FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 12, 2005

That WAS the boogeyman, wasn't it?

Do you like to see people cut into bits? Are you crazy? Why do you want to watch such reprehensible garbage?

These are some typical responses I get when I tell people I like horror movies. They're so low-brow, that to enjoy them surely I must be a simple idjit or a raving psychopath myself. Add to that, slashers are certainly the lowest rung on the genre's ladder. Even horrormeister John Carpenter admits,

"If you direct my kind of pictures, you are kind of a ghettoized guy anyway. Horror directors are a little above pornographers. Just a hair." (Fangoria, June 2000)

I'll admit that sometimes these movies can be a little hard to defend. So what, if anything, is admirable about these movies? What do I get out of them?

Like I said in yesterday's post, I like scary stuff. When I was a kid, lying in bed I wondered if Jason Voorhees could climb up the outside of our house and get in my second storey window. This speculation would keep me awake for hours, and would give me quite a little adrenaline rush- I hated the butterflies in my stomach and also looked forward to getting them. For me, that feeling is still the big draw to these movies. While I can ferociously admire the work of Tom Savini and company, I'm not a gorehound. While people obviously will die during the course of a slasher, I personally don't get off on watching people be slaughtered or tortured. In fact, that's a major misconception about the genre- prolonged agony of the victims is usually scarce in these movies. Death generally comes quickly, if bloody.

These are the movies that got furthest under my skin and terrified me- more than Christopher Lee did as Dracula, more than any of Boris Karloff's thousand faces ever could. On a side note, however, a whole "new" genre is doing a decent job of getting under my skin: these new-fangled "J-Horror" flicks (that's Japanese horror to the uninformed among us). These movies have shown me that ghosts can be scary. Really, really scary. I've always thought seeing a ghost would be sweet, and I used to be disappointed when I'd go somewhere supposedly haunted and come out seeing squat (note, I said used to be). If a ghost is badly behaved, after all, it's just because it's become lost on its journey to the other side, right? Isn't that what the little lady in Poltergeist told Craig T Nelson? Help a brotha ghost out, he'll be gone quicker than Bette Midler's sitcom. That image of ghosts- that just as every hooker has a heart of gold, every ghost has a heart like Casper- was shattered when the weird kid in The Ring turned to Naomi Watts and said, "You didn't help her, did you?". What the fuck?! Samara was pure evil? Oh. Oh no. That's not playing by the rules. That's not cool at all.

So where was I? Oh yeah, professing my love. You see, as much as I enjoy the well-made slashers (yes, there is such a thing), the ones that might even provide a fright or two, I also enjoy the so-bad-they're-funny ones. Like any other genre, horror has its classics and its crap. As Halloween is to Halloween 5, Citizen Kane is to Glitter.

So let's shut up and talk about 'em now, shall we?


Carnacki said...

Excellent blog! Just added you to my sidebar. The horror blogosphere is an unstoppable behemoth wielding a machete in one hand and a chainsaw in the other. (OK, maybe not yet, but with your new blog and the others we're getting there.)

Carnacki said...

I always preferred Michael over Jason though it's a toss up. Possibly the continuity -- what there is -- in the Halloween series tips the weight in Michael's favor.

So much is discussed about the subconscious message of sexual teen fears. But there's so many depths to the slasher flicks than that. For example, one could see the slaying done by the killers as representing the viewers own remorseless and senseless work routines. Certainly there's been times when I've felt I just had to put my head down and carry on with my routine no matter how elusive the goal or the obstacles thrown in my way. So there's an identification with the killers on that level. Or perhaps, I've said too much and you're already on the phone with the authorities to trace my computer's location. Have no fear. The police already know my location and visited many times. We all have our jobs to perform after all.

The other aspect of the slasher flicks of the late 1970s and early 1980s can be seen as a way of Americans trying to come to grips with the horrors of the Vietnam War. Saigon had just fallen in 1975 after 11 years of ever futile killing and destruction. That horror was followed by a red swath of horror flicks filled with blood and gore and mindless terror and violence. Coincidence?

Stacie Ponder said...

Hey Carnacki, welcome and thanks!

I agree that there's alot more to some slashers than just "senseless violence and killing". I have no doubt that at least a few directors were venting about Vietnam- there's a great documentary from IFC called "American Nightmare" that deals in part with this subject. In fact, these flicks could stand as just about any metaphor you throw at them!
I, too, find Michael Myers much scarier than Jason, and I always have. A huge part of that is due to John Carpenter, who crafted a scary story using suspense and a faceless, timeless killer. The Friday movies, while enjoyable, are just so much more crass, and I find I'm removed from the moment. Jason doesn't appear and disappear, stalking quietly as much as Michael does- he just shoots you in the eye with a speargun from 300 yards away! Michael is the boogeyman...Jason is the homicidal maniac.

Carnacki said...

Plus the music in Halloween adds so much to the horror. I didn't think of that when I first posted it. But it's got that awesome score. I've never seen American Nightmare. Is it worth putting in my Netflix queue?

Stacie Ponder said...

Without a doubt, I think it's worth it. Just be sure to get "THE American Nightmare", and not "American Nightmare", which is a new slasher. Though I haven't seen that one- it may be good as well!

Curt Purcell said...

Hey there, Stacie! I'm curious if you're into the giallo (the Italian variety of slasher), and whether you'll be covering that subgenre here. In any case, welcome to the horror blogosphere! I see you're already a fixture in a lot of sidebars (including mine!). ;-)

Anonymous said...

J-Horror (although there's a lot more to the Asian horror film genre than the admittedly pretty good Japanese horror films) really does turn the tables on a lot of American horror/slasher movie tropes.

I'm looking forward to adding a few more of those movies to my netflix list and seeing what, if any, effect they really have on American horror films (the Ring 2, unfortunately was not so good).

Stacie Ponder said...

Hey Curt-
I don't have too much experience in the realm of giallo beyond a few titles, such as Deep Red, so I won't pretend to be an expert. I'm a-willing to learn, though, and I'm certain to come across plenty in my search for stuff to talk about. Any recommendations would be most welcome.

Curt Purcell said...


Bava's TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE are also great (TWITCH is even considered the first "body count" slasher, inspiring the Friday the 13th franchise in particular).

Sergio Martino has some great classics available right now at Best Buy: CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL (in the action section, of all places), and STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (in horror, where it belongs!).

Oh, and Lenzi's SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS is another personal fave of mine.

Hope these suggestions help!

Stacie Ponder said...

Awesome list...thanks! Now...on to Netflix...mwahahaha!!!

Anonymous said...

I have a very hard time trying to defend my love of horror flicks, so I can relate.

I wish I could get that butterflies in the stomach reaction though. Horror has never done that for me outside of nearly wetting my pants at some haunted house's when I was a kid. They only time I get that flippy gut feeling is when the envelope is pushed in terms of content, so it's flicks like The Devil's Rejects or Last House on the Left that get to me.

Like you and probably half of horror fandom I don't revel in prolonged murder scenes, though I am partial to the gore FX in general which is a weird dichotomy that I struggle with while explaining my love of disturbing movies to people.

I don't know...