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!

Nov 3, 2005

Location, Location, Location

In keeping with the topic I re-introduced yesterday, I give you the next element of the slasher film: the setting.

Because the characters in these films are most often teenagers (so is the audience, predominately), the location is usually in accordance: the mall (The Initiation), college (The House on Sorority Row, Black Christmas), high school (Graduation Day) and of course...summer camp (Friday the 13th, The Burning, Sleepaway Camp). In fact, a majority of the Friday the 13th films feature one of the most well-known horror movie locations: Camp Crystal Lake.

While slashers can obviously take place anywhere, they are most often set somewhere remote or isolated. The less isolated the spot, the easier it is for people to get away- and that would ruin all the fun. Still, it's a take-it-on-faith situation for the audience, because in a majority of these films, the characters could get away if they really tried. In Halloween, when Laurie Strode's knocks go unanswered at one house, why didn't she keep trying? On occasion, the location itself does prevent escape: in Terror Train, for example, the teen revellers are on...a train. In April Fool's Day, everyone's trapped on an island. Despite the title, Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is set largely on a boat. It's only in the final act that finds Jason loose on the streets of New York City.

And what of this? What about slashers that take place largely in urban settings? Given the need for isolation as a plot device, the big city setting seems to go against logic. Films like F13 VIII, Night School, and Maniac work largely because they rely on the perceived indifference and anonymity afforded one in the city. The victim may be surrounded by thousands of people, but none of them will go out of their way to help. It's not that far-fetched...I remember the "Death Rides the 6!" headline on the front page of the New York Post. A man died in his seat on the subway, but everyone around assumed he was just sleeping so he rode the rails all day.

Just because a location may be familiar to the film characters, don't expect the intimate knowledge to always give them a leg up on the killer. Sometimes characters can use the setting to their advantage- think of Nancy's booby-trapped house in A Nightmare on Elm Street. But more often the killer will know all the shortcuts and ins-and-outs that the victims know, and he'll still get 'em! That's movie magic for ya!

These silly movies can even have an effect on perceptions of locations in the real world. Sure, Jaws had audiences freaked out about hitting the beach...Psycho changed the way people felt about the shower...but who hasn't almost immediately thought of "ki ki ki ma ma ma" when in the woods after seeing Friday the 13th?


Anonymous said...

The ocean isn't too slasher-prone, but it scares the beejeebies out of me. You are so surrounded by nothing that you don't know which way to go, and you couldn't swim that far if you did. Plus you likely have no weapons, or will drop them under water where you can't get them. You're so tiny that no one can hear you scream or see you to help. If you actually have a boat, you could easily sink or starve. Also, if you can see a shark coming, you to dread it honing in on you, because you can't run or swim away, and if you can't see one coming, you have just as much dread not knowing when one will strike. Brrrrrr... I'm scaring myself. Hence why I don't go in the ocean.

Stacie Ponder said...

Ha! Have you seen Open Water? I think it'll be your worst nightmare on-screen...

Two people get left behind in the middle of the ocean when the ship they came in on forgets to pick them up. Lots of shark-circlin' action. It's low budget, but not a bad little flick.

John Barleycorn said...

I thought "Open Water" was pure genius, and I love you, Stacie, for recommending it.

What's more upsetting than an unhappy ending?

Stacie Ponder said...

Call me pessimistic, but I think MORE movies should have unhappy endings. When an unhappy ending is the most realistic outcome, yet Hollywood insists on ending a film with a smile it pisses me off to no end. It feels so fake and...fake.

What makes Open Water's unhappy ending REALLY great is it's not the ending you'd expect, even if you expected an unhappy ending.

Unhappy ending.

Anonymous said...

I loves me some unhappy endings.

Yeah... I'm playing catch-up... sue me. ;)

Anonymous said...

Stace you are missing the obvious requirement of the surrondings. Teenagers in peril must be sans adult help :)

timothy grant said...

Gazoinks, Stacie. You mentioned 4 slasher staples - killer, weapons, gore, location, but you forgot one.

Wait for it -- wait for it --

The final girl! You forgot to mention the troubled, but plucky gal who goes the distance and conquers the killer in the end.

File that under "irony".

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