Thursday, 19 July 2012

Horror! Part 3: Slasher

Welcome to the next part of my horror summary... It’s been a while since I did Fangs, Claws, Tentacles and Jaws but I thought I would return to my brief histories piece. Next under the knife (pun intended) are Slashers!

Slashers occupy that small void of space between thriller and exploitation. Without any doubt, Slashers are the least educated of all the horror sub genre's and they are generally down the list in terms of everything else too. For the purposes of this entry, Slashers also include "splatter" and gore films.

Slasher films are generally low budget and usually follow a very similar and often linear pattern. As with the previous two parts (Zombies, Fangs, Claws, Tentacles & Jaws) there are far too many films to remember so this is a very broad and generic overview. Hopefully I will not upset anyone and if I have left out any obviously note-worthy slasher films, I apologise in advance. So without further ado, let me begin...

Maybe it wasn’t actually the first slasher film but it is certainly one of the most well known and original films of all time. Said film was presented to us by the master of suspense! Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho is
widely regarded as the mother of all slashers. Anthony Perkins here played Norman Bates who, along with his mother is proprietor of The Bates Motel. A quaint little motel which plays host to a young Janet Leigh. Leigh plays Marion Crane, a secretary who finds herself on the run after stealing $40,000. Although the death count is way below par compared with more modern slashers, the suspense alone is enough to see it gain entry. Not to mention the iconic shower scene which has been emulated countless times.

Hitchcock's magic with the camera is perfectly illustrated as Marion Crane is fleeing the city with the stolen cash. The scene lasts a few minutes and it is as simple as they come. A Camera fixed to the bonnet of her car, watches her face as she believes she is getting further and further away from any possible danger. The irony of what follows makes the whole scene feel much more intense. In true Hitchcock fashion, Psycho keeps you guessing to the end and beyond as anyone who has seen it will know!

Blood Feast was released three years after Psycho and saw the birth of the "Splatter Film". Directed by
Herschell Gordon Lewis, Blood Feast follows an Egyptian caterer who butchers people for ritualistic sacrifice and to include the specialist ingredients in his dishes. The following year, Lewis directed Two Thousand Maniacs. Another splatter film and the second part of what would become known as The Blood Trilogy. Completed in 1965 with Color me Blood Red. Lewis would (much) later direct a sequel to Blood Feast. 2002 saw the release of Blood Feast 2: All You can Eat and it continues pretty much where the first left off. Two Thousand Maniacs was remade in 2005 and released under the title 2001 Maniacs. Robert Englund stars in the remake and it was Englund who would provide the world with one of the most iconic killers in movie history. More on that later.


The 1970's saw a massive influx of slasher films, varying from exploitation to masked maniacs. Wes Cravens' first offering was from the exploitation range with his vision of a rape/revenge film. Last House on the Left (1972) was graphic and horrific in equal doses. Two young girls are held against their will by a group of criminals who include Krug Stillo, played by David Hess. Krug is a serial killer and rapist who personifies evil appears to be the leader of the group which also includes a psychopath and a child molesterer. It sort of covers every base for a stereotypic group of maniacal serial killers.
Last House on the Left includes various graphic scenes and some which would make even the hardest of horror fans cringe but it also features some great revenge killings and portrays perfectly how any normal person would act in the same situation. 2009 saw an extremely week and diluted remake hit the cinemas. The less said about that one, the better I think!

Black Christmas was released in 1974 and really paved the way for the onslaught that followed. Considered to be the first of the more recognisable slasher films, it is the starting point of what would become a long and endless (thus far) road. That same year, a film was released that would not only instil fear into the masses, it would also become one of the genre's first "great" pictures. When you think of the classic slasher films, a small few immediately come to mind but none are quite as raw, gritty and ultimately horrific as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! A very formulaic storyline nowadays sees a group of friends fighting for their lives in the back of beyond as they battle for survival against the Sawyer family. An evil, sadistic family of inbred butchers, cannibals and serial killers. The main antagonist of the first film being Leatherface! A deformed chainsaw wielding killer who wears the face of his victims as a mask. Originally played by Gunnar Hansen, leatherface’s impact on cinema is immense and remains one of the best horror movie villains of all time. While the original will always be remembered, the same can’t be said for its multiple sequels although a very good attempt at a remake was released in 2003 which itself was followed by a prequel in 2006. As I write this, I am reading of a 3D sequel to the ’74 original which is to be release in 2013 and will be the seventh film in the franchise.

Moving away from Texas, the mid to late seventies continued the trend set by the above but everything about horror cinema was to change in 1978! Following on from the relative success of Assault on Precinct 13, John Carpenter took a turn at horror and gave the world... Halloween. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence, Halloween would re-revolutionize the genre and become a timeless classic which to this day is considered by many to be the best horror film ever made. Michael Myers, an escaped mental patient who 15 years previous had murdered family, returns to his home town and begins stalking a young student, Laurie (Curtis). While the film doesn’t change the trends too much, its subtle mix of excellent storytelling and atmospheric music would raise the bar for all that followed.

One such film that followed was Friday the 13th. Released in 1980, Friday the 13th see’s a group of teen counsellors re-opening a camp in the woods. Camp Crystal Lake, for anyone who knows horror will become synonomous with one name. Jason Voorhees. But! In the 1980 film directed by Sean S Cunningham, Camp Crystal Lake is the setting for Jason’s mother, Pamela Voorhees to inflict her revenge for the death of her son years a go by drowning. She blamed the camp councellors and as a result, the new crop of teens which include a young Kevin Bacon are seemingly doomed! It isn’t until the end when the story takes a twist as the viewer see’s the first reference of Jason. This box office success would pave the way for an unprecedented franchise and would even include a cross-over with another famed villain, Freddy Kruegar. No mention of Friday the 13th Part 2 could be made without special note and a tip of the hat to Mario Bava. Bava’s 1971 film Twitch of the Death Nerve (A.K.A Bay of Blood) was directly imitated in Friday part 2 during a few of the death scenes and Bava’s work has been a constant source of inspiration on the slasher genre. Friday the 13th Part 3 saw Jason adopt the now famous hockey mask and time after time Jason is killed off only to return in another sequel. One such sequel even puts Jason in a futuristic world as after being frozen, he is thawed on Earth 2 in the year 2455! Now if that isn’t enough to kill a franchise I don’t know what is!
Anyhow, The franchise was almost brought back to life in 2009 with a very lame remake, unfortunately the anticipation of release and the gloomy looking photo still’s of a menacing Jason were more exciting than the film itself! A similar fate awaited the next franchise on this piece..

So we have had Michael and Jason, now it is the turn of Freddy. A whole new kind of horror movie villain. 1984 saw the release of another Wes Craven slasher and the birth of Freddy Kruegar. A Nightmare on Elm Street and its following sequels would take more of a focus on the antagonist than anything else and although originally intended to be an evil, menacing killer, Freddy would ultimately become a tongue-in-cheek killer wielding his one liners almost as much as his razor clad gloves! He stalks young kids in their dreams and once he kills them there, they die for real. The first film was very menacing and some awesome filming effects delivered yet another horror classic, it was also the first major role for little known actor, John Christopher Depp II. That evil, menacing version of Freddy was sort of realised in Craven’s return to the franchise, New Nightmare. New Nightmare removed a lot of the comedy from the film and focused much more on horror. With what would soon follow, it is quite easy to see how Craven was playing with new concepts and ideas.

I could simply list the slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s but to be honest, that just sounds really boring and as most follow a similar pattern, it would also be a bit repetitive. So, with the important round-ups done, we move forward to the decade I remember fondly... The Nineties! By the time the 90’s rolled round, the slasher genre had become somewhat stagnant. Sequel after sequel slowly killing the genre from the inside until... salvation! An old faithful did something he is quite good at doing by reinvigorating the genre with Scream. Released in 1996, even if this is a contradiction to the surroundings, Scream had a much more “family friendly” feel. Gone were the dark, gritty and cheap feeling slashers of the 70’s and the same old used up characters of the 80’s. This was a new start for the genre and one which was very welcome indeed. Followed itself by 3 sequels to date, the franchise has become the most successful in the genre.

As time rolled on more of the same would follow until eventually we have come full circle and we are now living in world where the slasher genre is stuck in a loop of cheap Halloween/Scream rip-off’s, prequels, sequels and remakes. Although not all are terrible, it ultimately leads us to believe that the inevitable has arrived and despite the best efforts of those who have served the genre so well in the past, Slasher’s are dying a slow and painful death. The last morsels of originality picked off long ago leaving us with nothing but scraps. Or is it?

While the slasher film in the traditional sense may be declining, a new sub-sub-genre of this lucrative sub-genre has emerged. Like a flaming phoenix from the ashes, films like Hostel and Saw have created their own market and in my opinion, should be considered distant relatives of the slasher genre. Well, writing about these films is becomming almost as boring as watching some of them, so I am going to end it with this. Directors, Writers, please give us an original slasher film to entertain and enthrall us, if you can't do that. Just don't bother! The last thing I want to see is another lame remake of a sequel that wasn't even that good first time round! Zombie, i'm looking at you here. Dont even think about Halloween 3!!!

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