Ghostbusters is horror. I will stand by that statement until the day I die. Horror doesn’t have to be scary. It is an aesthetic. Some of the best horror movies are dressed up in the clothes of other genres. Take Beetlejuice as another example. That’s a straight up comedy if I ever saw one but it’s still as horror as horror can be.
Horror doesn’t have to be about gore. A good horror movie can have gore, but it’s not required. A movie can have gore and not be horror also. The two are not mutually exclusive.
This isn’t about defining horror, been there done that. This is my reflections on a certain type of horror movie, the slasher film. Specifically the 80s slasher film and more specifically the Friday the 13th franchise and it’s clones.
The best slasher films all have the same tropes. A group of teenagers being murdered one by one by a serial killer/stalker for their transgressions. It is not always clear what the killers motive for the killings are but one thing is clear, the body count is high in this genre.
If you champion slashers on the body count, however, you will quickly find out there are other genres that can shame the genre in their sleep, namely splatter, body horror and zombie films all come to mind. There is no greater body count than a zombie apocalypse film.
If it isn’t about the body count or the motive than what makes a slasher film so enjoyable?
I don’t know I just watch them.
There are two main line slasher franchises that compete for dominance. One is a mostly coherent narrative with a few side quests while the other is an incoherent mess of reboots, requels and spin offs. The two I am referring to are Friday the 13th and Halloween.
While Halloween often gets the credit, erroneously, as the first slasher film, it is not the superior franchise between the two. What makes a Halloween movie good is the suspense. For the most part Michael Myers takes his sweet time picking off his victims one by one in a tapestry of blood that is sure to inspire the most morbid of the macabre. The franchise falls apart in it’s never ending sequelitis. The worst offenders are the reboots that ignore everything that came before. This reboot sequel has been made 3 separate times. It’s almost as if they recognize the franchise sucks but they keep trying to repeat it’s success anyways. I think it stays popular on name recognition alone. Nobody actually LIKES these movies, they can’t they just watch them because there is no viable alternative, right?
The Friday the 13th movies have vastly superior pacing than the Halloween films. They also enjoy a more coherent storyline than the Halloween films. That isn’t to say the franchise is perfect, Jason Goes to Hell is sitting right there to remind us of that. However considering it follows a, mostly, linear timeline that makes more sense that it’s counterpart it wins by a hair.
Both franchises have a body count. Both have a masked killer who silently stalks his prey. Both have a horde of teenage victims. Halloween takes a few more risks than Friday the 13th but in the end the Jason-led franchise does edge out the Michael Myers fare ever so slightly.
There is more to the movies than pacing and story there is also tone. The Friday movies have a campier tone which does knock them down a point. The tone of the Halloween films tends to be more in line with what you expect from a thriller. It feels slightly darker overall. In that regards I can see why it has such a following.
The killers are both similar in many respects but in some ways The Shape is a darker monster than Jason Vorhees. Keeping in mind Pamela, his mother, was the killer in the first one and he was a lizard demon in Jason Goes to Hell. Jason looks cooler and is far more creative with his kills. The Shape is less known as a monster and more for the serial killer mask it wears.
All of this is not to say the Halloween movies aren’t worth watching. As a fan I have seen all of the mainline films and I can assure you they hold up quite well as far as slasher films go. They bring the suspense, the kills and the scares all things you expect from the genre. Friday the 13th has the scares and the kills but lacks the suspense for the most part. It replaces suspense with a few random jump scares. Overall the two movies are nearly on par.
This isn’t a comparison which is better sort of deal. Rather I wanted to discuss the franchises independent of one another while recognizing their similarities. I failed to do this because I can’t bring myself to talk about slashers without comparing these two franchises.
At the end of the day if I was trying to pick one over the other I would have to say I personally enjoy the Jason films far more than the Halloween films. While I do recognize the Halloween franchise for what it does well, and it does that quite well indeed, I have to give credit where due. The superior series is easily Friday the 13th.
That being said since I didn’t set out to make this about comparing the two let me get back to what I intended in the first place, to answer the question what makes a slasher movie good?
This is going to be a longer article than I am used to writing. It might get a part two if I am not careful.
What Makes a Slasher Film Good Part Two