While the slasher film enjoyed its heyday in the 1980’s, their cinematic origins can be traced back as far as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and beyond. Anyone who has watched even a handful of these movies is well aware of the slasher conventions: a masked, seemingly unstoppable killer stalking a group of pretty young things, who ultimately is defeated by a teenage girl.
A metaphor for sexual awakenings? Or just a bloody-minded shock-fest intended to scare the audience silly?
Either way, given the fittingly re-released Friday the 13th, we have five more classic slashers for you to check out on this most convenient of dates for horror fans…
Originally titled “The Babysitter Murders”, Halloween gives us all the conventions we know and love. Michael Myers escapes from a mental institution years after killing his sister and returns home to take out his phallic rage on a group of over sexed teens. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie Strode – she who helped spawn Carol J. Clover’s Final Girl theory – who must attempt to defeat her attacker and thus save herself. The opening point-of-view shot of the first murder is often written about in film theory as a feat of excellent editing (it contains just one cut) and clever story telling.
Curtis is returning to the franchise next year and reprising her role as Laurie Strode, despite her character being killed off in Halloween Resurrection. But since when has death in a horror movie ever really stuck?
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The bastard son of 1000 maniacs, Freddy Kruger, the fedora wearing slasher of the franchise, has arguably had the biggest cultural impact out of all in the sub-genre. Kruger has been featured in music videos, television shows and video games. But before he became a wisecracking antihero (“Welcome to prime time, bitch”), Wes Craven created a genuinely terrifying monster.
Kruger is a pedophile child murderer who is burnt alive by the parents of Elm Street when he escapes punishment for his crimes on a technicality. Escape from him is impossible as he hunts his victims in their dreams. The role belongs to Robert Englund who has played Freddy from the start. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare are also well worth a watch.
Craven returned to the genre in 1996 with Scream, a post modern, self aware slasher where knowing the rules means Jack shit. Four instalments and a television show later, the original still holds up over twenty years on. Craven famously “pulled a Hitchcock” by including Drew Barrymore in all the promotional material before killing her off in the first scene. Neve Campbell is the series’ Final Girl who defies convention by having sex and surviving. She is a new Final Girl for a new audience, where sex is not portrayed as a source of weakness or cause for punishment.
Marie finds herself trapped in a nightmare while staying with her friend Alex and her family. When Alex’s entire family is massacred and she is kidnapped, Marie is spurned into action to save her friend from a similar fate. It is a race against time as she chases after a faceless, psychotic truck driver who has her friend. Director Alexandre Aja went on to direct the remakes of Piranha and The Hills Have Eyes before helming the adaptation on Joe Hill’s Horns. Switchblade Romance holds up as a neat little slasher with a twist in the final act that will hold your attention.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Supposedly based on a true story (rather it takes its inspiration from serial killer Ed Gein), and the father to more sequels, prequels and remakes than it is hard to keep track of, it became infamous after the BBFC refused to classify it for theatrical release. Along with other slashers of similar ilk, Leatherface became an iconic figure in the genre, with the use of his chainsaw and his variety of skin masks, setting him apart from his counterparts. The grainy footage and grisly subject matter give it an almost B movie, grind house feel and it is often lauded as one of, if not the, scariest movie of all time. In 2012, Sight and Sound magazine included it in a list of 250 greatest films of all time.
What slasher will you be watching this Friday 13th? Let us know in the comments below.