Exhibit / October 25, 2017
Although the slasher film developed out of Italian giallo films, particularly the work of Mario Bava, the genre began with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which was extremely controversial at the time for its graphic violence, sexuality, and the final act’s depiction of a cross-dressing Norman Bates. The first North American slasher was Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974), about an attic-dwelling deviant murdering young women in a sorority house, and, after John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) made $70 million worldwide on a $300,000 budget, a never-ending string of copycats followed.
Art, or the facsimile thereof, was simply imitating life. After the Manson Family murders of 1969, the 1970s suffered a gruesome rampage of highly publicized serial killers, including David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy (all apprehended finally in 1977 and 1978). Recorded serial killings peaked in the mid-1980s, as Richard Ramirez was terrorizing Northern and Southern California. The American slasher film (prevalent on TV as well) was both a purgation of the resulting psychic trauma and a flagrant admission of our fascination with the perpetrators of such mindless, unforgivable violence.
The immortal killers of early slashers like Halloween and Friday the 13th (1980) targeted teenagers engaged in promiscuous and rebellious acts, which coincided with the arrival of the Moral Majority, an outpouring of the country’s latent fanatical puritanism: Michael Myers, Jason, and Freddy Krueger represent the righteous God of “old-time religion” more than they represent the Devil of infernal blockbusters like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.
While there are many other contributing factors—the AIDS epidemic, the unrestrained profiteering of Reaganomics—perhaps most important is the dramatic increase of women entering the workforce during the 1980s, resulting in a larger degree of economic and social independence. The slasher formula—the killers are almost invariably men, and their preferred prey is young women—is testament to the ensuing male anxiety. On the other hand, the sole survivor of the various profligate massacres is almost invariably a young woman, or “final girl.”
When women did attempt to exploit the genre’s potential, it often backfired. 1982’s Slumber Party Massacre was written by novelist and poet Rita Mae Brown as a feminist parody, but the now-cult film was manipulated into a by-the-numbers slasher by the producers.