Young Michael Myers

The unique thing about Halloween is that it takes its time to build up to the chaos that inevitably ensues. In the time it takes for Michael Myers to break out 15 years later and start stalking his victims, Carpenter and Hill have established a repertoire of characters. Laurie Strode, our hero of the film, is introduced as she goes about her day. We see her interact with the local kid she babysits for as well as talking to her eclectic mix of friends she hangs with, sizing up where she fits amongst them. It is clear that Laurie is the clean cut, all American teenage girl: good with her grades, friendly with the neighbourhood kids and reluctant to mix with the boys. Her friends flaunt their sexual promiscuity and frequent drug use but she brushes this off. However, there is a secret yearning for her to feel wanted by a boy as much as her friends are idolised. We see this when, later on in the film, Annie tells Laurie that there’s a guy at school that has a little thing for her and wants to take her to the dance the following night. Finally Laurie has the chance of living a bit of a life, but Myers has other plans…

The devastation caused by Michael Myers lasts one night, on Halloween – the perfect setting. The parents are out and the teenagers are babysitting, taking advantage of their situation by having their boyfriends come over. Kids of all ages wander the streets in a plethora of costumes so no-one blinks twice at a man in a faceless mask and boiler suit wondering the streets with a kitchen knife, nor do they look when someone runs screaming from their house. With no adults aside from Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett tailing bodies behind him, Michael Myers has free reign over Haddonfield to finish what he started 15 years ago: to kill his entire family. What is psychotically brilliant about Halloween is that no-one really offers an explanation as to why he is doing this. Loomis tries to relay the character of Myers through monologues describing his time with him from infancy as “…this six year old child with this blank, pale, expressionless face and the blackest eyes – the devil’s eyes; I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realised that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.” What’s made all the more intriguing about Myers is that we never actually see him; rather, we see the mask he hides behind. Yet, this mask is perhaps more of a significant representation of Myers because it is faceless and soulless, with no remorse or emotion – just as Myers is.

Michael Myers

The brilliance of Michael Myers is that there is an evil haunting the characters that has no real motivation, no definitive purpose, no way in which the events have been purposely orchestrated. The murders he commits are to segregate his sole intended victim but the macabre and remorseless way in which he does this is what makes this film so brilliant. The focus on Myers has inevitably caused controversy due to theorists summarising that as we follow this psychotic antagonist we are almost sympathising with him, but horror needs an antagonist that doesn’t really have a weak spot. Being shot and falling from a second story doesn’t deter Michael as his psychopathy almost renders him inhuman. His almost robotic movements and remorseless way in which he observes his victims belie his psychotic intention.

Though we follow Michael and at the start we are his eyes, the film is definitely moved forward by Laurie, our determined scream queen that holds her own and protects the children from ‘the Boogeyman’. Essays have been written about Laurie as the eponymous ‘Final Girl’, able to fend off the attacker because she is pure of mind and soul. But its Laurie’s fighting instinct and determination to protect the young ones that really drives her instinct to survive. She overcomes insurmountable odds and psychologically devastating events as she sees her entire friendship group killed off by a masked, emotionless killer intent on killing her. It is only with Loomis’ retrospective monologue does she begin to understand the magnitude of what she has been through.

Dr Loomis

Halloween has some incredible set-pieces and scary moments, the most memorable being when Laurie is in focus in a medium close up in the foreground, breathing rapidly but in relief as the nightmare feels like its over. Then in the background, with a calculated ease Michael rises from the floor, turning his head with mechanical precision to stare with his faceless mask at his intended victim. The shot holds as we scream at the scream for Laurie to run. It’s the shots that Carpenter crafts that bring the most scares as opposed to blood and guts. The unmoving frames – like the one that sees Michael approach from far to extremely close – are the moments that keep the audience teetering with their pillows in front of their faces. It is the most important thing when it comes to horror: less is more. When you craft your shots so perfectly that the audience believe they have seen something that was never shown, that’s when you’re winning at horror.

Iconic Scene

Released 36 years ago, Halloween has continuously topped the polls for scariest films and scariest villain because it has stood the test of time through ingenuity – it focussed on its characters by making them three dimensional as opposed to kill-by-numbers pop-ups. It is a masterpiece because it set the benchmark for the slasher sub-genre and the modern horror genre itself, and despite the franchise destroying the innovative concept of a soulless indestructible monster, the original film still chills today. The remake, though it shouldn’t be considered as canon, does well to explain the reason behind the mask and the motivations of Michael. However, when we look at the original, there is nothing more scary than knowing that the motivation of this killer is as blank as his face.

Remake

TOMORROW: Horror Masterpiece: A Nightmare On Elm Street

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

13 Days Of Horror: Day 1 – A Brief History of the Horror Film

Today begins Inertia’s 13 Days of Horror, where we explore sub-genres and films that make up the horror genre and discuss what truly makes it the dark hero of the film world. To kick off the season, today we’ll look at the history of the genre itself from its bloody beginnings to its current trends.

Horror is a marmite genre: you either love it or you hate it. Those that seek thrills outside in the modern world will invariably be the ones that aren’t too thrilled about seeing a horror film. Those that like to play it safe tend to be the ones that prefer to hide behind their pillow every night with a good horror film. I love horror, and my DVD collection is chock full of classics as well as some duds. When choosing a film to watch for the night I will always think of horror before I turn to any other genre. I can watch pretty much any film without feeling too affected by it. I am desensitised to media violence but this doesn’t mean I am desensitised to violence. Recently, a friend of mine shared a video on Facebook that I couldn’t watch. An Indian student fell into a tiger enclosure at the New Delhi Zoo and was attacked and killed. The video – taken by an onlooker which makes it even more macabre – shows the student in the enclosure then the attack itself. I could only watch the first five seconds as the student cowered in the corner then I had to switch it off. I couldn’t watch a human life being taken because I knew it was real. Yet that’s what is great about the horror genre because when it gets it right, it holds a mirror up to us and shows us what we fear the most.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM

Since before the spoken word it has been intrinsic for the human psyche to engage with fear. From the hunter becoming the hunted in his quest for food to accidentally liking your crushes Instagram photo from 42 weeks ago, the effects of being scared are what continue to draw us to dark literature.

Horror in its most basic form has been prevalent since fables and religious tales were told and has consistently evolved by tapping into modern day fears as well as those that will always haunt the dark recesses of your wardrobe. The popularity of Gothic literature in the 18th Century became a natural source point for filmmakers at the turn of the 20th Century with the invention of the moving picture. Celluloid barely had time to breathe before filmmakers were casting their dark eye on bringing our unimaginable fears to life.

As with any genre there is some debate of what was the first true horror film. Some cite Georges Méliès’ 1896 short Le Manoir Du Diable, where as for me it is a 50-second silent film called L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat made in 1895. The film shows a train pulling into the station, however according to legend ths film had people running from the theatre in sheer panic as they truly believed that the train was about to come through the screen and into the theatre. So although George Méliès created the first film to feature supernatural elements, L’Arrivée achieved the main aim of a horror film: to scare the shit out of people.

Horror has evolved dramatically since the early years as filmmakers have continued to push the boundaries of taste to quench the thirst of the audiences’ blood lust. We’ll charter the history of horror from the silent beginnings to the current trends, detailing the waves of sub-genres and the bodies they have left in their wake.

1920 – 1959

Horror’s prominence began in the 1920’s with a wave of German expressionist films that introduced infamous horror characters to the big screen. From Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, iconic horror characters were being brought to life from page to screen. Nosferatu to this day always finds itself on Top 100 lists across the globe with it’s horrendous depiction of Bram Stoker’s infamous character. The film removed the romanticism of eternal life, replacing Dracula’s intriguing demeanour with one of crippling, demonic disfigurement. These films focused on the core of horror: to show what lurked in the shadows…

Nosferatu

The 1930’s brought more of a polished, Hollywood focus on horror as Universal Studios became the first true pioneer of horror film. Studio contracted actors became iconic anti-heroes as they translated the Gothic horror fiction into the moving picture. The 1930’s showed the success of horror, with several sequels to popular films such as Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy highlighting the potential for horror franchises. Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi became the poster boys for the disfigured, delayed monsters.

From the 1940’s the horror movie became more of a B-Picture, with films like The Wolfman becoming the alternative rather than the official selection. Horror started to blur boundaries in the late 1940’s as it blended with science fiction, tapping into the psyche of a post-war generation that feared the next unknown threat around the corner.

The Wolfman (1941)

The 1950’s played heavily on this – the advent of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction changed the role that horror played in the landscape of cinema. The Gothic themes of the supernatural were replaced with the natural as the antagonists of the 50’s horror films echoed the alien threats from abroad. The battle of east VS west and democracy VS communism became on celluloid the battle of humanity VS alien invasion – the known VS the terrible unknown. Though film was not being used as a propaganda tool a la the days of World War II, it’s subtext was rife. Meanwhile, as America continued to cross horror with science fiction as a form of social context, Britain was bathing the screen in blood. Hammer Studios pioneered the re-birth of Universal Studios’ long ago classics, bringing Dracula, The Mummy and Frankenstein back to audiences with a renewed vigour; Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee stepped into the iconic shoes of these characters, well and truly making them their own.

Hammer

1960 – 1979

Roman Polanski, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock – the 1960’s were the birth of the modern horror film. Social subtext attacked the inner workings of America as opposed to threats from outside its four walls. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is now infamous for its damning portrait of racism in America – the zombie genre was well and truly born. The 1960’s was the decade of transition for the horror genre, as the classic monster movies and reliable traits made way for exploitation and experimental films that pushed the boundaries beyond what was considered audience taste; they craved more, and more was what they got. The birth of the slasher – an argument between Psycho and Peeping Tom (both 1960) – occurred in this decade but didn’t really pick up until the 1970s. Towards the end of the decade, horror was shaping its path for the future. Religious horror and themes of demonic possession and exorcism began in the late 1960’s, particularly with Rosemary’s Baby as filmmakers focused on a primitive fear to engage with audiences’ psyche.

Ahh, the 1970s. For me, horror starts here. I think it starts here mainly because my diet of horror consisted of films that were made from this decade onwards but the sub-genres, Grindhouse features and exploitation pictures really evolved in this decade. It set the benchmark for horror and showed that you could do anything with a limited budget as long as you had the imagination. Audience’s appetite only increased and the revenue produced from these films paved way for a slew of sequels and similar pictures. Halloween and Black Christmas pioneered the commercial success of the slasher film and began to change the way in which horror was produced; though not completely devoid of subtext, they survived on a basic premise because the films were produced in order to make money. The 70’s undoubtedly produced some of the most commercially successful films of the 20th Century, with films produced in this decade making the majority of the ‘Top 100’ lists. The nature of the beast in these films became more human, as films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House On the Left made the evil a real person capable of despicable things, echoing the growing trend of serial killers in America. At the same time, religion continued to play a huge role in films such as The Exorcist and The Omen which chronicled the effects of demonic interference. The box office success of these cheaply produced fear flicks meant only one thing for the money-churning industry of Hollywood: sequels would be made…

Halloween

1980 – 1999

The 1980’s horror scene is synonymous with sequels and copycat reproductions in the slasher genre. Within this decade the horror genre hit dizzying heights but with limited creativity and the primary focus on profit it soon spiraled and by the close, horror had become a laughing stock with productions moving to cater for the home video market. The video nasties era was heavily documented during the 1980’s which led to its increased popularity as audiences sought to see the films that were labelled as too despicable to watch. When the decade begins with a film produced solely to capitalise on the success of Halloween with no thought or consideration given to characterisation or plot, it kind of gives an indication of what’s to come. Friday the 13th, released in 1980, kick-started the low budget crowd pleasing slew of horror films to come. It’s not fair to blame the demise of horror solely on the filmmakers as it is the audience that produce the revenue that inspires the expanding wallets, but when it comes to surpassing creativity in search of profit then there’s an issue to address. Friday the 13th produced no less than seven sequels during the 1980’s as it chased the dollar, altering its lead antagonist to suit the continuation of the series. Surprisingly it took until the third film for the iconic Jason we know today to mask himself. In Jason’s wake lay not only a slew of diversely murdered teenagers but also several low-budget slasher film copycats that catered to the audiences’ blood lust. April Fool’s Day, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine and Happy Birthday To Me mirrored both the cheap kill-by-numbers thrill as well as using a familiar calendar date for its setting/justification. The Friday the 13th series, though entertaining and embarrassing in equal measure, perfectly encapsulates the 80’s trend for horror and as audience’s tired of the endless sequels and became bored of the antagonists they had briefly rooted for, it spelled the end for this once bucking trend. Jason died in the early 90’s but horror died long before then.

Friday the 13th Part 4

Let it not be said though that the 1980’s produced some phenomenal horror with a returned focus on holding the mirror up to society’s primal fears. Greatest of all was the body horror sub-genre in which Clive Barker, John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon and most prominently David Cronenberg tore our bodies apart with invading aliens and beings from another dimension. The body horror genre paralleled society’s fears of invading diseases and viruses as HIV spread epidemically across the globe, as well as the self-inflicted destruction of crack cocaine. These films showed the frailty of the human body and the ease with which our bodies could be invaded. They also sought to push the boundaries of taste once again, specifically in the case of Hellraiser as it portrayed in detail the destruction and subsequent resurrection of the human body from bone to flesh.

Do a Google search of ‘horror film 1990s’ and you’ll struggle to find films of the same calibre as previous decades. There are iconic greats such as Scream, The Blair Witch Project, Gremlins and Dracula, but the list feels tame in comparison. Horror died in the mainstream in the 1990’s thanks to the high body count of the 1980’s. However, horror across the pond was as fresh as ever. Spanish and Japanese horror produced terrifying classic tale ghost stories; splatter film was being revitalised with comic effect in New Zealand and Germany was re-evaluating the zombie. It took a few years for horror to find its feet again by adopting new ways of telling a story (examples being the self-referential and self-aware slasher gem Scream and the first person claustrophobic narrative of The Blair Witch Project) and this brought horror back to the attention of audiences. The 90’s saw horror take a well deserved break, ready for its dominance to reign once again in the Millennium.

Scream Poster

2000s – Present

Horror’s resurgence in the noughties didn’t start with the same enthusiasm as Microsoft after the panic of the millennium bug. World cinema still dominated with Japanese horror pioneering unique ghost stories, but Hollywood took awhile to cotton on to it’s next bums-on-seats guarantee – remakes. Rather than look at past horror films to see what they did right and semi-plagiarise from them to produce new material, they just remade them instead. As a passionate horror fan with an appreciation for its history it was a big struggle for me across the early 2000s to accept the new way that horror was headed. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, The Amityville Horror were all remade in the first half of the 2000s. As the Hollywood machine delved further into the canon of horror to find more susceptible films, other producers realised the potential of remaking the successful horror films from across the world. The translation of America remaking their own horror films was bad enough (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a perfect example – the remake was still set in the 1970’s as they struggled to modernise the context of the Vietnam War); the translation of Japanese ghost stories to Western culture fell way short of the mark. Though the remakes of J-Horror and Spanish horror contain their fair share of scares, the fables don’t fair well with a Western slant. Japanese ghost stories are traditional in their Eastern philosophy and sadly they don’t have the same impact across the pond.

Ringu

Meanwhile, as remakes continued their trend into the late 2000s by destroying further classics such as The Omen, Friday the 13th, and even The Wolfman, a new sub-genre was cutting its way through the annals of horror history and bringing with it a critical and social reaction akin to the days of the video nasty. The inconsiderately named ‘torture porn’ became the focal point for the genre in the mid-2000s as films like Saw, Hostel and French films Frontiere(s) and Martyrs depicted graphic and violent scenes of torture. Horror’s subtext shone through once again: though not directly intentional, the graphic scenes these films featured directly visualised the scenes of torment broadcast on news stations in the wake of the War in Iraq. These films showed violence against man committed by man – a mirror image of war.

As it neared the end of the decade horror continued to remake its own catalogue, both domestic and abroad. Foreign films were being remade within a year of their release date, almost belittling audiences by assuming that foreign films would not do well with them. The found-footage sub-genre has become the leading storytelling device since the success of Paranormal Activity and has adapted this narrative style across various stories. Ghost stories and haunted houses are also making their way back in to the mainstream, cementing the idea that the old stories are the best.

Insidious

The future of horror

Horror seems to have reached a comfortable plateau for now, with a steady stream of remakes, found-footage films, ghost stories, possession and postmodern slashers filling the multiplexes for at least the next year to come. But where next for the genre? Stylistically speaking, there’s not much more the genre can do in terms of what it can and can’t show on screen. Audiences have pretty much become desensitised to the violence we see on screen, with perhaps only a couple of films that have pushed the boundaries of taste even further but have only been met with disdain (The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence is a vile film). It is in the narrative and the storytelling devices that filmmakers will ensure the longevity of this marmite genre. Recently, films such as V/H/S and ABC’s of Death as well as TV series like Masters of Horror have proven that the anthology format is the way to go. Short, visual, innovative and unique are the common traits of the entries that make up an anthology film. Who knows where it is headed but one thing is for certain: we are only five or so years away before we start remaking or ‘reimagining’ the films that dominated the late 90’s and early 2000s.

ABC's of Death

TOMORROW: The Found Footage Sub-Genre

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Slasher Film Unmasked – An Exploration of the ‘Marmite’ Genre

Slasher Poker

Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger walk into a bar…

The slasher genre and its iconic anti-heroes almost became a bad joke towards the end of its golden era, with poorly constructed sequels and unnecessary, outlandish concepts intended to create a film all about the inventive ways a masked madman could pick off innocent young teenagers rather than plot or characterisation. But from the foundations of the genre to the height in its heyday, the slasher film became more than just a death-by-numbers picture. Though some would cash in on the concept with cheap thrills and spills, the iconic originals have longevity because of the creativity and the subtext beneath their seemingly simple concepts.

Psycho

There’s much debate over which film kick-started the slasher genre. Historically, there are three contenders: Peeping Tom (1960), Psycho (1960) and Black Christmas (1974). Despite the critical success of Psycho, the slasher genre didn’t grow solely from this film. The first slasher film to be an overnight box office success on a small budget was an amalgamation of these three: Halloween (1978). It blended elements from the three films whilst simultaneously establishing its own conventions, and this combination led to the birth of the slasher genre. The principles of the films were set: a masked, seemingly unstoppable killer; a set of young, innocent and helpless teens; a lack of adult supervision; a recognisable time of year; inventive ways in which the teenagers die and most importantly, the final girl. Despite being the first successful slasher film to turn over a tasty profit, Halloween is important to both the slasher genre and the horror genre as whole. It is a masterpiece in suspense and suggestion that in my opinion can rival the best of Hitchcock. With an instantly familiar but haunting score, wide suspenseful shots and hardly a drop of blood in sight, John Carpenter created a masterful slasher film that acts as both template and peer to all the films and their villains that preceded it.

Michael Myers

The history of this genre can be surmised briefly when we talk about time. At best it spanned twenty years, but its heyday was rooted firmly in that most magical of decades – the 1980s. Inspired by the box office success of Halloween, producer and director Sean S. Cunningham capitalised on the foundations of the slasher film with his 1980 hit Friday the 13th. It was the first film of its kind to receive distribution from a major studio in Paramount Pictures and despite it being a critical failure, the sales did the talking and what they told the studio was that this type of film was cheap to make and profitable to release. Cue an onslaught of sequels, copycats and some genuine entrants that together covered the 80’s in the blood of unsuspecting teens and made the faceless faces of its anti-heroes instantly recognisable. Friday the 13th in hindsight is quite a unique film with its twist ending and the fact that it established a franchise on a character that was referenced heavily but only very briefly seen. The creators of Friday the 13th set out to cash in on the success of Halloween and their goal from the start was to provide the audience with something that Halloween had not: blood, and lots of it. The deaths were inventive and eccentric, establishing the trend that many a slasher film to come would replicate and elevate. Despite its shortcomings with the very basics of film (characterisation, narrative etc) it can’t be denied that historically Friday the 13th is a landmark film for the genre and is responsible for the assault of films to follow.

Jason Voorhees

Like any genre, the slasher film has a certain ‘code’ by which the films loosely go by. The characteristics are simple: a bunch of unaccompanied, horny, beer-drinking, pot-smoking teenagers in a remote or isolated location are stalked by a weapon-wielding masked madman with a psychopathic intention to kill in the most elaborate ways possible. Like all film, particular horror, this sub-genre is open to interpretation and is a blank canvass when it comes to subtext and social commentary. Yet the requirement of a small budget versus the large profit to be made meant that the majority of the slasher films released in the 1980s engaged with the audience’s bloodlust and support for the anti-hero rather than delving into the real fears that these films can touch upon. Flicks like Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day, Sleepaway Camp, The Burning, Madman, The House On Sorority Row, Silent Night, Bloody Night and many others operated under this mantra and though some have unique and shocking endings (in both senses of the word – April Fool’s Day and Sleepaway Camp I’m looking at you here), the bulk of these films with their catchy titles and inventive death-pieces angled towards the trends of audiences across the world for maximum return. It’s basic attitudes of if you have sex, drink, smoke or do drugs – you’re gonna get killed the survival of the final girl have been discussed and lamented on by critics for decades now, but at the root of it the subtext goes much deeper. You might be wondering what subtext a kill-by-numbers film could have, but as with any horror sub-genre or horror itself, the conscious storyline provides escapist entertainment whilst simultaneously engaging the subconscious with a familiar and very real situation. Horror trends reflect the social fears of their time and are the most appropriate because they allow the audience to face fear head on. Whether they know they are facing a real fear or just a generated fear, the audience is still actively confronting terror by wanting to be scared. From the 1950’s B-Movie pictures of alien invasion and deformed creatures that mirrored the fears of nuclear annihilation, to the body horrors and splatter films that echoed society’s trepidations of AIDs and HIV, horror film has always been more than just escapist frights. The 1956 release of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a perfect example of marrying horror with societal fears: the body snatchers in question are a direct mirror of post-war America’s fear of communism.  In the last decade, the meteoric rise of the ‘torture porn’ sub-genre (for want of a much better phrase) reflected the changing face of our civilised Western society as we faced graphic and horrific images of human torture as a result of the wars being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the images taken of acts of terrorism committed on our doorstep. What the slasher film echoed in its time was a combination of all these primary fears.

Slasher Suspects

The 1980’s was a turbulent time and horror film had its pick of subtext to choose from. Tensions between the U.S. and Russia were at an all-time high with mutually assured destruction at the brink of possibility; wars were being fought in the Middle East; AIDS was prominently destroying lives; the famine in Africa was highlighted to millions in the Western world as a very real threat and a problem that needed solving; and the financial system collapsed dropping most of the Western world into a recession effecting many livelihoods. All of these social fears were very real and were faced on a daily basis as the news and print published their reports. These fears are faceless threats: to an extent they are not a single individual or a visual association. They are famine, pestilence, Governments, institutions. They are not distinguishable because they hide behind these faceless titles. The slasher film created a character that was faceless; a character that hid behind a mask that did not enable you to distinguish the individual or be able to literally face them; a character that was almost unstoppable, resurfacing time and again to quash any chance of peace or happiness.

Prom Night

But what else about the slasher genre actually makes them scary? After all these are horror films; they’re meant to induce paranoia, tension, fear. The death scenes might make you squeamish (or in some instances cheer) and the concept of being stalked by a masked killer might be invigorating, but when watching these films what makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck? What makes you reach for the pillow or peak between your fingers? What makes your pulse race and your mouth desiccate? Film is subjective, so you might not evoke these particular emotions but at the core, what makes a slasher film scary? It’s the fact that the killer is real; the killer is a human being. It’s important at this juncture to familiarise ourselves with the films that popularised the genre, the originals before the sequels: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Black Christmas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and more recently Scream. These films, as well as the scores of other slashers that were released in the wake of the ‘slasher boom’, featured a very real, very familiar antagonist. With Chucky, Freddy Krueger and to an extent Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers aside (at least with the latter two’s sequels) the slasher featured a villain that was very much the antithesis of your archetypal horror antagonist. A human antagonist constructs an innate fear for the viewer: something real and believable is a lot scarier than any villain from our worst nightmares or the far reaches of outer space. With the media making celebrities out of serial killers and popularising their atrocities, the idea and the possibility of a human being committing such heinous crimes is a harsh reality to our society. This is what makes a slasher film scary: because you realise how very real the killer is. Despite being faceless, what lies beneath is what we’ve been exposed to countless times with press coverage of the world’s most notorious serial killers.

A prime example of the pillow-grabbing fear that this association can create is in a sequence from the godfather of the slasher genre, Halloween (like all great slasher storylines, this post comes full circle). In the scene, Laurie Strode (Jaime-Lee Curtis) has just been attacked by Michael at the Wallace house, heading over there to investigate a strange noise she heard when talking to her friend Lynda on the phone. Laurie makes it out of the house and runs back to the Doyle house where she has been babysitting. The door is locked (on her instruction) and she is desperately trying to get back inside. The shot we see is from Laurie’s POV as she looks back over at the Wallace house, seeing Michael start to approach. Now, a number of elements conspire together to create this terrifying scene. Firstly the framing of the shot from Laurie’s POV: the frame doesn’t falter, maintaining Laurie’s distance from Michael but showing his encroaching figure growing as he gets closer. The pace that Michael approaches Laurie is haunting: he doesn’t run and he doesn’t make haste; his psychotic confidence is startling, his speed but his determination never faltering. The terrified screams of Laurie, desperate to seek solace from the approaching madman pierce the still night, her fear as real as the pillow you’re hiding behind. And then there’s John Carpenter’s haunting, simple score: just a few low notes in their succession that partner the tension played out on screen. As you watch Michael approach with Laurie helpless and alone, the fear is elevated not just by the possibility of her being caught but by the fact that, when she faces him, she is facing a very real, very familiar threat: a human being, capable of committing such atrocities.

Halloween Scene

The slasher genre developed itself throughout its prime, throwing into the mix elements of the supernatural in order to freshen up and stimulate the genre: A Nightmare On Elm Street created one of horrors most memorable characters in Freddy Krueger. Though predominately a master of the dream universe, stalking his teenage victims in their sleep, his characters’ foundations were very real – a kidnapper and a murderer who’s attire and iconic bladed glove were used well before he crossed over to the land of nod. The same goes with Chucky in Child’s Play: a thief and a murderer that meets his end in a toy store only to be reincarnated into a popular children’s toy. With a new but somewhat unconventional body he continues his murderous intentions but at the character’s core, he was a very real human being. The famous faces of the genre became popular through their familiarity but with their sequels growing tired by the year, a combination of poor storytelling, boredom and a change in audience trends saw the eventual demise of the slasher genre into the 90’s. Horror film moved on and so the audience with it. The final body count was totalled with the iconic anti-heroes being added to the final tally.

Ghostface

But the genre never really went away. With time came nostalgia and the ability to sift through the slew of films produced during the slasher heyday which enabled fans and historians to appreciate the importance of this sub-genre in the history of horror cinema. Resurgence in the genre was paved by the postmodern exploration of slasher conventions in Scream. The genre came full circle with this film as it openly referenced and compared the developments of a series of killings in the town of Woodbury to the core staples of the slasher genre, even going so far as to have a group of teenagers, isolated in a house without adult supervision, watching Halloween as a character discusses the do’s and don’ts of surviving this type of film. Despite falling foul of its postmodern reflection by producing unworthy and unnecessary sequels, Scream was a clever and nostalgic look back on an important genre that forms a piece of cinema history that is continually referenced, lauded and criticised to this day. The slasher film: you either love them or you hate them, but either way you can’t deny their power and influence over the horror genre still to this day.

Originally posted on Generic Movie & TV

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,