Tag Archives: michael myers

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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 , , , , , , , , ,

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,