Kevin Williamson’s horror satire about a group of high school students who fall prey to a serial killer hits all its targets. Fully aware that they are tumbling through a series of slasher clichés, the characters make constant allusions to Freddy, Michael and Jason as they head for the inevitable bloodbath at the hands of a masked killer.
Child’s Play (1988) introduced horror audiences to Chucky, who, as well as drawing on the long tradition of malevolent dolls on page and screen, creates a bridge between the monster children of the 1970s and the serial killers of the 1990s.
Wes Craven, a former college professor responsible for two of the darkest and most deranged movies of the 1970s (Last House on The Left and The Hills Have Eyes) unveiled a brash, commercial franchise in 1984: A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Often imitated, never equalled, John Carpenter’s low budget ($325,000) masterpiece took the suspense and knife-wielding killer of Psycho and repackaged them in colour with teenage protagonists. Although credited with spawning the slash and gore pics of the 1980s, Halloween contains relatively little blood. Instead it relies on the unrelenting build up of suspense and shock/startle mechanisms. As is usual in the slasher subgenre, the premise is simple: a teenage babysitter tries to escape the attentions of a rampaging serial killer. However, Carpenter’s deft use of shadows and an atmospheric score (he composed it himself) made it horrifying and fresh. Unfortunately, subsequent over-use of key elements have turned them into clichés.
Carpenter includes many nods to Hitchcock, not least casting Jamie Lee Curtis (Janet Leigh’s daughter in her screen debut) in the main role. This iconic casting, coupled with the Herrmannesque string notes signalling the fatal blows of the killer’s hand, and the sonorous explanations of Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) (who is named after Sam Loomis, Marion Crane’s lover) mean Halloween’s debt to Psycho never quite fades from the screen.
From the very first seconds of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which expose the audience to flashed images of decomposing flesh, to the subsequent news report detailing grave-robbing in rural Texas, followed by the oozing red sunspots of the title sequence, and the opening narrative shot of armadillo roadkill, the viewer is transported to a nightmare zone where usual moral parameters are null and void.
The screenplay is based on the 1959 novel written by Robert Bloch (who sold the screen rights for a measly $9000). Bloch’s book was inspired by the real-life story of Ed Gein, the reclusive Plainfield, Wisconsin farmer whose curiosity about human anatomy turned into necrophilia, murder, and cannibalism. This lurid tale also provided the source material for movies as diverse as Silence of The Lambs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Bloch was fascinated by the relationship between Gein and his domineering mother, who cast a long shadow across her son’s psyche from her death in 1945 to his arrest in 1957.