Published on October 31st, 2014 | by Anthony Price


The Changing Face of Horror: A look back at the ’80s slasher movie

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The 1980s, famous for its decadence, fashion sense, diverse music and technological advances.  It was a time of self-empowerment and awareness.  In essence, it became all about the ‘me’ and having fun.  But that’s not all the ‘80s is famous for.  It also gave rise to one of horror’s greatest phenomenon…The slasher!  Known as the Golden Age for the horror genre, people flocked to cinema screens to watch the latest batch of adolescents be slaughtered, in ever more bizarre ways (One poor dude gets stabbed with a kebab stick!), by a deranged psychopath.  Full of sex, violence and poor acting, it was three particular films (and subsequent sequels) that put the slasher firmly in the public conscience; Halloween (1978), Friday 13th (1980) and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).  But what made these three stand out above the rest?  Why were they so popular, a popularity that still exists today?  And would they stand up to modern efforts in horror, such as, Hostel (2005), or Saw (2004)?  Well, let’s take a look.

Would you mess with that?

By the ‘80s, the slasher movie had already been around for some time, but it was the ‘80s that made its popularity hit new heights.  But why were so good?  Starting with Halloween in 1978, the genre shifted its focus to Suburban America, with its peaceful idyllic lifestyle that cinema audiences could relate to.  With relaxing censorship, the films also focussed on young, promiscuous groups of teenagers, usually with the girls getting naked at some point.  It was the ideological climate of the time.  Up to this point, horror had become stale and unoriginal.  Halloween gave cinemagoers a whole new experience and laid the groundwork for all the would-be imitators.  One such film is Friday 13th.  Released in 1980, Friday 13th moved away from suburban surroundings, this time being a campground.  Not only was the setting changed to keep things fresh; in Friday 13th Part 1 the killer is a female, not a male.  Apart from those minor changes, the franchise continued the trend of using familiar tropes of the genre, cementing them firmly in audience’s minds.  It’s the quintessential slasher film, laying the template for future releases.  Then along came Nightmare on Elm Street, adding a supernatural twist and satirical elements to the mix.  They were new, a film where audiences could see themselves in the social commentary.  Anyone could be the killer, lurking in the shadows.  In essence, they appealed to the voyeuristic nature in all of us.  But how would they stand up against modern horror cinema?

The '90s face of horror.

By the end of the ‘80s, the slasher was in decline and didn’t see a resurgence until Scream.  Since then, audience have become more accustomed to excessive violence, gore and shock value.  Two franchises that epitomise these characteristics are Saw and Hostel.  Both of these fall under what is now dubbed, “torture porn”, or “gorenography” and usually revolve around victims being stuck in every increasingly elaborate traps where they must hurt themselves to be free, as in Saw, or they’re sold for others to torture them, as in Hostel.  Although seemingly different genres on the surface, they’re actually closely related to the slasher and some would argue, were born as a result of the ‘80s films.  But can the two eras compete?  Who would win?  From a technical stand point, special effects and make up have advanced in leaps and bounds since the golden age of horror, as has camera techniques and equipment.  So in that respect, the modern horror movies have a far greater aesthetic appeal to them. They just look better.  But what about the amount of money they’ve taken at the box office?  Since its inception, the Saw franchise alone has made a whopping $370 million (£239 million) in comparison to the $206 million (£133 million)* taken by Friday 13th.  As you can see, that’s a $164 million difference (£106 million).  What does that mean? Comparatively speaking, although it appears that modern horror has done better, you have to take in consideration the changes in the film and cinema business.  Ticket prices have increased exponentially since the ‘80s from an average of $3.38 (£3.00 in the UK) to $10.00-$15.00 (£8.00-£10.00 in the UK) in today’s cinema.  That’s a large increase, thus also increasing the revenue margins.  So, when you take that into consideration, along with inflation, it actually means that the Friday the 13th franchise could have done better if cinema ticket prices had remained the same.  Not bad considering they come from the most ridiculed genre.

 I want to play a game...

Horror has changed so much over the last 30 years, but for me, the slasher films of the ‘80s, corny as they may be, will always be some of the best and most enjoyable horror that I’ve seen.  Okay, so box office wise, they don’t compare to modern efforts.  But do box office numbers define what makes a good film?  In my opinion, no.  I’ve seen many films that were box office gold, but still sucked (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, anyone?).  What makes the slasher so good, is its ability to adapt and its longevity.  They were made 30 years ago and yet, here we are still talking about them.  There’s still a place for the slasher in modern cinema and the popularity of the Scream franchise (And its imitators) went a long way to prove that by again, adapting and updating the formula for modern sensibilities.  So come on Hollywood, bring back the slasher.

Until next time…Keep consuming.


*NOTE – Figures are based on current exchange rates and are therefore an estimation.

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