Last week on Eli Roth’s History of Horror, Eli Roth and company took a look at zombies in horror movies and pop culture. This week, a very similar crew, which included Jamie Lee Curtis, Rob Zombie, Leonard Maltin, and Stephen King, took a look at the horror subgenre of slasher films.
After a quick overview, we start with Black Christmas (1974). Although not the first slasher, it was the first to give the killer’s point of view. Because the killer is terrorizing a sorority house, it also set forth the tenet of the genre that involves chasing and killing young, attractive women. This led directly to Halloween (1978), the “Cadillac of slasher movies,” according to Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead).
The movie was also credited as bringing horror mainstream. Jamie Lee Curtis even addresses the joke about female protagonists you want to yell at–she says that the trick is to make the audience care about her enough to want to yell at her and keep her out of danger. It was also credited for making the final girl trope–where the final surviving female becomes the avenger.
From here, things pull back to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which was the first to really bring the idea of horror as a force that could be “lurking next door.” It also lent itself to the legitimacy of the horror genre, because of the mainstream quality of Hitchcock, even to this day.
There was then a jump of fourteen years to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), a visceral film with “no limits.” Although it is often remembered as one of the most violent films of all time, Eli Roth points out–as others have done before him–that almost all of the real gore is just off-screen. He cites the hook scene–one girl is raised up against a hook, but the skewering happens just below the camera’s eye. There’s a fascinating, unique analysis based on the hitchhiker and protagonists’ argument in the van early in the film, saying that the film is a “story about displaced workers” finding a new way to live.
From there, Kane Hodder, a former Jason Voorhes, takes us to the Friday the Thirteenth series. He jokes that he has made more kills onscreen than any other actor, cites his favorite kill in the series (hint: it’s in Part VIII), and hints that the movies’ power comes from a place similar to Psycho: any character can be killed at any time. The iconic soundtrack is also discussed, citing Mrs Voorhes’ psychosis as the inspiration.
The last major section centers on Maniac (1980)–Stephen King introduces it, in fact. This follows a serial killer who scalps women and places them on mannequins, then acts out his troubled relationship with his mother with them. This, along with the attempted assassination on Ronald Reagan, created a “moral panic.”
The movie was slammed and protested, though another interesting argument came up here: Although slashers are usually damned as misogynistic, this movie appeared to be a nod to the hyperawareness that women usually must operate with in day-to-day life. (It might also be worth mentioning that Maniac ends with potential victims enacting revenge on the killer.) Roth, for his part, compares the subgenre to Grimm’s fairy tales.
Following that, there’s a look at how the slasher subgenre could be approached without condemnation, and a preview for the next episode, “Slashers, Part 2.”
This episode provided a thorough look at a complicated subgenre. Although there was some information I knew going into this, I never had a good idea of how these films influenced each other and how they fit into an overall framework. Some of the interpretations–especially the feminist angles on a genre usually condemned as misogynistic–were fascinating, and completely new for me. It will be interesting to see how “Part 2” handles the sub-subgenres of slashers, as it appears to head into the territory of torture porn and the really out-of-the-box slashers of more recent years.
The only fault I really found with this episode is that it focused on American slashers, but I suspect that giallo films and other foreign exploitative films will be cited in part two.
The third episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror, “Slashers, Part Two,” actually aired at ten PM the same day part one aired. Our review of it will be up shortly. Episode four, “The Demons Inside,” will air October 28 at midnight.