Growing up in the era of the Slasher was a great experience for someone who fell in love with horror movies so young. I remember cuddling up to a blanket on the cold basement floor as I watched the unstoppable Michael Myers do his thing.
But let me back up a little bit – what exactly is a slasher? Typically, a slasher is a a movie where the victims (usually women in the 80s and 90s) are killed by knives or other sharp weapons in a sequential fashion. They don’t necessarily need to be gory, or even have a large body count. Later movies like Scream (1996) played with the rules of slashers (even recounting some of them in the movie itself), but the idea of sequential victims usually stays strong.
Considering the above definition, two of the first slashers would have to be Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, both released in 1960. The body count was low compared to later offerings, but the horror in both was definitely palpable. I see the shower scene in Psycho as the prototypical slasher murder scene. Oddly, I never saw Psycho as a kid as my parent’s thought it was too scary…
But what about modern day slashers? The first, in my mind, would be Black Christmas (1974). Although Halloween (1978) is more popular (with perhaps the most iconic horror movie icon), Black Christmas started the high body count, gruesome murder slasher trend that we’re still seeing to this day. The nice thing about Black Christmas as compared to Halloween is the former had imperfect characters that we can all relate to. Unlike most later slashers, the main character (the “final girl” trope) isn’t perfect as she drinks and even discusses having an abortion with her boyfriend. Another difference, Black Christmas never shows the killer. We have potential antagonists throughout, but we’re never quite told who the murderer is. This absolutely heightened the horror for me as a kid since it could be anybody around that corner or hiding in the attic.
I watched many slashers as a kid, every single Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween and so forth. There’s no point explaining these movies in detail considering their cult status, though I must say that all of them have the sad habit of becoming ridiculously spoofy as their series’ goes on (except for Halloween III, which doesn’t even have Michael Myers – and even does the unthinkable by killing a young boy at the start of the film!). When I saw Roseanne Barr in Freddy’s Dead (1991),I think I nearly screamed with both joy and disgust (I was, and still am, a huge Roseanne fan).
I did want to mention one thing about all of their remakes though – I’ve noticed that each remake seems to focus (and almost idolizes) the killers rather than expand and give the victims/main characters depth. It’s an unfortunate trend that I hope ends soon. It’s not that I don’t want to know more about Freddy or Jason, but if I don’t empathize with (and feel scared for) the victims, then I consider the movie boring and a slog to get through.
I can’t ignore some of the sub genres of slasher horror. One such subgenre would be the holiday horrors – Leprechaun (1983), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) and April Fool’s Day (1986) are great early examples of these (although Warwick Davis is awesome, Leprechaun is the weakest of the three). Another subgenre I love is science fiction. There aren’t that many to choose from, but Hardware (1990) might be the most important slasher of my childhood. Yes, I absolutely love the above movies, but for some reason, a low budget post apocalyptic movie about a Biblically-named robot built to cull the bloated human population hit me. Ask MegaMommy – I still sing the ending song to this day (Public Image Ltd.’s The Order of Death). Actually, if I’m being truthful, the music in that movie absolutely terrifies me… in a good way.
Speaking of music, it feels to me that the music in many of these movies affected me a lot more than the movies themselves. I’m not sure if I was typically drawn more to aural experiences as a child as opposed to visual (that’s Psychology 101, folks!), but the theme songs in Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street (along with Hardware) make my skin crawl and heart flicker when they play. (Not as bad as another movie I’ll talk about in a later posting, though).
There is still one slasher from my childhood that I’m trying to find, a rosebud, if you will. A movie where psychotic killers are murdering people in a theatre. One of the murderers is covered in boogers (at least, that’s what my child-mind thought it was?). I’m guessing it’s an amalgam of movies — perhaps Stagefright (1987) and the Canadian film Curtains (1983). I guess I’ll just have to keep watching old horror movies until I find it (oh no…).