The simple joy of slasher movies
With Halloween tomorrow, I thought now would be a good time to discuss horror movies I have always taken a liking to; slasher movies. For those not in the know, a slasher movie is just a movie with a large body count as the villain vanquishes most if not all of the cast of characters.
While some other horrors such as paranormal horror slowly build up to a final reckoning/confrontation with an entity, there is no waiting around with a slasher film. I would say that paranormal horror can tend to be scarier and creepier than slasher films as the entity you can't see is scarier than the villain you can.
Slasher films are purely for entertainment rather than to scare. You might get caught out with the odd jump scare now and again but it is unlikely to scare you in a way you will hold with you for at least the rest of the day. On top of that, the setting is usually a place you wouldn't want to go to; a house in the middle of nowhere, an abandoned building or camp (at night especially).
As twisted as it sounds, the entertainment from slasher movies simply comes from the act of the villain killing throughout the movie. In these movies, you know that the characters are never safe at any time, no matter how far they have run away from the villain and you know the next death isn't too far away. So how do you make killing people entertaining? By making the cast as irritating and horrible as possible bar one or two.
For the most part, this is an anomaly of the world of movies. There are some movies where all the characters are unlikable but it is an industry standard in slasher films which I will go into more detail on later. This is the big difference between slasher and paranormal; paranormal attempts to create likable characters so some of your fear watching is fear for them, hoping they survive which creates a more character-driven narrative.
I would say Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street are the most recognisable slasher films, perhaps even the most recognisable horror films. The reason for that is simple; the villains have been iconic enough to become part of pop culture references. While ghosts/entities can eventually be given a face in paranormal horror, they're not exactly as marketable, for want of a better word especially when most of them don't have names and sometimes no recognisable form. The entities can have decent back stories or it could be a copy and paste job of some obscure cultist entity but this isn't a strong suit of paranormal horror.
So many slasher villains have an iconic look from Michael Myers' mask (an inside-out William Shatner mask painted white), Jason Voorhees' hockey mask to Freddy Krueger's claws, jumper and burnt skin. The appeal of these villains is that they seemingly can't be killed, no matter what happens to them. Sometimes, there is a supernatural reason the killer is invincible such as the killer having already died or thought to have died long ago but other times, the killer seems to just be a powerful human being who can take all the punishment thrown at them.
The back stories of slasher villains are often interesting and because there is an allowance for so many supernatural things to occur, almost anything could have happened in the villain's past. Some villains in the past suffered or die as the result of a particular group's actions or died in a certain way which is usually their motivation for returning to kill once again.
Having thought about it for a while, I think Freddy Krueger is the ultimate slasher villain; once again maybe the top horror movie icon. While Jason and Michael Myers kill all the same, they do so without talking and pick off the characters one by one. Freddy, on the other hand, never stops talking. He constantly talks to his victims, making terrible (great) puns and this creates a whole personality rather than a stone cold silent killer. Freddy's back story and the way in which he is able to target people is also one of the more creative stories in horror franchises.
There's a lot to poke fun at with slasher movies and that sometimes makes them even more watchable. There's a comfort in knowing the formula that will be followed by most of these films to tick off your list of clichés and tropes. A lot of the time, it does feel as if once you've seen one slasher movie, you've seen them all:
-Unlikable characters: As I said earlier, the key to enjoying people being killed during a film is for the people to have no redeeming qualities, particularly if they are bully the actual likable characters. Add to that, they are almost always young people who fit into a simple stereotype; jock, nerd, stoner, etc. Another part which adds to this, whether intentional or not, is that bad acting itself is a common theme in slasher movies and so when we see a case of bad acting, we almost want it to be punished. There are usually one or two likable characters who survive until the end so that once fans of horror have their fill of violence, maybe just maybe the fans will hope to see these characters pull through and defeat the villain.
-Young person inexplicably has a summer house: So many times, the characters are picked off in a setting which is a holiday or getaway for them. A great big house and miles of land/forest all to themselves.
-Jump scares: This is common in all horror. Like most horror, a lot of the time, the jump scares end up not being the villain at all. Usually a character is all alone as the music builds, they run and bump into someone or someone grabs them as they stand/sit still but it's just their friend...what a relief. Alternatively a character may slowly check behind a door to reveal an inanimate object stood in their path.
-Obvious death scenes: There are times where the jump scares are due to the villain's actions but it is only the sharp screech of the soundtrack that makes people jump rather than the surprise of the villain arriving. A common example would be a character making a proclamation that there is no danger around only to be instantly killed and you know what's coming but the screech might still get you.
-Deaths during nudity/sex: There is rarely a slasher movie where this doesn't occur. The killer might kill both during or take out one of them before or after and then kill the other. In some cases, the villain might return to one half of the couple, stand perfectly still and be sure their partner is playing a joke on them until the villain finally reacts.
-The villain is dead until they're not: In the short term, the characters always think they have the villain beat as they lay motionless. They either leave the villain to return to another place which the villain will come back to or they will inspect the villain's body, who then proceeds to wake up and kill them.
-The story continues, no matter how little sense it makes: In the long term, the villain may die at the end of the film. They may come back right at the end credits or at the start of the next film. No matter how dead they should be, they always come back with little to no explanation or an explanation that just makes no sense. This gives way to horror franchises becoming more and more far-fetched with very misleading titles; Friday the 13th Part 4 was called the Final Chapter, there were another six movies after that.
Despite all this, the same can be said of other horror films that are more to do with the paranormal; they are usually often formulaic as well. In short, entity makes presence felt night after night as the incidents become more noticeable and violent. Meanwhile, a child or children of the household begin acting strangely. The end scenes are where the entity finally tries to kill or take full possession of someone successfully or unsuccessfully. Paranormal horror is all about the build up which you have to wait to see if it is worth it whereas a slasher movie gives you action from the start and the ending isn't so important.
Paranormal horror might make you feel something, invest you in characters or stories but the appeal of the slasher movie is simply to entertain you for a couple of hours. I can get invested in plenty of movies which offer a great story so I don't need paranormal horror for that but there is nothing quite as cathartic as a slasher movie, other than watching a 'so bad it's good' movie with friends; the two often intertwine anyway.