Why slasher films don’t do the horror genre justice
Horror films are exactly as the name suggests. They do what most other genres typically avoid: they force the audience to face undesirable or horrific images. While the horror genre is an interesting one to observe, looking at its subgenres can be just as entertaining.
Psychological horror, for example, is one of the top-tier horror movie subgenres. It makes use of the uncanny and leaves the audience’s head’s spinning after one (or more) viewing. Slasher films, on the other hand, are a hodgepodge of cheesy lines, poor decisions and questionable deaths and gore that lose their taste after one sitting. With these elements throughout virtually every slasher film, it’s hard to understand why they’re still doing well. Why do endless sequels release left and right? Why do people keep coming back to see these rushed products?
The elements that make good horror movies are deeper than plot, cast or gore. Horror contains multiple elements: it’s personal, transgressive and anti-repressive. Filmmakers morph their movies to include these three attributes in such a way that they tap into our fears and force us to face them. Take a look at “The Shining.” The fear presented is not just an alcoholic succumbing to madness and attempting to murder his family. Kubrick’s film helps define horror as personal, as it taps into universal fears like isolation. He exaggerates that fear with almost nonexistent sound, never-ending hallways and a gigantic snowstorm trapping the Torrances inside the massive hotel. Or, to define horror as transgressive, consider “The Human Centipede.” It pushes the boundaries of what is socially acceptable for public discussion, received the label of “torture porn” and outcasted within its own genre. The title alone can make people’s skin crawl. The film forces audiences to witness an uncomfortable experience, as society trained us to believe that freaky imagery should be uncomfortable. Perhaps we bring up “Carrie” the titular character is constantly bullied, her urge to enact a bloody revenge grows, right up to the iconic scene at the high school prom — she cracks and kills everyone in the gymnasium. This buildup emphasizes horror being anti-repressive. This unburies the fear of lashing out at hardships, showing an exaggerated sequence of what will happen if we don’t keep our primal-based behaviors in check.
Alternatively, slashers are scary on a basic level. They all boil down to a few key elements: a serial killer who murders a group of young adults, the “final girl” ultimately defeats said serial killer and/or escapes, and the cycle repeats with a return of the killer and a new group of victims, with sub-par jumpscares scattered throughout the story. In an essay titled “Slasher Films and Gore in the 1980s,” James Kendrick states the killer is integral to “the slasher’s structural components, a fact embodied in the subgenre’s very name.” He is typically male, human or human-like and has a supernatural aspect to him that allows him to appear and disappear at will and is seemingly unkillable. This style of horror, although insanely successful and profitable, seems more like a quick and easy cash grab than anything meaningful.
What ruins slashers is the need to create sequels — many of them — thanks to the success of the first movies in these franchises. Tropes are repeated in each sequel and remake, with forgettable victims, silly deaths and questionable plot convenience. “Friday the 13th,” for instance, has films lasting from 1980 all the way to the 2009 remake with nine sequels and a crossover in between. Each movie becomes more and more predictable with nothing new to offer, only providing a few twists that barely add any flavor. You find yourself cheering for Jason to kill everyone so the movie can end and you can relieve yourself from dull characters and a bland plot. There’s also “Candyman,” a slasher franchise not as well known or overdone as the Friday series, that still fails to create sequels that provide any real meat to the “Candyman” universe. The creators try to explain where Candyman comes from in its sequels rather than continuing forward, which ultimately turned the franchise into a silly joke with a remake on the way.
Not all slashers are this way. There are films of this subgenre out there that don’t face these problems of repetitiveness and predictability. Take the “Scream” franchise. It follows the slasher tropes, mocks those tropes and becomes self aware and adds a little spice to the genre. At the time of “Scream’s” release, Freddy and Jason sequels were coming out constantly, but profit was progressively getting lower and lower. By creating an atmosphere in which the characters make fun of the slasher genre and seem self-aware, with a popular and attractive cast, “Scream” was able to reboot slashers, inspiring films like “Final Destination,” as well as leading the way for remakes of many notable 1980s slasher films. With this new influx of slashers, older audiences are exposed to a familiar type of film while newer audiences are presented with a modern take on what was popular years prior. By growing the fanbase with folks going down memory lane and those just getting into the horror genre, slasher creators keep the cycle of remakes going.
All in all, slashers aren’t necessarily the best kind of horror film, despite how well they perform in the box office. They get repetitive, and lack creativity, making universal tropes with their plot and gore. Although there are some gems, there just aren’t enough slashers collectively to gain a high following other than to say, “Look, I survived watching a horror movie!” This kind of horror seems to be an experience for most ages to enjoy with the constantly remade classics such as “Child’s Play” and “Halloween.” However, similar to the killers in these movies, Kendrick notes “the slasher film continues to defy all efforts to kill it.”