With Wes Craven‘s Scream 4 due for official cinema release in spring, avoiding slasher films has become quite the challenge. This was not always the case. In fact, slasher movies are more of a subcategory within horror films, verging onto caricature and exaggeration.
Writer Vincent Dechamps
The rules are simple and have yet to be changed: a masked villain – often disfigured or who’s identity is concealed by smart camera angles – leads the action, perpetuating several bloody crimes, devoid of pity and hungry for violence. He’s usually after a defenceless heroine, surrounded by her posse of spotty teenagers. John Carpenter‘s Halloween – which goes back to 1978 – was the first blockbuster to impose the slasher movie’s basic protocol with its legendary opening scene. A distressed audience witnesses the ruthless murder of a teenage girl through the eyes of a masked killer. As he leaves the house where the killing took place, two pedestrians – who happen to be his parents – stop him. Once they remove his mask, one discovers the angelic face of a 10-year-old. With that, the evil Michael Myers’ cult figure status is sealed, as he quickly adopts a huge butcher knife and a terrifying anonymous white mask to commit his sins.
Halloween’s opening scene
From that point onwards, the slasher caravan was on the move and the killers barking, drawing more pints of blood and generating increasing revenues each year, its most prominent figures being Jason Voorhees, who sports his signature hockey mask and machete in Friday the 13th (1980) and the disfigured Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The 80s marked the heyday of the slasher movie, spawning iconic features that are still worth watching today. The success of the genre resides in its directness and simplicity, making it rather effective and pleasurable to watch. However, it is precisely the honest – perhaps naïve even – nature of the genre that turned it into a repetitive and bland exercise, boring audiences towards the end of the decade as a result. Producers felt forced to increase blood scenes, looking for more disturbing ways to kill their victims. In the early 90s, irony was the new black. Films were no longer about frightening audiences, but having them in stitches instead. Peter Jackson‘s Braindead (1992) is a great illustration of how horror and humour could happily coexist at that time. There had never been that much haemoglobin on screen before, but there was laughter in equal parts, too.
A compilation of Jason Voorhees’ 13 best kills
The top 5 Freddy Krueger kills
The trailer for Braindead
In the early 90s, American horror films were not in great shape. Only mainstream productions – such as Interview with the Vampire (1991) or Jurassic Park (1993) – could get people queuing at the box office. The era of B horror films seemed over, but someone came along who revived the category. Thanks to an unknown writer called Kevin Williamson, Scream was born in the mid 90s, convincing studios and audiences of its appeal. A huge commercial and critical success, Scream was initially thought of as an homage to slasher movies and revived their scope, paving the way for new categories, such as “torture porn” with Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005), as well as “gore parody” with Piranha 3D (2010). With its fourth instalment ready for release, Scream is set to prove that slasher films are far from over, with audiences enjoying what can only be described as a bloody good laugh once again.
Scream’s opening scene
Piranha 3D trailer