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Friday, June 7, 2013

I Was Raised On The Slashers, Bitch

Friday the 13th (1980) axe to the face
A splitting headache, slasher movie style.
     I was just coming of age when the slasher movie boom that began with Halloween (1978) and ended with A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) was storming the pop culture landscape.  Though I've developed a wide-ranging taste in horror movies over the years, slashers were the first horror movies to make my heart go pitter-pat.  You never forget your first love.

     At the time, slasher movies defined horror for me.  This was, of course,  a pretty narrow definition, but it's a great sub-genre for a budding horror fan to cut his teeth.  The simple charms of a slasher movie exist on the surface.  Slashers are so beholden to a fixed narrative template that it's easy for nascent film critics to perceive variations to the form.   The slashers display a conservative morality that fosters jump scares while avoiding any ambiguity that might render the story more profoundly disturbing.  If you do bad things in a slasher, you die - easy peasy.  Even the movies' characters tend to be recurring archetypes - jock, joker, slut, virgin - that are instantly recognized and understood. 

Jason Voorhees at the door
Kramer's got nothing on Jason Voorhees
     Once a viewer becomes attuned to the slasher movie paradigm the movies themselves become the cinematic equivalent of comfort food.  You know almost exactly what's being served and how it will be served to you.  The thrill becomes less about originality and more about seeing how the particulars will change in the interest of tarting up the hoary foundation.  In many ways, a slasher movie holds the same appeal one finds in a t.v. sitcom.  A visit from Jason Vorhees is akin to a visit from the wacky next door neighbor who does a variation of the same shtick every week.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) chimney
There damn well better be cookies and milk . . .
     Luckily there were enough irate mothers and incensed community leaders railing against the slasher movies of the era to guarantee the maligned sub-genre's continued low and dangerous rep.  How so many morally upright pillars of the community failed to see what one presumes should have been  the attractive notion of a black and white morality displayed in the slasher movies they vilified still perplexes me.  The notorious Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) would have slipped beneath my radar altogether had a batch of overwrought PTA mothers not made enough noise about it to land themselves on Entertainment Tonight.  Since they did, I made sure to get to a theater before they succeeded in having the movie abruptly pulled from distribution.

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) gun in mouth
A "shot" from Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970)





     Even otherwise perceptive movie critics didn't really get it.  Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert famously decried the entire slasher sub-genre on their show At The Movies (watch the entire episode in two parts, here and here).  Sure, they gave props to Halloween and made some cogent points about the exploitative nature of many of the slashers that followed in its wake, but . . . Take a look at Russ Meyer's wildly exploitative  Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) - based upon a screenplay written by Roger Ebert - and tell me how Mr. Ebert's sensibilities become so delicate in the span of just a decade.

New Year's Evil (1980) suffocated by a bag of pot
Bag of pot or murder weapon?
      As a youngster, though, the perception that slasher movies were deviated and dangerous - and therefore not fit for consumption by any decent person - only enhanced their appeal.  I still recall many a childhood night that I'd set an alarm to wake me in the wee hours of the morning so I could surreptitiously watch some promising slice-and-dicer airing on HBO or Showtime.  Almost everything about a slasher movie seemed designed to appeal to an adolescent boy.  Slashers were my gateway drug.

He Know You're Alone (1980) poster
He Knows You're Alone (1980)
     This rumination was prompted by the realization that there are still slasher movies from this era that I haven't seen.  I was indoctrinated by the likes of Friday The 13th (1980) and My Bloody Valentine (1981), but I'd never seen He Knows You're Alone (1980), Happy Birthday To Me (1981), and The House On Sorority Row (1983) until recently.  Just this week I've watched both Curtains (1983) and New Year's Evil (1980) for the first time.  I've decided to embark upon a more in depth investigation of the these movies and the era they sprang from, so more posts about the topic will likely be forthcoming.  We can talk about the FX superstars, the iconography, the gratuitous nudity, and perhaps even the curious mini-trend of custom made ballads celebrating the legends of the slashers themselves. 

     It's on.  Let's get wet . . .



Posted by Brandon Early

2 comments:

Jeremy [Retro-Z] said...

movies today are not the same... it's watered down and amp'd up gore... i too fell for the 80's stuff and falling in a good way... i have news about one of those films, scores... shhhhh not yet!

Brandon Early said...

Jeremy, you'll have to plug the super secret slasher film score here when the time is right. In the meantime, readers can check out the recordings already available at Howlin' Wolf Records.

http://www.jmhdigital.com/