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The History of Slasher Movies
While the setting of a slasher film varies widely, usually to give some individual identity to a somewhat familiar story, settings such as fairgrounds, camps, and dorm rooms are generally used as a way of isolating doomed youth. The killer is usually driven by a perceived injustice from the past, often related to either the location where most of the action takes place or one or all of the people in the group.
The stalker is often (but not always) male, disfigured, masked and also – usually at least until the last reel – quite psychotic. He can have seemingly supernatural powers of regeneration and is likely to be found jumping into frame for one last scare at the film’s climax. More and more, he is durable enough to show up again in the sequel! Slasher is BOO! a machine designed to both frighten and entertain audiences. It appeals to our desire for safe thrills and allows the audience to enjoy the best of schadenfreude while paradoxically rooting for the Final Girl (and she’s usually a girl) as she struggles to survive in the last 30 minutes or so of the film, after a killer has murdered all her friends and /or family in a series of increasingly terrifying and inventive ways.
Despite the fact that the slasher film, in one form or another, has often been unfairly viewed as bottom-of-the-barrel horror since the beginning of the film industry. It’s a stalwart of the horror genre, often accused – by critics and genre fans alike – of pandering to the lowest common denominator. Respected genre critic Alan Jones once described the slasher as “comfortable horror,” part of its charm being its deadly predictability. But while a slasher film can rarely be challenging, this is horror at its most basic and fun. Perhaps surprisingly, many Golden Age slashers still have the power to unnerve and shock. Watching a one-off theatrical performance of the original Friday the 13th (1980) about 10 years ago, the laughter turned to stunned silence as the ax began to fall. Part of the joy of yesterday’s horror films is that many still hold up today, and just as many have improved with age and now boast the camp and cheese vibe that gives them their already irresistible appeal. For example, Halloween (1978) is still a classy shock machine, despite the bell-bottoms and seemingly dated teenage dialogue.
Teenage Wasteland takes a loving but critical look at popular slasher history. However, writing a book about films that most critics have turned their backs on is fraught with difficulties. Myths and inaccuracies have grown up around many films, and JA Kerswell has tried to unravel these mysteries as best he can. For some of the more obscure films, such as Savage Water (1978) and Bloodbeat (1982), there is almost no information. Other films, such as The Prey (1980), for example, languished on the shelf before being released in theaters or going straight to video, and some never made it to either. The date listed for each film is the theatrical release date in the country of origin, unless otherwise noted. Cash register figures are always expressed in US dollars unless otherwise stated.
It would be impossible to cover every film ever made in the genre – especially considering the plethora of straight-to-DVD slashers that continue to come out with dizzying regularity. However, Teenage Wasteland takes a long look at the best—and yes, the worst—that the subgenre has to offer. The modern stalk ‘n’ slash movie as we know it was born when John Carpenter unleashed his spook on small-town America on Halloween in 1978, but the movie didn’t happen in a vacuum and draws on many earlier genres. Teenage Wasteland traces the subgenre’s roots in folklore and violent French theater. Violent horror thrillers from Europe were hugely instrumental in shaping the subgenre, and JA Kerswell examines the Krimi (a term used in Germany for crime or mystery thrillers) of the 1950s and 1960s; stylish and sexy giallo (meaning yellow) from Italy in the 1960s and early 1970s; and even the domestic happenings in Pete Walker’s gruesome British 1970s shockers. (The term ‘giallo’ comes from the yellow books of crime and murder popular in Italy since the 1920s). Similarly, JA Kerswell discusses how early horror films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), as well as gory drive-in features and films such as Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (both 1974), all played a role in film. the evolution of the subgenre. Illustrated with colorful artwork from around the world, Teenage Wasteland focuses on what many fans consider to be the golden age of the slasher film – the period from 1978 to 1984. The success of Halloween in 1978 opened the floodgates for copycats and spawned another slasher classic, Friday 13. For six furious (and glorious) years, nowhere in America seemed safe, and high schools and summer camps ran with teenage blood; each holiday date was marked by the flash of a knife. Teenage Wasteland revels in this most under-appreciated of sub-genres and also touches on the genre’s cultural impact on society and other sub-genres.
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