When horror films are analyzed for their greatness, the genre of slasher films is never included in the mix. We always turn to the more complex artistic thrillers such as Dracula, Rosemary’s Baby, the Shining, and An American Werewolf in London in order to present the hallmarks of horror. Some of the very few remarked-on slasher films include Halloween and Psycho, renowned for their complex relationships with their mother, calling homage to Freud’s Oedipus Complex.
But interestingly enough, despite the fact that slasher films are almost never remarked on in film academia (other than to be criticized for their garish nature), they are a major source for parody and imitation. While that may appear counter-intuitive for the genre being taken seriously, the fact that it is so imitated and parodied does say something about where slasher films lie in the horror genre.
Let me explain my argument by first studying the core or slasher films. Slasher films are exactly what the name “slasher” entails- violent murders, heartless serial killers, predatory chases, and other such forms. There is hardly room for the deep psychological thriller aspect, more focused on providing the gore and grotesque. The slasher film’s goals are both to make the audience laugh at the almost cartoonish nature of stable character archetypes and feel uncomfortable by the homage to basic and “savage” animal behavior- not just in the killer, but also among the good guys as well.
What do I mean by that? Well, from what I’ve seen, characters return almost to their basic human instinct-ignoring morals, ignoring civilization, all of that. It becomes merely an act for survival, the play on fight or flight, with airs of sexuality and other such basic functions.
As I’ve also mentioned before, as well, is that the characters in the slasher films have pretty stable archetypes, even as the plots change. They rarely ever change, making it easy to imitate not just for other slasher films, but for parody films as well. It also becomes easier to carry out in sequels and remakes, as expectations for complex characters among the audience is rather low. That’s why you can have a whole series such as Saw or Nightmare on Elm Street.
But where does the impact factor come in, other than imitation? Well, I’ve recently read a piece on slasher films that remarks that students of folklore or mythology will be able to tell you how slasher films are the epitome of oral history. Their archetypes, their diverse and interchangeable story lines, and the accumulation of sequels and imitations all reflect the story patterns of oral history and stories. No telling is exactly the same, and sequels are invited because there is not set story to finish. Because of this, pop culture can take slasher films and go to the moon and back, creatively adding their own takes for the sake of both horror and comedy. This in turn leaves a greater impact on the audience. We start to associate horror with aspects of the slasher, because we see it imitated and extended so much through pop culture, not just in films, but in TV, social media, and other such forms of media. Of course we won’t forget the other types of sub-genre within horror, but we identify and associate more with the slasher.
It’s not just because of their capacity for imitation that we remember the slasher genre so well, however. We also remember it because the genre does get quite creative, without having to be so deep and layered. Chucky and Nightmare on Elm Street are both remembered as horror classics for not just their slasher nature but also their creativeness. Chucky only had two sequels, and yet we remember the first one the most because of it’s take on killer dolls-something that hadn’t really been considered in horror film before. Almost the same goes for Nightmare on Elm Street-despite its numerous sequels, it takes the audience to a place that hadn’t been considered for horror films before- your own dreams.
Slasher films can get just as creative as its other horror counterparts, and leave just as much of an impact. The only thing is, because of their seemingly blunt and gruesome nature, they are sidelined by academics, who either consider the genre beneath them, or just see the genre as part of a “murder fetish”. Slasher is not given the light of day it deserves.