This is the first installment in a new series dedicated strictly to the horror genre. My name is Rhiannon Elizabeth Irons and I’ll be your host as we explore Filmoria’s latest series; Chamber of Horrors.
Before we begin our venture into the rise of the slasher movie, I’d like to give you a little background on myself. I’ve been a horror fan since I was 12. Coming from a rather conservative household, it was surprising that my parents allowed me to hire out I Know What You Did Last Summer from the video store on October 31st, 1998. I won’t lie; The Fisherman scared the absolute bejesus out of me. But in doing so he had me hooked, pun intended, as a life-long fan of the genre. Muse Watson, if you’re reading this, I thank you.
Now, keep your arms and hands inside the train because it’s time to enter Filmoria’s Chamber of Horrors.
When it comes to movie genres there is always a basic formula to be followed. Romantic comedies see boy meets girl, girl likes boy, funny stuff happens, boy realizes he likes girl, they get together in the end. Action films always have some bad guy with an itchy trigger finger and a good guy with a wise-cracking mouth that’s always a better shot.
But one genre breaks this formula and has evolved over the course of the years. From tales of monsters we all know, like the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster, to stories of babysitter killers and dream demons to what can only be described as torture-porn, the horror genre has change formulas for scaring audiences, each time getting bloodier and gorier. These changes in storytelling create what I like to call sub-genres. And this is where our Chamber of Horrors tour begins.
Upon hearing the term “slasher movie” most people conjure up images of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. But did you know that the beginning of slasher craze was in 1960? While Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is often credited as being the granddaddy of the slasher genre, it was actually 1960’s Peeping Tom that started it all.
Peeping Tom earned a modest return the year it was released, but has since reached cult classic status thanks to a new wave of fans. The film’s premise is simple; A young man murders women, using a movie camera to film their dying expressions of terror. Not only was the film groundbreaking in that it was the first of its kind, it also was the first film to give the audience a POV (point of view) experience from the killer’s perspective. This technique would later be re-imagined during the slasher resurgence of the late 1970’s.
Psycho, as previously mentioned, has it’s own cult status. While many argue that it’s not a true slasher film, you cannot deny there is an element of horror involved in the story of Norman Bates and his mother. Psycho wooed audiences though clever marketing including Hitchcock’s personal guarantee – “No One … BUT NO ONE … Will Be Admitted To The Theatre After The Start Of Each Performance Of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.”
Audiences were shocked by the terror that followed. Psycho stood alone as one of the greatest films to grace the horror genre, while Peeping Tom faded into the background.
The slasher genre remained dormant for a number of years until 1974, when a little movie known as Black Christmas hit the cinemas. Black Christmas gave us the characteristics of the slasher genre that we’ve all come to know; A movie typically involving a psychopathic killer stalking and killing a sequence of victims in a graphically violent manner, often with some form of cutting tool like a knife or axe. The film even gave us the POV of the killer made famous by Peeping Tom and Psycho.
Fast forward another four years and the slasher genre would return with a vengeance.
A young filmmaker, by the name of John Carpenter, forever changed the outlook of horror, and the slasher sub-genre. In 1978, Halloween gave birth to the boogeyman. Audiences flocked to cinemas for the limited run as Michael Myers made his cinematic debut, slashing his way through victims on Halloween night in the small town of Haddonfield. While there had been other slasher movies prior to Halloween‘s release, nothing could compare to the sheer terror that John Carpenter had created.
Halloween paved the way for future slasher movies, some being blatant copycat films, such as Terror Train (1980). Also riding on the coattails of Halloween was a little film called Friday the 13th, which gave audiences a new, unsuspected villain.
In 1981, Friday the 13th returned with its first sequel. This sequel gave birth to one of horror’s most prolific serial killers, Jason Voorhees. While Jason had appeared in the first film it was his mother, Pamela Voorhees, who was the killer. Audiences loved the resurgence of Friday the 13th and its new villain, Jason, so much so that there was a call for another Halloween movie. That same year, Halloween II saw Michael Myers return to the big screen. Unlike most slasher films that begin a brand new story with their sequel, Halloween II continued the events of the 1978 murder spree.
The early 80’s thrived with slasher movies. The Prowler, The Burning, and My Bloody Valentine, just to name a few, frequented cinemas. Films like Sleepaway Camp shocked audiences with endings that were completely unpredictable, while John Carpenter returned with a movie entitled The Fog, which saw him team up once again with Jamie Lee Curtis, fresh off her Halloween fame.
In 1984, off the success of both Halloween and Friday the 13th, which was up to its fourth installment, a new comer came to play. Freddy Krueger was born, resurrecting New Line Cinema and giving slasher fans a new villain to watch. Unlike Jason or Michael, Freddy was purely supernatural, attacking his victims in their dreams where they were unprotected. A Nightmare On Elm Street was the first commercial success for the studio and after soaring popularity, a sequel was announced for the following year.
By the late 80’s, the slasher sub-genre was losing momentum. Halloween had four sequels about Michael Myers, as well as one stand alone film that had failed miserably. Friday the 13th was pumping out sequel year after year while A Nightmare On Elm Street, despite being the youngest out of the three main players, was also becoming monotonous with Freddy Krueger being more of a comic relief than something to fear. In fact, the whole horror genre was losing money and fans. The films that audiences had flocked to had become tedious. Same old story lines were rehashed year after year and audiences began looking for new genres to peek their interests. The action genre became the fallback with films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop surpassing Friday the 13th at the box office.
Was it worth bringing the likes of Freddy, Jason and Michael back again? Was there any life left in the slasher genre? Tune in next week for part two of this article.
Until then, stay spooky!