Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Slashers: Why The Bad Rap?

‘The lowest form of humour’

- English writer Samuel Johnson in reference to the use of puns

The above phrase (substitute ‘humour’ for ‘horror’) often comes to mind when speaking to fans of horror regarding (arguably) its most oft maligned sub-genre: the slasher film. At times, it’s hard to refute that feeling or in some extreme cases, the outright hatred of it. Even though, by and large, zombie films have had a recent run of the generic, slashers continue to be the red headed step child of the horror genre. Why is that? Before we answer that question, a brief run down of its history is essential.

Let’s go all the way back to 1960 when a little film premiered that would pretty much set the blueprint for all slasher films that followed: Psycho. Sure, some films had slasher elements such as 1960’s Peeping Tom, but Psycho was what really gave the sub-genre a formula with which to start: take a socially maladjusted male (or female), a traumatic event which he/she is never able to shake, a disguise to hide behind, an assistant to this soon-to-be vehicle of death (AKA weapon of choice), and a group of people that antagonize him in some way which in turn, sets him/her off. Sure, certain elements have changed over the decades, with some being reflective of the times. But with Psycho, a formula was born.

After 1978’s defining Halloween, it was pretty much all downhill from there. OK that's not quite fair but we did see everything from copycats to outright rip-offs, Friday the 13th, Offerings, Edge of the Axe to name a few; to sleazed out affairs like Aerobicide (AKA Killer Workout), Iced, and Evil Laugh. Movies were churned out en masse and this style of film was beaten like a dead horse. But hot damn I couldn’t get enough of them. They’re like horror’s equivalent of a box of chocolates: you always know what you’re going to get (yes, I just quoted Forrest Gump on a horror blog). It’s easy fun that relieves you from the mind numbing likes of horror’s more serious and exhausting fare (I’m looking at you Martyrs!). Even with the recent resurgence of the sub-genre, and its strict adherence to ‘the rules’, I can’t get enough of these films, good or bad.

So I ask you, why is this sub-genre so oftentimes dismissed? Lack of style or substance? Too paint-by-numbers? The films are mostly shit? What say yous?

For a more critical take and perspective, my friend Jayson over at the Basement of Ghoulish Decadence posted his reply:

Cortez the Killer


Grey @ The dARk HOurs Horror Podcast said...

Everybody has a reason, Is it the gore? Is it the great slasher costume? Is it the cool setting like a camp or a mine deep under the earth? Whatever the element that reels you in Slasher movies are addictive and I love them

Henry Swanson's Glasses said...

I know for me personally, slasher films just generally have the worst characterizations, especially the obvious victims. It's okay once in a while, but I still enjoy a well-written character, and most slasher films simply don't have that. That's not to say that ALL slasher films fall into that category though.

Jeffery said...

I would have gone back to The Murders in The Rue Morgue 1932 with Boris Karloff. That's the genesis really and EA Poe is God! I prefer setting up the Domino's as much as watching them fall, sadly the bias has shifted to watching them fall.Nobody wants to work for it in anything other than a superficial way.

Marvin the Macabre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marvin the Macabre said...

I'd say a major reason for the widespread dismissal of slashers is that they are so cheap to make that as soon as the first few low-budget slashers brought in big bucks, there was a major cash-in. Slashers kind of died out when they went big-budget (think Freddy's Dead), but I've noticed a resurgence of late. I whole-heartedly loved Robert Hall's Laid to Rest, and enjoyed Adam Green's Hatchet movies. High Tension is another great recent entry into the sub-genre. Honestly, Slashers never went away, but it has taken some time for people to shake up the formula enough that they seem fresh again.

Of course, no matter how good a slasher is, there will be those who dismiss it because slashers are, at heart exploitation flicks. But when you think about it, aren't all movies? The goal of every movie is to evoke an emotional response. Movies exploit our emotions, period. It just seems that fear isn't considered as dignified an emotion as, say, grief. And a lot of people are just flat-out so disturbed by violence that they defensively write off violent movies as appealing to our basest instincts. I say, what better way to learn about the true nature of the human being than to appeal to his basest instincts?

MarkusWelby1 said...

"Psycho" and "Halloween" are shining examples of the genre done right. Unfortunately, there are so many bad ones out there that people can tend to overlook the ones that are great and continue to despise the genre as a whole.

Max Torque said...

Like someone said earlier, cheapness is a big factor. Anyone who can afford a camera and some fake blood can make a slasher, because it doesn't take a lot of special costumes or special effects or scenery to make a movie set in the modern day about a crazy guy cutting people up. Of course, if you're that concerned with making the movie on the cheap, you're also not spending any money on a script or decent actors. That has led to a glut of inferior product.

On top of that, there's the perception that slashers are "teenage" horror, unsophisticated, existing only to show off cheap scares and "the cheapest special effect" (breasts). It's the mindless stuff that teenage boys take their dates to in the hope that the girls will go "eek!" and bury their faces in their shoulders.

Naturally, slashers can be done right; in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there's surprisingly little blood. All the scariness comes from the atmosphere, and the expectation of blood to come. But pulling that off takes talent, and the slasher genre is very welcoming to the untalented.

Planet of Terror said...

Great stuff everyone!

@Grey, for me its a combo of both sharp (and more oftentimes than not, dim witted) dialogue to go along with some really inventive kills. That's what gets my motor going. And of course, TITTIES!!

@Henry, good point. The generalizations of most characters has virtually every viewer pinning down their fates before anything has happened. And as is most times the case, you hate just about every single one of them and you're rooting for their death. I guess that's why I love the more recent film Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. It takes those conventions along with a few others and completely flips them on their head.

@Jeffery, I've honestly never seen Rue Morgue w/ Karloff. I feel like I need to remedy that now. It is hard to get past that superficial sense some times. Like 'Is the filmmaker actually doing this for a genuine love?' or is it an easy cash grab.

@Marvin, excellent points. Everything is a cycle and the sub genre, for the most part, has never really gone away. As noted, the exploitation element may be the basis for most people's harsh reactions. But it seems that, even with the most hardcore horror fan, is last to select a slasher film when choosing that night's entertainment. And I wonder why, even with the more ardent of supporters, they're seems to be an immediate dismissive reaction, regardless of quality.

@Markus, I see that point. But aren't terrible zombie films just as widespread, especially with the glut we've seen over the past 5 years? I'll go on record with saying I'd rather check out a new slasher flick where formulas are trying to be tampered with (even with Laid to Rest which I applaud for doing something different but ultimately didn't like) than a zombie film which focuses on a virus, people banding together and fight there way out, rinse, repeat. These types of zombie films are never ending.

@Max, in general, yes I would agree that slashers do appeal more to the teenage crowd. But there are some sophisticated ones out there (The Prowler is incredibly underrated IMHO). But I do understand your point, it does seem to welcome the untalented in more ways than one (directors, screenwriters, actors, etc.).

All, for another perspective, check out my friend Jayson's response over at the fantastic blog, The Basement Of Ghoulish Decadence. He attacks the question from a more critical perspective.
August 25, 2011 4:08 PM

Emily said...

See, I was thinking about this a few weeks ago when I watched The HOrde, a very good, but rather standard French zombie film. I think a similar pattern is happening now with zombie films. We're tired of the same old same old.

Yes, there are some slashers that are far better than others. But they still generally offer no real surprise factor whatsoever, or the 'surprise factor' has become a madatory twist ending that you know is coming in one form or another. Plus, I think the Scream films helped to drive that nail into the coffin because the tropes became SO clearly stated that even teenagers of the '90s who hadn't even seen the '80s slashers pretty much knew EXACTLY what to expect.

See, the same has kind of happened with zombie films, which is why the standard cheap ones just flail nowadays, whereas the ones that transform the genre or use it to tell a very different story (like Deadgirl, for example) are the only ones that last.

the jaded viewer said...

Its the cookie cutout formula and an oversaturated market that makes people hate em. If we went a 3 years without one, people would love em

Planet of Terror said...

Emily, I agree. Its the ones that attempt to do something different that really stand out. That's why I love more recent fare like Dream Home and Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. Two completely different films but they totally turn genre conventions on their head. I hope it continues. But overall, slasher films should really be held in a higher regard. As a matter of fact, I'll go on record as saying there are far more quality slasher films than zombie. CONTROVERSY!!!

Jaded, I get what you are saying buddy. But there wasn't a relative lack of slasher films during the mid to late 2000's? I think it did die off for a bit.