by Heath Holland
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.
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.
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.
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.
They always come back.