Premium Feature: Slasher movies

1. | The origins of slasher

If a film could be designated as the proto slasher excellent, it’s good Psychosis ! This movie ofAlfred Hitchcock released in 1960 presents a motel manager with a troubled personality who murders the young women who have the misfortune to take a room in his establishment. The cult scene where Norman Bates appears behind a shower curtain, knife in hand, to coldly murder his victim will be emulated and above all mark the imagination of a very large number of filmmakers.

The same year, released in Great Britain The Voyeur. This movie of Michael Powell plays with the same themes since we follow a solitary photographer who takes extreme pleasure in taking pictures of young women on the verge of death. Unhealthy and frightening, he shares with Psychose this character of serial killer who seems fine in all respects but who hides a mental imbalance that pushes him to murder, preferably with bladed weapons, his victims.

If these films laid the first stones on which the slasher genre would be founded, it was the Giallo (Italian horror cinema) with directors like Dario Argento and Mario Bava as well as BlackChristmas which will define its characteristics. This last film, made in 1974 by Bob Clarklays the foundations of slasher by bringing together many of the elements that serve to define this category of horror film.

We thus follow a group of young girls who are gathered in a boarding school during the Christmas holidays, foreshadowing all these groups of adolescents who will be the targets of licensed killers. They will all disappear one after the other, gradually raising an almost palpable anxiety. Above all, we will discover in this film what allows at first glance to know if it is a slasher or not: the boogeyman !

the boogeymanwhich is translated as croque-mitaine in French, is this masked killer (in BlackChristmas he has no mask but always hides in the shadows) who will kill his victims, with a preference for bladed weapons, those that cut cleanly and clearly. Often, understanding the motivations of the boogeyman, which can be a childhood trauma or a revenge to accomplish, will allow you to discover how to overcome it. Another recurring aspect of slasher appears here: even if he seemingly gets rid of the killer, the hero, who is moreover often a heroine, has not really succeeded in defeating him.

2. | The slasher, a new genre

A director will be particularly inspired by the vision of this BlackChristmas. This is neither more nor less than John Carpenterwho will realize Halloween in 1978, using many elements of the Canadian film. However, he will go further in defining his boogeyman and will do Michael Myers a pop icon even though he is the big villain of his feature film. This will become a feature of slashersto see the killers leave a greater impact than the other characters.

In this film he co-wrote with his wife Debra Hill, he will introduce us to a killer whose motives we will ignore until the end. Frightening with his mask, he becomes an embodiment of the deepest terror by appearing as relentless as he is cruel. Above all, he does not speak and nothing is more frightening than a guy who butchers from teenager to ten without any apparent motivation. Especially that Carpenter will play a lot with the genre, like when he makes shots where we see the future victims through the point of view of the killer who is hidden. We thus guess where he hides in the scene, without seeing him, the anguish is subtly constructed and the boogeyman will become the terror of the 80s.

In the codes of slasher that Carpenter establishes, we also note this incredible end where the heroine interpreted by Jamie Lee Curtisdaughter of Janet Leigh who was the heroine Psychosis (which is probably no coincidence), barely survives but still sees the assassin mysteriously disappear. In the slasher, Evil never really disappears, it is at most repelled. A boon for producers who have the perfect pretext to launch the logic of franchises with these horror films of a new genre (to which we will attach Chainsaw Massacre precisely because of the consequences).

The success of this film, despite more than mixed reviews which failed to see the impact that John Carpenter’s feature film would have, as well as what it brought in despite a starving budget, will give ideas to many producers. This is how will be born Friday 13also inspired by the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento (hence a propensity to use various and varied bladed weapons), the first opus of which will be produced by Sean Cunningham.

Fun fact: the boogeyman of the first part will not be that of the series. Indeed, the famous Jason Voorhees who will massacre people in more than ten films thereafter is in fact dead in the first part and it is his vengeful mother who is in reality the serial killer. However, this original idea will not be revived and Jason will subsequently come back to life to become an embodiment of panic fear who refuses to die inexplicably (at least, until the next film).

The 80s saw the flowering of many slashers, not all of high quality it must be recognized. We can, however, cite Valentine’s Day murders, hellraiser, candy man and especially the series of freddie which will be initiated by a certain Wes Craven in 1984 with the release of the first film: The Claws of the Night. This feature film will allow you to discover one of the boogeyman the scariest in the history of cinema, Freddy Kruegerwhich will always be interpreted (even in the anthology series) by Robert Englund.

This serial killer has the particularity of being already dead, burned alive by the parents of the children he murdered. However, this will not stop him and he will begin to haunt the nightmares of his victims to better murder them while they sleep. The films will thus often be built around this latent anguish, this paranoia which intensifies throughout the film and which prevents the heroes from falling asleep on pain of seeing the dread arise to cut their throats (for the luckiest, for the others it first goes through some well-felt torture).

3. | The slasher, the second genesis

The 90s are going to start badly for the slasher. The breathlessness of the various franchises which are no longer renewed much as well as a public which is gradually losing interest in the genre will gradually make the slasher in Hollywood limbo. At least, that’s what could have happened before the genre benefited, at the approach of the new millennium, from a second genesis that will anchor it definitively in the cinematographic landscape.

In 1996, Wes Cravenwho has already made a significant contribution to the genre by directing the best parts of the saga freddiedecides to give a second impetus to the slasher with Scream. He will establish all the codes of the genre there, with a masked killer keen on bladed weapons (even if he can diversify, the modern killer is multi-tasking), a group of friends who gradually count the victims in its ranks and a heroine who is the only survivor of a tragedy that she does not necessarily understand. It will also integrate the killer’s past which is necessarily the trigger for all this.

Above all, what Craven will do in the first opus of Scream (and which he will continue until the fourth), is to reflect on the horror genre itself and its codes. Thus, the masked killer is himself a great fan of this cinema and multiple references are hidden in the film, like winks to John Carpenter or Freddie. Wes Craven will thus establish in Scream the first meta horror film (which will be missed by many critics of the time, especially on the side of the “generalists”).

Scream will have a colossal success, so much so that it will initiate a comeback of the slasher in the years that followed. Let’s first mention a film that will be released the following year: Remember… last summer. Screenwriter, Kevin Williamson (who also created the series Dawson), is the same as for the Craven film series, the codes too. We find once again a group of teenagers, interpreted by what was becoming better and better teenage stars at the time, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr. Where Sarah Michelle Gellarwho will find himself confronted with a bloodthirsty killer.

Here again, the killer’s past remains his main motivation. What will change is that his victims are intimately linked to it since they are the ones who knocked him down on the road on his way home from the evening. The killer in oilskins seems to want revenge with fisherman’s hooks and plays with the teenagers, he gradually increases their terror by leaving them little words heavy with meaning or by entering their home in the middle of the night to disguise them. Once again, this film will have its share of sequels, but will not be able to hold the coherence of its story unlike Scream.

Another example of the renewed interest gained by the slasher in the late 90s, Urban Legend (which will also line up the suites after a first opus which will be very successful in theaters). Again, the recipe is the same, a mysterious killer murders his teenage victims while cleverly concealing his identity. His murder weapon will be much more original, however, since he relies on urban legends to pass his victims from life to death.

This film will be the instigator of the slasher way of exploitation cinema, much more than Remember… last summer, which was still being constructed as a tribute. With a cast where we find Joshua Jackson Where Jared Letoit aligns the tropes of teen movie. the slasher became a manna and it is at this time that we will see the resurgence of the old licenses which will all know a remake or a dubious sequel.

Jason Voorhees will undoubtedly be the most affected by the greed of the producers, since we will find it in Jason Xwhere he is projected squarely into the future and Space, before being in Freddy vs. Jason, which is not the industrial disaster that one could have foreseen but which is very far from being a great film. Let us quote all the same the remake ofHalloween by Rob Zombie which is for once the real good surprise of this revival doubled as a really good movie.

This return to the top of the slashers will however be of very short duration since a new genre of horror films will take the ascendancy. What will be called the torture porngenus initiated by Saw and beautifully continued by hostelwill take precedence in Hollywood studios over the slasher, becoming this new low-budget genre that pays off big. Currently, the horror film is undergoing a new mutation, with the cost of visual effects collapsing and allowing any independent director to afford some madness. Let’s bet that as long as there are people with good taste left, we should anyway have a few liters of hemoglobin that will splash on cinema screens in the years to come.

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Premium Feature: Slasher movies