Eli Roth’s History of Horror celebrates the resurrection of the slasher film


Slashers were no longer the hot movies in town and by 1984 the subgenre had cooled down considerably. However, all that was about to change when we were introduced to a nightmare by the name of Freddy Krueger.

Horror Reborn: Slashers Awaken

In this episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror, we concentrate on the reawakening of the slasher film with the successes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, Scream, Silence of the Lambs and the beginning of what some critics call “torture porn.”

Slashers started to go out of fashion by 1984 due to critical backlash and audience fatigue. Face it, every weekend in the 80’s usually had some new horror flick opening with a masked killer running amuck and like Rob Zombie intimated they were “running out of weapons.”

However, the genre was just taking a break and gearing up for the next wave of frightening films. Courtesy of Wes Craven, we were introduced to a character that we had never seen before. Freddy Krueger was the stuff of nightmares with an added bonus of being able to kill you in your dreams.

Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? A Nightmare on Elm Street was truly unique. A special kind of horror movie where the supernatural mated with the slasher film and a new villain was born.  The rules of nature didn’t apply and no one knew what to expect. This was a huge part of its appeal.

We were also introduced to Nancy Thompson, a final girl with the strength and the ability to fight Freddy in her dreams. As portrayed by Heather Langenkamp, not only was Nancy a true heroine but she was also a vulnerable one much like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween before her. We cheered for Nancy and wanted her to win.

Robert Englund, the iconic actor who embodied Freddy Krueger for over two decades made that role his own. Terrifying and darkly humorous, no one could deliver a sarcastic barb quite like Englund while killing a random teenager. It was that combination of horror and one-liners that elevated Krueger into the pantheon of slashers.

Freddy paved the way for another charming and deadly supernatural killer to come to life, Candyman.

A Tragically Dark Love Story

Candyman is based on Clive Barker’s book, The Forbidden. As portrayed by Tony Todd, this particular slasher is searching for the love of his life (Virginia Madsen) across time and space. While this sounds inherently romantic and it is, (albeit a tragically dark love story) when combined with murderous rage suddenly, as an audience we are taken in a different direction.

While we identify with Candyman’s pain at losing his beloved at the hand of her racist father, we are also terrified of what he will do if his name is invoked five times. In the hands of Tony Todd, this character is almost Shakespearean.

A horrific Romeo who is doomed to be without his Juliet for all eternity. Candyman is a story of loss and grief but it is also a frightening tale in the same way that Gary Oldman’s Dracula in Francis Coppola’s take on the legendary vampire is also driven by the need to find his soulmate.

This Bernard Rose directed film was the beginning of a trend toward the elevation of horror into a cinematic art form much like Wes Craven’s meta movie, Scream.

Do You Like Scary Movies?

Wes Craven was a genius who truly understood the genre of horror. He knew how to push the right buttons to take his audiences to the edge. In the movie Scream, (much like Carpenter’s camera work in Halloween), Craven sets the pace of the film by utilizing tracking shots of Drew Barrymore’s character in the opening sequence of the movie.

We follow her as she moves from the shadows into the light throughout her home. This technique makes you feel antsy as a viewer. You know someone is lurking in the shadows but you have no idea when they will jump out. It is that anticipation that builds to the ultimate scare.

What made this film unique was the fact that it broke the fourth wall and let the audience in on the tricks of the trade. All of the tropes of the genre were acknowledged and on full display for everyone. Craven demystified the process so that we all understood the joke.

Although we had a map for what to expect, we weren’t prepared for what happened. Neither was our protagonist, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) despite knowing all of the tropes. A clever script by Kevin Williamson and superb direction from veteran Craven, showed us that horror was stepping its game up courtesy of an award-winning genre film by Jonathan Demme.

Are the Lambs Still Screaming, Clarice?

Silence of the Lambs elevated horror to Academy Award status throwing a spotlight on what was essentially a film about the pursuit of a serial killer. Not only was Ted Tally’s script compelling enough to attract the talents of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, it also brought indie darling Jonathan Demme to the table who was known for his quirky films like Something Wild and Married to the Mob.

Although he started out with B movie titan, Roger Corman, Demme was predominantly a documentary and video director. It was his roots in realism that gave Silence of the Lambs that true crime feel. This film showed the potential of the genre when it was in the hands of an artist.

With it’s Oscar wins for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Actor it was evident that horror had made it and that it was no longer lurking in the shadows.

The Evolution of Torture Porn

While Saw and Hostel get lumped into the category of torture porn, they aren’t that easy to categorize. Yes, they do contain a fair amount of gory violence and in the case of Eli Roth’s Hostel, where the youth appear to be tortured for the “thrill of the kill,” these two films are much deeper than people think.

Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s Saw was more about teaching people that life isn’t to be taken for granted. John Kramer (Tobin Bell) a.k.a. Jigsaw was more than a Torquemada of torture games. He was a man who believed in the sacredness of life.

The individuals that he gathered for his game players were usually people that had a history of doing terrible things so while it was gratifying to see them meet their ends in horrific ways a very clear message was being given. Try to do something meaningful and worthwhile in your lifetime. Treat every day as the precious gift that it is.

Hostel showcased how Americans were viewed by the rest of the world post 9/11. The two young people, Paxton and Josh personified the “Ugly American” stereotype. Real life can be scarier than any horror film.

While torture figures predominantly in the plot of this feature it is more like a mirror being held up to society. How much violence can we take? Will we let our arrogance dictate our actions? There was an incredible amount of subtext layered beneath the obvious storyline.

The Verdict

It was extremely interesting to hear Robert Englund and Tobin Bell explain their characters. To get a glimpse into their insights on Freddy’s motivations as well as John Kramer’s puts an entirely new spin on those franchise favorites.

Tony Todd made Candyman a sympathetic figure. Now, when I revisit that film I will see beyond the scares to the tragic love story beneath it all.

Related Story. Candyman meets Ghostface: Tony Todd joins the cast of Scream season 3. light

For those of us who remember the golden era of the slashers, this was a love letter to simpler times and the creative geniuses that collectively scared the living daylights out of their audiences. If you adore the genre, do yourself a favor and start tuning into this series. Much like parables, there are many lessons to be learned from horror films. Oddly enough, most of them are life affirming.

What are your favorite slasher films? Let us know in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.