Slashing Through the Box Office: A feature on the history of horror movies

mike myers

A man in a white sheet slowly walks up behind someone, unbeknown to them that the person is there, and puts their hands around the other’s neck. It doesn’t quite have the same visual impact as the same person stabbing someone in the neck with a fork. 29 years separate John Carpenter’s Halloween and Rob Zombie’s reimagining of the horror classic. But why do such iconic films need a remake at all? Why do we feel the need to watch films that make us scream and give us nightmares for weeks after?

The first entry into the Slasher genre came from Agatha Christie in 1939 with her novel And Then There Were None which introduced the classic finale of the main female protagonist having a showdown with the villain. However it wasn’t until Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which is considered to be the forerunner of the genre, that Slasher’s arrived on screen. The genre wasn’t all that popular until the release of Halloween and Friday the 13th, what are considered to be the classic horrors and which spawned 9 and 11 sequels, remakes and cross-overs respectively. For all of the bastardry that has fallen to Halloween, it still remains the independent film with the highest box office to date. Soon after these the supernatural element was introduced via A Nightmare on Elm Street, a killer that murdered his victims in their dreams. The introduction of these three franchises welcomed the genre to its ‘Golden Era’ – countless sequels that consistently got worse over the years but films that had such a large cult following that they refused to die, partly down to the limitless ways that the victims died. What was so attractive to the audience was how finally there were films were the entire focus was on the killings and the plot was a backgrounded idea.

The main antagonist in Slasher’s is usually labelled as inhuman as opposed to psychotic due to the failure of all efforts to kill them. They tend to use an unconventional weapon (e.g. chainsaw or machete) to kill their victims, who are usually teenagers that have engaged in pre-marital sex or taken part in illegal drug use.

Unfortunately there are only so many ways that people can die on camera and by the 90’s the genre had all but ground to a halt. That was until Wes Craven came along and with him came Scream in 1996. Craven revived the franchise by reinventing it and opened the eyes of a new generation to Slasher’s. He had made a film that referred to other horror films directly and, although it followed the majority of patterns in the films laid down by his predecessors, it actually focused on the plot. However, this inspiring idea set a course that went backwards and the 90’s soon became all about not so good sequels, e.g. Friday the 13th Part 10: Jason X features the titular character in space. 2006 saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning which made over $50million and so, naturally in the film industry, the three films that started the ‘Golden Era’ were also quickly remade in the hope that they could restart the franchises from scratch and launch another 6 of each film in the following 10 years.

Direct-to-DVD allowed for the franchises that performed as well as a tennis player with no arms to stay alive: the sequels are made on a mediocre budget and produced year after year for the producers to make the most of the cash cow (Wrong Turn for example was released in 2003 and yet has had 4 sequels made in the past 5 years).
Most recently new additions have arrived mixing up the scene. 2004’s Saw stuck to the originality of the deaths in the 1980’s but added the new twist that the victims also had to become killers to save themselves. In just 8 short years though this too has been worked to death and the idea is now as repetitive as The Paranormal Activity movies. Currently the majority of iconic classic franchises have been murdered (like everyone that features in them) but with the arrival of 3D, this too had changed. It can’t be predicted when this newest fad will end or what the next will be, but what can be guaranteed is that this genre won’t die without a struggle.

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