Jessica gasped lightly. A shadow lingered in her peripheral vision, and she had to hold her breath to keep calm; to keep from screaming. Her heart rate increased and tiny pools of sweat emerged from under her bangs. She could feel her pulse in her neck; a constant thud that she was sure must be visible, if not audible. Her stomach churned. She suddenly regretted the mixture of popcorn and soda she substituted for a freshly cooked meal. The room had always had a chill in it, but now Jessica could barely contain her shivering. Her teeth even wanted to chatter, although she had clenched them with such force it seemed more likely that they might crush under the weight of her fear.
And then it came. The man jumped out his hiding spot and pounced on the half naked teenage girl. She screamed as the knife penetrated deeper and deeper.
Jessica let out a yelp, and although it was embarrassing, she was glad she had. Now she could breathe again. Unable to watch the gore unfold on the huge screen before her, she squeezed her eyelids shut and tried not to imagine anything worse than what might actually be happening.
Beside her, Erin burst into laughter. It was genuine, but those who didn’t know her might find it obnoxious. Suddenly, Jessica was hiding not only from the blood bath on the screen, but from the other moviegoers who might be getting irritated with her friend.
“Shh,” she whispered, still refusing to open her eyes.
“Oh, please” Erin retorted. Her voice was lowered but it was certainly not a whisper.
The credits began to roll, cued in by the last victim’s fading scream and the rising level of the ominous theme song that had been a staple of the franchise for the last decade.
“That was the worst one. I tell ya, no more. I’m done with these sequels,” Erin blurted as they hustled out of the packed, dark, cinema.
“It was scary. And gory. That seems like it’s exactly your thing.” Jessica was feeling more like herself now that the film was over.
“Not even! It was just a hack. An imposter of the greats.”
Jessica rolled her eyes, knowing she was in for a long walk home.
“Think about it,” Erin started, “There was all the typical slasher icons: it had the maniac in a mask who is human but borders on the supernatural in his ability to kill, fight, and not die. It had the mixed bag of unsupervised teenage pals: a jock, a nerd who is cooler than he lets on, and two hot girls, one a bit more… promiscuous… than the other.”
Jessica nodded, wondering exactly where this was going.
“Then we have the setting – secluded getaway with a killer on the loose. But, of course, the kids don’t know that because they’re too wrapped up in their teenage love-triangle bullshit to listen to the news. Wrong place, wrong time. One by one, they get the axe.”
“Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up. All of them.”
“That’s my point. Those are the main ingredients – nay, the required ingredients to put together a slasher. It’s what you do with all the in-between that makes it a great film, or a waste of everyone’s time. This one was of the latter category.”
“Okay, so what makes any of these great? As you say, it’s all formulaic. The purpose it to make us squirm, and I do. Mission accomplished. Success.”
“No. It’s not that simple. Horror movies are made for horror fans. The people squealing next to us are the people we dragged with us.”
They turned off of Main St. and the wind picked up. Erin kept talking.
“Horror fans don’t watch it to scream. We watch for a bunch of different reasons; personally, I watch for the final girl, which this film severely lacked. The ‘no survivors’ angle seems original, until you realize that with no survivors there’s no story. No one to route for, route against, laugh at, identify with. All of that is embodied by the final girl; or, on the very rare and generally unsuccessful occasion, the final boy. Either way, that archetype is essential. I wanna see some girl that everyone underestimated kick some ass.”
“Wouldn’t that also be predictable?” Jessica couldn’t help but ask.
“Maybe. But it depends what you do with her.
There are two types of slasher films. You’ve got your run-of-the-mill reactionary film. Typical of the 70s, and it’s all about punishment. It’s a reaction against the civil rights movement, women’s lib, gay rights and anything else that was considered leftist or unnatural. All those things get knifed. The black guy, the sexual women or any form of sexual activity. Whatever isn’t the typical picture of 50s suburbia. In those films you’ve got a virgin for a final girl. She’s hope for the traditional values. Usually she’s even kind of a damsel in distress and she gets rescued.
Then you’ve got your progressive films which are all about the Other fighting back against the monster who represents social oppression. There, you get a badass final girl. She isn’t going to take shit, she’s smart, and she’s capable and she wins. It’s not luck, it’s strategy.”
Jessica pondered on that for a minute and was surprised by how much sense it made to her. Erin caught a glimpse of that in her eyes and smiled, pleased with her persuasive argument skills.
“You see,” she added, “horror is all about living vicariously through these characters. But that doesn’t mean we’re all masochists.”
“I might be. You don’t really drag me here. I could say no. I like the scares and I watch to squirm,” Jessica finally admitted.
Erin laughed. “Yeah, I guess you might be, then.”
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©
6 thoughts on “Generation Slasher”
Interesting! Have you seen Cabin in the Woods? What did you think?
Thanks! I have seen that one. I loved it; very clever. I liked that it played with slasher stereotypes without actually being one. Sure, people die one by one but there was a lot about it that strayed from the typical formula. It was obviously self-aware, which made it fun and engaging.
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We’re hooked into these roles. The familiar creates a safe environment. Then the evil picks apart the world. We want a survivor. The social aspect is easy to read into. Again safe roles make better bets….the black guy dies first because he’s different, the promiscuous girl goes either before or after sexual encounter… But the best is the non conforming ones, the Hannibel Lector types. His civilized nature makes her far more scary.
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I never thought of horror movies this way. Insightful.
Thanks! If you’re interested, these ideas incorporate the work of three major film theorists: Carol Clover, Isabelle Christina Pinedo, and Robin Wood. They have some amazing books!