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Sunday, October 20, 2013
Evolution Of Horror: Monster Movies Vs. Slashers
H.P. Lovecraft once said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
I'm back with a rather unusual debate topic. Monster movies vs. slashers. Which side are you on?
When it comes to movie genres there is always a basic formula to be followed. Romantic comedies see boy meets girl, girl likes boy, funny stuff happens, boy realises he likes girl, they get together in the end. Action is always some bad guy with itchy trigger fingers and a good guy with a wise-cracking mouth that’s always a better shot.
But one genre breaks this formula and has evolved over the course of the years. From tales of monsters we all know, like The Wolfman and Frankenstein, to stories of babysitter killers and dream demons to what can only be described as torture-porn, the horror genre has change formulas for scaring audiences, each time getting bloodier and gorier.
Whenever I think of monster movies I immediately think of the old Universal films like The Invisible Man, The Wolfman,Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and fun movies likeGremlins and Critters. But monster movies is a rather broad subject which includes such classics as Aliens, Godzilla and The Evil Dead. Yes, that’s right. Zombie movies are considered to be part of the monster movie craze. Also included on that list are vampires. I bet you’ll never look at Twilight in the same way again.
But when it comes to slashers, mad men brandishing knives and other weapons spring to mind. Killers like Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Victor Crowley and Jason Voorhees represent the slasher genre, upping the body counts from previous movies and brutally tormenting their prey with long, slow stalking sequences and spine-chilling death scenes that leave an invisible scar on the psyche of audiences. Don’t believe me? Then let’s try a test. Freddy Krueger’s first victim was played by Amanda Wyss. Her name was Tina. What’s the first thing you remember about the character of Tina? For me, it’s the death scene that had Amanda Wyss thrown around the bedroom while Freddy slashed his claws across her chest and face before dropping her to the bed in a bloody mess. Rememberable? Yes. Gory? Very. Slasher movie material? Absofuckinglutely.
Alien life-forms, zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons, even human hybrids all fall under the category of movie monsters. Given the variety of monsters available to film makers, movie monsters are more popular today than ever before. But where did they all start?
The first ever movie monster was actually Quasimodo who’s better known as being the hunchback of Notre-Dame. Quasimodo made his first appearance in Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris in 1831. But it was in 1906 in a little movie called Esmeralda where Quasimodo made his first on screen appearance.
German Expressionist film makers would significantly influence later films, not just the horror genre. In 1915 Paul Wegener’s silent film, The Golem, and in 1920, Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari had a particular impact on the horror genre. But it was 1922 that saw monster movies injected into society with the cult classic, Nosferatu.
In the 1930′s, the America began to screen more successful films of this type that were usually based on gothic tales such as Dracula andFrankenstein, both of which were heavily influenced by German Expressionism in 1931. From there The Mummy (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933) made their appearance. Classed as horror films, these movies included iconic monsters that are remembered and respected to this day.
When it comes to movie monsters, the only limitation is the imagination of film makers. From real life monsters like sharks, razorbacks, man-eating fish and crocodiles to mythical creatures like werewolves, dinosaurs and giant lizards that crush Tokyo, anything goes. And monsters aren’t just reserved for the horror genre either. Something like Jurassic Park I personally consider an adventure styled film, yet it brings forth one of the most recognisable creatures in dinosaurs.
So when are monster movies scary? The fear was genuine when monsters first came alive on screen. Large dogs were feared because they might be werewolves, gorilla cages were locked more securely thanks in part to King Kong, and some people with pale skin were feared as being a legion of the undead.
As movies evolved, so did the fear of movie monsters being real. In the 1950′s more monster movies were created, exercising the fear that people had in regards to a nuclear fallout. In films, the fallout from a meltdown or blast created creatures so vile and gigantic in proportions that they could rampage against the city, levelling it faster than an 9.6 magnitude earthquake.
In 1975, audiences were put through the monster movie ringer when Jaws splashed onto the big screen. Never had swimming in the ocean been more terrifying But what was most terrifying was how real it was. While Great White Sharks don’t normally grow to 25 feet in length, they can grow as big as 20 feet. What followed Jaws was an aversion to swimming in the ocean and the slaughter of sharks world wide. To this day, I have friends that won’t swim in the ocean because of that movie. Why? BecauseJaws played on a real fear. Forget movie monsters that are made-up and a fake as a politician’s handshake. Jaws was real. Sharks are real. Shark attacks are real. Jaws just put them on the map.
Ever since Jaws, there has been an influx of ‘real’ monster movies. Piranha in ’79, Alligator in ’80, Rogue in ’07. Animal related horror movies were all the rage, with no animal safe from the warped and creative minds that bring us sheer terror. Dogs were targeted with movies like Cujo and The Pack. Crocodiles and their cousin, the alligator, were snapping at the heels of movie goers. Even a giant boar in Razorback was considered a monster of the screen. Cats were considered terrifying long before sharks were thanks to movies like Cat People and The Black Cat. Regardless of species of animal, thanks to horror, it could become a monster.
Between the early 80′s and now, monster movies have returned to the monsters of old. Vampires and werewolves are big thanks to films like the Twilight series,Interview With A Vampire, An American Werewolf In London and even the hit TV show Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Zombies are back thanks to movies like theResident Evil series, Night Of The Living Dead and the popular Zombieland. They even have their own TV show with The Walking Dead. But don’t disregard animal monsters just yet. In 2010 Piranha was redone, giving new meaning to blood bath, while an Australian film by the name of The Reef took the most terrifying creature in the ocean (Great White) and made it popular, and feared, once again.
And judging by what’s in production at this moment in time, monster movies will remain popular for many more years to come.
The definition of slasher film is a movie typically involving a psychopathic killer stalking and killing a sequence of victims in a graphically violent manner, often with some form of cutting tool like a knife or axe.
Although the term ‘slasher’ may be used as a generic term for any horror movie involving a psychopath and graphic acts of murder, the slasher as a genre has its own set of characteristics which sets it apart from related sub-genres of horror like the splatter film.
The birth of the slasher genre is often accredited to Halloween in 1978. However some horror fans deem Black Christmas in 1974 to be the start of the slasher genre as it presented some of the sub-genre’s characteristics such as a mysterious stalker, a set of adolescent or young adult victims, a secluded location with little or no adult supervision, point-of-view camera shots representing the “killer’s perspective,” and graphic violence and murder. (Fun Fact: Black Christmas was remade in 2006)
Now, if you are an avid reader of my past articles or my blog, you know that I am a huge Halloween fan. But for me, the birth of the slasher genre started in 1960 with Alfred Hitchcock’s, Psycho.
Following the pattern set by slashers, Psycho introduced us to some of the characteristic that Black Christmas used. The setting for The Bates Motel was remote and secluded. The killer was mysterious even though they were referred to as ‘Mother’ and during the infamous shower sequence, we see the killer approach from their point of view. However, rather than using young teens or college students, Psycho used older actors.
Despite the slight differences in characteristics, Psycho remains one of horror’s greatest films of all time with one of the most infamous scenes in cinematic history. (Fun Fact: After filming Psycho, Janet Leigh refused to take showers, preferring the safety of her bathtub) So, if they changed what is ideally the formula for slashers, why do I deem Psycho to be the birth of the slasher genre? Simple. Psycho has left an invisible scar on the psyche of all who viewed it. The death of such a high profile star in Janet Leigh so early on in the film still shocks many viewers. My mother still won’t watch this film because, quote, “There’s something so unnerving about it.” And above all, Psycho gave us something to really fear; Man.
The fear that Psycho installed was genuine terror. Norman Bates was young, handsome and little socially awkward. Not one person viewing that movie for the first time would have thought that he was behind the murders. That genuine fear is what has ultimately lead to some of horror’s biggest villains.
In 1978, the slasher genre got a new contender in the villain stakes. Michael Myers of Haddonfield, Illinois, picked up a knife at the age of 6, and doesn’t look like he’s putting it down any time soon. To this day, Michael Myers is still one of the most feared, and talked about, movie villains. He was an unstoppable force of nature, the first of his kind. But what made him scary was how human-like he was. To quote director and co-writer, John Carpenter, “To make Michael Myers frightening, I had him walk like a man, not a monster.”
Two years later at Camp Crystal Lake, Mrs. Pamela Voorhees stood up for women killers everywhere by getting even with a group of camp councillors. But a year later, her son, Jason, took over the Friday the 13th series and has become one of the biggest horror icons of all time. Not to mention Jason also holds the record for most number of sequels and largest body count.
In 1984 the slasher genre got a new bad guy in dream demon, Freddy Krueger. Freddy slashed and slaughtered his way to cult icon status, even coming head to head with Jason in 2003. While Michael Myers was still considered a man, Jason and Freddy had an element of the supernatural aiding them. Freddy was a dream demon, able to change his shape at will, even change into other people while his main victim was in the land of nod while Jason became an unstoppable force, much like Michael, although one difference was Jason was already dead.
The 80′s were renown for slasher films. Some tried their hand at creating a series, but nothing could compete with Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street. Random slasher movies included The Prowler,My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday To Me and April Fool’s Day, just to name a few. While these films aren’t as memorable as their more successful counterparts., they are still enjoyable to watch if you’re just after some blood, guts and gore.
Like with monster movies, nothing was safe from slashers. It didn’t matter if you were black, Asian, white, gay or straight. It didn’t matter if you were skinny, large, male, female or transgender. No one was safe from the maniac brandishing a weapon. If you were in the way, you were as good as dead.
In the 90′s the slasher genre was still going strong. A Fisherman with a hook for a hand reminded everyone what they did last summer, while a jilted boyfriend decided to place a phone call and ask, “What’s your favourite scary movie?” While I Know What You Did Last Summer placed a direct sequel aptly titled I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, it wasn’t an overall success. (It also spurned a direct to DVD sequel starring none of the original cast entitled I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer – Don Shanks who played Michael Myers in Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers took over for Muse Watson as The Fisherman) The crown for the slashers in the 90′s went to Scream which initially produced a rarity in the horror field; A trilogy. That was before 2011 when Wes Craven decided it was time to bring Ghostface back with Scream 4.
So when are slashers scary? When there is a genuine reason to be scared. When something happens on screen that could very well happen in your town, neighbourhood, street.
As for the big three: While dream demons are real in some cultures, for me they don’t exist so I don’t fear Freddy. Jason is nothing more than an unstoppable zombie.
As for Michael, it has been proved in the past that when adrenalin kicks in, people seem to possess superhuman strength. It is also been proven in psychological studies that people who are crazed also possess this strength and often don’t feel any pain. Let’s just assume that Michael Myers is still a man with no supernatural elements aiding him against his prey, then it could be argued that he is just 100% insane which not only gives him the strength that he possess but also the capability not to feel pain which, in turn, would see him live through some extraordinary circumstances.
Norman Bates is terrifying because he simply looks ‘normal’ and causes no alarm. Just like actual serial killer, Ted Bundy, Norman’s good-looks and shy personality don’t raise any red flags and people feel comfortable in his presence.
So which is better: Monster movies verses slashers?
Both sub-genres install a certain amount of fear and both are as popular today as they were when they first surfaced. Monster movies of old, like The Invisible Man, were given modern make overs (Hollow Man starring Kevin Bacon) or completely redone, like The Mummy, revamping what had come before and breaking box office records.
Slashers are still popular and most people look to the slasher genre when starting their film careers, hoping to capitalise on what lurks beneath the surface of an ordinary man or, in some cases, woman.
The fact is there is no separating these two sub-genres. However, when it comes to both slashers and monster movies, the key to scaring the heck out of an audiences is realism. A shark movie will create more of a horrified reaction from movie-goers than a werewolf or zombie movie, simply because werewolves and zombies do not actually exist. The same goes with slashers. A disfigured, hillbilly psycho, while terrifying in the kill (and looks) department will not be able to beat the underlining fear that is ensured from a boy-next-door killer.
Regardless of your preference of sub-genre, one thing is certain. Every horror movie ever made has its fair share of monsters. Jaws is a monster as is The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Jason Voorhees is a monster and so his rival Michael Myers. Man or beast, it doesn’t matter, for every horror film is possessed by a monster.