Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ode to the Slasher

Slasher flicks are a much-maligned, yet perennially-popular subgenre of horror. But while they've been done inside and out in this day and age, I've found that going back to the classics enables me to appreciate when the formula was still fresh, ideas were clever, and artistry was still in evidence. And there's no denying that four franchises in particular defined the subgenre, and introduced a series of cultural icons to the public mindset.

It starts with 1974's Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which introduced the apron-wearing, chainsaw-wielding, inbred hick dubbed Leatherface. Then it continues with John Carpenter's Halloween in 1978, featuring the escaped mental patient and bogeyman without a conscience who embodies soulless evil, Michael Myers, with his mask and kitchen knife. Following that was 1978's Friday the 13th, which eventually formed an icon out of the hockey mask-wearing, machete-wielding, waterlogged, decaying avenger-from-beyond-the-grave, Jason Voorhees. Finally, 1984 brought A Nightmare on Elm Street, poisoning kids' dreams with Freddy Krueger's burned scars, clicking, screeching finger-knives, and characteristic hat and striped sweater.

Growing up in the '80s and the '90s, after these horror icons had settled in to the public consciousness, you didn't even have to be a horror buff to know who Freddy and Jason was, or the guy with the chainsaw (Michael Myers was somewhat less iconic, I think, due to his utter lack of personality), and that you should be scared of them. I knew, and I hadn't watched any of these movies until later in my life.

The scores of sequels that these movies inspired were a mixed blessing, solidifying each of the individual franchises' popularity, but also running each series more or less into the ground with rehashed tellings of the same basic story. Meanwhile, the slew of imitators they inspired only served to reinforce the formulaic and cliched nature of the subgenre, and despite eventually evolving through new stages of awareness and self-referential parody, it remains difficult to create a slasher that is truly fresh and original.

Nevertheless, I still find it exciting to return to those classics that filled all of our hearts with dread and our heads with frightening images. Be it the frank and raw brutality of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the haunting atmosphere of Halloween, Friday the 13th's promise that adolescent abandon will not go unpunished, or A Nightmare on Elm Street's threat that it is not safe to go to sleep. As a horror fan, I've seen all of these titles, and many of their sequels, but I've never sat down to watch them in order before, to chart the inevitably declining progress of each series, and their ups and downs. That is something I'd like to do this October; so stay tuned for a series of slasher marathons!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Halloween
Friday the 13th
A Nightmare on Elm Street

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