Death of the Slasher
It seems if anything that the glory days of the slasher movie are far behind us. It’s been a good 55 years since the all famous “shower scene” at the Bates Motel lit up the silver-screen with screams and thrills inspiring an all new era of horror film makers.
Looking back, Hitchcock’s Psycho was not only pioneering but set the mould for the slasher sub-genre. However many of the roots of the slasher movie not only lay in Psycho but in the tortuous horror themed plays of the Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris.
Still many of the iconic names in horror would never have killed if it hadn’t have been for the on screen genius of Alfred Hitchcock; John Carpenter’s twisted and psychotic Michael Myers from Halloween being among one of the names, who terrorised Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie and cemented her as one of the most famous final girls in slasher movie history. This title found her returning in many of the overworked and definitely questionable Halloween sequels. This wasn’t the first slasher movie however to come under the knife of diminishing sequels.
We Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street was also victim to multiple sequels and even a crossover movie featuring Friday 13th’s masked killer Jason Voorhees. Craven flat out refused to work on the sequel – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. He claimed that he had not wanted the movie to become a franchise and later worked on the third instalment in hope that he could end the series there. His initial ideas was that of the later produced Wes Craven’s New Nightmare which New Line Cinema initially rejected as a third instalment but later gave the go ahead.
A classic slasher movie convention of course is to off the killer in the ending scene, giving the killer an almost immortal life force on their imminent return through sequels. This seemingly immortal state that each of these on screen killers seem to inhabit can be terrifying if used correctly or slightly satirical if overdone. This lesson was learnt the hard way for franchises such as Friday 13th with the almost laughable Jason X instalment to the series. Having Jason in space seemed to not only ruin the entire tone of the series, but simply obliterate any hopes any wishful thinker had of anyone being able to take the series serious again.
This endless revival however seemed to work somewhat for Child Play’s Chucky (if only for the merchandise). Since he was catapulted into a fan in the closing of Child Play 3 the Chucky doll adopted a new image for his revival in The Bride of Chucky. This scarred and quite frankly horrifying appearance suited well with the doll’s sadistic and brutal nature. This new look saw an increase in replica Chucky dolls sold worldwide increasing the revenue of the eerie doll’s sinister franchise.
The slasher movie sequels inevitably set way for the downfall of the genre. By 1985 (post A Nightmare on Elm Street) the slasher movie started to see a rapid decline in popularity with most of the iconic slasher movies we know having seen their day. By this point however a whole new era of home cinema had risen up resulting in straight-to-video productions. Due to the nature of the genre, production costs were quite low, in most cases the only things needed were a camera, mask/costume, a murder weapon, a hell of a lot of fake blood and a more than willing cast. This opportunity in the industry was snapped up by many an amateur film maker, Robert Hiltzik being one of those opportunists.
Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp gained a very positive reception among slasher fans and still has a cult following to this day.
Hiltzik remained unaware of this substantial fan following until contacted by Jeff Hayes of sleepawaycampmovies.com in the March of 2000 who requested a DVD commentary for the Anchor Bay Entertainment production company. Hiltzik later went on to write and direct the sequel Return to Sleepaway Camp in 2004.
By the 1990s the slasher movie trend was beginning to feel slightly exhausted. With the exception of possibly Candyman in 1992. This movie set the way for other urban legend slashers such as I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1997 as well as the sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in 1998. Although moderately successful with a reasonable following this was nothing on the glory days that lay behind.
However it seemed that one man’s imminent return would breathe life back into a dying genre and Wes Craven was that man. In 1996 Craven released upon the world, the cult phenomenon Scream. Playing homage to the slasher genre, Scream was able to replicate the conventions of its predecessors in a satirical but not too sardonic way. Scream’s parodist style evoked many laughs from its audience; at various points in the movie the characters even comment on their situations as horror movie fans, listing the rules you must follow to survive a horror movie. All through this seemingly unaware that they are in fact a part of a horror movie themselves. By July 1997 the movie had grossed over 103 million dollars and is considered by many as the revival of the slasher movie.
Despite Scream’s fame and success the revival was short lived. By the early to mid-2000s the genre started to see another serious decline with a resurgence of reboots and remakes coming into play. This can be seen when Samuel Bayer brought to the screens a remake of the 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The film was heavily criticised and received woeful reviews. With sympathies for Jackie Earle Haley (cast for the role of Freddy Krueger) who actually attended auditions for the original in 1984 accompanied by a friend who was instead spotted by Wes Craven and cast into the movie. This surprise role kick-started the acting career of one of the best loved celebrities on the planet… Johnny Depp. As we lay in wait however 2015 seems to have little to offer on the slasher front. LA Slasher seems to be the only title laying in wake for the slasher movie genre however the likelihood of this returning us to the glory days is very minimal indeed.