The heyday of the slasher was from roughly 1981 to 1984. This is an extremely short amount of time, but there were plenty of movies that helped to define that genre well before that. Psycho, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Black Christmas and Halloween all helped to create the modern slasher. During that golden period, however, there was a new movie in the sub-genre being released every week. Often more than one. Audiences tired of them quickly and the theatrical over-saturation of the slasher died out in almost the blink of an eye. The slasher picture was all but declared dead until a brief resurgence in the late 1990’s. These self-referential movies included mega-hits like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. To the untrained eye, it might seem like the slasher genre has died off again. And truthfully, there have been precious few slashers released theatrically in the past ten years. But while the genre may not be as thriving as it once was, quality slasher films are still being produced. Over the past ten years, some of the most memorable horror features have been slashers. We can only hope that the next golden period is just around the corner.
See No Evil 2
The Soska sisters stunned audiences with their film American Mary, leaving everyone to wonder just what they were going to do next. The answer was an unexpected one. After subverting gender, class and body image in Mary, many were surprised to learn that their next effort would be a sequel to one of the most straightforward slashers in recent years. See No Evil had been a marginally successful throwback to the horror movies of the 1980’s, but it didn’t totally work because it wasn’t much of anything other than that. Of course, one can now see exactly why they would want to bring their unique perspectives to a project like this, as they could give the sequel everything they didn’t see in the first one. The first See No Evil is mildly entertaining with some surprises along the way, but the second is much more self-aware. It’s a bit of a commentary on the genre, but it’s not spoon-fed and it celebrates everything audiences love about slasher movies at the same time. It totally embraces what people love and never talks down to the viewers, it’s a love letter to the old-school features of the early ’80’s that plays with expectations at the same time. Some character tropes that are typically male are female this time, and vice versa. At the same time it offers the necessary carnage with a few inventive twists.
Scream 4 makes the list for a couple reasons. It’s not only a surprisingly great sequel, but the very fact that it still has something to comment on and deconstruct proves the slasher genre isn’t dead. There’s still plenty to satirize. It wisely focuses much of its attention on the surge of slasher remakes, most of which did very well in theaters. But it also goes further than that. Scream 4 brings up many things about the current culture, especially the desensitization and sociopathy, that make this a perfect climate for extreme violence.
Adam Green’s Hatchet is a throwback to the early slashers and it is done out of love and adoration for those films. It is a celebration of the horror films of years past but at the same time attempts to create a new horror icon in Victor Crowley. For the most part, it succeeds. Hatchet never had the budget or theatrical distribution to become the next Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s not really trying to be. It spawned two sequels and got to tell its own story. And while it has a smaller audience, it has found a very devoted audience. This movie is a great throwback to the nostalgic horrors of yesteryear and brings equal doses of the gore and humor that made those early slasher films memorable.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Behind the Mask does some of what Scream did, but cranks the self-referential lever up to 11. It’s somewhat of a docudrama about college students filming the exploits of a man who is setting out to be the next big slasher in the vein of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. He wants to play in the big leagues and he’s pulling back the curtain on the effort that these guys put into their big night. It’s a hilarious, even brilliant movie that plays on traditional slasher conventions. Yet, when it gets down to it, it can be pretty scary as well. Behind the Mask may be one of the best slashers in recent years, in addition to being one of the best horror movies of the past decade. It’s an impressively smart satire that comes from a place of love, not criticism which ultimately makes all the difference.
Alexandre Aja’s High Tension switches the traditional slasher movie roles in the most extreme of ways. It’s tough to talk about this one without giving away the ending but the film is fairly straightforward up until that point. The heroine is a little more kick-ass, a little more take-charge but she still hides from the killer in the early scenes. There is, however, a reason for this. A lot of people lose interest in the movie and even hate it because of its ending, but to me the ending is what elevates High Tension from an entertaining thriller to a total deconstruction of the traditional relationship between heroine and monster.