A Brief History of the Eighties Slasher Flick

Slasher

The slasher sub-genre has always held a strong personal significance with me. It has been arguably the most milked cash cow within the field of horror for the past thirty years although zombie horror has had a recent resurgence and currently saturates the market place with a new arrival seemingly gnawing its way onto the marketplace every week. By the early eighties the movement had reached fever pitch with the crowd-pleasing sensibilities of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th flexing its theatrical muscle and numerous imitations swiftly following suit. More often than not they were watered down to appeal directly to a younger demographic but there a few particularly notable diamonds in the rough.

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One such polished gemstone was George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine which was, as far as I was aware at the time, a very well made and played example of the genre with a wonderfully insular atmosphere but relatively meager in the splatter department. Then, a couple of years ago, it resurfaced on DVD with a number of grisly scenes reinstated (these were initially trimmed to prevent the dreaded X rating and thus be in a superior position for Paramount to gain a return).

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Considering virtually all the slayings occurred off-screen in its R-rated incantation, neutering the whole experience significantly, it was now totally transformed and this made it more than worthwhile making that rickety rail-cart trip into the dank mines for a second time. Aside from containing potentially the most majestic ‘tache of any eighties film (alongside Tom Atkins’ beautifully plucked tour de force of facial furniture) sported by Keith Knight’s eminently amiable Hollis, it had morphed swiftly into one of the most harsh and sadistic carnivals of teen dismemberment from that entire period.

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Joseph Zito’s The Prowler was another instance of this shameful suppression as it appeared on VHS under the guise Rosemary’s Killer minus almost all its significant grue. At the opposite end of the spectrum was Fred Walton’s April Fools Day which scoops the unwanted accolade of lowest body count in a slasher movie with a pretty impressive zero. It was then that the true slashers started to make way for an entirely altered strain. A little too knowing, this new breed played to a crowd only interested in cheering on the executioner as the stereotypical pot-smoking, sexually charged teens had become increasingly one-dimensional and, in a decade where AIDS had become a fearsome adversary to all who refused to engage in protected sex, their eradication had become increasingly warranted.

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Auditoriums began to resemble Roman amphitheaters as each young, hormonal and utterly deserving assemblage of obnoxious teens were paraded in front of a rowdy crowd baying for their blood. It would almost inevitably be the least sexually active and most conscientious female who survived the onslaught, summoning unknown inner strength to turn the tables on her pursuer (who themselves transformed from cold-blooded slayer to bumbling buffoon in clown shoes).

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These later examples of the genre lacked the edge of former works such as Madman, Just Before Dawn, The Final Terror, The Burning, The House on Sorority Row, in addition to the aforementioned My Bloody Valentine and The Prowler. Each of these fine examples of the genre shone out like beacons at a time when studios were not fully taking advantage of the potential for a quick return on their investments. The Friday The 13th money-making machine did manage to churn out three respectable sequels before gradually becoming more of a parody of itself than reputable series.

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In particular, Zito’s Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter, which enlisted make-up wizard Tom Savini to stage some exceedingly well orchestrated kills, was a rare high point for the series, although things went rapidly downhill soon afterwards. Tom McLoughlin’s Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives gave a brief glimmer of optimism to fans of a series in rapid free-fall but alas this was the beginning of the end for the franchise.

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Halloween itself was also guilty of declining in quality as the series became increasingly fragile. Again, it was the fourth film in the cycle which provided the last solid entry. Eventually, the crowds began to subside and the slasher began to decline in popularity with the swiftness of a mime artist with leprosy. Prior to its untimely demise the slasher had provided us with numerous solid contributions but it wouldn’t be until Wes Craven took a far more paradoxical approach with his 1996 box-office success Scream that the genre would stage a mini-comeback.

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It is notable that his series suffered from its own success and, by the time Scream 3 arrived, had become guilty of many of the clichés which it had taken such delight in poking fun at previously. By this point many enthusiasts, myself included, had simply lost interest and the slasher movie had officially expired. The new millennium may have heralded another resurgence of the once proud creature but things would never quite be the same. The eighties slasher is dead, long live the eighties slasher.

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Keeper’s Ten Foremost Slasher Set Pieces

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I. Swimming pool kill (The Prowler)
II. The infamous raft scene (The Burning)
III. Bayonet meet skull (The Prowler)
IV. Kevin Bacon’s throat skewering (Friday The 13th)
V. Makeshift shower head (My Bloody Valentine)
VI. Hack Saw head-swivel (Friday the 13th The Final Chapter)
VII. Machete between legs mid-handstand (Friday the 13th Part 3)
VIII. Death by Barbell (Happy Birthday to Me)
IX. Drilled to the door (Stagefright)
X. No need for neck ties (Friday the 13th/The Burning tied)

Compulsory Eighties Slasher Flicks (chronological order)

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Friday The 13th (1980)
The Burning (1981)
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Just Before Dawn (1981)
Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
Madman (1981)
Halloween II (1981)
The Prowler (1982)
Alone In The Dark (1982)
Visiting Hours (1982)
The House on Sorority Row (1983)
Stagefright (1987)

Worthy mentions

He Knows You’re Alone (1980), Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Eyes of a Stranger (1981), Pieces (1982), Curtains (1983), The Final Terror (1983), The Initiation (1984), April Fools Day (1986), Evil Dead Trap (1988), Intruder (1989)

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