Sunday, October 14, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 14 -- Slashers

Type:  Positive

The Slasher sub-genre's set-up is, at it's heart, pretty straightforward:  an unbalanced person begins to kill off a group of people one at a time.  Often, the urge to kill is a form of revenge, either against the specific people who wronged the slasher, or against a group of people who symbolize the slasher's former antagonists, but occasionally the slasher is just powered by an unquenchable blood-lust. Of course, even when concrete motivations are given, there is often some slippage in the consistency of victim selection, especially in long-running franchises such as Friday the 13th, which abandoned the whole "killing camp counselors" idea about four films in.   Since the mid-80s, there has been a move to give slashers some sort of visual or conceptual hook in an effort to impart upon them an iconic and indelible image along the lines of Michael Meyer's bleach-white mask, Jason Voorhees' hockey mask, or Freddy Kruegar's knife-fingered glove.  The slasher may be a normal human being, or might have some sort of supernatural undertones.  Most slasher victims are in their teens or early 20s, and many hold that slasher stories operate on some sort of moral code wherein teens who break societal rules (premarital sex, drug use, disrespect towards authority) are quickly punished.

I am a sucker for a Slasher film, but I have a hard time articulating just why they draw me in so easily.  I have hypothesized that it may stem from the familiar structure that serves as the underpinning of all Slasher stories; they in effect serve as a cinematic equivalent of comfort food, letting me get caught up in their predictable rhythms and just go with the flow.  And yes, if I come across a Slasher story that plays around with expectations or inverts/exploits the usual tropes, I'm thrilled; but, unlike with, say,  Zombie stories, I don't find the repetition of form to be a hindrance to enjoyment.

I think another aspect that makes Slasher films affect me is that they unnerve me in a way that the more supernaturally themed Horror films cannot. I don't on any level believe in vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc., but a mass-murdering psychopath?  My farther the RN used to work in a forensic psychiatric hospital filled with people who plead Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, so I know all to well that they're out there.  And while the slashers who pop up in film are heightened and exaggerated versions of the real life killers, having a more concrete basis in reality makes Slasher stories more effective for me.

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