The slasher film or slasher film ( English slash , 'slit') is a subgenre of horror film in which a group of teenagers is threatened by a killer (hence also partly teenage horror film ). The genre primarily experienced its heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Origins and Influences
Probably the first film in history, Thirteen Women from 1932 anticipates some of the motifs of modern slasher films in its portrayal of a series of murders against young women. Many years passed before two films were released in 1960 that were instrumental in the development of the Slasher. The first is Eyes of Fear , a highly controversial film at the time that damaged the careers of director Michael Powell and leading actor Karlheinz Böhm . The film is about cameraman Mark Lewis, who kills young women and captures the horrified expression on their face at the moment of their death. During the murders, the viewer consistently assumes the perpetrator's perspective for the first time and, like Mark in the film, is exposed as a voyeur who draws a certain amount of pleasure from the murders on the screen. The second of these two films is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho , in which Norman Bates, who suffers from a multiple personality, commits several murders in the guise of his dead mother. Both works present the mentally disturbed perpetrator as the main character for the first time - a trend that the “slasher” will follow.
The splatter film , which was invented in 1963 with Blood Feast by director Herschell Gordon Lewis , exerted a strong influence on the slasher . The main theme of the splatter films, mostly produced on a low budget, is the extremely violent, mostly exaggeratedly bloody murder of young, good-looking women. Lewis continued the success of Blood Feast with Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and The Wizard of Gore (1970).
The typical Italian thriller sub-genre Giallo , which Mario Bava founded in the early 1960s, also had an impact on modern slasher films . Giallos like Bava's Bloody Silk (1964) and Dario Argento's The Secret of Black Gloves (1970) are seen as the direct ancestors of the slasher. Similar to this one, pretty women in the Giallo are killed by an unknown, often masked murderer, whose deeds are in the context of a psychosexual pathology. The murders are the focus of the action and represent the real attraction of the film, while the investigations to solve the crimes merely form the framework. Bava is also responsible for Im Blutrausch des Satans (1971), a horror thriller from 1971, which is considered to be an early representative of the slasher genre.
The 1970s were the heyday of the exploitation film . These films include films that have been produced at low cost and try to swim along the wave of success of more well-known and more successful works. This often creates a wild mix of horror, thriller, crime and sex elements. The so-called rape-and-revenge films , in which raped women take violent revenge on their tormentors, were particularly significant for the development of the slasher . Examples include I Spit on your grave (1978) and The Last House on the Left of Wes Craven (1972).
In 1974, Tobe Hooper's Blood Court in Texas (1974) defined the Backwoods film subgenre . In this film genre, the plot revolves around a group of city dwellers who fall into the clutches of uncivilized hillbilly in the province, so that characteristics of the splatter and the rape-and-revenge film combine. Hooper's controversial film also offers another novelty, namely the first Final Girl in film history.
As the first "Slasher" next applies Mario Bava A Bay of Blood commonly Bob Clark Jessy - The stairs to his death (1974). The film is known for introducing many cinematic means that a few years later became the hallmarks of modern slasher film. These include u. a. the serial killing of young women by an unknown perpetrator, the final girl as the last survivor who confronts the perpetrator, as well as the consistent use of subjective point-of-view shots from the killer’s point of view. Other films such as Communion - Messe des Grauens (1976), Der Bohrmaschinenkiller (1978) and Drive-In Killer (1976) took up these elements.
Director John Carpenter combined all these influences in his genre masterpiece Halloween - The Night of Horror (1978) for the first real slasher film. Halloween cleverly combines the cinematic means and structures of its predecessors and uses them to form the conventions typical of the subgenre, which from now on are taken up and quoted by all representatives of the genre. Carpenter's horror thriller was a huge box office hit, drawing the attention of the big Hollywood studios to the genre, which were hoping to make big profits from similar films. For example, the major studio Paramount Pictures produced and sold Sean S. Cunningham's surprise hit Friday the 13th (1980), which picked up on and perfected the genre conventions set by Halloween . Now the slasher film had finally become attractive to the public and fit for the mainstream and began its triumphal march through the cinemas.
The golden years
The trend that started on Halloween was followed by a multitude of similar slasher films in the early 1980s, the plot of which is set on holidays or special occasions, including Bloody Valentine's Day (1981), Into Eternity (1981), Rocknacht des Horens (1980), Prom Night - The Night of the Butcher (1980), Mother's Day (1980) and Silent Night - Horror Night (1984). Other well-known slashers from this time are u. a. Das Kabinett des Schreckens (1981), Hell Night (1981), Monster im Nachtexpress (1980), Brennende Rache (1981), Die Forke des Todes , Maniac (1980), Curtains - Wahn ohne Ende (1983) and Bloody Summer - Das Camp of Horror (1983).
The success of Halloween and Friday the 13th resulted in several sequels to both films . In these films, however, the focus shifted away from identifying with the victims towards identifying with the killers, who thereby advanced to become the protagonists of the films and characters in popular culture. In addition, more emphasis was placed on bloodier and more bizarre murders in order to quench the increasing "thirst for blood" of the predominantly young audience.
In the mid and late 1980s, two franchises hit the big screen that mixed the slasher genre with supernatural elements: Nightmare - Murderous Dreams (1984) and Chucky - The Killer Doll (1988). Both films were followed by several sequels. On the wave of success, older films such as Blood Court in Texas (1974) and Psycho (1960) were continued.
The decline of the genre
As box office profits from slasher films began to decline in the late 1980s, fewer and fewer films of this type were made. The big franchises Halloween , Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street had to post profit losses and therefore brought out sequels less often. The growing controversy and debates about violence in the media contributed to this development.
The booming video market has made it possible for independent filmmakers to bring B-films to market as direct-to-video productions, including a myriad of cheaply produced sequels to earlier films. Due to this new independence of filmmakers, the big studios were no longer needed as production partners and were consequently no longer interested in producing such works.
The resurrection of the slasher
In the second half of the 1990s, the slasher film suddenly became a promising mainstream genre again. Responsible for this resurrection is director Wes Craven and his film Scream! (1996). Scream was a huge hit with both critics and box offices, ushering in a new era of slasher. Craven's film pays homage as well as satire to the slasher films of the 1980s and skilfully plays with genre conventions. The commercial success of Scream was followed by three sequels: Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000) and Scream 4 (2011). These films, as well as many of their imitators, stand out v. a. characterized by parodic traits , better developed characters, higher budgets and better-known actors, and in this they also differ from their older role models. In addition, the scenes of violence have been defused and reduced compared to the films of the 1980s.
Current trends: remakes and reboots
The triumph of the new wave of slasher that followed Wes Cravens Scream also had its impact on the classic genre franchises of the 1980s Halloween , Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street . The Halloween series was continued in 1998 with Halloween H20 (1998), which disregards parts 3 to 6 of the series and is directly linked to Halloween II - The horror returns (1981). Another sequel followed in 2002 with Halloween: Resurrection . The Friday the 13th Series was continued rather unsuccessfully in 2002 with Jason X until Ronny Yu joined the two franchises Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street in a crossover in 2003 and the protagonists of both series in Freddy vs. Jason competed against each other.
The current trend in horror movies is all about the remakes and reboots. Numerous 1980s slashers have been remakes in recent years, including Black Christmas (2006), Prom Night (2008), My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) . Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes produced the remakes Michael Bay's Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Friday the 13th (2009) . The musician and director Rob Zombie relaunched Halloween in 2007 , with the focus - unlike in Carpenter's original - on the development of the killer. The sequel Halloween II (2009) followed two years later .
Current phenomena such as torture and survival horror with films such as Saw (2004) and its numerous sequels, as well as Hostel (2005), in turn, adopt features of the classic slasher film, such as excessive scenes of violence, psychopathic murderers or isolated locations. The backwood subgenre, which is similar to the slasher, was brought back to life by Wrong Turn (2003), Wolf Creek (2005) and the remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006).
Features and structure
In her book Games of Terror , Vera Dika examined the plot structure of the slasher film. After that, the action of a slasher is divided into two chronologically separate parts, which in turn are split into several action steps.
The first part of the plot takes place in the past.
- A group of teenagers are guilty of their actions.
- The killer witnesses this guilt or sees himself as its victim.
- The killer experiences a loss.
- The killer kills one or more of the teenagers.
The second part of the plot takes place in the present.
- An event in the present is a reminder of the past.
- The destructive power of the killer is reactivated by this memory.
- The killer recognizes those of the past in the youth of the present.
- An adult warns the youngsters.
- The youngsters ignore this warning.
- The killer chases some of the teenagers.
- The killer kills some of the teenagers.
- The heroine finds the victims and thereby becomes aware of the danger.
- The heroine sees the killer.
- The heroine fights against the killer.
- The heroine kills the killer or at least overcomes him.
- The heroine survived.
- However, the heroine continues to be pursued, be it literally or figuratively.
This plot structure can be found in the majority of the slasher films. The sequence of the individual steps can vary, or individual sections can be omitted, but the basic structure always remains the same. This monotony is often criticized, but it is also blamed for the genre's success.
In addition, Dika names five central oppositions that are more or less binding for films of the genre.
- Life vs. Death : The young people embody life because of their behavior and their appearance, the killer embodies death through the lack of social skills and his mostly distorted appearance.
- Teenagers vs. Adults : This contrast isolates young people from the world of adults who do not believe them or who are powerless to face what is happening.
- strong vs. weak : While the - physically and mentally - strong teenagers survive, the weak fall victim to the killer.
- worth vs. Unworthy : “Unworthy” young people consume drugs or have sex and are punished for it by the killer, while “worthy” young people resist these seductions and thus survive.
- Superego vs. It : This category refers to the antagonism between killer and heroine, between which there is an unconscious connection. The heroine is able to control her "it" or her unconscious drives, so her "super-ego" dominates. In contrast, the personality of the killer is completely reduced to his "it" or his unconscious drives.
The final girl is the last survivor of a slasher who faces the killer in the finale of the film and defeats him. The final girl is mostly characterized by her "moral" way of life, since she neither consumes drugs nor has sex, is often even a virgin and thus (according to Dika) represents a "worthy" person. Furthermore, the Final Girl has the ability to “see”, which is crucial for survival. She is the only one who recognizes the danger, often from finding victims who have already been murdered, and sees the killer. Unlike the other youngsters, the final girl sees the attacker coming and can therefore defend herself against him and ultimately defeat him. This active vision distinguishes her from the other victims, but at the same time creates a connection between her and the killer, who also submits his victims through his gaze.
Other features of the slasher film are:
- The killer : The person of the killer remains unknown in most films until the mandatory disclosure at the end of the film. Often his identity is concealed by a mask or clever camera work and lighting. In most cases, he is mentally ill or has had severe trauma in the past. While early slashers were designed to identify with the victims, that focus shifted during the 1980s when the genre v. a. dominated by sequels to the Friday the 13th , Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises , in favor of the killer characters who thereby become popular anti-heroes and leading actors in the films. The best known include Jason Voorhees , Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger .
- The tools of the crime : The tools that the killer uses in his murders are mostly cutting and stabbing weapons such as knives or axes. The murders are therefore mostly sexually motivated and connoted. Some killers have a weapon that is specific to them, like Freddy Krueger's knife glove or Leatherface's chainsaw.
- Open Ending : Most slasher movies have an open ending that leaves open the return of the killer. This often resulted in entire series of films in which the killer became the main character from commercially successful films.
- Subjective camera : In every slasher, the camera takes at least once the subjective perspective of the killer. Through these point-of-view shots , the audience adopts a voyeuristic stance, as they perceive what is happening from the point of view of the perpetrator who ambushes, observes, attacks and kills the young people in the film. Through this voyeurism, the audience, like the killer in the film, can gain pseudosexual pleasure from the deeds. In addition, tension is built up through the use of the subjective perspective.
Often the slasher is interpreted as a genre that propagates reactionary morals, since the killer often punishes a "wrongdoing" of the teenagers, such as drug abuse or premarital sex, with death. The genre can also be read as a dystopian tale of the end of childhood, in which the awakening of sexuality and thus the entry into adulthood is only followed by death. Another interpretation assumes a closer connection between sex and violence and interprets the murders, in which the victims are usually penetrated by phallic weapons, as sexual acts in which the perpetrator acts out his suppressed or abnormal sexual desire. According to this interpretation, the viewer also draws sexual pleasure from what is seen.
The media impact research focuses on the effects of media violence on the audience. According to the widespread catharsis theory , depictions of violence in the film can relieve tension and reduce the propensity for violence. In contrast, habitualization theory assumes that too much violence in the media can have a dulling effect. Finally, the theory of stimulation assumes that violence in films promotes a willingness to be aggressive.
Hardly any other film genre has a worse reputation than the slasher film. Very few films in the genre, such as Halloween - The Night of Horror or Scream - Schrei! , received good reviews, while most of the other representatives of the genre are unanimously rated negatively or completely ignored. The well-known American film critic Roger Ebert coined the derisive term “dead teenager movies” for the genre and criticized v. a. lack of logic, flat plot, and poor acting.
Due to numerous debates on the subject of violence in the media , the genre fell into disrepute for its excessive and realistic portrayal of violence and is therefore still heavily criticized. As a result, especially in the 1980s, many slasher films were indexed or heavily censored, at least temporarily. Youth protectionists and media impact researchers also deal with the representation of violence in films.
- Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film. (2006)
- Scream and Scream again: The History of the Slasher Film. (2008)
- Vera Dika: Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th and the Films of the Stalker Cycle. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press 1990, ISBN 0-8386-3364-1 .
- Sasha Westphal, Christian Lukas: The Scream Trilogy ... and the story of the teen horror film. Heyne, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-453-18124-7 .
- Peter Osteried: The Slasher Film. MPW, Hille 2001, ISBN 3-931608-46-8 .
- Adam Rockoff: Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986. Mcfarland & Co Inc, o. O. 2002, ISBN 0-7864-1227-5 .
- Ursula Vossen (ed.): Film genres horror film. Philipp Reclam jun. GmbH & Co, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-15-018406-1 .
- Christian Heger: It was like in a horror film ... · Genre conventions and auto-reflection in the slasher cinema at the turn of the millennium. In: Ders .: In the shadow realm of fictions. Studies on the fantastic history of motifs and the inhospitable (media) modernity. Pp. 8-23. AVM, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-86306-636-9 .
- Essay: Is the Final Girl in Slasher Films an Excuse?
- Examining the early years of the subgenre
- Deconstructing Scary: a series of essays on the slasher and modern horror genres
- Spanish journalist Luisito Joaquin González examins the rarest titles that the genre has to offer
- About.com: Slasher Movies 101
- Review of Thirteen Women on horror.com , accessed January 11, 2010
- Ursula Vossen (ed.): Film genres horror film . Philipp Reclam jun. GmbH & Co, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-15-018406-1 .
- Adam Rockoff: Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978–1986 . Mcfarland & Co Inc, o. O. 2002, ISBN 0-7864-1227-5 .
- Playing with Genre: An introduction to the Italian giallo , accessed January 11, 2010
- Sasha Westphal, Christian Lukas: The Scream Trilogy ... and the story of the teen horror film . Heyne, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-453-18124-7 .
- Critique of Scream on filmstarts.de , accessed on January 11, 2010
- Vera Dika: Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th and the Films of the Stalker Cycle . Fairleigh Dickinson University Press 1990, ISBN 0-8386-3364-1 .
- Roger Ebert's Lexicon of Film Terms ( Memento of the original from October 11, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , accessed January 11, 2010