The early 80s --the height of the slasher craze --was for many impressionable, alienated teens like myself a time of fear, paranoia, isolation and frustrated sexual awakening; it all pooled together to form a budding fascist militarism within our ranks. Slasher films were an inescapable part of the landscape even if you avoided them: TV commercials, newspaper print ads relentlessly ogling cowering or showering girls from the perspective of killers --there was no escape. And it was before internet, so we couldn't really find like-minded pre-PC people, the ones who, like me, thought women very very vulnerable and felt horrible for being too small and young to protect them and to naive to realize that women weren't turned on by guys who made themselves miserable worrying about them. We developed an anti-misogyny, a misandry. We sneered at humanity in general and how sex and booze made our peers sloppy and indifferent to their own self preservation. We tried to absolve ourselves by thinking any bitch dumb enough to sleep with so-and-so, to fall for his dumb line and drink his gauche drinks, deserved all she got... Jason was to us what the Monster from the Id was to Morphius in Forbidden Planet.
My poor Krell...
We'd later get sloppy drunk too, but for now--age 12-16--the borderline to forbidden knowledge was heavily patrolled by a legion of masked, silent, shambling butcher knife wielding, unkillable automatons.We, who saw the line, dared not cross it. Instead we carefully, quietly armed ourselves for future battles. Stashing the butcher knife under our pillow, our baseball bat under our bed, preparing for the time when we would need to battle the shambling slasher.
|Get thee to a gunnery...|
Back in those early 80s though, the main dread was that the slasher would get us in our sleep, or when we were alone, and we all thought of what we would do if he came home, as Halloween's tag line read, and the thought he was never going to die held us in a giddy grip that made it necessary to keep the TV or radio on, and a nightlight, to drown out the scrapings of trees against the house, and the creaking footsteps we couldn't be sure we heard as we tried to sleep. My fear never stopped until I learned after watching Battle of the Bulge one night that just thinking about WW2 eased my fear. It could occupy my brain and all the armaments made me feel secure in the way armaments will, even if it was only in my imagination, that's where the monsters were too, so it worked. If that's not an encapsulation of the rise of 80s action movie militarism I don't know what is. So, retrace the steps and wonder... did Halloween indirectly cause the Iraq war?
The thing you have to remember though is that poor Laurie Strode didn't have a Laurie Strode before her to teach her to not drop the knife by the killer just because he's temporarily playing dead. Myers was the first of this type, this emerging breed of mute, indestructible automaton killers patrolling suburbia and in the first Halloween, Jamie Lee doesn't yet know he's got nine hundred lives and you need to take drastic steps like defenestration, or what I eventually determined was an unbeatable and less messy course of action: thumb removal (no thumbs, no strangling or holding weapons, all he can do is lunge and snap like a turtle).
|Won't get fooled again: Blue Steel, Escape from New York, Aliens|
To help lay all this out, I've assembled the following textual horror strata map. Most crap horror films never get past the surface (topographical) layer, while only a few get all the way down to the core, creating an inverse pyramid:
Surface (Topographical): Mise en scene; iconography: The mask. axe, chainsaw, screaming woman, corridors advanced down stealthily, shocks around the corners, cowering, rising up, sudden face in the bathroom mirror, closet doors being peered through. A killer presumably killed sitting slowly up and turning his head, the black kid dies first, etc.It's in this last one we see how, in its way, The Terminator, Rambo, and Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, are all illegitimate sequels to the slasher movie craze, and just maybe so is our modern trend of abducted daughters, torture porn, and NRA zealotry.
Textual: Condemnation of lustful behavior; warning to never take the 'safety bars' of our first world social order consumerist entitlement for granted (i.e. Marie Antoinette letting them eat cake).
Subtextual: Feminism; homophobia; collapse of the American Family; critique of sexual repression; man's inherent savagery; castration anxiety; Marxist ideology; misanthropy; misogyny
Structural: The uncanny rhythm of slowed down time and sense of danger erupting from even normal things as they exist in an unsteady relation to language and perception: closet doors, darkened laundry rooms, cars, darkness, bushes outside the house, staircases, mirrors, telephones, porches, windows - i.e. the lack.
Core: Death Drive; initiation from child to adult through endurance, fetishizing, celebrating our inevitable death; the learning of aggression; the encouragement of militarism; distrust of neighbors and people walking past your house (i.e. itchy trigger-finger neighborhood watches)
I would say, maybe.
It's no coincidence that the personal freedom of the 70s ended the same time slasher movies were widely available on video where moms and little kids could see them (the ratings took awhile to translate to the new medium,, so kids could rent very graphic stuff). Most of the violence was innocuous, even laughable, but the cumulative effect--the sheer number of R-rated violence available, even just looking at a shelf of the covers--was traumatizing. I could be traumatized by catching the end of Looking for Mr. Goodbar on The Movie Channel thinking it was Annie Hall one year but still get refused admittance to see Creepshow (1982) at the local cinema the next. Funny how fucked things are.... maybe it's in our nature to destroy oah-selves, but it's also in our nature to then get preachy about how destructive we are, and refuse admittance to teenagers for films perfectly suited to sick children.
At least one good thing came of all that fear and mistrust: Woman got a gun and learned to be her own Dr. Loomis. She kept watching the dark, and would never fall for a killer playing possum ever again. By Terminator 2, she had arsenals stashed away in Mexico just waiting... the fan was shit-caked and the Blockbusters were busted. There was nothing left now to scare us... not even the bomb.
For further reading:
A Clockwork Darkness: Hawks, Subjectivity, Halloween
A Clockwork Darkness: Hawks, Subjectivity, Halloween