Slashers pt.1: Eli Roth’s History of Horror delves into the ’80s


Slashers were a huge part of the 80’s horror landscape. Eli Roth’s History of Horror travels back in time to take a look at some of the most influential movies of the decade.

Slashers Hall of Fame

Slashers were a huge part of my movie going experience in the 80’s. I was fortunate enough to have seen many of the films featured on tonight’s episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror in the theater firsthand.

Yes, they were brutal and sometimes gory but what attracted me to this particular subgenre was the strong female characters. Part of the discussion tonight was about critics thinking that every movie with a masked stalker wielding a weapon was misogynistic in tone. To me, that couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

Usually the last one left standing to defeat the killer is a woman. These films gave birth to the familiar trope that we know of today as “The Final Girl.” Yes, she was a type. Studious, virtuous and uber smart, she was able to outwit her friends and the madman which culminated in her staying alive.

No one personified this horror mainstay better than Jamie Lee Curtis. At the tender age of 19, she was cast in John Carpenter’s Halloween. This film capitalized on her lack of experience with the process of filmmaking to create a very realistic and vulnerable take on the character of Laurie Strode.

Audiences identified with her and cared about what happened to her. The idea of “The Final Girl” wasn’t the only innovation that slashers brought to the table. In the case of Halloween, this was one of the films that utilized Panaglide and the widescreen for maximum storytelling effect.

Bruce Campbell was absolutely correct when he made the statement that “Halloween is the Cadillac of slasher movies.” The mere fact that it is leading the box office in its opening weekend 40 years later is proof positive of its influence on generations of horror movie loving audiences.

Psycho Is a Turning Point

The next film that Roth and his experts dissected was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. At the time that this movie was released, monsters either created by science or the aftermath of experiments gone awry were popular.

Psycho took a new approach to the horror movie by making the “monster” be the person next door. In this case, the boyishly handsome and shy, Norman Bates. An interesting note about this film is that according to John Landis, Hitchcock always saw the film as a comedy. Sick and perverted, nonetheless but darkly humorous.

Some other pivotal points about the classic chiller is that expert editing made the shower scene extremely terrifying. Another thing that added to the overall tension in the film was Bernard Hermann’s heart pounding score. It is also pretty obvious that John Carpenter was influenced by Psycho when he made Halloween even using Janet Leigh’s daughter as his lead.

This feature literally paved the way for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it was a turning point for horror because up until Psycho, Hitchcock was a director of the establishment. He proved that it was possible to shoot a stylish film that could also frighten audiences.

The Bridge Between the Old and the New

More from 1428 Elm

The following film from Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a bridge between Psycho and Halloween. Why this effort became a classic and an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art today is due to the realistic way it was shot and presented.

In my estimation, this movie could also have been the grandfather of films shot in the shaky-cam docu-style. Gritty, incredibly realistic even the John Larroquette narration succeeded in convincing people that this story really took place. For those of us that were around in the 70’s, this film was a popular one that made every midnight theater showing roster in the country.

Leatherface was based on Ed Gein. A serial killer who had a penchant for crafting lamps out of human skin and for gutting his victims like deer. Leatherface was terrifying because you never saw his countenance and he never talked. You also didn’t know what his motivation was for killing people.

Killing without an explanation is perhaps the most horrific device in any slasher movie. In the same vein, like Romero before him and Night of the Living Dead, Hooper was making a comment on the rebellion against the Vietnam War with his movie.

He was also examining the state of the world with loss of jobs and the oppressed working class with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It may not feel like it and on the outside, it may just appear to be another slasher film but in reality, there is plenty of subtext beneath the overall story.

Birth of the Slasher

The Friday the 13th franchise gave birth to the slasher film as we know it today. For reason’s stated above, Jason Voorhees was another frightening figure with unclear intentions like Leatherface and Michael Myers.

This production was also the progenitor for the “formula” of every subgenre film that came after it. Young people at a remote location, lots of sex and sometimes recreational drug use, a mysterious killer who stalks and murders them in gruesome ways and a showdown with the “Final Girl.” There were so many creative and inventive ways to bite it in these movies.

However, around 1984 because of the backlash from critics and special interest groups, slashers began to slowly fade away. In 1988, something else took their place and made us think twice about children’s toys.

Meet Chucky

There was a new monster in town at the tail end of the 80’s thanks to Tom Holland. Chucky, loosely based on the popular “My Buddy” and “Cabbage Patch” dolls of the time, became a wildly popular horror villain.

The mere idea of taking something from childhood and making it evil was a concept that hadn’t been done before in film. In 1975, Karen Black wrestled with a demonic Zuni doll in Trilogy of Terror. However, that particular doll was not intended for a child.

Giving Chucky life by utilizing the vocal talents of character actor, Brad Dourif just hit home on how truly terrifying the entire subject matter is. The fact that Holland basically built the set to showcase Chucky and make his movements appear lifelike is a feat in and of itself.

By allowing Chucky to run around and pursue his intended victims is the stuff of nightmares. Which is a good segue into Chapter 2 which takes a look at the impact of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

The Verdict

Eli Roth does it again with another fine outing in episode 2. With stellar vets of the slashers genre like Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephen King (John Landis, Kane Hodder, Sean S. Cunningham and Edgar Wright are also featured) recounting their experiences just makes this visionary series even more compelling.

We get the inside view on what it was like to make these films come to life plus we also get the nostalgia factor with stars of the era recounting their experiences on set. This is truly a well-done series and a must for everyone who is a fan and has been inspired by the horror genre.

Kudos to Roth and his research department because they ask questions that elicit the best responses out of their featured guests and the breakdown of how they show you the timeline of the creation of the slasher subgenre is perfect. You can clearly see the lineage.

light. Related Story. Zombies: Eli Roth’s History of Horror pays homage to Romero

Part 2 of the Slashers episode airs tomorrow night on AMC at 10 p.m. The next installment will feature Robert Englund and Tony Todd and you don’t want to miss those two legends. History of Horror is the best holiday gift ever.

Have you been keeping up with Eli Roth’s History of Horror? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.