Revisit Michael, Jason and Freddie: A look at the “slasher” horror tradition

“Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” are widely accepted as the best and most famous slasher films to date. They all have several characteristics in common, and those characteristics define what it means to be a slasher film.
The slasher film is a subgenre of the horror genre that often focuses on a mysterious, psychotic killer stalking and killing victims in a bloody manner. The slasher film is different from other horror films in that it places emphasis on suspense and psychological elements. The best example of this is in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” a film that many consider a forerunner of the modern slasher. In “Psycho,” rather than show the killer and long sequences of violence, Hitchcock focuses on building suspense and expanding on the psychological aspects of his characters.
“Halloween” is often credited with starting the modern slasher genre. It has several examples of the psychological examination of its characters’ actions. Dr. Loomis is tracking the killer, Michael Myers, and reveals much about the killer’s bizarre mental state. Loomis’ obsession and paranoid nature shows signs of insanity at times, which serves to make the relationship between him and his prey all the more complex. Other films such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” explore the fears of the victims and the nature of dreams.
Despite the psychological focus of some slashers, most films focus primarily on violent and bloody kills. The violence is the most known aspect of the slasher film. When a person thinks of a slasher, they do not think of the psychological reasoning behind Jason Voorhees’ mother fixation. Instead, they remember the scene where he cuts a man in half from groin to chest.
Humor is also an important component in a slasher film. The contrast between the strange and exaggerated compared to the everyday settings of most slashers, such as “Halloween” and “Black Christmas,” are a key component to the genre. This is similar to the Victorian literary genre known as the sensation novel. They would take mysteries and violent acts and place them in everyday situations. The contrast between the strange and familiar is one of the characteristics that draw people into watching the genre.
There are many notable classifications in the slasher subgenre. Each classification has its own films that exemplify its style. Almost all are based on the success of other films. The slasher genre can be seen as a game of Follow the Leader: if one film does well with a concept, others will try to follow the example.
Due to the success of “Friday the 13th,” many slasher films went off to camp and ruthlessly slaughtered enough teens to permanently shut down all summer camps, had they been set in the real world. Other notable films in this style would include movies like “Sleep Away Camp.”
Novelties like holidays and settings like schools and camps could only go so far. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” took a different approach by creating surreal environments and relying heavily on effects for the deaths.
The genre is not the greatest achievement in film history, but it does have enduring value. The sheer number of films shows that there are still people interested in watching them. As long as there is an audience, studios will continue to pump out these movies.