Slasher films are a subgenre of horror films, typically involving a violent psychopath murdering a sequence of victims, usually with a bladed tool such as a knife. Although "slasher" is also used as generic term for any horror movie involving murder, the genre has an established set of characteristics which set it apart from related genres such as the splatter film and the psychological thriller.
With origins dating back to the French Grand Guignol theater plays of the late 19th century, the slasher film's evolution can be traced through various mediums. The popularity of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) influenced a variety of international subgenres, including the slasher. Many critics, film historians, and fans believe that the genre had its artistic peak between the releases of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). After a commercial decline and move into the home video market in the mid-1980s, the slasher was resurrected in 1996 with Craven's Scream (1996). Despite a briefly successful return to mainstream thanks to the popularity of Scream, the genre again declined in the early 2000s. Mainstream success for slasher films was thereafter found in remakes and throwbacks to the genre's prime.
Despite critical praise of films like Psycho and Halloween, the genre has often found itself under attack from critics, parental groups and feminists who deemed the films misogynistic due to their repeated violence against women. Despite this criticism, the genre has been hugely successful, with the repeated ability to churn out sleeper hits on small independent budgets. Many films in the genre have attracted strong devoted cult followings and have influenced filmmakers in other genres.
- 1 Definition
- 2 Origins
- 3 Early influences
- 4 Psycho and the 1960s
- 5 Influential subgenres
- 6 Golden age
- 7 Decline
- 8 Scream and revival
- 9 Remakes, reboots, and throwbacks
- 10 See also
- 11 References
||This section possibly contains original research. (November 2013)|
The exact definition of a slasher film varies, but generally contains several specific traits that feed into the genre's formula.
Slasher films can be split into two distinct types: one type in which the killer's identity is known from the outset (such as the films featuring Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers) and the other where the killer's identity is a mystery, employing a whodunit angle with a twist at the end.
There is substantial critical debate as to what films meet the criteria of the slasher film. Vera Dika strictly defines the subgenre in her book Games of Terror, only including films made between 1978 and 1984 whereas Carol Clover's book Men, Women, and Chainsaws has a looser definition, including films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in the slasher genre. In Peter Hutching's book The Horror Film, he considers the films following the success of Halloween critically different than those released prior.
Dika defines the slasher through a repeated plot structure, theorizing that all the films adhere to the following formula in one condition or another:
- The community is guilty of a wrongful action. e.g. in Friday the 13th (1980), camp counselors don't pay attention to child campers because they are too busy engaging in flirtation and sexual activities.
- The killer sees an injury, fault or death. In Friday the 13th, the killer witnesses the death of a young boy who drowns because the counselors aren't paying attention.
- The killer experiences a loss. In Friday the 13th, the killer's child is the drowning victim.
- The killer kills the guilty members of the young community. In Friday the 13th, the killer gets revenge on the campers who weren't paying attention to the drowning boy by murdering them as they are about to engage in sexual activities.
- An event commemorates the past action. In Friday the 13th, Camp Crystal Lake, where the young boy drowned, is announced to re-open.
- The killer's destructive force is reactivated. In Friday the 13th, the re-opening of the camp sets off the killer on another rampage.
- The killer reidentifies the guilty parties. In Friday the 13th, the killer spies on the new camp counselors opening the camp, who are participating in the same sexual activities as the previous generation.
- A member of the old community tries to warn the young community (optional). In Friday the 13th, locals attempt to warn the camp counselors not to stay at Camp Crystal Lake.
- The young community takes no heed. In Friday the 13th, the young camp counselors ignore their warnings as superstition.
- The killer stalks members of the young community. In Friday the 13th, a killer waits in the woods for night to fall so they can kill the camp counselors.
- A member of some type of force like a detective etc., attempts to hunt down the killer. In Friday the 13th, a crazed old man named "Crazy Ralph" sneaks into the camp to persuade the counselors to leave.
- The killer kills members of the young community. In Friday the 13th the killer murders most of the counselors through a variety of means during a thunder storm.
- The hero/heroine sees the extent of the murders. In Friday the 13th, the final girl realizes that her friends have been killed.
- The hero/heroine sees the killer. In Friday the 13th, the final girl realizes her only salvation is actually the killer.
- The hero/heroine does battle with the killer. In Friday the 13th, the final girl attempts to fend off the killer, who keeps coming back.
- The hero/heroine kills or subdues the killer. In Friday the 13th, the final girl decapitates the killer, ending the mayhem.
- The hero/heroine survives. In Friday the 13th, the final girl wakes up the next day, alive, with police waiting nearby.
- But the hero/heroine is not free. In Friday the 13th, the final girl is attacked by the young boy who supposedly drowned years ago and who was the killer's motivation, thus proving that the nightmare is not over.
Dika further goes on to define the genre's appeal to its audience as being threefold:
- Catharsis—Through a release of fears about bodily injury or from political or social tensions of the day.
- Recreation—An intense, thrill seeking, physical experience akin to a roller coaster ride.
- Displacement—Audiences' sexual desires are displaced onto the characters in the film.
The Final Girl
Ever since Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) turned from bookish wallflower to resourceful heroine in Halloween (1978), it has become a slasher film convention that a lone woman becomes the last one standing to fend off the villain. Before Halloween, heroines had often survived horror films, but the climactic and lengthy chase between Laurie and the killer was a blueprint of what was to follow. Occasionally, there was a "final boy", such as Todd (Brian Matthews) in The Burning (1981), however it was a rarity. The final girl was, more often than not, a virginal and moralistic figure, unlike most other victims; she often declines to smoke, drink or do drugs as a symbol of her special status. In many ways, the final girl has taken over the role of the traditional male hero in horror movies and thrillers, as seen most evidently in characters such as Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from Alien (1979), and Buffy Summers from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise. In slashers, men were taken out of commission before the climax, leaving the final girl to battle the killer one-on-one. However, being a "final girl" does not mean survival, as not all final girls survived to the end credits of the film. Despite their near-escape, some were murdered just before the closing credits in a filmmaking attempt for one final "shock." Even if the final girl does survive one film, there is no guarantee that she will survive its sequel, as is evident in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) and Halloween: Resurrection (2002).
The subject of the final girl has become a studied cultural topic in film studies and gender studies. The presence of the final girl brings up a debate on if slasher films are inherently reinforcing misandry, as many final girls defeat their attackers and outlive their male counterparts through traits such as wit, self-respect, and intelligence.
Villains as anti-heroes
The majority of slasher villains are portrayed as mentally deranged and/or physically deformed individuals who were traumatized, in many instances at an early age.
Long-running series in the genre tended to focus more on the returning villain than on surviving victims, effectively transforming characters once viewed as psychopaths into familiar antiheroes. Notables examples include Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Chucky, and Leatherface, all of whom have become some of the more recognizable 20th century American popular culture icons. When their respective franchises failed to include these popular characters, such as in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) and Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, the reaction was often met with complaints from fans, resulting in lower box office numbers than other films. While this undoubtedly helped these films develop a cult following, it also made the villains less frightening. Their familiarity and the audience's ability to identify and sympathize with them over the protagonists made these villains less threatening, which made the appeal of a "scary movie" less interesting.
"Video Nasty" was a British tabloid term coined in the early 1980s for violent exploitation films that were especially popular at the time. A sizable number of those were slasher films from the Golden Age, including The Burning (1981), Bloody Moon (1981), Don't Go in the House (1980), and The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982). During this time the British market was flooded with hundreds of uncensored films due to a loophole in the laws of home video. These films created a moral panic, sensationalized by newspaper headlines as well as campaigning politicians and religious groups. This created what can only be described as a "witch hunt" for the movies that were blamed for juvenile delinquency and social decadence.
The films were placed on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list, created after the Obscene Publications Act first appeared in 1983. The films on the list were subject to seizure from police force, and in the end a total of 39 films were banned from Britain under law. The Video Recordings Act of 1984 was hurriedly assembled, ensuring that all video releases in Britain would be previewed and censored by the BBFC. The hysteria resulted in many slasher films, even those not included on the DPP list, to be subsequently cut or have their releases on video delayed.
Grand Guignol Theater
The Grand Guignol plays of the late 19th-century became known for their horror themes. These plays often climaxed with acts of torture, murder, and mayhem and featured early gore special effects. Because of the crowd-pleasing effect they had, theater owner cemented the Grand Guignol's notoriety by putting on an increasing number of plays with insanity as a central theme. The theater was most popular between World War I and World War II, as it was one of Paris' leading tourist attractions. The popularity of the Grand Guignol theater waned after the Second World War ended in 1945, however graphic violence was transitioning to the cinema. Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a notable example of the Grand Guignol theme continuing in French cinema, showcasing gruesome scenes playing on the poetic themes such as beauty and lost love. The Grand Guignol theater closed in 1962 and the theater was demolished, however its influence on filmmakers lived on.
The visceral violence seen at the Grand Guignol theater rarely made it onto cinema screens before the 1960s, however several of the plays were adapted to screen, the earliest being Maurice Tourneur's The Lunatics (1912). In the United States, a public outcry from the public over perceived immorality in the movies led to the introduction of the Hays Code in 1930, which was one of the Entertainment Industry's earliest set of guidelines that restricted what could be shown on film. Under the Hays Code, making even mild references to sexuality and brutality were deemed unacceptable.
Crime writer Mary Roberts Rinehart was a major influence on the emerging horror genre. Her novel The Circular Staircase (1908), adapted as The Bat (1926), tells the story of guests in a remote mansion menaced by a killer in a grotesque bat mask. The success of The Bat led to a series of "old dark house" films produced throughout the late 1920s, including The Cat and the Canary (1927), based on John Willard's 1922 stage play of the same name, and Universal Pictures' The Old Dark House (1932), based on the novel by J.B. Priestley. Both films played on the theme of pitting town dwellers against strange country folk, which would become a reoccurring theme in later horror films. On top of the "madman on the loose" plot, several key elements featured in the films also would be carried onto the slasher genre, including lengthy point of view shots and utilizing the "sins of the father" catalyst for the plot's violent mayhem.
George Archainbaud's Thirteen Women (1932) tells the story of a college sorority whose former members are set against one another by a vengeful peer. As they die, the culprit crosses through their yearbook photos, a device used in later slasher films such as Prom Night (1980) and Graduation Day (1981). The movie's climax also takes place on a train, something that would be echoed with Terror Train (1980) and Terror on Tour (1980).
Other early examples of maniacs seeking revenge include The Terror (1928), based on a play by Edgar Wallace, whose books would find enormous popularity in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s as "krimi" films. The Terror was the second film ever to use sound, and featured a maniac dressed in a cloak and hood who stalks residents at an inn.
In The Ghoul (1933), Boris Karloff plays a man who returns from the dead to seek revenge on his heirs gathered for a reading of his will. Night of Terror (1933), featuring Bela Lugosi, had an ending where the killer makes a surprise reappearance. The revenge-themed Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), which was remade in 1953, had a gruesome premise of a killer covering up his crimes by turning his victims into wax sculptures.
Producer Val Lewton, known for his low-budget B-movie horror pictures such as I Walked With a Zombie (1942) and Cat People (1942), produced Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man (1943), about a murderer covering up his crimes against women in a small town by framing an escaped show leopard.
Basil Rathbone's The Scarlet Claw (1944) was a Sherlock Holmes story revolving around murders committed with a garden weeder and featured shots of the killer raising the weapon in the air and bringing down repeatedly, which became an editing technique that would become familiar in the slasher. Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase (1945), based on Ethel White's novel Some Must Watch, stars Ethel Barrymore as a woman who fears that her mute maid (Dorothy McGuire) is the next victim of a killer. The helpless but sympathetic heroine became commonplace in later horror films, as well as black-gloved killer, point of view shots, and jump-scares.
Ten Little Indians
Particularly influential was British writer Agatha Christie, who's successful 1939 novel Ten Little Indians was first adapted in And Then There Were None (1945). The story centers on a group of people who each have committed a secret past crime and are killed at an isolated island one-by-one. This premise provided the blueprint for slasher movies. Each of the murders mirrored a verse of a nursery rhyme, allowing for a theme of childhood innocence and murder to merge, something that would become popularized in later genre films.
The trend of killer-centered thrills continued in the 1950s, drawing box office profit and critical acclaim, while at the same a growing independent horror market was booming. In the remake House of Wax (1953), Vincent Price plays a sculptor taking revenge on the people he blames for destroying his wax museum and leaving him hideously scarred by turning their corpses into wax statues. The film, originally released in 3D, was one of the year's biggest successes.
Mystery thriller The Bad Seed (1956) was nominated for four Oscars. It told the story of a nuclear family housewife (Nancy Kelly) who suspects that her daughter (Patty McCormick) is behind a series of murders. Screaming Mimi (1958), based on the novel by Fredric Brown, was promoted with "suspense around every curve" and featured Anita Ekberg as an exotic dancer who is attacked with a knife in the opening scene. The impactful prologue where a top-billed celebrity is murdered in the opening moments, would be echoed in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Wes Craven's Scream (1996), and also establish the opening-murder technique used in slashers that teases the audience of the grisly events to follow.
British B-movie Jack the Ripper (1959) was a dramatization of the infamous Victorian Whitechapel murders. The film received an X-rating in its UK-release. While many slasher films claimed to be inspired by real-life killings, few are straight adaptations like Jack the Ripper. Terry Bishop's Cover Girl Killer (1959), set in the world of strip clubs and glamor shoots, featured a moralizing villain who stalks and kills models. Cover Girl Killer, like many genre films, takes a dim view of sex and violence while at the same time exploiting them for maximum effect.
Psycho and the 1960s
Alfred Hitchcock noticed that low-budget thrillers of the 1950s were sweeping up the box office and, after reading Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho, Hitchcock decided to adapt the film into his next picture. Because of the book's themes (which included transvestism, murder, and multiple personality disorder) Hitchcock's initial attempts to find financing were met with scrutiny from Hollywood studios, which believed the story stretched the boundaries of what was acceptable with audiences. Because of this, many of these aforementioned themes of the novel were cut back, yet Hitchcock still explored the macabre (as he had done in his 1927 silent film The Lodger).
Casting Psycho was crucial, as Hitchcock was able to secure major Hollywood stars for a film that would have been considered a B-movie had it not had his name attached. In Bloch's novel, the character of Norman Bates is described as unattractive and in his 40s, but Hitchcock cast handsome 28-year-old Anthony Perkins in the role. Janet Leigh, fresh off her star-turn in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958), was hired as Marion Crane, the woman who finds herself at the Bates Motel. The film's score, composed by Bernard Herrmann, became iconic. The violin musical cue that plays during the shower scene was much imitated in slasher films.
Psycho pushed the envelope on what was acceptable in screen violence, sexuality, and even bathroom apparatus (the film was the first to show a toilet flushing in a Hollywood film). Because no one involved was known for their work in the horror genre, the audience was all-the-more shocked by what they saw on screen. Some scenes quite literally sent the audience into hysterics; the iconic "shower scene," which has become one of the most famous scenes in cinema, impacting the film industry for decades and foreshadowing the evolution of horror films by being both titillating and violent.
Psycho was the culmination of a lurid melting pot of thriller, horror and mystery conventions. Inspired by low-budget horror films, it launched a wave of imitators and knock-offs that would continue to ride off of its enormous success well over a decade after its release.
A month before the release of Psycho, seminal British film Peeping Tom hit screens in the United Kingdom. Directed by Michael Powell, the film was incredibly controversial upon its initial release, garnering a negative critical reaction that all but ended Powell's career as a film director. The film told the story of a young photographer (Carl Boëhm) who murders beautiful young women to photograph their dying expressions.
While the film took a few cues from earlier thrillers, including Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), it proved to be ahead of its time by not being a 'safe' family friendly film like those of the 1940s and 1950s. The film allowed audiences to experience a film through the "eyes" of the killer, a technique that effectively questioned the audiences' role as voyeurs of violence.
One of the first imitators spawned from the success of Psycho was William Castle's Homicidal (1961), which showed blood gushing gore during frenzied knife attacks. The film also takes the transvestism of Psycho and makes it a central plot point. Like many of Castle's films, Homicidal lured its audience with a gimmick, this time a "fright break" (a 45-second timer before the climax for the audience to prepare for the terrifying finale).
Richard Hillard's Violent Midnight (1963) included many elements that became ubiquitous to the slasher film, including a point of view shot of the killer pulling down a branch to look at a potential victim, a villain wearing black gloves and a fedora, featured a skinny-dipping scene, a common trope of the Friday the 13th franchise. Crown International's Terrified (1963) takes place in an abandoned ghost town where a masked killer stalks victims, contrast to the fresh-faced killers who followed in the wake of Norman Bates.
Francis Ford Coppola's debut, Dementia 13 (1963), produced by Roger Corman, was made for less than $45,000 and follows an ax murderer stalking family members gathered to commemorate a death in the family at an Irish castle. The film became influential with the Italian giallo thrillers. The success of Psycho attracted Hollywood talent such as Joan Crawford to William Castle's Strait-Jacket (1964) and Berserk (1967). In MGM's Night Must Fall (1964) (a remake of the 1937 British film) Albert Finney plays a psychopath who keeps a severed head in a box. Corruption (1968) starred Peter Cushing as a mild-mannered serial killer.
The influence of Psycho carried overseas as well. Britain's Taste of Fear (1961), from Hammer Studios, was followed by Maniac (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964), Fanatic (1965), The Nanny (1965), Hysteria (1965), and Crescendo (1970). Amicus, a rival studio to Hammer, had Psycho-author Robert Bloch to script Psychopath (1968). In Spain, The House That Screamed (1969) featured violent murders that thematically preempted later campus-based slashers.
The impact of Psycho carried over to a different kind of low-budget films that didn't mimic its storyline yet enhanced its violence. What is widely credited as the original "splatter film", Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Feast (1963), was the first to exploit the themes of Grand Guignol in terms of explicit violence. Blood Feast was a hit with drive-in audiences looking for cheap, campy thrills. The on-screen gore often depicted the mutilation of the human body and became the draw of the film. Loathed by critics, the newly coined "splatter film" Blood Feast had a profit that allowed Lewis to continue making thinly plotted shockers that relied on gore, such as Two-Thousand Maniacs! (1964), Color Me Blood Red (1965), The Gruesome Twosome (1967), and The Wizard of Gore (1971). Other directors took a stab at low-budget splatter films, including Andy Milligan with The Ghastly Ones (1969). These low-budget splatter films paved the way for hyper violence that was seen in movies such as Friday the 13th (1980) and Maniac (1980), as well as 21st Century films like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005).
The British also saw a trend in splatter filmmaking. Twisted Nerve (1968) attracted considerable controversy and negative press for portraying Down syndrome as a cause of psychosis. Lewis J. Force's Night After Night After Night (1969) and Tigon Productions' The Haunted House of Horror (1969) are two other examples. The latter film, starring 1950s teen-idol Frankie Avalon as a victim, featured hedonistic teens partying in a deserted gothic mansion where they are hunted by a lunatic whose behavior is triggered by the full moon.
Krimi films were German adaptations of British writer Edgar Wallace's crime novels. Best remembered as the co-creator of King Kong (1933), Wallace made a career writing crime thrillers similar to those of Agatha Christie, only with larger body counts and more emphasis on garish murders. Wallace wrote around 175 novels, which were popular in Germany since the novels first arrived in the 1920s. In film, the Krimi was at the height of its popularity from the end of the 1950s through the mid-1960s, although films were made into the early 1970s as well. Filmed in Germany, these pictures fetishized England and provided a very post-World War II German viewpoint of Englishness, producing an almost otherworldly alternative reality. The stories were given a contemporary edge, with jazz composers such as Martin Böttcher and Peter Thomas providing the scores. The films also featured dastardly villains in outlandish costumes.
The films found success across the seas, particularly America, where they were released dubbed and without the nudity of the original German versions. The film to launch the Krimi-craze was Fellowship of the Frog (1959), featuring a villain terrorizing London with murder. It featured brief flashes of bloody murders with a tongue-in-cheek approach. The film's phenomenal success would launch a slew of similar adaptations and imitations, including The Green Archer (1961) and Dead Eyes of London (1961). The Rialto Studio alone produced 32 Krimi films.
Wallace's son, Bryan Edgar Wallace, continued his father's work by writing several krimis. His novel-turned-film The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle (1963) follows a stalker in a black balaclava and leather gloves prowling the grounds of a British castle, carving an "M" into the foreheads of his victims before decapitating them. The Phantom of Soho (1964) is structured like a slasher, with a murder occurring about every 15 minutes, showcasing many point of view shots with a large knife in the foreground, and ending with a lengthy chase before the unmasking of the killer in the film's conclusion. Room 13 (1964) features the murder of a stripper, who briefly flashes nudity, two exploitative elements that would become commonplace in American slasher films of the 1980s.
Due to the sheer saturation and repetition of the Krimi, the films lost their appeal. According to film historian Kim Newman, Gorilla Gang (1968) ended the credibility of the Krimi films, as it featured a killer in a hulking gorilla outfit. Several later entries were co-produced in Italy, being sold as giallo films in Italy and Krimi films in German.
The giallo film takes its name from pulp paperback thrillers from the 1930s and 1940s with trademark yellow covers (giallo translates to yellow in Italian). These stories featured a crime procedural dosed with sex, glamor, and violence. Unlike American slasher films, the protagonists of gialli were adults sporting the latest fashions and jetting off to exotic destinations. Much like the Krimi films, the motives of the giallo antagonists were driven by a combination of greed and madness. The plots were filled with outlandish and often improbable twists, increasingly mixing horror and thriller genres which emphasized detective work to uncover the killer's identity.
It was not until the mid-1960s that gialli made their transition from page to screen. Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) is widely credited as the first giallo. While the film lacked the distinctive violence that would become synonymous with giallo films, it did feature a protagonist with sleuth-like resourcefulness, a mad killer on the loose, and an obsession with jet-setting. Bava's next film, Blood and Black Lace (1964) proved more influential with highly stylized vivid colors and operatic music. While not the first film to feature a black-gloved villain, Blood and Black Lace popularized the idea of a mysterious killer stalking beautiful women with a knife and killing them in over-the-top set pieces. The killer's face remains hidden throughout the film by use of a mask, strengthening the mystery.
The release of several influential gialli in the early 1970s popularized the genre internationally. Dario Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970) crystallized the elements of the genre to create what has become known by film historians as the archetypal giallo film. The film's score was composed by Academy Award winner Ennio Morricone who, despite being best known for his work on westerns, went on to compose numerous other gaily, including The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970), Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971), and Who Saw Her Die? (1972). The influence of highly stylized music in giallo films would impact not only the slasher genre to follow, but the entire filmmaking industry.
As gialli gained popularity, seasoned filmmakers became attracted to the genre. Comedy director Lucio Fulci helmed Perversion Story (1969), Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), and The Psychic (1977). Massimo Dallamano, known for his contributions to the spaghetti western genre, directed What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) and What Have You Done to Solange? (1972). Umberto Lenzi, who had made a string of adventure films, directed Orgasmo (1969), So Sweet... So Perverse (1969), and Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1971) which was one of the few giallo-Krimi hybrids, as it is based on an Edgar Wallace novel. By the time of Lenzi's Eyeball (1975), the director had turned from emphasizing suspense and twists to focusing on exploiting gore.
Sergio Martino's The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) had one scene where the heroine is menaced by the killer in an underground parking lot, which influenced to American slasher films from Happy Birthday to Me (1981) to Scream 4 (2011). Martino's Torso (1973) was possibly the most influential giallo on the slasher film. In Torso, a masked killer (often shown through point of view shots) preys on co-eds. There is a theme of a past crime for which retribution motivates the killings in the present, and, like the teenagers in slasher films, the young victims do drugs, enjoy premarital sex, and taunt authority. The singling out of a "final girl" had the largest impact, as horror filmmakers continued studying the climactic scene decades later, with Alexandre Aja's extreme French splatter film High Tension (2003) paying homage to the end chase. Also highly influential was Bava's A Bay of Blood (1971), which, unlike his proceeding giallo Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), featured explicit scenes of murder and creative death sequences. Several death scenes in A Bay of Blood have been directly imitated in American slasher films, the most famous of which being Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). The lakeside setting and whodunit mystery also inspired Sean S. Cunningham and Victor Miller to create the original Friday the 13th (1980).
The cross-pollination of giallo films allowed the films to play at American cinemas and drive-ins, contributing to the melting pot of genres that helped create the slasher film. Spanish and Turkish filmmakers made movies that have been termed gialli, such as A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1974). Many gialli were released to British cinemas and promoted the films' sex and nudity above the thriller and mystery aspects. The British thriller Assault (1971) shares many traits with the giallo genre. Even Alfred Hitchcock, whose own films inspired the genre, was influenced by the giallo in his later career, no more evident than with his penultimate film, Frenzy (1972). The genre's familiarity and conventions inspired spoofs, such as Death Steps in the Dark (1977).
The giallo never recaptured its mainstream success of the early 1970s, even with hits like Deep Red (1975), Tenebre (1982) or The Blood-Stained Shadow (1978). By the mid-1970s, the giallo had all but fallen out of fashion. The budgets and production values began to plummet. Some films tried to drawn in audiences with promise of hardcore pornographic scenes, including Play Motel (1979) and Giallo a Venezia (1979).
The exploitation film
While the giallo dominated the European market, Britain and the United States saw an increase in exploitation films developing into what would eventually emerge as the slasher film. The more sensational aspects of Psycho segued into movies that exploited sex and violence as a lure to the audience. Many of these films played in grindhouse theaters and drive-ins that specialized in B-movies. Creaky plot devices were largely jettisoned, and madness was celebrated, with the villains given the most cursory of motives for their heinous actions. The exploitation film was largely frequented by teenage moviegoers, thus teenage protagonists were added to the plots.
British director Robert Fuest's low-budget shocker And Soon the Darkness (1970) kickstarted the exploitation wave of the 1970s. The film moved away from the gothic feel of 1960s horror by unraveling the sinister action in daytime. Similarly, Fright (1971), based on the "babysitter and the man upstairs" urban legend, found the protagonist not only stalked but also humiliated by the killer. Tower of Evil (1972) featured teenage murders at a remote island lighthouse, cementing the tradition of partying teens in danger.
Perhaps the most influential filmmaker in the exploitation genre was Pete Walker, director of The Flesh and Blood Show (1972). Walker set out to satisfy the audience's desire for both sex and gore, and followed The Flesh and Blood Show with Frightmare (1974), which broke many taboos of the time and, upon its initial release, advertised its negative reviews to attract viewers. Courting controversy was Walker's aim, as the bigger the headlines the bigger the box office. In House of Mortal Sin (1976) Walker tackled Catholicism with a killer priest using sacred objects as murder weapons and in Schizo (1976), an ice skater thinks she's being stalked by a serial killer. Walker's last psycho-thriller, The Comeback (1978), featured a hag-masked killer, yet by the time of its release its plot seemed old fashioned compared to emerging films like Halloween (1978).
Bad press was popularized by American films as well. Blood and Lace (1971) was dubbed the "sickest PG-rated movie ever made!" William Girdler's Three on a Meathook was a loose remake of Psycho, only with a higher body-count and more nudity. Scream Bloody Murder (1973) advertised that it was the first motion picture to be labeled "gore-nography."  High profile films also took note of the popularity of these films. In Westworld (1973), a theme park with lifelike robots turns deadly when the robots begin to kill people. While owing more to westerns and science fiction films than psycho-thrillers, the main villain of Westworld is cited by John Carpenter as one of his inspirations for Michael Myers in Halloween.
By 1974, exploitation films showed their age. The Single Girls (1974) attempted to spoof genre conventions that, to the public, had not been entirely established, and the ultra low-budget Have a Nice Weekend (1975) didn't exploit the sex, nudity, drugs, or violence that audiences anticipated. The Love Butcher (1975) was released at the beginning of the punk movement and tested boundaries of political correctness yet failed to attract an audience not-yet-familiar with the movement. In The Redeemer: Son of Satan (1976), a school reunion turns bloody when ex-students are stalked by a vengeful maniac dressing in different costumes. The film's villain murders the targets due to the sins they've committed, including one woman's lesbianism. The use of masks was a central gimmick in Savage Weekend (1976), although Savage Weekend was so poorly received that it was shelved for several years before a small re-release in 1981 to capitalize on the success of post-Halloween slasher films.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Tobe Hooper's low-budget The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a major hit and the most commercially successful horror film since The Exorcist (1973). The story concerns a violent clash of cultures and ideals, with the death of late 1960's counter-culture and the darkly conservative values of a rural family. The film works on many levels of fear, including the image of Leatherface, a squealing man who carries a chainsaw, wears the skin of past victims, and eats human flesh. While Norman Bates was the first iconic cinematic serial killer, Leatherface was the first bone-fide boogeyman that impacted the American horror film's portrayal of villains through both his appearance and mental state.
The film's success spawned several imitators and its falsified "based on a true story" advertisements gave birth to films where the central premise was violent reenactments of real-life crimes. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), based on the true unsolved Phantom Killer case, centers on a killer stalking lovelorn teens and wearing a mask that directly inspired the look of Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). Along the same token was Another Son of Sam (1977), made to cash-in on the public's fascination with the then-recent Son of Sam slayings in New York City.
Wes Craven, who had helmed the successful-yet-controversial low-budget revenge film The Last House on the Left (1972), returned to the genre with The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the film was generated by suburban "fish-out-of-water" protagonists facing inbred cannibals. The film was a financial success, and helped launch Craven's career after the controversy of The Last House on the Left nearly destroyed it.
The exploitation film started the tradition of holiday-themed horror films (also known as Holiday Horror), something that became a routine selling point in the next decade. TV movie Home for the Holidays (1972) finds a Christmas family reunion turn deadly when a killer starts killing guests with a pitchfork. The And All Through the House segment of the anthology film Tales from the Crypt (1972) featured Joan Collins as a woman who murders her husband on Christmas Eve, and because of this crime cannot call police when an escaped psychopath in a Santa costume terrorizes her. In the low-budget Silent Night, Bloody Night (1973), a series of murders occur on the site of an old asylum.
Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974) utilizes the Christmas setting and creepy phone calls that were later popularized in films such as When a Stranger Calls (1979) and Scream (1996). The film is often cited for masterful tension and suspense, and played on societal taboos of the time, including abortion and alcoholism. Both visually and thematically, Black Christmas is a precursor to Halloween, as it features young women being terrorized by a killer in a previously safe environment during an iconic holiday. Like Halloween, Clark's film opens with a lengthy point of view shot, however the two films differ in their antagonists; whereas the killer in Black Christmas is unseen yet raves like a lunatic through phone calls, the killer in Halloween is often seen yet never speaks. Black Christmas differs from later slasher films in that the killer is never revealed or defeated by a final girl.
Upon its initial release, Black Christmas was heavily criticized. Variety complained that it was a "bloody, senseless kill-for-kicks" flick that exploited unnecessary violence. Despite being a modest hit in its initial run, the film has since garnered much more acclaim, with film historians noting its undeniable importance in the modern horror film genre, as many cite it as the original slasher film.
The time period when the slasher was at its height is often credited as the Golden Age of Slasher Films, a time-span between 1978 and 1984. The film that jumpstarted the Golden Age was John Carpenter's Halloween. That film's enormous success, and the subsequent success of Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th in the spring of 1980 launched a slew of imitators, rip-offs, and riffs on the same theme. The prolific period until 1984 is considered the greatest for the slasher film, with over 100 films released. Despite initial negative reviews, which often compared the films to seminal works such as Psycho (1960), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and Halloween, many of these films have gone on to achieve their own cult followings.
During this six-year period, the allure of the slasher was the ability to make significant amounts of money at the box office on small budgets that didn't rely on the added cost of bankable talent. As a total, the films released in the Golden Age of Slasher Films made hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, and most films easily made a profit, even if they did not pull in the record-breaking numbers of Halloween. When adjusted for the box office rate of 2015, many of these figures are even more impressive: Halloween would have pulled in over $200 million and Friday the 13th would have made nearly $150 million. Even films such as When a Stranger Calls (1979) and Graduation Day (1981), would have made nearly $100 million.
Many of these slashers were Halloween imitators, taking the simple template of teens being stalked by a murderous figure, allowing the filmmakers would put their own spin on the premise, with varying degrees of success. Subsequent filmmakers exploited and expanded on what had been done before, featuring more gore, nudity, and higher body counts than Halloween. Whereas critics praised Halloween for its restraint, its more exploitative elements were enhanced by filmmakers, mixing blood, nudity, and scares in a crowd-pleasing manner. The explosion of the slasher film in the entertainment market was mainly an American and Canadian phenomenon. The films were built around American imagery, often set at high schools, college dorms, summer camps, night schools, and suburbia.
Influenced by a myriad of sources as diverse as French New Wave film Eyes Without a Face (1960), the sci-fi film Westworld (1971), and the thriller Black Christmas (1974), Halloween became the genre-defining film with a simple yet effective plot of an escaped mental patient stalking unsuspecting teens. Wanting to keep costs to a minimum, producers decided the film should take place at few locations and over a brief period of time, a technique that would be copied in almost all slasher films to follow.
John Carpenter, fresh off directing the TV thriller Someone's Watching Me! (1978), accepted the offer to direct and write the script with his then girlfriend, Debra Hill, who also would produce the film. The film was budgeted at a modest $300,000, with Carpenter agreeing to write, direct, compose, and perform the soundtrack of the film for just $10,000 and a percentage of the profits. Moustapha Akkad, an Arab film producer, backed the project, and continued to have influence in the Halloween franchise until his death in 2005. Jamie Lee Curtis was chosen to play heroine Laurie Strode as an homage to her mother Janet Leigh, whose iconic "shower scene" in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho made her synonymous with the horror genre. The role of Dr. Sam Loomis, the doctor hunting down the killer, was first offered to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who both turned it down (although Lee would later say it was the biggest regret of his career). Instead, Donald Pleasence joined the cast. Carpenter's personal friend, Nick Castle, played the killer Michael Myers, a performance that would become imitated in countless other film villain performances, from Jason Voorhees to the Terminator.
One of the film's most famous scenes is the opening shot where six-year-old Michael Myers stalks his sister and her boyfriend, all seen through Myers' point of view. This shot would be repeated in dozens of other slasher films, and became such a common convention that it would be spoofed in films such as Blow Out (1981). Another convention that the film became known for was the killing of sexually active teens while allowing virginal "final girls" to survive. Carpenter denies that there is a conservative political agenda in Halloween and states that sex-obsessed teenagers were easier targets for Myers because they were paying less attention to their surroundings. However, subsequent filmmakers copied what appeared to be a "sex-equals-death" mantra, most likely because sex and violence are the two key selling points for the genre.
Halloween almost didn't become a break-out, genre-defining film. Every major American studio (the same studios that would rush in the wake of its success to imitate its success) declined to distribute it. Carpenter showed it to an executive at 20th Century Fox, although this cut did not yet have the now-famous musical score, and she remarked that it wasn't scary. Carpenter quickly realized that his minimal, yet soon to be iconic, electronic score was the magic ingredient that perfectly complimented the visuals, helping generate and build suspense.
Distributed through Compass International Pictures in Kansas City in October 1978, the film opened in four theaters, causing only a few ripples at the box office. However, word-of-mouth proved to be the film's strongest marketing tool, and the movie became one of the original sleeper hits. When it opened at the Chicago Film Festival in November 1978, it exploded both critically and commercially. While initial critical reaction was mixed, the country's major critics saw the film as a masterpiece. Tom Allen of Village Voice said the film stands alongside classics such as Psycho and Night of the Living Dead (1968). Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun Times, who just a few years later would savage the slasher, praised the film as "terrifying and creepy." Halloween became a box office phenomenon, ultimately becoming the most profitable independent release of all time (only to be surpassed by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1990). The film grossed over $70 million worldwide, although some reports go as high as $100 million.
Because Halloween was released at the end of 1978, filmmakers had not yet had the chance to imitate it. The TV Movie Are You in the House Alone? was first screened just ahead of Halloween. The film was another in the "babysitter-in-peril" flick, however the phantom phone calls suggest Black Christmas as an inspiration. As with most films from the era, its slasher elements would often catch audiences off guard, as the template for the genre had not yet been established.
The Toolbox Murders went into production after the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes at the drive-in and Grindhouse circuits. The film is set at a Los Angeles apartment complex where a deranged manager kills women with instruments from a toolbox, however, only the first act of the film, where numerous women are dispatched, could be regarded as a slasher film, as the rest of the film plays on a kidnapping plot. Killer's Delight is a San Francisco-set serial killer opus that claimed to take its inspiration from the exploits of Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer. America was, at the time, in the throes of a love-hate relationship with real-life killers—outwardly condemning them but almost seeming to celebrate them through constant glare in the media.
The opportunity to make money off the popularity of Halloween (1978) wasn't taken up by would-be slasher filmmakers as quickly as expected. Although many slashers went into production in 1979, they would not see release until 1980 and later.
One of the more unique slashers 1979 was David Schmoeller's Tourist Trap, which emulated plots in films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). However, while the teens are pursued by a masked killer (an influence of Halloween), there is a supernatural twist of a killer with telekinesis, suggesting an inspiration as diverse as Stephen King's Carrie to Jean Cocteau's surrealist fairytale La belle et la bête (1946). More akin to Halloween was Fred Walton's When a Stranger Calls, based on the urban legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs (of which Fright (1971) and Black Christmas (1974) were also based). The film became famous for its opening scene, in which a babysitter (Carol Kane) is taunted by a killer lurking in the house, who repeatedly calls her to ask, "Have you checked the children?" 
Less successful was Ray Dennis Steckler's burlesque slasher The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher, which lacked any influence from Halloween, having an almost documentary-like approach to the on-screen violence against the homeless. The violence against vagabonds was be repeated in Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer, which has more in common with Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965) than it does with Halloween. Ferrara's film focuses is on the internal turmoil of the killer rather than on his murderous deeds, a theme that translated into Maniac (1980) and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). The Driller Killer is so bloody that it became one of the most infamous "video nasties" in Britain. Another slasher, Savage Water, was also made in 1979 yet never gained a release in North America due to lack of interest from distributors.
1980 was the year that the slasher film exploded into the public consciousness, largely credited to the success of Friday the 13th as well as hits like Silent Scream and Prom Night. With the election of Ronald Reagan as the 40th President of the United States, a new age of conservatism was ushered into America, and growing concerns of media violence was catapulted by the murder of John Lennon, as well as the debate of violence against women as use of entertainment that manifested into protests and boycotts. The slasher film, at the height of its commercial power, also unwittingly found itself at the center of a political and cultural maelstrom.
Among the first successes was Silent Scream, which made $15.8 million at the box office. The team behind Halloween (1978), including John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and Charles Cyphers, returned for The Fog, a ghost story that was not directly a slasher, yet did feature murderous specters that kill residents of a small seaside town. A box office smash, The Fog received positive reviews, cementing Carpenter and Hill as Hollywood heavyweights.
Two high-profile and thematically similar slasher-thrillers opened in early 1980; William Friedkin's Cruising starring Al Pacino as a vice cop investigating a series of murders against gay men in leather bars, and Windows, which equated lesbianism with psychosis as a divorcee suffers at the hands of psychotic Sapphic neighbor. Cruising was protested by gay rights groups, who were unhappy with its portrayal of homosexuals. Although the film pre-dates the AIDS crisis, it is arguable that the film's negative portrayal of the gay community fueled subsequent backlash when the virus broke out. Windows only played for one week before being pulled from theaters due to its homophobic implications.
Don't Answer the Phone! kicked off the "Don't" cycle of films, although none of these films were related aside from the first word of their titles. While Don't Answer the Phone! alludes to something along the lines of When a Stranger Calls (1979), it was criticized for being misogynistic by dwelling and attempting to be titillating with the suffering exclusively of females. Also starting the "Don't" cycle was Joseph Ellison's Don't Go in the House, a video nasty film that also depicted graphic scenes of female suffering. New Year's Evil attempted to sugarcoat its misogynistic undertones with New Wave music and a novel plot, although the film was ultimately unsuccessful critically and commercially. Brian De Palma paid homage to Psycho in Dressed to Kill, a film that initiated a wave of protest from women's groups for its misogyny; the The National Organization for Women (NOW) held a picket when it was shown on the University of Iowa campus. Despite controversy, the film was a large success and took in $32 million at the box office.
Holiday-themed slashers erupted, including Christmas Evil which received a limited release and was poorly received by audiences who were expecting something faster-paced than a slow-burn psychological study about a man's deadly obsession with Santa Claus. Also targeting Christmas was David Hess' directorial debut To All a Goodnight, which foreshadowed the popularity of campus-set slashers coming the following year. The rock slasher Terror on Tour, from the producing team behind To All a Goodnight, was also released in 1980, proving that producers were trying to sell as many low-budget horror films as possible in the shortest amount of time, not dependent on quality.
Slashers were mainly hits at drive-in and Grindhouse theaters. The Bigfoot horror Night of the Demon, was a splatter-slasher film hybrid that featured graphic scenes such as a man being whipped with his own intestines and two girls being forced to stab each other in a ritualistic dance. German director Ulli Lommel, known for the acclaimed The Tenderness of Wolves (1973), helmed The Boogeyman, one of the first slashers to mix in supernatural elements. The film, playing on the success of both Halloween and The Amityville Horror (1979), was a box office smash, earning $25 million. David Paulson, director of the rarely seen Savage Weekend (1976), returned with Schizoid. Among other low-budget slashers released in 1980 was The Unseen, which was notably less exploitive than many other slasher films but still lured audiences in with the promise of beautiful women in peril.
Hollywood offered major talent to the slasher craze. Academy Award winner John Huston directed Phobia, although the film was both a critical and commercial failure. Fade to Black provides a meta social commentary on cinematic violence and its effects on youth culture. The influences of Halloween are seen in MGM's He Knows You're Alone, a movie with an identikit soundtrack to Carpenter's film, a similar location and characters, and even similar "jump scares."
Canada saw a boom of slasher productions, most likely due to tax-break incentives. Jamie Lee Curtis starred in Paul Lynch's Prom Night, a Halloween-cash-in released just a few months after Friday the 13th. It was a sizable hit with $15 million at the box office. Curtis returned for another Canadian slasher, Terror Train, also featuring Ben Johnson, David Copperfield, and Hart Bochner. Released by 20th Century Fox, the film was a meager success, not near the financial success of Halloween or Prom Night. Also from Canada was Funeral Home, a tamer update on Psycho that was a massive box office success in Mexico.
The end of 1980 saw the release of one of the most controversial slashers of its time: William Lustig's Maniac (1980). Featuring Joe Spinell as a schizophrenic serial killer in New York City, Maniac found inspiration from the public's fascination with real-life serial killers such as Ted Bundy and the Son of Sam. The film was attacked by critics; Vincent Canby of The New York Times said that watching the film was like "watching someone else throw up." Tom Savini, who had also worked on Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Friday the 13th, provided graphic gore effects for the film, which mainly depicted violence against women. The film was so nihilistic and violent that Lustig released it unrated on American screens, thereby sidestepping the MPAA. The film's controversy paid off, as it brought in $6 million at the box office.
Friday the 13th
Of all the slashers from the Golden Age, apart from Halloween (1978), it is Friday the 13th that is the best known. The film was successful commercially, bringing in nearly $40 million at the box office. It also is a great achievement in what it set out to do: frighten the audience through gore. Despite the success of Friday the 13th, its distributor Paramount Pictures found itself criticized for "lowering" itself to release a violent independent movie. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert despised the film, and even attempted to give away its shock ending in an attempt to hurt its box office.
Furthermore, the MPAA was criticized for allowing the film to pass with an R rating. The film's violence would be replicated in subsequent slasher films hoping to cash in on its success, as Friday the 13th set the barometer of what was acceptable levels of violence to be seen on screen. The criticisms that began with Friday the 13th would lead to the genre's eventual decline in the coming years.
By 1981, the slasher genre showed signs of saturation, as films such as the heavily advertised My Bloody Valentine and The Burning all but bombed upon their initial release. Slashers were still cheap to make, and so the search for the next Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) continued, while sequels to those films began to hit screens for the first time.
Just Before Dawn, among the first of the year to find release, celebrates nature through its cinematography and atmosphere, contributed by the location of Silver Falls, Oregon and a memorable score by Brad Fiedel. Australia released Roadgames, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, was unsuccessful at the box office, something that director Richard Franklin blamed on its marketing as a slasher.
After the major box office success of Friday the 13th, Paramount Pictures picked up My Bloody Valentine, hoping that it would achieve similar success. The film became the subject of intense scrutiny by the MPAA in the wake of the murder of John Lennon, and was released heavily edited. Lacking the draw of gore, My Bloody Valentine made only $6 million at the box office, much less than Paramount had hoped for. The similar themed The Prowler hoped to lure the same audience as Friday the 13th through suspenseful sequences and gore effects by Tom Savini, but it also was heavily cut for a theatrical release, which contributed to its failure to find a distributor, making it a regional release that affected its total profit. Suffering similar censorship was The Burning, which also used Savini's effects. The film is thematically similar film to Friday the 13th but didn't make much of an impact at the box office, despite being the launching point for heavyweight film producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, and Brad Grey, as well as actors Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens.
Studio interest in potential slasher films grew after the success of Friday the 13th. Eyes of a Stranger was acquired by Warner Bros. and, while not quite as mean-spirited as the previous year's Don't Answer the Phone! (1980), it was similarly violent and sadistic, although much of the gore was cut. Warner Bros. also distributed Night School, a film heavily influenced the giallo genre, especially Andrea Bianchi's Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975). Screen legends Lauren Bacall and James Garner starred in The Fan, which was unsuccessful both critically and commercially for distributor Paramount Pictures. Universal Pictures, known for its monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s, released Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse, which scored a modest success of $8 million. Columbia Pictures picked up independent Canadian whodunit Happy Birthday to Me, directed by J. Lee Thompson, the man behind Cape Fear (1962). Promoted as a "psychological mystery shocker" with "six of the most bizarre murders you'll ever see," Happy Birthday to Me received cuts from the MPAA but still made $10 million. Slashers translated to television, with CBS releasing Dark Night of the Scarecrow.
Independent companies also released low-budget slashers, to varying degrees of success. Bloody Birthday, about killer children, was aesthetically and thematically similar to Halloween, proving that John Carpenter's hit had not lost steam. Linda Blair, star of The Exorcist (1973), continued her genre career in Hell Night. That film's director, Tom DeSimone, was well aware of the MPAA's backlash against the slasher genre, so he de-emphasized gore in favor of suspense. Deadly Blessing (1981) marked Wes Craven's first stab at the genre three years before he would revolutionize it with A Nightmare on Elm Street. The year's most surprising success was Herb Freed's Graduation Day, a film that revels in its gratuitous nature, featuring everything that has become synonymous with the genre. The film was a hit, making $25 million at the box office against a $200,000 budget.
Thin plots allowed cheap budgets. Final Exam marked a point where redundancy was becoming commonplace, as it copied Halloween in numerous ways, from a motiveless killer hiding under the window of the final girl to the similar sounding synthesizer soundtrack. Thanksgiving-set Home Sweet Home relied on little-to-no plot, only featuring a PCP-fueled psychopath on a killing spree at a family dinner. Also released was backwoods slasher Scream. Among other oddities of 1981 was Christian morality tale A Day of Judgement and Romano Scavolini's "video nasty" Nightmare in a Damaged Brain. Strangest was Don't Go in the Woods... Alone!, a film that embraced its inept plot, cheap gore effects, and grating score.
1981 also saw the start of slasher film sequels. Steve Miner's Friday the 13th Part 2 is perhaps the quintessential 80's slasher movie: fast-paced, gory, and fun. Despite being heavily trimmed by the MPAA, the film was a huge success. Even more successful was Halloween II. While John Carpenter and Debra Hill were reluctant to return to the genre they launched, they agreed to write the screenplay. Aware that the horror landscape had changed since the release of the first film, they added more gore and a higher body count, showing how Friday the 13th had equally affected the subgenre. The film premiered on October 30, 1981 for Universal Pictures, and had a final domestic take of over $25 million, making it the second highest-grossing horror film of 1981, behind An American Werewolf in London (1981).
The slasher crazed had peaked, and 1982 began its descent towards straight-to-video productions, which would be its main source of output from the mid-1980s onward.
Slasher film budgets dropped drastically. One of 1982's first slasher films was Madman, which made the top 10 Variety list the week of its New York release and did especially well on home video. Death Valley was picked up and distributed nationwide by Universal Pictures. Death Screams spent most of its runtime focusing on small town teenage drama rather than slasher deaths to keep costs to a minimum. Other low-budget films included The Dorm That Dripped Blood, made for just $90,000, and Honeymoon Horror, made for a minuscule $50,000. Like Madman, both The Dorm That Dripped Blood and Honeymoon Horror found a strong audience on home video, and became high selling films from the early days of VHS.
Other independent productions were not as fortunate and had trouble finding distribution. Girls Nite Out had a very limited release in 1982 through Aries International, but was re-released in 1984 to more theaters, before finding modest success on home video. Satan's Blade had little-to-no release in theaters, but was made available on the home video market by Prism Films. Paul Lynch's Humongous was released through AVCO Embassy Pictures, but a change in management at that company saw that the film was barely released in theaters. Cheap shockers like Dark Sanity, Unhinged, and Island of Blood each quickly fell into obscurity, barely getting theatrical releases and only receiving sub-par video transfers.
Filmmakers attempted to make slashers that poked fun at the conventions and controversy surrounding them. Alone in the Dark, starring veteran actors Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau, and Jack Palance, acts as a self-aware parody employing jokes without becoming farce. In The Last Horror Film, Joe Spinell reunited with his Maniac (1980) co-star Caroline Munro in a gory commentary on the nature of horror films and the audience they attract. Feminists Amy Holden Jones and Rita Mae Brown acted as director and writer respectively on another parody of the genre, The Slumber Party Massacre. Despite featuring exploitative violence against men, feminists didn't get the joke their colleagues Jones and Brown were playing and criticized the film.
The success of Halloween II (1981) flowed into more hospital-set slashers. Among them was Visiting Hours, controversial for pitting liberal feminism against macho right-wing bigotry, a battle that was actually happening in America at the time. Also utilizing the setting was Hospital Massacre, in which Playboy Bunny Barbi Benton and gory hospital-themed set-pieces were the main draws. Goofy fun carried into Friday the 13th Part III, which became a landmark of the genre. The film marks the first time that the horror genre saw a full franchise, not just one sequel. An enormous financial success, grossing over $36 million, which was over $14 million more than its predecessor, guaranteed more films in the series to follow. In its opening weekend alone, Part III had a record-setting $9 million, being the first film of the summer to upset E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) as box office champ. Most importantly, the film is the first in which Jason Voorhees donned his iconic hockey mask, an image that would not only come to represent the franchise but the entire horror genre as well.
Hollywood continued its output of slashers, although new approaches moved in different directions. The Seduction mixed erotic thrills, selling itself as a thriller over horror film. The Seduction was a surprise hit, generating $11 million in its run and predating blockbusters like Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992). Deadly Games, about a journalist who returns home after the mysterious death of her sister, saw slasher elements inserted into an otherwise routine thriller purely because the film's backers presumed audiences wanted them. Silent Rage stars Chuck Norris, showcasing his talent for martial arts.
The slasher film would find compatibility with the fantasy genre, leading to the genesis of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The Slayer surely influenced Wes Craven's film by finding a woman dreaming of a boogeyman as her friends disappear, blurring the lines between the dream world and reality. Demons appeared in The Incubus, based on Ray Russell's novel about an evil creature raping and murdering women in a small town, while supernatural themes were also the driving force of Blood Song. The haunted house opus Superstition takes a formula established by The Amityville Horror (1979) and adds a body-count with gory deaths. GhostKeeper, based on the Native American legend of the Wendigo, was Canada's answer to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). Despite its relative obscurity, the film has enjoyed a healthy resurgence in later years, as fans has found its emphasis on atmosphere to be refreshing.
By 1983, the Golden Age of Slasher Films was fast coming to a close. Even the Halloween franchise had descended into supernatural with the release of Halloween III: Season of the Witch in 1982, a stark departure from the stalk-and-slash plots of the first two films. What had once been cutting-edge entertainment was old-fashioned. Still, the low-budgets and potentially high profits meant that there were still filmmakers willing to risk new enterprises or simply release slasher films that had never made it to theaters and been sitting on the shelf for several years.
Classic plots and settings continued to appear in 1983. Mark Rosman's The House on Sorority Row had a similar plot to Prom Night (1980) and Terror Train (1980), where teen protagonists accidentally commit a crime and try to cover it up, only to have a witness seek vengeance. The Final Terror, a backwoods slasher in the vein of The Burning (1981), saw park rangers terrorized by a forest-dwelling woman. Co-eds were, as always, nubile prey. The TV thriller Deadly Lessons found a group of school girls terrorized by a killer at a private school. The exploitation film Pieces, starring Lynda Day George and Christopher George was a cultural infusion of filmmaking; it was a Puerto Rican production filmed in Boston and Madrid by an Italian-based American producer and Spanish director with tons of gore, bad acting, memorable dialogue, and disco music.
William Asher's Night Warning was an atypical take on the genre that tackled subjects such as incest and homophobia in subtle yet effective manners while alluding to classic literature, borrowing from Sophocles tragedy Oedipus Rex. Other slashers attempted to take on political issues, as seen in Sweet Sixteen, where a rash of crimes are blamed on local Native Americans, highlighting racism and prejudice in the American Southwest.
The most successful slasher of 1983 was Psycho II, an ambitious attempt at following Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Reuniting original cast members Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles, the film continued the legacy of the tormented Norman Bates, who may or may not be behind a new series of slayings. Psycho II shows how slashers influenced filmmakers since the 1960 original, as the victims now include pot-smoking teenagers rather than the adult characters of the original. It scored $34.7 million at the box office, a success that led to the production of two more sequels; Psycho III (1986) and the TV movie Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990).
Canada continued its output of slasher films, most notably Curtains, produced by Peter Simpson, who was behind Prom Night and Humongous (1982). The low-budget thriller American Nightmare also hails from Canada and follows a man as he delves into the seedy urban underground of prostitutes, drug addicts, and pornography addicts.
The genre's eventual transition from theatrical releases to home video began in 1983, with the release of Sledgehammer, the first slasher made directly for home video. Produced for just $40,000, Sledgehammer features a climax with a gender reversal, as former Playgirl model Ted Prior takes off his shirt to fight the killer for no other reason than to reveal his six-pack abdomen. 1983 had a few sexualized home-video slashers, including Blood Beat, about a woman who conjures up a seven-foot-tall samurai serial killer via female masturbation, and Double Exposure, where female nudity is put on display as a photographer (Michael Callan, who also produces) dreams of murdering models and is shocked to discover that they are really dying. Prolific B-movie director Fred Olen Ray released Scalps, which became one of the most censored films in history, largely due to its graphic rape scene where the spirit possesses one of the students and proceeds to rape his girlfriend and then scalp her.
Perhaps the best remembered slasher of 1983 is Robert Hiltzik's Sleepaway Camp, a Friday the 13th-clone featuring victims who appear barely pubescent and also featuring a mix of themes, including paedophilia and transvestism, as well as homosexual scenes, which were taboo at the time. A cult classic, Sleepaway Camp launched a series.
Some releases attempted to distance themselves from the genre, despite being plotted after slasher films. Mortuary featured a poster in which a hand is bursting from the grave, yet this image has nothing to do with the film itself, showing distributors were aware of the fading box office of the slasher and attempted to hoodwink audiences into thinking they were seeing something else entirely. J. Lee Thompson, director Happy Birthday to Me (1981), returned to the genre to helm 10 to Midnight starring Charles Bronson, which was inspired by the real-life crimes of Richard Speck. The film promoted Bronson's justice-for-all character above any slasher elements, as Bronson's career had become defined by vigilante films such as Death Wish (1974) and its sequels.
By 1984, the public had mostly lost interest in theatrically released slashers. Production of slashers plummeted, and a whiff of desperation surrounded the few releases. The major studios all but abandoned the genre that, only a few years earlier, had been very profitable. Although it was rare to see slasher films on the big screen in 1984, reissues and new video productions increasingly brought the genre to a whole new generation.
Many films had very brief theatrical runs in 1984 but would find varying degrees of success on home video. These include campus-themed Splatter University, the micro-budgeted Blood Theatre, rock n' roll slasher Rocktober Blood, and athletes-in-peril slasher Fatal Games. The Prey and Evil Judgement were filmed years earlier and finally gained small theatrical releases. Riding on the success of Friday the 13th Part III (1982) and its use of 3D was Silent Madness, which used the third dimension in an attempt to lure in its audience in its short theatrical run, although the 3D effects did not translate to its VHS release. Deadly Intruder was another run of the TV slasher, but showed a diminishing audience, as it was not as successful as the small-screen runs of films like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).
Although the box office returns of Friday the 13th Part III were extremely impressive, the filmmakers behind Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter decided it was time to bring the saga of Jason Voorhees to a close, using Jason's demise as the main marketing tool for the film. Directed by Joseph Zito, the film was darker and more brutal than the three previous entries, and featured more graphic gore and death scenes than before. When The Final Chapter scored a massive $32 million at the box office, it was clear that the series would not end, however the death of Jason also meant the death of an era that he represented: the Golden Age of Slasher Films.
The real death of the Golden Age came with the controversy and box office failure of Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). Protesters picketed theaters playing the film with placards reading, "Deck the hall with holly -- not bodies!" Despite earlier releases portraying a psychopath in a Santa suit, including the same year's Don't Open till Christmas, the promotional material for Silent Night, Deadly Night featured a killer Santa swinging an ax with the tagline "He Knows when you've been naughty!" Released in November 1984, on the same day as A Nightmare on Elm Street, distributor TriStar Pictures found that not all publicity is good, as persistent carol-singing parents forced one Bronx cinema to pull the film a week into run. Quickly after, widespread outrage from theater owners and the press led to the film being pulled from other cinemas in the country. The film was a box office bomb, making only $2.5 million in its entire run, as opposed to the enormous success of the more inventive horror fantasy, A Nightmare on Elm Street, signaling that audiences were ready for something a little more spectacular than low-budget horror.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
While interest in the slasher waned, Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street revitalized the genre, although its mix of fantasy and horror weeded out low-budget films that dominated the Golden Age. Craven toyed with the genre before in Deadly Blessing (1981), however he was frustrated that the genre he had arguably helped create with The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) had not benefited him financially. Having worked on developing what would become A Nightmare on Elm Street since 1981, Craven knew that time was running out due to declining performances from theatrical horror releases, and the slasher subgenre in particular looked to be all but dead within a year. He had little idea that his soon-to-be-iconic villain, Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund), would catch imaginations of audiences worldwide and shape a decade of horror films.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, and especially Freddy, became a cultural phenomenon. On a budget of just $1.8 million the film grossed $25.5 million and launched one of the most successful film franchises in cinematic history. It also helped establish its studio, New Line Cinema, as a powerhouse in Hollywood; to this day, New Line Cinema is referred to as "The House That Freddy Built." On top of launching Freddy and Craven into high-demand, the movie also featured considerable talent from its well-versed leads, including a young Johnny Depp. Other films quickly attempted to ride on its success, including The Initiation (1984), which also had a subplot of dreams and a horribly burned man.
The success of A Nightmare on Elm Street ended the low-budget phenomenon of the Golden Age, ushering in a new wave of horror films that relied heavily on special effects and strong acting, almost systematically silencing the simpler low-budget features that were modeled after John Carpenter's Halloween.
By 1985 fatigue hit the slasher film and its popularity substantially declined, although didn't die out completely. The home video revolution, fueled by the popularity of VHS, provided new outlets for low-budget filmmaking. With the exception of a few franchises and mainstream thrillers, the slasher film was condemned to straight-to-video production. Without the backing of major studios or their willingness to pick up independent features for theatrical release, slasher films relied heavily on the home video, which gave new life to all movies but, besides pornography, horror was arguably the most popular. Although financial returns were down, there was still potential to turn a profit, especially on the new cheaper medium of video.
A few holdover titles produced during the Golden Age would find release during the genre's decline, largely due to the success of the home video market providing an outlet that producers felt the films could generate money from. Too Scared to Scream (1985) was originally filmed in 1982 but finally found distribution from Vestron Video. The Mutilator (1985) was filmed in the early 1980s, only to be released via Ocean King Releasing on video in the mid-80s. William Fruet's follow-up to Funeral Home (1980), Killer Party (1986), suffered massive problems in production; the movie was partially filmed in 1978 and not completed until 1984, then not released until 1986 when it received limited distribution from MGM. The campy Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986) was filmed in 1983 and picked up for distribution from New World Pictures years later.
Mirroring the punk rock movement of the time, slashers took on the idea that anyone could make a movie, including novice filmmakers. These included Blood Cult (1985), which was advertised as being the fist shot-on-video slasher, although it was not. Another film that tried to make the "first shot-on-video" claim was The Ripper (1985). Other films that made their way directly to video stores included Spine (1986), Truth or Dare? (1986), Killer Workout (1987), and Death Spa (1989), among dozens of others.
The mid-1980s also saw a fresh wave of sequels, with filmmakers opting to exploit already established titles rather than test new ideas. Wes Craven directed The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1985) for a paycheck, although Craven has repeatedly disowns the film. The Friday the 13th series continued in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), which attempted to revive the franchise that was supposed to have ended with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984). While the film was profitable for distributor Paramount Pictures, it did not reach the commercial success of the earlier films in the series and had a poor fan reaction, leading producers to re-think the entire direction of the films' overarching series storyline. After A Nightmare on Elm Street became a sleeper hit, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) was rushed into production. Freddy's Revenge distinguishes itself from other slasher films by having a male protagonist (Mark Patton) as well as overtly homoerotic undertones. However, Freddy's Revenge was widely criticized for losing much of the dream logic that had made the first film so interesting. Despite its criticisms, the movie was a financial success, being the highest grossing horror film of that year and making more than Friday the 13th: A New Beginning or even the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. It also marked the point when fantasy slasher films became something that filmmakers saw potential profit in; Dreamaniac (1986), Bad Dreams (1988), Deadly Dreams (1988), and Dream Demon (1988) are just a handful of movies that attempted to capitalize on this supernatural fantasy horror trend.
Fred Walton's April Fool's Day acted as a parody of the slasher film, spoofing Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and many of the clichés in the subgenre. The film was a modest hit for Paramount, although it was unable to start a franchise as the studio had hoped. Also spoofing the genre was Evil Laugh (1986), released a full decade before the meta-humored Scream (1996), featuring characters who make self-referential remarks about surviving horror movies. Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) emphasized laughs over scares, but only brought in a meagre sum of $8 million at the box office, showing that a franchise made famous on the terrifying reputation of the 1974 original didn't translate into slapstick comedy. The most popular among 1980s self-aware slasher comedy films was Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, which took a more ironic approach to the fledging franchise. Inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the roles of the monster and Dr. Frankenstein were placed upon Jason Voorhees and Tommy Jarvis, and worked as both a straightforward sequel and a postmodern spin on the genre its predecessor helped define. It even featured a nod to the James Bond movies that, like the Friday the 13th films, had delved into ridiculous plots to keep afloat. Perhaps the wittiest part of the film is when one character breaks the fourth-wall and says to the audience, "Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment," which not only calls out the filmmakers but the audience as well.
Original Elm Street stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon returned for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), which brought in then-record breaking box office numbers of $44.8 million domestically. The following year, Renny Harlin's A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) traded scares for laughs and catered to the MTV generation with a hip soundtrack and cross-promotion. The film was even more successful than Dream Warriors, bringing in nearly $50 million at the domestic box office and remaining the highest grossing slasher until the release of Scream eight years later. Acknowledging the monstrous success of the Elm Street franchise, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) took its series into a supernatural, special-effects laden story with Stephen King's Carrie as its main inspiration. However, the film continued a decline of the Friday the 13th franchise's box office intake, and unlike the positively received Jason Lives it received little acclaim from critics. Marking the 10-year anniversary of John Carpenter's original Halloween (1978) was Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), which was bolstered by the return of Donald Pleasence and released around the Halloween holiday. The film proved that audiences still had an interest in classic slasher films not reliant on special effects, as The Return of Michael Myers was number one at the box office for two weeks in a row.
Villains like Jason, Freddy, and Michael were challenged by a smaller competitor in Child's Play (1988), the first film to feature evil doll Chucky. Taking its lead from films such as Dead of Night (1945) and Trilogy of Terror (1975), Child's Play teeters on a clever mystery of a boy who claims that his new toy is responsible for a series of murders. Proving that audiences responded kindly to well-made, fresh ideas, the film was a box office hit, grossing $33.2 million at the box office and spawning its own successful franchise, as well as the inevitable knock-offs. Child's Play 2 (1990) showed that good will toward the first continued, as it brought in nearly $30 million domestically, however series fatigue hit hard with the release of Child's Play 3 (1991), a film that managed to fail both critically and commercially.
As the general interest for the slasher film shrunk in the United States, the same can be said for its international fan base. In Mexico, director Ruben Galindo Jr., released three slasher films in the late 1980s: Zombie Apocalypse (1985), Don't Panic (1988), and Grave Robbers (1990). Another Mexican release, Hell's Trap (1990), harkened back to films like The Prowler (1981) where teens are stalked by an ex-soldier. In Sweden, Blood Tracks (1985) recalled The Hills Have Eyes. The United Kingdom had the killer-priest opus Lucifer (1987), and Australia saw the release of Symphony of Evil (1987), Houseboat Horror (1989), and Bloodmoon (1990), although they were met with mixed results. Despite the popularity of American slasher films in Japan, the country only had one notable release in the late 1980s: Evil Dead Trap (1988). In Italy, the production of gialli decreased significantly from its heyday in the early 1970s, although the films would reappear with Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, and Ruggero Deodato occasionally returning the subgenre. Michele Soavi's giallo-slasher hybrid StageFright (1987) is often cited as the best film to come out of Italy's late 1980's wave of horror. The movie's straightforward plot mirrored American slashers like Halloween, however its stylishness and operatic music would emulate Italian giallo. Deodato's backwoods slasher BodyCount (1987), on the other hand, ignored Italian trademark style in a vein attempt to mimic American slashers like Friday the 13th (1980). In Spain, the surrealist Anguish (1987) echoed Italian horror films like Lamberto Bava's Demons (1985) by setting up two stories; one centered on the film-within-a-film, and the other being about the audience watching that film.
The final year of the 1980s would put the nail in the coffin of the slasher. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) was a box office failure, and provided Paramount Pictures with enough reason to sell the franchise rights to New Line Cinema in 1990. New Line's own A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) was unsuccessful, bringing it less than half of what the previous two films had made at the box office. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) fared worst of all; the film had been hurried into production after the surprise success of The Return of Michael Myers, but was panned by fans and critics alike, barely making $11 million at the box office and never receiving a theatrical release in Europe. With the three major slasher franchises all failing to generate much interest, the whole genre fell out of favor by the end of the 1980s, a decade that it had become synonymous with.
Because of the box office failures of 1989, the early 1990s had few slasher films. In Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), audiences found the once-terrifying Freddy Krueger needing the marketing draw of using 3D in the last 10 minutes of the film. While it was a commercial success, the film put an end to the once-mighty franchise. After New Line Cinema acquired the rights to the Friday the 13th franchise, with an eye on the inevitable blockbuster Freddy vs. Jason in the making, it attempted to breath new life into the story with Jason Goes to Hell (1993). The results were mixed, as the film was decidedly different than what fans had come to expect from the famous franchise. Jason Goes to Hell had a mediocre box office intake, proving that the moviegoing audiences was still not interested in the return of the series. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) was famously troubled. Picking up six years after the events of The Revenge of Michael Myers, the film was one of the first distributed by Bob Weinstein's Dimension Films. Sections of the film were hurriedly re-shot after poor test screenings, yet it remains notable as being the last screen appearance of Donald Pleasence, who passed away during filming. The Curse of Michael Myers was also a mediocre success, drawing in $15 million and signaling that like the Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises, the Halloween franchise was in desperate need of a revival.
Scream and revival
Bernard Rose's Candyman (1992), based on the short story by Clive Baker, saw its eponymous villain (Tony Todd), become the first black slasher film icon. The ghostly "Candyman" appears to kill those foolish enough to say his name in the mirror five times, borrowing from the Bloody Mary urban legend. The movie anticipated films that would take common folklore as their hook, notably Urban Legend (1998). The film's $25.8 million box office haul was enough of a success to generate two sequels, as well as arguably providing the impetus for revival of the slashers several years later in New Nightmare (1994) and Scream (1996).
Unexpectedly, Wes Craven, who had retooled the slasher in 1984 with A Nightmare on Elm Street, returned for New Nightmare (1994), a spin-off of that franchise. With a concept that acted as a spin-off from the Freddy Krueger films, Craven utilized characters from the Elm Street films, including Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Robert Englund, and even himself, to play versions of their true personas who were targeted by a demon that had taken the form of the Freddy Krueger character. The film also showed an eye on the future and single-handedly led to the subgenre's postmodern revival the coming years with the release of Craven's Scream. While New Nightmare was a meager success at the box office, it would help establish the meta self-referential irony that dominated the genre for the next decade.
By 1996, the slasher film was pretty much a fad of the 1980s that had not translated to the 1990s, therefore the subgenre's surprising resurrection in Scream was proof that the slasher film, like many of its iconic villains, refused to stay dead. A box office smash at the tail end of 1996, Scream skillfully juggled the postmodern humor found in Quentin Tarantino's landmark film Pulp Fiction (1994) with visceral horror. The film played on nostalgia for those who had frequented theaters during the Golden Age, yet also appealed to a younger audience who saw their contemporary stars menaced and terrorized by homicidal maniacs for the first time. In a decade where pop culture was cannibalizing itself, Scream exploited this and worked as a straightforward slasher whodunit.
Scream was the brainchild of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, a self-confessed fan of slasher films like Halloween (1978). Prom Night (1980), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). Originally titled Scary Movie, the twist in Scream is that the victims are well versed in horror film lore and know all the clichés, comparing scenes their favorite movies to a series of murders in their small town. The fact that the audience was also aware of those clichés added to the fun and helped propel the film to a gross of over $103 million, making it the first slasher film to cross $100 million at the domestic box office as well as being the most successful horror film since The Silence of the Lambs (1991). As the slasher genre had been exhausted financially by 1996, the advertising of Scream distanced itself from the subgenre, as posters for the film announced Scream as a "new thriller" from Craven, and played up the celebrity of star Drew Barrymore as well as other recognizable cast members from hit TV shows and films, a casting decision that differed from the unknown actors from the low-budget slashers of the early 1980s.
The stellar box-office of Williamson's follow-up I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) silenced naysayers who presumed that Scream was a flash in the pan. Based loosely on the Lois Duncan book, four teens find themselves targets of a killer after they cover up a hit-and-run. The film acknowledged the setup of films such as Prom Night and The House on Sorority Row (1983), where an accident is the catalyst for later mayhem. Despite the success of Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer played as a straight slasher film with little pop-culture trickery. Unlike the positive critical response that Scream received, I Know What You Did Last Summer was negatively reviewed, yet proved to be critic proof as the film grossed over $70 million at the domestic box office.
Following in the success of the slasher revival was Urban Legend (1998), a thriller that uses the premise that a killer targeting co-eds using methods described in American folklore. The film was widely criticized as being silly, and by earning only $38 million at the box office, it showed that the slasher film revival was losing momentum. The next year Canada, which had produced its fair share of slashers in the Golden Age, attempted a comeback with The Clown at Midnight (1999), but the film received little attention and was widely panned. Valentine (2001) brought to mind My Bloody Valentine (1981) and Hospital Massacre (1982), however despite starring Denise Richards and Katherine Heigl, it was a box office bomb, making just $20 million, not enough to cover its own production budget.
Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer found popularity not only in America, but across the world, although their international success was not as immediate. Hong Kong's The Deadly Camp (1999) took inspiration from backwoods slashers of the 1980s, while South Korea had a string of prolific slasher film hits, starting with Bloody Beach (2000), The Record (2001), and Nightmare (2000), the latter of which mixed the slasher film with the supernatural chills of Japanese ghost films like Ringu (1998). Australia's postmodern slasher film Cut (2000) cast Molly Ringwald, a 1980s icon from John Hughes films, as its heroine. India's Bollywood produced the first ever musical-slasher hybrid with Kucch To Hai (2003) as well as the more straightforward Dhund: The Fog (2003). Britain also had a release with Lighthouse (1999), and the Netherlands produced teen slashers School's Out (1999) and The Pool (2001).
Return of the sequel
After the success of the first few Halloween and Friday the 13th films in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the slasher movie was built around setting up a familiar pattern, with sequels being made to the most successful films. Scream 2 (1997) followed just a year after the release of Scream, and scored big at the box office. The film had the highest grossing opening weekend of any R-rated film at the time, and brought in over $101 million at the domestic box office. Reuniting much of the surviving cast of the original, as well as bringing back creators Williamson and Craven, Scream 2 successfully combined straight scares with postmodern quips about the nature of sequels. Scream 2 took the campus slashers of the early 1980s, such as Final Exam (1981) and Graduation Day (1981), as inspiration. Along with its stellar box office, the sequel was also a critical hit. Scream 3 (2000) finished the trilogy with a distinct case of diminishing returns. In another self-referencing manner, murders are plaguing a Hollywood movie set. The film marked the first entry in the Scream series not written by Williamson, and was also the first film in the franchise not to break $100 million at the box office, however it did bring in $89 million and was a financial success. Released one year after its predecessor, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) was hated by critics and fans alike, yet was still a modest success with $40 million at the domestic box office. The profits continued to shrink in Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000), in which film students are attacked by a killer in a fencing mask (another postmodern reference to Graduation Day). The film starred Hart Bochner from Terror Train (1981), and made a meager profit of just $21 million. Both the I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend franchises would find life in the direct-to-video market in later years.
Michael Myers returned in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), spurred by the success of Scream and Scream 2. Steve Miner, who helmed Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) and Friday the 13th Part III (1982), directed the film from a story by Williamson. The film was a direct sequel to Halloween II (1981), ignoring all the sequels between, to the annoyance of many fans. This allowed final girl Laurie Strode, once again played by Jamie Lee Curtis, to take on Myers. Despite John Carpenter's refusal to return, the film was a sizable hit, bringing in over $55 million at the box office and receiving some positive reviews. Curtis would return for a cameo in the sequel, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), which was inspired by the reality TV craze, as cameras placed around the infamous childhood home of Myers capture the killer's murderous deeds. It starred rapper Busta Rhymes and supermodel Tyra Banks, hoping to cater to the black demographic. While not being the hit that Halloween H20 was, Resurrection still scared up a respectable $30.3 million at the domestic box office, even if it was met with scathing reviews by critics and fans.
Chucky also made a comeback with the dark comedy Bride of Chucky (1998), featuring Jennifer Tilly as the titular bride and supporting roles from Brad Dourif, John Ritter, and Katherine Heigl. The film mixes genuine scares of the original Child's Play (1988) with self-referencing humor of films like Scream and was a hit, scoring a respectable $33 million at the domestic box office, enough to warrant Seed of Chucky (2004). Seed, directed by series creator Don Mancini, was a straight comedy that had little emphasis on scares, and had a steep decline from its predecessor's box office success. This financial decline would put the franchise on hold for nearly a decade.
Not faring so well was Jason X (2002), which did little to bolster the slasher film revival's fleeting appeal. Marked as the tenth film in the Friday the 13th franchise, the movie propelled Jason Voorhees into the distant future where he kills teens aboard a spaceship. The film was a box office bomb, bringing in just $13 million, making it the lowest grossing film in the franchise. However, the following year's Freddy vs. Jason (2003) would prove to be a totally different case. Mooted since 1986, the battle of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees came into fruition under director Ronny Yu, who had helmed Bride of Chucky. The film featured Freddy (Robert Englund) and Jason (Ken Kirzinger) battling each other with an unlucky group of teens caught in the crossfire. As Scream had done, the film played off nostalgia as well as interest from new fans. The movie scored a massive $82.6 million at the domestic box office, however it was unable to regenerate the slasher genre, and instead acted as a send-off to the second slasher revival by giving a wink to the Golden Age.
Remakes, reboots, and throwbacks
By 2002, the slasher film all-but disappeared from mainstream Hollywood cinema, largely due to budgetary declines and subject matter diversifying. Make a Wish (2002) distinguished itself as the first lesbian-centered slasher film. Because the genre typically aimed to lure men with the promise of female nudity, horror and homosexuality appeared to have no connection, however the genre's queer fan base is possibly its largest. Whereas it once steeped in allegory, Make a Wish was one of a number of horror films that emerged primarily for the gay audience in the early 2000s. It was followed by HellBent (2004), the first gay slasher film that features the famous West Hollywood Halloween Parade as the setting. There was even a gay porn version of Scream (1996) called Moan (1999). Adding to diversity was a reflection on modern social climate changes, and horror movies that had become famous for killing their black cast members early in the film (if they even had any black cast members at all) now were finding slasher films made primarily for black audiences consisting of all-black casts, including Killjoy (2000), Holla If I Kill You (2003), Holla (2006), and Somebody Help Me (2007).
Although the slasher film had seemingly died by 2002, it was once again jumpstarted by the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), a loose remake of Tobe Hooper's 1974 film. Produced by Michael Bay and starring recognizable stars including Jessica Biel and R. Lee Ermy, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a surprise sleeper hit, grossing over $100 million and signaling a significant change from the days of franchise sequels of the 80s and self-aware 90s slasher films. It was the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that launched a string for remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings of classic horror that attempted to lure audiences in through familiarity. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, these films added more slasher movie trappings to the retelling of the original film and only brought back key ingredients of their original counterparts, such as the lead villain being prominently featured or, in some cases, just the title and very basic premise. The margin of profit behind producing relatively inexpensive remakes that already had a built-in audience ensured that the remake trend would be long-lasting. As with most remakes, including Psycho (1998), these films diluted the original's more controversial aspects for maximum commercial appeal. The success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot secured it was followed by a prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) starring Matt Bomer and Jordana Brewster. Although the prequel didn't match the remake's financial success, it managed to make a respectable $39.5 million at the domestic box office.
Among the early films to ride on the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake was House of Wax (2005), a film marketed as a remake of House of Wax (1953), itself a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), although it shares little in common with either of those earlier films aside from the very general idea. Typical of the remake trend, the film was more a re-imagining loosely based on the original's very core premise, as the House of Wax remake shared more similarities with other films, such as Tourist Trap (1979). The film cast then-bankable upcoming television stars Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Elisha Cuthbert, and Paris Hilton, and was marketed largely on showcasing Hilton's demise. Despite the recognizable faces and promise for gruesome mayhem, House of Wax failed to generate as much buzz as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, bringing in only $32 million. Glen Morgan, the writer-producer behind Final Destination (2000), was tasked with writing and directing Black Christmas (2006), a remake of Bob Clark's influential 1974 film. Morgan changed the story into a black comedy, focusing on the over-the-top gore more than the Gothic imagery and suspense of the original. The Black Christmas remake didn't connected with audiences, bringing in an unexceptional $16.2 million at the box office.
One of the most financially successful remakes was When a Stranger Calls (2006). Expanding the original film's first twenty minutes into a 90-minute feature that solely relied on the tale of the babysitter and the man upstairs, the film was a hit with younger audiences who could see it due to the PG-13 rating, bringing in a total of nearly $50 million at the box office. This was not the first, or the last, slasher film that attempted to capitalize on the PG-13 rating to lure the younger audience. In 2005 two PG-13 slashers were released, although neither were particularly successful critically or commercially. Cry_Wolf (2005), starring Jon Bon Jovi and Lindy Booth, arguably didn't have the studio-backed marketing push to become as big as a hit as When a Stranger Calls, but The Fog, a remake of the John Carpenter 1980 film, hailed from Sony Pictures and used the popularity of its TV stars Tom Welling and Maggie Grace to promote it. Both films, especially The Fog, were critical failures, as The Fog currently holds an embarrassing 4% on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. Following the success of When a Stranger Calls, the PG-13 slasher remake craze continued with Prom Night (2008), which was similar to the 1980 original only by title. The film bolstered a higher body count and was a more straightforward slasher film than When a Stranger Calls, yet its PG-13 restrictions led to negative reception from fans who didn't find it could be gruesome enough to be a slasher. Still, it was a hit, pulling in nearly $44 million at the box office.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, several remakes exploited their original counterpart's notoriety, pushing ultra violence. Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007) took the simplicity of John Carpenter's film and added an extreme vision that, according to critics, systematically replaced everything that made the first film a success. Despite its criticisms, Zombie's remake was a financial success, pulling in $58 million and warranting a sequel. Halloween II (2009) featured more of the same ultra violence only now with surreal imagery. The negative reaction to the 2007 remake carried over to its sequel, as the film made less than half of what its predecessor made at the box office. Contrary, Alexandre Aja used modernized violence to enhance The Hills Have Eyes (2006), an update of Wes Craven's 1977 film. The movie followed the original's premise closely, adding in a few sequences of violence and assault that could not have passed censors in the 1970s. The film was a hit, generating more than $44 million at the box office and getting its own sequel the following year. The Hills Have Eyes II (2007), much like Halloween II, was less fortunate than its predecessor, being a box office disappointment. The sequel upped the violence, gore, and sexual assault, yet was met with harsh reaction from fans who founds its gratuitous violence to be too over-the-top, to the point of absurdity.
The remake craze stretched into 2009, where several updates were released, with varying results of success. From Lionsgate, the company responsible for the Saw franchise, came My Bloody Valentine (2009), a remake of the 1981 cult classic. The movie didn't stick close to the original in terms of plot, but it nodded plenty of homages to it. To add to the roller-coaster, carnival feel of the film, it serves impressive special effects in 3D. The movie also generated enough interested to secure a re-release of the original film on DVD, this time completely uncut. The film made over $100 million. A month after the release of My Bloody Valentine came Friday the 13th (2009), made by the same team behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. A reboot of the first three films of the franchise, this remake exploited the slasher film's fame for gruesome death scenes, oblivious partying, and gratuitous sex, all with a self-aware wink. The film was another success for the remake craze, gathering over $90 million at the box office. However, the reboot of Friday the 13th was near-universally panned by critics and fans for bringing nothing new or fresh to the franchise, arguably defeating the point of a reboot in the first place.
While a slew of slasher remakes were hugely profitable, the remake craze hit a decline in the late 2000s. On top of the disappointment of potential franchise-fuelers like The Hills Have Eyes II and Halloween II, the Terror Train remake, Train (2008), failed to generate enough interest to gather a theatrical release. The film was poorly received, owing more to Hostel than the 1980 original. Sorority Row (2009) is a loose remake of The House on Sorority Row (1983) and featured rising stars Audrina Patridge, Rumer Willis, and Jamie Chung, but made only $12 million at the domestic box office. April Fool's Day (2008) played it straighter than the 1986 horror-comedy, but only found complaints from fans of the original film who criticized its lack of creativity and bad acting. The low-budget holiday-themed slasher films Silent Night (2012) and Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming (2013), remakes of Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) and Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972), respectively, fared just as badly, generating little-to-no interest. The once high-profile Mothers Day (2010), directed by Darren Lynn Bousman of the Saw franchise and starring Rebecca De Mornay, changed the plot line of the 1980 Troma film, but production delays and distribution problems forced the film into a little-seen direct-to-video release.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), a remake of Wes Craven's 1984 film, starred Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger and Rooney Mara and Katie Cassidy as his teenage targets. The film returned the story to its darker, scarier roots, however it lacked the novelty and surprises that made the original so riveting. Despite its financial success, the movie was almost universally panned by fans and critics alike, with talks of a sequel quickly fizzling out. Because of the negative reaction to films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, the popularity of the slasher remake faded, as talks of further sequels and remakes were put on indefinite hold.
Not all throwback slasher films of the time were remakes. Hoping to hark back to brutal films of the 1970s, movies like Wrong Turn (2003), itself inspired by Just Before Dawn (1981) and The Hills Have Eyes, scored over $25 million worldwide and launched a franchise of straight-to-video films. The success of the Wrong Turn series on DVD helped build a flurry of nostalgic slasher movies. That same year, Rob Zombie's directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses (2003), hit theaters and was a modest success, although the film was greeted with mixed reviews. While some reviews praised its daring visual style, others thought it tried to hard to compete with classics like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. House of 1000 Corpses was followed by a sequel two years later, The Devil's Rejects (2005), which mixed several exploitation genres, bringing to mind the harshest horror entries from the 1970s and 1980s. The film was a modest hit, bringing in over $15 million at the box office and gaining a strong cult following.
Dark Ride (2006) and Hatchet (2006) were both throwbacks to the high-energy slasher films from the Golden Age, using the setting of a theme park and a swamp, respectively. Hatchet was a minor success, generating two sequels. Simon Says (2006) and The Tripper (2006) were also released in the mid-2000s to DVD. In Simon Says, Crispin Glover returns to the genre 22-years after Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) and in The Tripper, directed by David Arquette of the Scream trilogy, a killer in a Ronald Reagan mask slices his way through kids at a music festival. The use of the Reagan mask was a direct reference to the conservative era from which the Golden Age of Slasher Films hailed. WWE Films made their first feature starring wrestling phenomenon Kane as a monster who picks off juvenile delinquents in an abandoned hotel in See No Evil (2006). The film was followed by a sequel in 2014. The parody Gutterballs (2008) made several references to the early 1980s Golden Age, none more direct than its poster which played on the famous advertisements for Maniac (1980).
Remembering what Scream accomplished in the late 1990s, some throwback slasher films attempted to put a unique twist on the familiar clichés. Odd All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) chose to go for a straight horror approach that showcased tragedy over the thrill, bringing to mind the Columbine High School Massacre. The film had trouble finding distribution, and sat on the shelf for over seven years in the United States, only to find release after the rise of cast member Amber Heard's star power. Placing a more fun, meta spin on the postmodernist slasher was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), in which a documentary crew follows a fledging serial killer who models himself after slasher film icons of the 1980s. The film was unique for being a "found footage" slasher film, and also commenting on the audience's acceptance of serial killers for entertainment's sake. Independent film director Adam Wingard paid respects to horror film directors like John Carpenter in his movies You're Next (2011) and The Guest (2014), both of which added twists to the familiar genre conventions; in You're Next, the masked killers unknowingly pick a target in a final girl (Sharni Vinson) who is a survivalist expert prepared to fight back, while The Guest turns the hero (Dan Stevens) into the villain.
Internationally, filmmakers tested the extreme levels of tension and violence through slasher films. In France, an extreme new wave of horror began in the early 2000s, including Alexandre Aja's High Tension (2003), as well as the bloody Inside (2007) and the suspenseful Them (2006), which was remade in the United States as The Strangers (2008). Austria's Dead in 3 Days (2006) was a loose remake of I Know What You Did Last Summer, only with much more violent results. A large number of British films that embraced the violent new-wave of filmmaking included Long Time Dead (2002), Creep (2004), Wilderness (2008), The Children (2008), and Tormented (2009). Britain would also see the release of slasher films that would achieve worldwide acclaim, including The Descent (2005), the black comedy Severance (2006), and the disturbing Eden Lake (2008), starring Michael Fassbender. In Norway, the snow-set Cold Prey (2006) launched Europe's most successful slasher franchise of the decade. The film's popularity was overshadowed by the even-greater success of its sequel, Cold Prey 2 (2008). A third installment, Cold Prey 3 (2011), was released with less success. South Korea tested the limits of violence with films like Bloody Reunion (2006), and Taiwan followed suit with Invitation Only (2009), Scared (2005), and Slice (2009).
There were throwbacks to 1990s slasher films, too. The belated sequel I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006) bypassed cinemas and was released directly to DVD. The film takes on a similar premise as the 1997 original, however the characters, setting, and overall storyline are different. The movie was harshly received, ending the franchise. Curse of Chucky (2013) brought the killer doll back to the limelight after nearly a decade. The film marked the first straight-to-video entry in the franchise, and was very well received, focusing on scares first but also not forgetting the series' comedic undertones. Fifteen years after the release of the original Scream came Scream 4 (2011). Proving to be possibly too meta, the film tackled the subject of reboots and remakes, where the killer attempts to recreate the original film's murders. The movie was met with mixed reviews, it was disappointing at the box office, bringing in only $40 million, less than half of what the first three films in the franchise had made over a decade earlier.
The slasher film has also moved its way to the television screen since the mid-2000s. The popular Showtime series Dexter told the story of a serial killer who justifies his urge for murder by targeting other serial killers. Set in Miami, the series' darkly comedic undertones called attention to the 1980s serial killer thrillers. The first season of the HBO vampire series True Blood revolved around a small town being terrorized by a slasher targeting women who engage in sexual activities with vampires, a storyline that can easily be traced back to the misogynistic undertones of films like Don't Answer the Phone! (1980) and Dressed to Kill (1980). FX's American Horror Story: Asylum has a plot centered on a slasher called "Bloodyface", who is obviously molded after Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and American Horror Story: Freak Show features a slasher villain in the form of a deranged clown named Twisty. Even Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) provided inspiration for A&E's drama thriller Bates Motel, a prequel detailing teenager Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his relationship with his mother (Vera Farmiga). ABC Family's teen thriller Pretty Little Liars, based on the series of novels by Sara Shepard, plays on themes established by films like Prom Night (1980), The House on Sorority Row (1983), and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). MTV is currently developing a series based around the Scream films, and Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films is developing a Friday the 13th series for television.
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