Despite the side eyed looks the films in the slasher subgenre get, these are some of the most fun, and most daring of the horror film genre. At their worst they are pure popcorn fun. Prudish fantasies full of sex and violence that are clumsily warning teens against the sins of flesh. At their highest they are taut thrillers that keep you guessing as to the identity of the killer (or killers!) and leave you wanting more. Like all horror the subgenre is just a tool to tell the story and you can tell whatever story you want from there.
It can be basic like FRIDAY THE 13th – hulking killer stalking and slashing attractive young people – or relatively clever like BEHIND THE MASK – turning the tropes of the subgenre on their head and then giving you exactly the things they are parodying in cold seriousness.
The slasher film is a very, very close cousin to the thriller and can be almost conjoined to the serial killer branch of that tree. The focus is more on the solving of who the killer is in a thriller though and for the horror it’s more focused on the killing itself.
Both are valid though.
And really, a down and dirty, bloody slasher film is no different than the bawdy sex comedy that aims low but gets direct hits on each punch. These aren’t high art, per se, but they are still creating an art of a sort. They are still entertaining.
Maybe it’s not YOUR entertainment, but it’s someone’s.
The false prudishness of society and the handful of pearl clutching schoolmarms that cluck their tongue over everything make it seem as if these movies are damning souls and turning kids into sex fiends and dope addicts when these movies do little more than reflect what society is. Sure, it’s a funhouse mirror that twists things and exaggerates them but are we going to pretend teens and young people are not out there smokin’ the wacky tobaccy and fornicatin’ it up?
Slashers can be simple mortality tales but in being that, they are showing us our ugly faces because some out there almost cheer for the teens to be punished for being sinners.
I absolutely LOVE that the SCREAM franchise and recent films like FREAKY have rekindled the love for slashers. I absolutely love seeing them make a comeback and am thrilled they are being played for clever thrills and not just nudity and gore.
Even the new HALLOWEEN films, as hit and miss as they are, elevated what we expected and played with expectations and outcomes.
I would LOVE to see a smart take on FRIDAY THE 13th or some of the classics (I will leave Freddy out of this since his movies, even though most are mediocre at best, are trying to be smarter than others of their ilk) that embraces what the franchise stands for but makes it scary. Heck, I really dug the F13 remake and thought they did a great job of making Jason scary. They undermined it with pot and sex jokes but man, when the climax hits and you see the abandoned camp, yikes, shivers.
Those to me are the jobs that would be so rewarding as a writer and director, to bring something like that back into the zeitgeist and to do what so many others wouldn’t and that’s to try to make it a HORROR film and not just a slasher film.
And sure, many of the films like F13 are the way they are is because they make money and are fun popcorn films and that is WHAT they are, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be more too.
It doesn’t mean they can’t be scary or emotional.
Maybe it doesn’t work, and there’s a big chance of that because the critics would hate it no matter what, the hardcore fans will hate it because it’s different, and then you’re left with people with open minds and those aren’t a lot of people.
Still though, it’s worth a shot.
It’s worth the try.
Whether you whet your whistle with the red brew served at your local Slash and Go or not, these films are one of the pillars of the horror genre and you can turn your nose up and scoff or embrace them as just another of the many flavors on hand. Sure, there are the sleazier entries that are more interested in titillation than they are telling a cohesive story but there’s something to be said about embracing the raw power of the popcorn cinema and meeting kids where they are with these stories. You are telling stories, as ridiculous as they are, that kids can relate to in some ways, the pressures of sex, of drinking, of drugs, and the fear of what repercussions will arise if you succumb. The specter of mortality looming large.
My hope is that, with SCREAM VI and the other slashers that will come with it that with the popcorn entries that focus on the thrills (the two TERROR TRAIN movies fall into that category gleefully) we’ll also see some that stretch and dig for more meat on that bone. It’s there, if they have the patience to dig.
I hope they do.
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