Film discussion

Jason Voorhees in popular culture and the decline of the slasher

At first, he was a sympathetic figure. A mentally disabled boy who drowns at summer camp thanks to the incompetence of the people tasked to look after him. After an unexplained supernatural resurrection at the end of the first film, Jason has hacked his way through teens in eleven films (including the remake). He’s taken Manhattan, gone to Hell, been shot into space and battled Freddy Kruger. With a body count reaching over 170, Jason (and his hockey mask) has become a cultural icon.

There have been over 20 novels detailing his murderous adventures, he’s appeared in 15 comic runs and three video games, including his own standalone title released his year. According to the Friday the 13th Wiki, Jason has the most kills of any horror slasher,  with Michael Myers lagging behind in second place with 80 plus. Jason, along with Myers, helped give rise to the masked slasher and his influence can clearly be seen in dozens of cheap rip-offs that take place in isolated locations, far away from the prying eye of adults. Unlike Kruger, who is never short of a quip, Jason remains silent, a towering monsters of a man who prefers to let his weapons do the talking.

In 2009, there was the seemingly inevitable remake, which added little or anything to the franchise and did not dare to stray too far from the well worn formula. As well as taking on Kruger in 2003’s lacklustre Freddy Vs. Jason, he has also gone toe-to-toe with Ash Williams from The Evil Dead franchise in the comic book run of Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash and crossed path with Leatherface in the same medium. As well as receiving an MTV movie lifetime achievement award, and being inducted into the Horror Hall of Fame, Jason has made appearances in television shows such as Family Guy, Robot Chicken and has shown up in The Simpsons no less than five times.

So how did Jason, a figure of fear, end up cameoing in cartoons? Horror is perhaps the most responsive of all the genres, every decade is dominated by a main theme that takes its cues from fears at the time. In the 1950’s, horror took on a distinctly more science-fiction tone. Mad scientists, huge monsters and aliens where the order of the day.

This was due to two things happening in the world: America was gripped by the red threat, not helped by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities Committee, which encouraged members of  the public to shame anyone they suspected of being a communist. Aliens came from Outer Space, but they looked like us. They were the Other, sneaking their way into society and quietly taking over (see Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a prime example of this). Secondly, creatures such as the giant ants of Them! were a response to fears over the fallout of the use of nuclear weapons and the aftermath they could cause.

The 1980’s horror films were not only dominated by slashers, but also by body horror. The moral tale of slashers, as many people know, is “have sex and die”. Perhaps this can be seen as reactive to the AIDS epidemic of the time, when sex was literally killing people, an unknown disease that was slowly destroying people.

Now? Well, American Horror Story is already tackling the most common fear of today: its seventh season is dealing with the election of Donald Trump as President. We live in unknown and, frankly, scary times. The reason the traditional slasher has seen a decline is because we do not need them right now. Our fears are different.

That is not to say they do not, and will not always, have a place in horror. But in 2017, our fears are not about the men lurking in the shadows, but the men in power.

Are you still into slashers, or have you cut the sub-genre out of your life? Talk to us in the credits (or stalk us from behind a bush).

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