Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Heath Holland On: My Heroes Have Always Been Slashers

by Heath Holland
...And they still are today.

Growing up the '80s seems special now. We rode bicycles without helmets. Hostess snack cakes were considered an acceptable form of nourishment. Cable and Nintendo were our babysitters while both of our parents worked long hours. And looking back, the movies being marketed to kids were a little messed up. Kids were often put in peril and said words that would probably get a child expelled (or worse, sent to therapy) if they repeated them at school these days. Kids actually had adventures and encountered real danger in the movies.

And because the '80s were so different than today, it was not at all uncommon for kids to watch slasher movies. I have a distinct memory of being in third grade and a kid named Tim recounting the plot of the new A Nightmare on Elm Street movie. This time, he told the class (who was hanging on every word), the kids in the movie actually fought Freddy in their dreams.
I remember being absolutely fascinated by the idea of this man who haunted kids in their nightmares and how they were able to fight back. It would be years before I finally saw A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors for myself. When I did, I wasn’t disappointed.

For many kids of the '80s, supernatural slashers are a part of our childhood. We grew up surrounded by their imagery. They were literally everywhere. On one of the podcasts, it was concluded that the slasher cycle that spanned from the late '70s to the early '90s was a modern occurrence of what happened in the '30s with Universal Monsters.

My generation’s slashers (Michael Myers, Freddy, Jason) were so iconic and well-branded that they captured the imaginations of kids just like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man captured the minds and hearts of kids in the years before that. Like my beloved '80s slashers, those classic Universal Monsters graced countless magazines, model kits, action figures, and even lunch boxes. They marketed specifically TO kids.
Long before I was old enough to actually watch the movies themselves, I was very familiar with the monsters that inhabited them. I had a recurring nightmare about Freddy as a child that is all the more interesting when you consider I hadn’t seen any of his movies when the nightmares occurred.

Tellingly, I also had a vivid nightmare where a poster on my wall turned into a picture of Frankenstein’s monster and then came to life. Bats flew around him and he started to slowly shamble toward me. I hadn’t seen Frankstein at the time, either. Even though I’d seen neither Freddy nor Frankenstein’s monster in a movie at that point, the images of them alone were enough to haunt me and compel me at the same time.

As far as I can tell, Scream was the last major entry in the slasher sub-genre to have any sort of cultural impact. Though it came after the traditional slasher cycle had ended, it was huge -- the last horror movie featuring a masked killer to take the world by storm. Like Freddy and Jason and Michael Myers before him, Ghostface is an icon of horror.
Those monsters were (and still are) icons -- not just of horror, but of pop culture in general. Freddy making appearances on MTV and Jason’s hockey mask being sold at every single drugstore in town were evidence that these monsters had taken the world by storm. All you had to do was look at them and your imagination was immediately off and running. And like Jason’s hockey mask, you can find the costume from Scream in every Halloween store across the world.

I miss the days when my slashers reigned supreme. Before Korean water ghosts, zombies on television every week and vampires that sparkle in the sun, all my monsters needed to scare you was a trademark weapon and a unique mask. And you knew that nothing could stop them. They would always keep coming. If you set them on fire, blew them up, electrocuted them, hung them from the top of the barn, or cut them into a thousand pieces…they’d be back…they always come back.

There have been a few attempts to reignite the slasher genre in the last few years, with mixed results. The Hatchet movies are a fine current example of the spirit of the '80s. There were also relatively unsuccessful reboot/remakes of both Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
For the most part, the slasher genre is in hibernation right now. This seems to be the time of angst-ridden, teen friendly horror. But along with limitless storytelling potential, one of the blessings of horror is that everything is cyclical. Just like those Universal Monsters from 80 years ago, my supernatural slashers will continue to frighten and inspire me at the same time. They’re deep in my brain, tucked deep into my psyche. They’re the stuff my nightmares are made of. And one day, they’ll be back.

They always come back.


  1. I echo your sentiment, Heath. I always talk to my friends about how when I was growing up in the 80's my Mom wouldn't let me rent rated R comedies, dramas or action movies, but I was allowed to rent anything in the horror genre! I remember browsing the horror aisle of Erol's Video for hours tryimg to pick the right flick solely based on how cool the cover art was. Looking back I think my Mother was simply just as naive as I was as a child; basing my pick on a cover and her thinking "It's just monsters and stuff, no big deal" not knowing all of the nudity or demented things that took place in some of these movies. Or maybe not, we are talking about a lady who was taken on a date to see "Last House on the Left" because her date thought the "title sounded nice" not knowing it was a horror film. He obviously just wanted to make out with her. Can you imagine my Mom's reaction though when she realized what she was watching on a first date?! Btw- when she told me this story my reaction was "YOU SAW LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT IN THE THEATRE?!?! YOU ARE FREAKING LUCKY!" Anyway, I digress. Great article. As you can see it brought back many memories for me; enough to get me to comment.

    1. Browsing the video shelves back in the day was a lot tougher because of all that great box art. Something I miss a lot is the cardboard cutouts and posters that would hang from the ceiling and walls of video stores.
      Thanks for commenting!

    2. Absolutely! Video stores and record stores are sadly a thing of the past now. I was a manager for Tower Records for ten years and we use to have an employee whose only job was store artist. He/she would create those amazing stands and blown up displays that you mentioned.

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