||This article's Criticism or Controversy section may compromise the article's neutral point of view of the subject. (September 2012)|
A slasher film is a subgenre of thriller and horror film, typically involving a psychopathic killer stalking and murdering a sequence of victims in a graphically violent manner, often with a bladed tool such as a knife, machete, axe, scythe, or chainsaw. Although the term "slasher" may be used as a generic term for any horror movie involving graphic acts of murder, the genre has established its own set of characteristics which set it apart from related genres like the splatter film and psychological thriller.
The origins of the genre date back to the French Grand Guignol theater plays of the late 19th Century, and traced its way into films through various mediums. The popularity of Alfred Hitchcock's sensational Psycho (1960) influenced a variety of international sub-genres that would become the slasher genre. The genre peaked between the years of 1978 and 1984, between the releases of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Despite a decline in the home video market from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, the genre was resurrected in 1996 after the release of Craven's Scream (1996), which mixed self-referential humor of films like Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) with the murderous mayhem of the slasher genre. Despite a briefly successful return to mainstream popularity, the genre once again declined in the early 2000s, where mainstream success was found only in remakes of the genre's most popular films and throwbacks to the genre's prime.
Despite the rave reviews of films like Psycho, Halloween, Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), the genre has often found itself under attack from critics, as well as parental groups and feminists who deemed many of the genre's films to be misogynistic due to their repeated violence against women. Despite these detractors, the films have overall been hugely commercial successful, with the ability to become sleeper hits on small independent budgets. Many films in the genre have attracted a strong and devoted cult following.
- 1 Definition
- 2 Origins
- 3 Early Influences
- 4 Psycho & the 1960s
- 5 Influential Sub-Genres
- 6 The Golden Age of Slasher Films
- 7 Decline of the Slasher Film
- 8 Scream & Revival
- 9 Remakes, Reboots, & Throw-Backs
- 10 See also
- 11 References
||This section possibly contains original research. (November 2013)|
The 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 sub-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 not known and which employ a whodunit angle, often with a twist at the end, such as Scream (1996), Hell Night (1981), and Happy Birthday to Me (1981).
There is substantial critical debate as to how to define the slasher genre and what films meet the criteria. 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 as slashers. In Peter Hutching's book The Horror Film, he considers the films following the success of Halloween critically different than those released prior (such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).
Dika defines the sub genre through a repeated plot structure, theorizing that all slasher films adhere to the following formula in one condition or another:
- The community is guilty of a wrongful action. i.e. 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.
She further goes on to attempt 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 John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), it has become a genre convention that a lone woman will become the last one standing to fend off the killer. Before Halloween, heroines had often survived horror films, but the climactic and length chase between Laurie and the boogeyman 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 of her doomed friends. Shy but smart, she turns the cat-and-mouse games to her advantage in her battle to survive the killer. 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 by Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien (1979). In slashers, men were taken out of commission in one form or another, leaving the final girl to battle the killer one-on-one.
Not all final girls survived to the end. Despite their near-escape, some slashers murdered their final girl just before the closing credits to have one final "shock." However, even if the final girl does make it through one film, there is no guarantee that she will survive the sequel, as is evident in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) and Halloween: Resurrection (2002), where the previous film's heroine is quickly dispatched in the opening scene.
The subject of the final girl has become a studied cultural topic in film studies and gender studies, as the archetype helped re-define the classic American hero and heroine. The presence of the final girl, who is arguably the most powerful figure in the entire film, brings up a debate on what can be called misogynistic in slashers, as many final girls defeat their male attackers and outlive their male counterparts through traits such as wit and intelligence.
Grand Guignol Theater
Despite Grand Guignol literally translating to "big puppet show" in French with no direct affiliation to horror, the "Le Théâtre du Grand Guignol" plays of the late 19th-century became known for their horror themes. These plays often climaxed with staged acts of torture, murder, and mayhem, presenting a particularly bleak world in which villains rarely received punishment for their crimes. These plays also featured early gore special effects. Because of the crowd-pleasing effect these plays had, playwright André de Lorde, who took over the theater's directorship in 1898, helped cement the Grand Guignol's notoriety by putting on an increasing number of plays with insanity as a central theme.
The theater, which flourished for over sixty years, was most popular between World War I (1918) and World War II (1939), when it became one of Paris' leading tourist attractions. One of its best-known actresses, Paula Maxa, was dubbed "the most assassinated woman of all time" due to the sheer number of times she had been murdered on stage, allegedly more than 10,000 times.
The popularity of the Grand Guignol theater began to wane after the second world war ended in 1945, however cinematic violence in films was becoming more graphic. Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a notable example of the Grand Guignol theme continuing throughout France, showcasing gruesome scenes of surgery in close-up detail while also playing on the poetic themes such as beauty and lost love.
The Grand Guignol theater closed its doors in 1962 and the theater was demolished, however its influence on filmmakers stuck.
The kind of 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, with 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 earliest of the Entertainment Industry's set of guidelines that restricted what could be shown on film. In the Hays Code, making even mild references to sexuality and brutality were deemed unacceptable.
Horror thrillers were still popular on the American stage. Crime writer Mary Roberts Rinehart was a major influence on the emerging horror genre. Rinehart's novel The Circular Staircase (1908) was adapted as The Bat (1926). The story is that of guests in a remote mansion being menaced by a killer in a grotesque bat mask. The success of The Bat led to an "old dark house" craze throughout the late 1920s. Following in the success of The Bat were The Cat and the Canary (1927), which was 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 and directed by James Whale. Both films played on the theme of pitting town dwellers against strange country folk, which would become a reoccurring theme in later slasher films. On top of the "madman on the loose" cat-and-mouse game, several key elements featured in the films also would be carried onto the slasher, including lengthy POV 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, she crosses through their yearbook photos, a device borrowed 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 "krimis." The Terror was the second film ever to use sound, and featured a maniac who dresses in a cloak and hood who stalks residents at an inn. Later, in The Ghoul (1933), Boris Karloff plays a man who returns from the dead to seek revenge on his heirs gathered around for a reading of his will. Night of Terror (1933), featuring Bela Lugosi, had an ending where the killer makes a surprise reappearance, something that would become a cliche in slashers. The revenge-themed Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), which would be remade in 1953, featured a gruesome premise of a killer covering up his crimes by turning his victims into wax sculptures.
In the 1940s, producer Val Lewton became known for his low-budget horror pictures, such as I Walked With a Zombie (1942) and Cat People (1942). Among them was Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man (1943), featuring a series of murders committed by either an escaped leopard or a killer on the lose. Basil Rathbone's The Scarlet Claw (1944), showcasing fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes, revolved around murders committed with a garden weeder and featured shots of the killer raising the weapon in the air and bringing down repeatedly, 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 young mute maid (Dorothy McGuire) may be the next victim of a killer. The use of the seemingly helpless but sympathetic young woman would become commonplace in later horror films as the "Final Girl" archetype. The film also featured a black-gloved killer, POV shots, and jump-scares.
Particularly influential was British crime writer Agatha Christie, who's hugely successful 1939 novel Ten Little Indians was first adapted on the screen with And Then There Were None (1945). The story of a group of people—who each have committed a secret past crime - being killed at an isolated island one-by-one would provide the very 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 bigger box office profit and critical acclaim, while at the same the growing independent horror was booming. In 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. The Bad Seed (1956) was nominated for four Oscars and told the mystery of a housewife (Nancy Kelly) who suspects that her young daughter (Patty McCormick) is behind a series of murders. Screaming Mimi (1958), based on the novel by Fredric Brown, was promoted with "suspense around ever curve." The film featured Anita Ekberg as an exotic dancer who is attacked by a killer with a knife in the opening scene. This scene, where a celebrity is killed, would be echoed in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Wes Craven's Scream (1996).
British film Jack the Ripper (1959) saw a dramatization of the infamous Victorian Whitechapel murders. The film received an X-rating in its UK-release. While many slasher films would be inspired by real-life killings, few were straight adaptations like Jack the Ripper. Terry Bishop's Cover Girl Killer (1959), set in the seedy world of strip clubs and tawdry glamour shoots, featured a moralizing killer 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 & the 1960s
Psycho was released in the United States on June 16, 1960. It was Alfred Hitchcock's 49th feature film. While trying to recover from the commercial and critical failure of Vertigo (1958), Hitchcock noticed that low-budget thrillers of the 1950s were sweeping up the box office. 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, who believed the story stretched the boundaries of what was acceptable with audiences. Because of this, many of the lewd themes of the novel were cut back, yet Hitchcock still explored his apparent obsession with victimizing his leading lady and exploring the macabre (as he had done in the 1927 silent film based on the Whitechapel murders, The Lodger).
Casting of Psycho was crucial, as Hitchcock was able to secure major Hollywood stars for a film that was, essentially, a B-movie. In Bloch's novel, the character of Norman Bates is unattractive and in his 40s, but Hitchcock cast handsome 28-year-old Anthony Perkins in the now-infamous 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 near-deserted Bates Motel. The film's score, composed by Bernard Herrmann, would become iconic, as it queued the audience when something horrible was going to happen.
Psycho pushed the envelope on what was acceptable in screen violence, sexuality, and even bathroom apparatus (the film was the first time a toilet had been seen flushing in a Hollywood film). Because no one involved—Hitchcock included—were particularly known for their work in the horror genre, the audience was all-the-more shocked by what translated on screen. Some of the murders quite literally sent the audience into hysterics, and Hitchcock's decision to kill off his leading lady in the first act threw the audience off-kilter. The "shower scene" death, which has become one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history, foreshadows the evolution of later films by being both titillating yet extremely violent. The scene's iconography would impact films for generations to come—Leigh's daughter Jamie Lee Curtis would be specifically cast as the heroine of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) because of her mother's role in Psycho, and Wes Craven would use the same gimmick of killing off his most recognizable cast member with Drew Barrymore in Scream (1996).
The influence of Psycho on the development of the slasher film genre cannot be underestimated. Psycho was the culmination of a lurid melting pot of thriller, horror and mystery conventions. The movie was inspired by low-budget horror and thriller films, and 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 Hitchcock's Psycho in 1960, seminal British film Peeping Tom hit screens in the United Kingdom. Directed by Michael Powell, the film was incredibly controversial upon its initial release, and its negative critical reaction all but ended Powell's career as a film director. The film told the story of a young photographer (Carl Boëhm) who takes up a horrifying hobby: murdering beautiful young women and photographing their dying expressions.
While the film took a few queues from earlier thrillers, including Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), it proved to be ahead of its time by not being one of the 'safe' horror films that were so family-friendly in the 1940s and 1950s. The film also allowed audiences to experience it's story through the "eyes" of the killer, a technique that effectively questioned the audiences' role as voyeurs of violence. Much like Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Boëhm is an attractive and charming young man, not the monstrous killer that audiences of the time had come to expect from a horror film villain.
One of the first imitators spawned from the success of Psycho was William Castle's Homicidal (1961), which upped-the-ante by showing blood gushing gore during the frenzied knife attacks. The film also takes the quasi-transvestism of Psycho and makes it a central plot point. Like many of Castle's films—which included House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler (1959) -- Homicidal lured the 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) introduced many elements that would become ubiquitous to the slasher years later, including a POV shot of the killer pulling down a branch to get a look at a potential victim. In the film, murders occur near the campus of a woman's college by someone wearing army boots, black gloves, and a fedora. The film also features a skinny-dipping scene, something that would become linked to the Friday the 13th franchise. Crown International's Terrified (1963) has a horrific opening scene in which a laughing maniac pours cement into an open grave where a teenage boy screams for help. As a cheap production, Terrified takes place in an abandoned ghost town and features a killer wearing a mask, in contrast to the fresh-faced killers who followed in the wake of Norman Bates. Along with Violent Midnight, Terrified may be the first of the true teen slasher films.
In 1963, years before filming The Godfather (1971), Francis Ford Coppola directed Dementia 13 for producer Roger Corman. Made for less than $45,000, the film's plot of an axe murderer at an Irish castle where a group has gathered to commemorate the death of a family member would become influential, especially in the Italian giallo thrillers. The success of Psycho also attracted Hollywood talent to the horror-thriller genre. William Castle's Strait-Jacket (1964) would star Joan Crawford as a homicidal maniac who decapitates her husband as well as her lover in the film's opening moments. Later, Crawford would star as a ringmaster in the murder-at-the-circus thriller Berserk (1967). In MGM's Night Must Fall (1964), which was a remake of the 1937 British film, Albert Finney plays a psychopathic axe murderer who keeps a severed head in a box. The violent horror picture 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 British studio to Hammer, got Psycho-author Robert Bloch to script Psychopath (1968). In Spain, The House That Screamed (1969) added a stylish flare to Psycho variations, and featured violent murders that would thematically preempt 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 focused on 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 played well with drive-in audiences looking for cheap, campy thrills. The on-screen gore, which often depicted the mutilation of the human body, was the draw of the film, as the movie and its likes became known for their poor acting, lack-of-suspense, and tongue-in-cheek humor. Loathed by critics, the newly coined "splatter film" Blood Feast proved to be a big hit with audiences. It's profit allowed Lewis to continue to make 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 would take a stab at low-budget splatter films, such as Andy Milligan with The Ghastly Ones (1969). These low-budget splatter films paved the way for hyper violence that would later be 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 its equation of psychosis with Down syndrome. 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 and being 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 would make a career out of writing crime thrillers similar to those of Agatha Christie, only with larger body counts and more emphasis on garish murders. Often set in and around Scotland Yard, London, or the English Countryside, Wallace wrote around 175 novels, which were popular in Germany since the novels 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, from green skeletons with capes to monks in red habits.
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 through heists 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. The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle (1963) is based on his novel and 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, and showcasing many POV shots with a large knife. The film ends with a lengthy chase through an airport, 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 in the 1960s, the films began to lose their appeal. According to film historian Kim Newman, Gorilla Gang (1968) was the film that 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 lurid pulp paperback thrillers from the 1930s and 1940s with trademark yellow covers (giallo translates to yellow in Italian). These stories first appeared in Italy in 1929, and typically featured a standard crime procedural dosed with sex, glamour, and violence. Unlike American slasher movies that would follow, the protagonists of gialli were rarely teenagers and featured young successful twenty or thirty somethings sporting the latest fashions and jetted 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 to great effect 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. The plot follows a killer in Rome and a young tourist (Letícia Román) who may be the only witness to the crimes. While the film lacked the distinctive violence that would become synonymous with later entries, it did feature a protagonist-turned-sleuth, a killer on the loose, and an obsession with jet-setting. Reportedly not satisfied with The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Bava's next film, Blood and Black Lace (1964) proved to be even more influential. Highly stylized with vivid colors and operatic music, the film focuses on a string of murders at a fashion house. While not the first film to feature a black-gloved killer, 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 remained hidden throughout the film by use of a mask, strengthening the mystery.
Gialli gained popularity, attracting directors such as Lucio Fulci—who become known for his splatter films Zombi (1979) and The Beyond (1981). Fulci's Perversion Story (1969) and Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) would find acclaim, the latter of which would become praised for its social commentary on Italy's religious persecution. Umberto Lenzi made a string of gialli films, starting with Orgasmo (1969) and So Sweet... So Perverse (1969). His film Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1971) would be one of the few giallo-Krimi-hybrids, as it is based on an Edgar Wallace novel; the influence of krimi mixed with giallo would carry into The Girl in Room 2A (1974). By the time of Lenzi's Eyeball (1975), the director had turned from emphasizing suspense to emphasizing gore.
The release of several influential gialli in the early 1970s would popularize the genre internationally. Dario Argento's directorial debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), was a major box office success in the United States. The film crystallized the disparate 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 famed Academy Award winner Ennio Morricone, who has become one of the most—if not the most—celebrated film composers of all time. Despite being best known for his work on spaghetti westerns, Morricone's music for giallo films has been much imitated, reflecting the extravagant lifestyles of the characters on-screen yet adding necessary thriller and horror elements. On top of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Morricone would compose Argento's The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), as well as 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.
Sergio Martino's The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) was the first pairing of the undisputed king and queen of the giallo genre: Edwige Fenech and George Hilton. Fenech plays a woman who believes that one of the men in her life—her husband, ex-boyfriend, or current lover—is behind a series of ghastly crimes. The scene where Fenech is menaced by the killer in an underground parking lot has been copied in many films since, in both gialli like Massimo Dallamano's What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) and American slasher films like Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and Scream 4 (2011). Martino followed the success of the film with numerous gialli, however Torso (1973) was particularly influential on the slasher. In Torso, a masked killer (often shown through POV shots) preys on co-ed lovers. There is a theme of a past crime for which retribution motivates the killings in the present. Like teenagers in slasher films, the young victims do drugs, enjoy pre-marital sex, and taunt authority. The singling out of a "final girl" (played by Suzy Kendall of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage) also stands as influential for the film's climax. The impact of Torso on horror filmmakers continued decades later, with Alexandre Aja's extreme French splatter film High Tension (2003) paying homage to Kendall's climactic scene.
Also very influential was Bava's dark comedy A Bay of Blood (1971), which, unlike his proceeding giallo Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), features especially explicit scenes of murder and creative death sequences. Several death scenes in A Bay of Blood have been directly copied in American slasher films, the most famous of which being Jason Voorhees' killing debut Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), in which several scenes from Bava's film are directly lifted. The lakeside setting and whodunit mystery also most likely inspired Sean S. Cunningham and Victor Miller to create the original Friday the 13th (1980).
The cross-pollination of the giallo genre allowed many films to play at American cinemas and drive-ins and helped contribute to the melting pot of genres that helped create the American slasher genre. Spanish and Turkish filmmakers also made movies that have been termed gialli, including 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 gialli genre. Even Alfred Hitchcock, whose own films certainly helped inspire the genre, was influenced by the giallo popularity in his later career, no more evident than with his penultimate film, Frenzy (1972). The genre's familiarity and conventions even inspired spoofs, such as Death Steps in the Dark (1977), to make eventually make appearances.
The giallo genre could never recapture its huge mainstream success of the early 1970s, even with hits like Dallamano's What Have You Done to Solange?, Argento's Deep Red (1975), Fulci's The Psychic (1977), and Antonio Bido's 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, and some even tried to drawn in audiences with promise of hardcore pornographic scenes, like in Play Motel (1979), or through the promise of sleaze over story with films like Giallo a Venezia (1979).
The Exploitation Film
While the giallo dominated the 1970s European market, in Britain and the United States exploitation films developed into what would eventually emerge as the slasher film. The more sensational aspects of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho segued into movies that exploited sex and violence. In America, many of these films played in Grindhouse Theaters and drive-ins that specialized in exploitation films and B-movies. Creaky plot devices were largely jettisoned, and madness was celebrated, with the villains of these films usually given the most cursory of motives for their heinous actions. The exploitation film was largely frequented by teenage moviegoers, thus more teenage protagonists were added to the plots.
British director Robert Fuest's low-budget shocker And Soon the Darkness (1970) kickstarted the mad-killer genre. In the film, two young nurses on a cycling holiday in France are stalked by a mysterious man. The film moves away from the gothic feel of the 1960s horror films by unravelling the sinister action in daytime. Similarly, the British thriller Fright (1971) finds a young woman (Susan George) menaced by the psychotic father of the child she's babysitting. The film, based on the "babysitter and the man upstairs" urban legend, found George spending much of the film being not only harassed and tormented but also humiliated. Tower of Evil (1972) features teenage archaeologists being murdered by a killer at a remote island lighthouse. It's tagline "They came, they saw, they died!" helped cement the tradition of partying teens in isolation and danger, something that would become a staple in later films. Robin Askwith, known for sex-comedies, is one of the many actors to show copious amounts of nudity in the film.
Perhaps the most influential filmmaker in the psycho-thriller 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), starring Sheila Keith as a seemingly benign elderly women with a terrible secret—she's a cannibal. Frightmare is an exercise in nihilism that breaks many taboos of the time. Upon its initial release, the film advertised it's negative reviews to attract viewers, such as the Daily Telegraph calling it, "Frighteningly well made... a moral obscenity." Courting controversy was Walker's aim, as the bigger the headlines the bigger the box office might be. In House of Mortal Sin (1976) Walker tackled Catholicism and showed a priest killing churchgoers with sacred objects. In Schizo (1976), Lynne Frederick plays a young ice skater who 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 the emerging genre films like Halloween (1978).
Bad press was popularized by American films, too. Blood and Lace (1971) was dubbed the "sickest PG-rated movie ever made!" The film mixed unintentional humor and high camp, composed of teenage cat-fights, tons of gore, and sleaze. The movie also features a horribly burned villain 13-years before Freddy Krueger appeared in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). 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." 
In Westworld (1973), a theme park featuring lifelike robots turns deadly on its patrons when the robots begin to kill people. While owing more to westerns and science fiction films than psycho-thrillers, the main villain of Westworld, played by Yul Brynner, would be cited by John Carpenter as one of his inspirations for Michael Myers in Halloween (1978).
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. The ultra low-budget Have a Nice Weekend (1975) showed more novice filmmaking than exploiting sex, nudity, drugs, or violence that audiences anticipated, and therefore came and went quickly from cinemas. The Love Butcher (1975) was released at the beginning of the punk movement, and tested boundaries of political correctness. In the film, an ugly gardner with a handsome alter-ego punishes the housewives who have previously spurned him. In The Redeemer: Son of Satan (1976), a school reunion turns bloody when the ex-students are stalked and killed 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), a film about couples being stalked by a ghoulishly masked murderer. 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 film concerns a violent clash of cultures and ideals, in this case the death of late 1960's counter-culture idealism and the darkly conservative values of a cannibalistic family. The film works on many levels of fear, including the image of being chased by a squealing overweight man with a chainsaw who wears the skin of past victims as a mask and eats human flesh. While Norman Bates was undoubtedly the first iconic cinematic serial killer, Leatherface of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre became a bone-fide boogeyman that undoubtably impacted the American horror film market's portrayal of horror villains.
The film's success spawned several imitators and it's "based on a true story" advertisements (which were exaggerated to the point of falsehood), gave birth to films where the central premise was violent reenactments of real-life crimes. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) is a rare-example of a period slasher film. Set in 1940s Texas, it is based on the unsolved Phantom Killer case, a maniac who claimed the lives of five people. In the film, a killer is depicted as stalking lovelorn teens and wears a mask that would bear a striking resemblance to the original look of Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). Another Son of Sam (1977) was inspired by the then-recent Son of Sam slayings in New York City, and it was made to cash in on the public fascination with the case.
Wes Craven, who had helmed the successful low-budget rape-revenge film The Last House on the Left (1972), returned to the horror genre five years later with The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the terror of Craven's film was generated by suburban "fish-out-of-water" protagonists facing off against inbred desert cannibals after their car breaks down. 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.
This time period also saw the start of holiday-themed horror films, something that would become 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 in a yellow raincoat starts killing guests with a pitchfork. In anthology film Tales from the Crypt (1972), a segment And All Through the House features actress 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 starts to terrorize her. In the low-budget Silent Night, Bloody Night (1973), a series of murders occur on the site of an old asylum.
Director Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974) borrows from Silent Night, Bloody Night, utilizing the Christmas setting and creepy phone calls that were later popularized in films such as When a Stranger Calls (1979) and Scream (1996). Black Christmas tells the story of sorority girls—among them Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder—being menaced by a lunatic just before the holidays. The film is often cited as being masterful in tension and suspense, and played on the fears of young adults of the time, including abortion and alcoholism. Both visually and thematically, Black Christmas is a precursor for John Carpenter's Halloween, as it features young women being terrorized by a killer in a previously safe environment during an iconic holiday. Like Carpenter's film, Clark's film opens with a lengthy POV shot, however the two films differ in their antagonists; whereas the killer in Black Christmas is unseen yet raves like a lunatic in phone calls, the killer in Halloween is often seen by characters yet never speaks.
Upon its initial release, Black Christmas was heavily criticized. Variety called the film cliche and complained that it was a "bloody, senseless kill-for-kicks" feature 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.
The Golden Age of Slasher Films
The time period when the slasher was at its height is often credited as the Golden Age" of Slasher Films, a timespan between 1978-1984. The film that jumpstarted the Golden Age was John Carpenter's Halloween, which was released into American cinemas until October 1978, yet was not released in most international territories until 1979. 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 slasher films were 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 their ability to make significant amounts of money at the box office with small budgets that didn't rely on the added cost of bankable actors and actresses. As a total, the films released in the Golden Age of Slasher Films made hundreds of millions of dollars at the American box office, and most films glided easily into profit, even if they did not pull in the record-breaking numbers of Halloween. When adjusted for today's box office rates, many of these figures are even more impressive: Halloween would have pulled in over $200 million worldwide and Friday the 13th would have made nearly $150 million worldwide. Even lesser-known films, such as When a Stranger Calls (1979) and Graduation Day (1981), would have made nearly $75 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. Most of these films featured 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, but not exclusively, 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 Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (1960), the sci-fi film Westworld (1971), and Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974), Halloween would become the genre-defining work with a simple yet effective plot. The story follows an escaped mental patient stalking unsuspecting babysitters on Halloween. Wanting to keep costs to a minimum, producers decided the film should take place in as few locations as possible and only over a brief period of time, a technique that would be copied in almost all slasher films to follow.
John Carpenter, fresh off directing Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and the TV thriller Someone's Watching Me! (1978), gladly accepted the offer to direct and set to 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, eventually 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 because she was the daughter of 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 heroic 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 Pleasance joined the cast in the role. Carpenter's 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' POV. This shot would be repeated in dozens of other slasher films, and would become such a well-known convention that it would be spoofed in films such as Blow Out (1981) starring John Travolta. Another convention that the film became known for was the killing of sexually active teens while allowing virginal "final girls" to survive and defeat the villain. Carpenter denies that there is a conservative political agenda in Halloween and states that sex-obsessed teenagers were easy targets of 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.
Surprisingly, 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 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 openly 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 had an incredible gross of 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 the film. The TV Movie Are You in the House Alone? was first screened just ahead of Halloween. Starring Kathleen Beller, the film was another in the "babysitter-in-peril" flick, however the phantom phone calls suggest that Black Christmas was 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 at the drive-in and Grindhouse circuits. The film is set at a Los Angeles apartment complex, where a deranged manager (Cameron Mitchell) 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. There was also Killer's Delight, a San Francisco-set serial killer opus that supposedly took 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 off Halloween (1978) wasn't taken up by would-be slasher filmmakers as quickly as might be expected. Although many slashers went into production in 1979, they would not see the light of day until 1980 and later.
One of the more unique slashers released in 1979 was David Schmoeller's Tourist Trap. It follows city teens getting lost and running afoul of two psychotic brothers at a desolate location, a plot which emulated 1970's 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 as mannequins are telekinetically controlled by the killer. The inspiration for Tourist Trap was as diverse as Stephen King's novel 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, although that went into production before Halloween was released. Based on the urban legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs (of which Fright (1971) was also based), the film was an expansion of Walton's short film, The Sitter, which was in turn inspired by Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974). 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?" The film would make over $20 million at the domestic box office.
Less successful was Ray Dennis Steckler's burlesque slasher The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher, which appears immune to the influence of Halloween, as having an almost documentary-like approach to the on-screen mayhem. The film's violence against the homeless would 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 their murderous deeds, a theme that would be translated in the following year's Maniac (1980) and, later, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). The Driller Killer is so bloody that the movie became one of the most infamous "video nasties" in Britain. Another slasher film, Savage Water, was also released 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 enormous success of Friday the 13th, as well as box-office hits like Silent Scream and Prom Night. 1980 saw the election of Ronald Reagan as the 40th President of the United States, which ushered in a new age of conservatism in America. It was also the year that the murder of John Lennon raised new concerns of media violence, and that the debate of on-screen violence against women as use of entertainment erupted, manifesting 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 films to appear in 1980 was Silent Scream, which looked back at the heyday of one of its stars, English actress Barbara Steele, who had been the queen of European Gothic horror in the 1960s. The film was a success, making $15.8 million at the box office. The team behind Halloween (1978) -- including writer/director John Carpenter, writer/producer Debra Hill, distributor AVCO Embassy Pictures, and actors Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and Charles Cyphers—returned for The Fog, a ghost story that is not directly a slasher, yet does feature murderous specters that proceed to pick off residents of a small seaside town. The Fog also starred Psycho alumni Janet Leigh as well as Adrienne Barbeau and Tom Atkins, the latter of which would reunite with Carpenter and Hill for Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). A huge box office success, The Fog would make $21.4 million and receive mostly positive reviews, cementing Carpenter and Hill as Hollywood heavyweights.
Two high-profile and thematically similar thrillers with slasher elements opened in early 1980. The first was William Friedkin's Cruising starring Al Pacino as a vice cop investigating a series of murders against gay men in leather bars. Cruising attracted controversy and was protested by gay rights groups, who were unhappy with its perverse portrayal of homosexuals. Although the film pre-dates the AIDS crisis, some argued that the negative portrayal of the gay community fueled subsequent backlash when the virus broke out. United Artists, which released Cruising, also released Windows, a film that equated lesbianism with psychosis. Talia Shire plays a divorcee suffering at the hands of psychotic Sapphic neighbor. The film only played for one week before being pulled from theaters due to its homophobic implications.
Exploitation film Don't Answer the Phone! kicked off the "Don't" cycle of films, although they were unrelated aside from their titles. While its title alludes to something along the lines of When a Stranger Calls (1979), it was an exercise in misogyny, where a Vietnam veteran (Nicholas Worth) strangles women in Los Angeles and mutilates their bodies. Rather than create sympathetic characters, Don't Answer the Phone! dwelled on the suffering exclusively of females, while also attempting to titillate the audience with nudity. Also part of the "Don't" cycle of films was Joseph Ellison's Don't Go in the House, a Grindhouse remake Psycho (1960). Because of its graphic scenes of female suffering, Don't Go in the House was prosecuted as a "video nasty" in Britain. The exploitation film New Year's Evil attempted to sugarcoat its misogynistic undertones with New Wave music and a novel plot, although the film was ultimately unsuccessful critical and commercially.
The year saw the release of two Christmas-themed slashers. Lewis Jackson's Christmas Evil received a very limited release and poor reaction from audiences, who were expecting something faster-paced than a slow-burning psychological thriller about a man driven mad by his obsession with Santa Claus. David Hess, who played a psychopath in The Last House on the Left (1972), made his directorial debut with To All a Goodnight. Filmed for just $78,000, the film's amateur cinematography, lighting, and editing make it hard to follow. Doing good business on home video, the film would foreshadow the popularity of campus-set slashers that would be released the following year. The rock slasher Terror on Tour, from the same producing team as To All a Goodnight, would find release in 1980 as well, showing that a lot of producers were trying to shell out as many low-budget horror films as possible in the shortest amount of time, not dependent on quality.
The slashers of 1980 were mainly hits at the drive-in and Grindhouse theaters. James C. Wasson's Bigfoot horror, Night of the Demon, was a splatter-slasher hybrid that showed 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, who was known for the acclaimed The Tenderness of Wolves (1973), directed The Boogeyman in 1980, one of the first slashers to mix in supernatural ghosts with lots of gore. The film, playing on the success of both Halloween and The Amityville Horror (1979), was a box office smash, earning $25 million globally. David Paulson, who had directed the rarely seen Savage Weekend (1976), returned with Schizoid, starring Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lloyd, and Donna Wilkes. Among other low-budget slashers released in 1980 was The Unseen, starring Bond girl Barbara Bach, which mixed murder with Danish folk music.
Hollywood offered major talent to lend their hand at the slasher craze. Academy Award winner John Huston directed Phobia, although the film was both a critical and commercial failure, and quickly fell out of theaters. The influences of Halloween are seen in MGM's He Knows You're Alone, a movie with an identikit soundtrack to John Carpenter's film, a similar location and characters, and even similar "jump scares." However, unlike most slashers, the killer in He Knows You're Alone does not wear a mask, showing the influence of When a Stranger Calls, as well. The film's prologue, featuring a murder in a movie theater, would have a lasting effect on horror, in films like Anguish (1987), Popcorn (1991), and Scream 2. The film was a modest hit, bringing in a cool $5 million but still recuperating its budget and launching the career of Tom Hanks. Brian De Palma paid homage to Psycho in Dressed to Kill, starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, and Nancy Allen. The film initiated a wave of protest from women's groups for its misogyny; the The National Organization for Women (NOW) held a picket of the film when it was shown on the University of Iowa campus. Despite controversy, the film was a monstrous success and took in $32 million at the box office.
Canada saw a boom of slasher productions as well, most likely due to good tax-break incentives. Jamie Lee Curtis starred in Paul Lynch's Prom Night, a Halloween-cash-in that would develop its own influence, including the similar revenge plotted of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Released just a few months after Friday the 13th, Prom Night was a sizable hit with $15 million at the box office. Curtis would return for another Canadian feature, Terror Train, later that year. Also featuring Ben Johnson, David Copperfield, and Hart Bochner, the film's gimmick was that it was set aboard a high-speed train where a masked killer was seeking vengeance on students throwing a New Years Eve party. Released by 20th Century Fox, the film was a meagre success, with on $8 million, not near the financial success of Halloween or Prom Night. Also from Canada was Funeral Home, starring "Scream Queen" Lesleh Donaldson as a Nancy Drew-type character. The film was another update on Psycho only with a few twists and tamer tone. Funeral Home was a massive box office success in Mexico, although the film would not be released in the United States until two years after its initial release.
The end of 1980 saw the release of one of the controversial slashers ever made: William Lustig's Maniac (1980). The film features 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 sneered 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. The movie was never released in the United Kingdom, as it was banned outright.
Friday the 13th
Of all the slashers from the Golden Age, apart from Halloween (1978), it is Friday the 13th that is probably the best known. The film was highly successful commercially, bringing in nearly $40 million at the box office, and also a great achievement in what it set out to do: frighten the audience through gross out scares. Despite the success of Friday the 13th, it's 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. Even the film's star, Betsy Palmer, received angry hate mail in reaction to the film. 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 were acceptable levels of violence to be seen on screen. These 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 that its audience was approaching a saturation point. While film such as the heavily advertised My Bloody Valentine and The Burning all but bombed upon their initial release, there were other films that had the ability to turn over a heavy profit. Slashers were still relatively 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.
Jeff Lieberman's Just Before Dawn, starring George Kennedy and Gregg Henry, was among the first slasher films of the year to find release, although it was limited. The film celebrates nature through its beautiful cinematography and atmosphere, contributed by the location of Silver Falls, Oregon, as well as a memorable score by Brad Fiedel, who would compose the iconic theme for James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) just three years later. Australia also took a stab at the genre with Roadgames, starring Stacy Keach as well as Jamie Lee Curtis. The film was unsuccessful at the box office, something that director Richard Franklin blamed on its marketing as a standard slasher, although the film would land him a job directing Psycho II (1983).
The Canadian production My Bloody Valentine was released in February 1981. After the major box office success of Friday the 13th the year before, 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. For years the film remained cut on home video, until 2009 when its remake allowed Paramount the chance to release the original film, completely uncut, on DVD and Blu-ray. The similar themed The Prowler, from director Joseph Zito, had well-done production values and suspenseful sequences, as well as gore effects from Tom Savini, which he considers some of his best work. The movie was heavily cut for a theatrical release, and failed to find a distributor, as it was released regionally, affecting its total box office. Suffering similar censorship at the behest of the MPAA was Tony Maylam's 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. The Burning would also mark 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 hit slasher films grew after the success of Friday the 13th. Eyes of a Stranger, from Warner Bros., is not quite as mean-spirited as the previous year's Don't Answer the Phone! (1980), however it was similarly violent and sadistic. The film secured Savini as its make-up artist, although much of the gore was cut from the final film. Eyes of a Stranger was unsuccessful, barely making $1 million at the box office. Faring little better was Warner Bros. Night School, a film heavily influenced the Italian giallo genre from the previous decade, especially Andrea Bianchi's Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975), which featured a very similar looking killer attacking beautiful women. Screen legends Lauren Bacall and James Garner starred in The Fan, about an aging Broadway actress stalked by an obsessed fan (Michael Biehn). The Fan was also unsuccessful upon its initial release, both critically and commercially, making only $3 million. Universal Pictures, a company forever 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 is best remembered for its out-of-left-field ending. Despite receiving cuts from the MPAA, the film still scared up $10 million. Slasher films even translated to television for the first time in 1981, with CBS releasing Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Despite toning down the violence and nudity for the television audience, the film was well received and remains a cult classic.
Independent companies also released low-budget slashers, to vary degrees of success. Bloody Birthday distinguished itself by casting the villains as young children, harkening back to films like The Bad Seed (1955) and Alice, Sweet Alice (1976). Aesthetically and thematically, the film is very similar to Halloween, proving that Carpenter's hit had not lost its steam. Linda Blair, star of The Exorcist (1973), continued her genre career as a teenager-in-peril in Hell Night, produced by Halloween executive Irwin Yablans. Director Tom DeSimone was well aware of the MPAA's backlash against the slasher genre, so he de-emphasized gore for suspense. Hell Night was a modest success, with $2.3 million at the box office. Another mild hit was Deadly Blessing (1981), which would mark Wes Craven's first stab at the slasher genre three years before he would revolutionize the genre with A Nightmare on Elm Street, foreshadowed the supernatural films that would hit the slasher genre yeas later. The years most surprising success was Herb Freed's over-the-top Graduation Day, in which a killer in a fencing mask murders high school athletes via a variation of creative tools. The film revels in its gratuitous cheesiness, featuring everything that has become synonymous with the genre. The film was a massive financial success, making $25 million at the box office against a $200,000 budget.
Thinly plotted efforts like Graduation Day continued to get produced on cheap budgets. Final Exam was a hybrid of slasher films like Halloween and frat-boy comedies like Animal House (1978). Filmed in late 1979, Final Exam sat on the shelf for over a year, before finding limited release. The film marked a point where redundancy was becoming commonplace, as it copied Halloween in several ways, including a motiveless killer hiding under the window of the final girl and a synthesizer soundtrack by Gary S. Scott that was reminiscent of the theme from Halloween. Similarly, the 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. The movie's most creative approach was its tagline, "This year, it's not turkey being carved for thanksgiving," although it failed to generate any interest theatrically and quickly fell into obscurity. Also released at the beginning of 1981 was backwoods slasher Scream—not to be confused with the Wes Craven 1996 film. Among other low-budget oddities of 1981 was A Day of Judgement, which mixed the slasher genre with Christian morality, and Romano Scavolini's "video nasty" Nightmare in a Damaged Brain. Even stranger was Don't Go in the Woods... Alone!, a film that was enhanced to "so-bad-it's-good" territory due to its inept plot, cheap gore effects, and grating score, solidifying it as a cult classic.
1981 also the start of a trend that would become commonplace for the slasher genre—sequels. Steve Miner's Friday the 13th Part 2 picks up directly after the original film, and began Jason Voorhees' ascension to stardom. The film is perhaps what the quintessential 80's slasher movie set out to be: fast-paced, gory, and fun. Written by Ron Kurz, the story does not deviate far from the original, as a fresh batch of camp counselors are targeted at Crystal Lake. Despite suffering the same fate as My Bloody Valentine and being heavily trimmed by the MPAA, the film was still a huge success, bringing in nearly $22 million at the box office; while less than half of the original film's gross, it was still a huge profit. Even more successful was Rick Rosenthal's Halloween II. While the original film's creators, John Carpenter and Debra Hill, were reluctant to return, they were legally obliged and agreed to write the screenplay, handing directing duties to Rosenthal. To give the film a twist, Carpenter and Hill gave Michael Myers a motive, yet by doing so diluted the original. Aware that the horror landscape had changed between 1978 and 1981, the filmmakers behind Halloween II added more gore and victims than the original film, showing how Friday the 13th and its body count had affected the genre. Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance returned, this time finding the mayhem at a hospital. 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 movie had peaked by 1982 and began its descent towards straight-to-video productions, which would be its main source of output from the mid 1980s onward. However, there was still interest in the genre, as supernatural elements began to feature more creative set-ups and films like Friday the 13th Part III scored massive successes at the box office.
Budgets dropped drastically on the production of slasher films. One of 1982's the first slashers released was Joe Giannone's low-budgeted Madman, based on the same legend as The Burning (1981). Because of the two film's similarities, Madman backed down and re-entered pre-production to alternate its storyline. Madman made the tope 10 Variety list the week of its New York release and did especially well on home video. Dick Richards desert-set slasher Death Valley, starring Peter Billingsley of Bob Clark's A Christmas Carol (1983), was picked up and distributed nationwide by Universal Pictures. Death Screams, from director David Nelson, spent most of its runtime focusing on small town teenage drama rather than slasher deaths to keep costs to a minimum. Other low-budget affairs of 1982 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 would find a strong audience on home video, and become some of the highest selling films from the early days of VHS.
Other independent productions were not so lucky, and had trouble finding distribution. Girls Nite Out was released in 1982 through Aries International, although in an extremely limited capacity. The film would be re-released in 1984 to more theaters, before finding modest success on home video. L. Scott Castillo Jr.'s Satan's Blade had little-to-no release in theaters, but was rescued and 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. In its VHS release, a poor transfer ensured that some scenes are so dark and murky that audiences could not tell what was going on, leading to its ultimate failure to find an audience. Unfortunately, a lot of low-budget slashers did not fare so well, and cheap shockers like Dark Sanity, Unhinged, and Island of Blood each fell into obscurity, barely getting theatrical releases and only receiving sub-par video transfers.
Despite smaller budgets, the slasher still surprised with Jack Sholder's darkly humorous Alone in the Dark, starring veteran actors Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau, and Jack Palance. Made 14-years before Scream (1996), Sholder's self-conscious parody employed jokes without tipping into farce. Despite its intelligence, the film was unsuccessful at the box office, yet would find celebration in coming years. In David Winters' The Last Horror Film, Joe Spinell reunited with his Maniac (1980) co-star Caroline Munro in a gorier take on The Fan (1981). Unlike The Fan, however, The Last Horror Film sets out with a self-reflective commentary nature of horror films and the audience they attract. The film failed to find an audience theatrically, although it eventually found one on video. 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—including the literal emasculation of the killer—feminists didn't get the joke their colleagues Jones and Brown were playing on the audience and criticized the film. Still, the movie was successful enough to gain four sequels, Slumber Party Massacre II (1987), Slumber Party Massacre III (1990), Cheerleader Massacre (2004), and Cheerleader Massacre 2 (2011), as well as a spin-off Sorority House Massacre (1986) which itself had a sequel.
The massive success of Halloween II (1981) flowed over into Visiting Hours, starring Michael Ironside, Lee Grant, and William Shatner. Like Halloween II, the film is set in a hospital where a killer hunts down a surviving victim. The film proved to be controversial, as it pits liberal feminism against macho right-wing bigotry, a battle that was really happening in America at the time. A success for 20th Century Fox, it made over $13 million. Also utilizing the hospital setting was Hospital Massacre, in which Playboy Bunny Barbi Benton's routine medical exam becomes an operation for a jilted admirer to stalk her. The film is a much more low-budget attempt than either Halloween II or Visiting Hours, yet has developed into a cult classic and its influences are seen in later films, such as Valentine (2001).
The goofy fun of films like Hospital Massacre and Madman would carry into Friday the 13th Part III, which became something of a landmark in the slasher genre. The film marks the first time that the horror genre saw a full franchise come to life—not just one sequel. An enormous financial success, grossing over $36 million, which was over $14 million more than its predecessor made, guaranteed more films in the series would follow. In its opening weekend alone, Part III made a record-setting $9 million, being the first film of the summer to upset E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) as box office champ. It's financial success and summer appeal was bolstered by its use of 3D, a gimmick that would be echoed in films like My Bloody Valentine (2009). Most importantly, the film is the first in which Jason Voorhees dons his now-iconic hockey mask, an image that would not only come to represent the Friday the 13th (franchise) but the entire slasher and horror genre as well.
Hollywood continued its output of the slasher, although new approaches moved the genre in different directions. David Schmoeller's The Seduction attempted to mix erotic thrills and the explicit nudity of Morgan Fairchild, selling itself as a thriller over a horror film. Produced by Irwin Yablans of the original Halloween (1978), The Seduction was a surprise hit, generating $11 million in its run and predating blockbusters like Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992). Scott Mansfield's Deadly Games follows a music journalist who returns home after the mysterious death of her sister. The slasher elements were inserted into an otherwise routine thriller purely because the film's backers presumed audiences wanted them there. Silent Rage stars Chuck Norris showcasing his talent for martial arts and became a hit, raking in $10 million at the box office.
More-so than erotic thrillers and science fiction action, the slasher film would find compatibility with the fantasy genre, leading to the genesis of Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). J.S. Cardone's The Slayer had little impact at the box office yet surely influenced Craven's film by finding a young woman who believes her dreams of a boogeyman are related to the disappearances of her friends, blurring the lines between the dream world and reality. Supernatural demons also appeared in The Incubus, based on Ray Russell's novel about an evil creature raping and murdering women in a small town. Despite its disturbing content, the film performed well, bringing in $13 million at the box office and proving that audiences wanted their villains to be monsters, not just humans. In Blood Song, starring Frankie Avalon and Donna Wilkes, the heroine has a psychic link with the killer. James W. Roberson's haunted house opus Superstition goes one step further, taking a formula established by The Amityville Horror (1979) and adding a body-count with gory deaths that allowed for more creative freedom. James Makichuk's 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 from slasher into supernatural with the release of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), a stark departure from the stalk-and-slash plots of the first two films. What had once been cutting-edge entertainment was now looking old-fashioned. Still, the low-budgets and potentially high profits meant that there were still those 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 the protagonists accidentally commit a crime and try to cover it up, only to have a witness seek vengeance. The movie is notable for being dark in tone, and for not ever revealing its killer in any detail. The film was a hit, with over $10 million at the box office. The Final Terror, a backwoods slasher in the vein of The Burning (1981), saw a group of campers terrorized by a forest-dwelling woman. Filmed in 1981, Andrew Davis' The Final Terror was finally released in 1983 thanks largely to the growing popularity of its bankable stars, including Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Joe Pantoliano, and Adrian Zmed. The movie had a limited theatrical release, however one theater in Charlotte, North Carolina participated in a marketing effort to put a themed display in the lobby in an effort to help lure an audience in.
Co-eds were, as always, nubile prey. The TV thriller Deadly Lessons starring Donna Reed and Ally Sheedy, found a group of school girls being terrorized by a killer at a private school. The film was hampered by its television restrictions, and did not find the audience that earlier television slasher Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) had found. The exploitation film Pieces, starring Lynda Day George and Christopher George, has become known as one of the best "bad movies" of all time, with a cultural infusion of filmmaking; Pieces is 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 stars Susan Tyrrell as psychopath in love with her nephew (Jimmy McNichol). Featuring a "final boy" rather than "final girl", Night Warning is an atypical take on the genre that tackles subjects such as incest and homophobia in subtle yet effective manners. The film also alludes to classic literature, borrowing from Sophocles tragedy Oedipus Rex. Other slashers attempted to take on political issues, as seen in Jim Soto's Sweet Sixteen, where a rash of crimes committed against men are blamed on a local Native American tribe, showcasing racism and prejudice in the American Southwest. Despite their intelligent approaches to political statements through teen horror, neither Night Warning nor Sweet Sixteen were hits.
The most successful slasher of 1983 was Psycho II, an ambitious attempt to make a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho (1960). Reuniting original cast members Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles from the original, 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 the genre, as the victims now include pot-smoking horny teenagers rather than the adult characters of the original. The film received favorable reviews that praised its crafty plotting, arguing that it is better than it has any right to be. It scored an impressive $34.7 million at the box office, and its success led to the production of two more sequels; the Perkins-helmed Psycho III (1986) and the TV movie Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990).
Canada continued its output of slasher films, most notably with Curtains, produced by Peter Simpson, who was behind Prom Night and Humongous (1982). The film faced numerous production delays, having started filming after Prom Night was released in 1980 but being delayed due to casting changes, reshoots, and even the director quitting. The film was released with little attention in 1983, yet has gained a strong cult following due to its visual style and suspenseful chase sequences. The low-budget thriller American Nightmare also hails from Canada and follows a man as he delves into the seedy urban underground of an unnamed city to discover what happened to his little sister, who may have fallen victim to a series of grisly murders against prostitutes, drug addicts, and pornography addicts. The movie was barely released, yet would find some fans on home video.
The genre's eventual transition from theatrical releases to home video would also begin in 1983, with the release of Sledgehammer, the first slasher made directly for home video. Produced for just $40,000, Sledgehammer made the most of its video format. The film features a climax with a gender reversal, as former Playgirl model Ted Prior, the hero of the film, takes off his shirt to fight the killer for no other reason than to reveal his six-pack abdomen.
1983 saw a few sexualized slashers, including Blood Beat, about a woman who conjures up a seven-foot-tall samurai serial killer via female masturbation. In Double Exposure 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. The film was criticized for being an ego-trip for Callan, who portrays himself as an irresistible womanizer, as well as for attempting to feature too many twists that left the final film muddled and confusing. Prolific B-movie director Fred Olen Ray released Scalps, about a group of archaeology students that awaken the spirit of an evil Native American warrior during an exhibition on an old burial ground. The film 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 known slasher film of 1983 is Robert Hiltzik's Sleepaway Camp, a film that becomes inventive with the formulaic plot of slasher films like Friday the 13th (1980) and The Burning (1981). The film features many protagonists—as well as victims—who appear barely pubescent, helping set it apart from a majority of the slashers that cast older actors to play the teens. The film also features a strange mix of themes, including paedophilia and transvestism, as well as featuring homosexual scenes and characters, something that was taboo at the time of its release. An instant cult classic, Sleepaway Camp would launch a series of films: Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988), Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989), and Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008).
Some releases attempted to distance themselves from the genre, despite being clearly plotted after slasher successes. Mortuary, starring a young Bill Paxton in a supporting role, 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 lost interest in theatrically released slashers, with the exception of a few. Production of slashers had plummeted, and a whiff of desperation surrounded many of the films that were released. The major studios all but abandoned the genre that, only a few years earlier, had been a very profitable cash cow. Although it was rare to see slasher movies 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 vary degrees of success on home video, thus solidifying the genre's transition in the mid-1980s to being outsourced 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 backwoods slasher The Prey, shot in 1979 but not released in 1984 due to distribution issues, was finally acquired by New World Pictures, who trimmed the film down to cut out its lengthy scenes of nature footage that padded its extremely thin plot. Also shelved from earlier years and released in 1984 was Evil Judgement, a film that recalled black-gloved killers from the giallo generation. 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, thus hurting the film on home video. Deadly Intruder was another run of the TV slasher, but showed a diminishing audience, as it was not nearly as successful as Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) or even 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 ultimate 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 in the series, and featured more graphic gore and death scenes than before, thanks largely to the effects of Tom Savini, who returned to the series for the first time since the 1980 original. 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), another Christmas-set slasher. 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 Don't Open till Christmas, also released in 1984—the promotional material for Silent Night, Deadly Night featured a killer Santa swinging an axe 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 slashers.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
While interest in the slasher film waned considerably, Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street revitalized the genre, although its mix of fantasy and horror would slowly weed out the low-budget slasher films that dominated the Golden Age. Craven toyed with slashers before with 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 so far not benefited him financially. Having developed what would become A Nightmare on Elm Street since 1981, Craven knew that time was fast running out, and the genre 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.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, and especially Freddy, became a cultural phenomenon. On a budget of just $1.8 million—which the film earned back during its limited opening weekend—the film grossed $25.5 million at the box office and launched one of the most successful film franchises in cinema history. It also helped establish it's studio, New Line Cinema, as a powerhouse in Hollywood and saved it from bankruptcy. 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 and Heather Langenkamp, as well as veteran character actors John Saxon and Ronee Blakely. Other films began to quickly attempt to ride on its success, including the delayed The Initiation (1984), which also had a subplot of dreams. 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 more heavily on special effects and strong acting.
"Video Nasty" was a British tabloid term invented in the early 1980s for the type of violent exploitation films that were especially popular at the time. A sizable number of those were slashers 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 video market was flooded with hundreds of previously unedited and uncensored films, due to a loophole in the laws of home video. The viewing of these films created a public hysteria, sensationalized by newspaper headlines as well as campaigning politicians and religious groups. This created a 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 many slashers, even those not included on the DPP list, were subsequently heavily cut or had their releases on video delayed.
Decline of the Slasher Film
By 1985 fatigue hit the slasher and its popularity waned, 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 genre was condemned to straight-to-video production. Without the backing of major studios or their willingness to pick up independent features for theatrical release, slashers relied heavily on the home video, which gave new life to all movies but, along with pornography, horror was arguably the most popular. Although financial returns were down, there was still a potential to turn a profit, especially on the new cheaper medium of video.
A few holdover of titles produced during the Golden Age would finally 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), starring Anne Archer and Mike Connors, was originally filmed in 1982 but finally found distribution from Vestron Video. Buddy Cooper's The Mutilator (1985) was filmed in the early 1980s, only to find release via Ocean King Releasing on video. 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 in 1986.
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), starring Tom Savini. 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 disowned the film. The Friday the 13th franchise continued with Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), which attempted to revive the franchise that was supposed to have ended with the previous year's Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984). While the film was hugely 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.
After the huge success of sleeper hit A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, it came as no surprise when Robert England returned as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985). Freddy's Revenge distinguishes itself from other slashers by having a male protagonist (Mark Patton) as well as homoerotic undertones. However, the film 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 huge financial success, being the highest grossing horror film of that year and making more than Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. It also marked the point when fantasy slashers, inspired by the success of the Elm Street movies, became more prevalent and something that studios would pursue. Dreamaniac (1986), Bad Dreams (1988), Deadly Dreams (1988), and Dream Demon (1988) are just a handful of the movies that attempted to capitalize on this trend.
Fred Walton's April Fool's Day acted as a parody, spoofing Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and many of the cliches in the slasher. The film was a modest hit for Paramount. Also spoofing the genre was Evil Laugh (1986), released a full decade before Wes Craven's meta-humored Scream (1996), featuring characters who make self-referential remarks. Tobe Hooper's goofy 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 well into slapstick comedy. The most popular among 1980s self-aware slashers 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 (Thom Matthews, replacing Corey Feldman and John Shepherd of previous entries). The film worked as both a straightforward sequel and a postmodern spin on the genre. It even featured a nod to the James Bond movies that, like the Friday the 13th films, had delved into ridiculous story lines to keep the franchise 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 is widely considered an improvement on the first sequel. The film, penned by Frank Darabont, 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) went supernatural, with Stephen King's Carrie as its main inspiration. The film continued a decline of the Friday the 13th franchise's box office intake, and unlike Jason Lives it received little acclaim.
Marking the 10-year anniversary of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) was Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). Directed by Dwight H. Little, the film took care to create atmosphere over gore. Bolstered by the return of Donald Pleasance, the film was released just before the Halloween holiday and proved that audiences still had an interest in the slasher genre, as The Return of Michael Myers was number one at the box office for two weeks in a row. However, monsters like Jason and 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 killer-doll films such as Dead of Night (1945) and Trilogy of Terror (1975), the film teeters on a clever mystery of a boy who claims that his new doll 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 and 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 shrunk in the United States, the same can be said for its international fan base. In Mexico, director Ruben Galindo Jr., released three slashers over the course of the late 1980s: Zombie Apocalypse (1985), Don't Panic (1988), and Grave Robbers (1990). Pedro Galindo III's 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) saw a heavy metal band and their groupies attacked by mutants in the mountains during a photo shoot, something that would recall 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 those were met with mixed results. Despite the popularity of American slasher movies 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 genre they helped create. 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 films like Deep Red (1975). 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 last nail in the coffin for the slasher. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) took a fun idea of putting Jason Voorhees in New York City (the joke being that he fits in) but was defeated by budgetary limitations. The film 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) also was unsuccessful, bringing it less than half of what The Dream Master had made at the box office the year before. 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. With the three major slasher franchises all failing to generate much interest, the whole genre seemed to fall out 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 slashers. 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 a fitting 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 franchise with Jason Goes to Hell (1993). The results were mixed, with an ill-advised body-hopping storyline. The film would have a mediocre box office intake that showed audiences were 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 for being the last screen appearance of Donald Pleasance, 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 fresh revival.
The Slasher Villain as Anti-Heroes
The larger part 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 and more on the returning villain than on surviving victims, effectively transforming characters once viewed as sick psychopaths into familiar antiheroes for some. Notables include Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Chucky, and Leatherface, all of whom have become among the more recognizable 20th century American popular culture icons. While this undoubtedly helped these films in some cases, this also discredited them. Their familiarity made them less threatening, which made the appeal of a "scary movie" less interesting.
Scream & Revival
Bernard Rose's Candyman (1992), based on the short story by Clive Baker, saw its eponymous villain (genre regular Tony Todd), become the first black slasher icon. The ghostly "Candyman" appears to kill those foolish enough to say his name in the mirror five times, pulling 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 briefly revived the slasher in 1984 with A Nightmare on Elm Street, returned for New Nightmare (1994), a spin-off of that franchise. With a clever concept that was strikingly original, Craven utilized characters from the Elm Street films, including Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Robert England, and even himself, to play versions of their true personas who were targeted by a demon that had taken up the Freddy Krueger character. The film also showed an eye on the future and single-handedly led to the sub genre's postmodern revival the coming years with the release of Craven's Scream. While New Nightmare was a meagre success at the box office, it would help establish the meta self-referencial irony that would dominate the genre for the next decade.
By 1996, the slasher film was pretty much a forgotten fad of the 1980s that had not translated to the 1990s, therefore the genre's surprising resurrection in Craven's 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 postmodern humor found in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) with visceral horror. The film played on nostalgia for those who remembered the Golden Age, yet 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 slashers like Halloween (1978) and Prom Night (1980). Originally titled Scary Movie, the twist in Scream is that the victims are well versed in horror film lore and know all the cliches, comparing scenes their favorite movies to a series of murders in their small town. The fact that the audience was also aware of those cliches added to the fun and helped propel the film to a gross of over $103 million, making it the first slasher 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 genre, 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—including rising stars Courtney Cox of the hit sitcom Friends and Neve Campbell of the family drama Party of Five—a casting decision that differed from the unknown actors from the low-budget slashers of the early 1980s.
The stellar box-office turnout 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 potentially fatal hit-and-run. Again, 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 received, yet proved to be critic proof as the film grossed over $70 million at the domestic box office.
The goofier side of the retro slasher was celebrated in Jamie Blanks' Urban Legend (1998). Set at a college campus, the film used the premise that a killer targeted students using methods described in American folklore. However the film was widely criticized as being too 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, yet did feature a throwback in casting Margot Kidder, who helped create the genre with Black Christmas (1974). Valentine (2001) brought to mind My Bloody Valentine (1981) and Hospital Massacre (1982), however it's lack of creatively showed that the slasher revival was certainly petering out. Despite starring Denise Richards and Katherine Heigl, the film 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 hits, starting with Bloody Beach (2000), The Record (2001), and Nightmare (2000), the latter of which mixed the slasher genre with the supernatural chills of Japanese ghost films like Ringu (1998). Australia's postmodern slasher Cut (2000) cast Molly Ringwald, a 1980s icon from innocent 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 straight-coward 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 original 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.
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) saw Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze, Jr. return from the first film, joining rising stars Mekhi Phifer, Jack Black, and R&B singer Brandy. I Still Know... 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), as well as Jennifer Morrison and Eva Mendes, yet made a meagre 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 Kevin Williamson. The film was a direct sequel to Halloween II (1981), ignoring all the sequels between, to the annoyance of many fans. This allowed famous final girl Laurie Strode, once again played by Jamie Lee Curtis, to again take on Myers. Despite John Carpenter's refusal to return, the film was a hit, bringing in over $55 million at the box office and receiving somewhat positive reviews. Curtis would return for a cameo in the sequel, Halloween: Resurrection (2002) by Halloween II director Rick Rosenthal. The film was inspired by the reality TV craze, with cameras placed around the infamous childhood home of Myers. It also starred rapper Busta Rhymes and supermodel Tyra Banks, hoping to cater the film to the black demographic of the American audience. While not being the hit that Halloween H20 was, Resurrection still scared up a respectable $30.3 million at the domestic box office.
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 was a witty and popular, mixing genuine scares of the original Child's Play (1988) with self-referencing humor of films like Scream. The movie scored a respectable $33 million at the domestic box office, enough to warrant Seed of Chucky (2004). Seed, directed by series creator Don Mancini, was more of a straight comedy that had little emphasis on scares, and had a steep decline from its predecessor's box office success. This 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 revival's fleeting fortunes. 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 Chinese director Ronny Yu, who had helmed Bride of Chucky. The film featured Freddy (Robert Englund) and Jason (Ken Kirzinger) battling 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, & Throw-Backs
By 2002, the slasher genre all-but disappeared from mainstream Hollywood cinema, leading to budgetary declines and subject matter diversifying. Make a Wish (2002) distinguished itself as the first lesbian slasher. Because the genre typically aimed to lure men in with the promise of female nudity, horror and homosexuality appeared to be strange companions, 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. It was followed by HellBent (2004), the first gay slasher that features men at the West Hollywood Halloween Parade being targeted by a killer. There was even a gay porn version of Scream (1996) called Moan (1999). Horror movies became famous for killing off their black members early on in the film (if they even had any black cast members at all). Because of this, some films were made primarily for black audiences, including Killjoy (2000), Holla If I Kill You (2003), Holla (2006), and Somebody Help Me (2007).
The slasher genre 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 Jessica Biel and R. Lee Ermy, the new Chainsaw Massacre was a sleeper hit, grossing $80.5 million and signaling a significant change from the days of franchise sequels. It was the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that launched a string for remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings of classic horror. The film added more slasher movie trappings to the retelling of the original film, including only carrying over core-characters such as Leatherface, ensuring that the remake trend would be long-lasting and profitable. As with most remakes, including Psycho (1998), it diluted the original's more controversial aspects for maximum commercial appeal. The film was followed by a prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) starring Matt Bomer and Jordana Brewster, which shows the genesis of Leatherface and his family. The prequel didn't match the remake's financial success, but still 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 redux 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). Typical of the time's remake trend, the film was more a re-imagining loosely based on the original, but shares more similarities with other films, such as the Golden Age slasher Tourist Trap (1979). The film stars Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Elisa Cuthbert, and Paris Hilton, and was marketed largely on showcasing Hilton's demise. The film failed to generate as much buzz as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, bringing in only $32 million. Glen Morgan, the writer-producer of Final Destination (2000), made 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 Gothic imagery and suspense. 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 massive hit with younger audiences who could see it due to its 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 tried 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 marketing push to become as big as a hit as When a Stranger Calls, but The Fog, a remake of the 1980 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 a mere 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 straight-forward slasher film than When a Stranger Calls, yet its PG-13 restrictions led to negative reception from fans. 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 yet with less effective results. 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 another 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. From Lionsgate, the company responsible for the Saw franchise, came My Bloody Valentine (2009), a redux of the 1981 cult classic. The filmmakers knew that the film was never going to be great art, yet it would set out to be great fun, a trait that the overly-serious Halloween remake completely lacked. The movie didn't stick close to the original, but it nodded plenty of homages to it. To add to the roller-coaster, carnival feel of the film, it serves its impressive special effects in 3D. The movie also generated enough interested to secure a re-release of the original film on DVD, now completely uncut. The film made a very respectable $51.5 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, the 2009 film acted more as a "greatest kills" collection that exploited the genre's fame for gruesome death scenes, partying, and sex, all with a self-aware wink. The film was another huge success for the remake craze, gathering over $65 million at the domestic box office.
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), 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 slashers Silent Night (2012) and Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming (2013), reboots 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 Trauma 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 classic, 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 of $63 million at the box office, 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 throwbacks were remakes, though. 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 launch 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 received with mixed results. 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 was much better received. The film was a mix of 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, yet gaining a strong cult following.
Dark Ride (2006) and Hatchet (2006) were both throwbacks to the high-energy slasher films from the Golden Agen, 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). 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 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 80's 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 cliches. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) showcased tragedy of death over the thrill, bringing to mind tragedies such as the Columbine High School Massacre. The film had trouble finding distribution, and sat on the shelf for over three years in the United States, only to find release after the rise of Amber Heard's star power. Looking for a fun 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 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, including 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 into the villain when a charming discharged veteran (Dan Stevens) turns out to be dangerous to the family he's protecting.
Internationally, filmmakers tested the extreme levels of tension and violence through slasher films. In France, an extreme new wave of horror began, 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 movies that would achieve worldwide acclaim, including The Descent (2005), the black comedy Severance (2006), and the disturbing Eden Lake (2008), starring Michael Fassbender, which recalled exploitation films like Death Weekend (1976). In Norway, the snow-set Cold Prey (2006) launched Europe's most successful slasher franchise of the 21st century. 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 would test the limits of violence with hyper-violent 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' more comedic undertones. Fifteen years after the release of the original Scream came Scream 4 (2011). 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—while critics praised its social commentary, they also found the overemphasis on meta-humor to be distracting, and noted that the suspenseful scenes of the first two films were replaced by scenes of gore in this entry. The movie 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 genre also moved its way to the television screen. 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 slept with vampires. FX's American Horror Story: Asylum has a plot line 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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- Kerswell, J.A. (2012). The slasher movie book. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press. pp. 132–144. ISBN 1556520107.
- Kerswell, J.A. (2012). The slasher movie book. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press. pp. 132–144. ISBN 1556520107.
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- Kerswell, J.A. (2012). The slasher movie book. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press. pp. 146–152. ISBN 1556520107.
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