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Slasher film is a sub-genre of the horror film genre typically involving a psychopathic killer stalking and killing a sequence of victims in a graphically violent manner, often with a cutting tool such as a chainsaw or scythe. Although the term "slasher" may be used as a generic term for any horror movie involving graphic acts of murder, the slasher as a genre has its own set of characteristics which set it apart from related genres like the splatter film. Writer Adam Rockoff, in an interview with Bryan Layne reported in Oddity Cinema, says: "I guess I could spout out some academic BS, but really, I think that as long as you have a killer who murders people with sharp objects, and a few thematic and/or stylistic conventions that have become staples of the genre– the final girl or the killer’s POV, etc.– you’ve got yourself a slasher film."

The Splatter Film

The self-proclaimed "guru of gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis," invented the splatter film in 1963 with the release of Blood Feast. Blood Feast was made quickly and cheaply but differed from its genre contemporaries in that it featured the stalking and mutilation of beautiful women. Lewis went on to use this successful formula to make movies such as 2000 Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red and The Gruesome Twosome.


Another influence for the slasher sub-genre was the Italian Giallo genre. This film genre was made up of films done by various Italian directors, most notably Dario Argento and Mario Bava. These films were known for extended, graphic murder sequences and bizarre storylines. Probably the most notable are Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1963) and Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), several critics have noted that the films had profound impact on the development of slasher film sub-genre. Writing in 2000, Tim Lucas wrote that Bava is “the acknowledged smoking gun behind the ‘body count’ movie phenomenon of the 1980s, which continues to dominate the horror genre two decades later with such films as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and their respective sequels.” According to Gary Johnson, “Twitch of the Death Nerve is one of the most imitated movies of the past 30 years. It helped kick start the slasher genre….[Bava’s] influence still resonates today (although somewhat dully) in movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream, and Urban Legend.”. Johnson also states of Blood and Blace Lace that "Equipped with his colored gels and his predatory camera, Bava arguably created the slasher subgenre and kicked down the door for subsequent directors to stick in their cinematic blades as well, for better or worse. Hitchcock toyed with us, Powell showed us but kept his emotional distance, but Bava passionately reveled in the shock of it all. Camera as weapon; the masked killer as cipher upon whom the audience was almost gleefully invited to imprint their darkest animosities. " The 1992 movie Knight Moves has been described online as a Western Giallo, with considerable elments to the genre used in this motion picture.

The Exploitation Film

The 1970s were arguably the Golden Age for exploitation films, which tended to be low budget affairs and specialize in suggestive or explicit sex, sensational violence, drug use, nudity, freaks, gore, the bizarre, destruction, rebellion, and mayhem. While such films have existed since the earliest days of moviemaking, they were popularized in the 1960s with the general relaxing of cinematic taboos in the United States and Europe. Additionally, low budget filmmakers used sensational elements to attract audiences away from television.

Important to the development of the slasher sub-genre were rape and revenge films, notably, Wes Craven's film Last House on the Left (1972), one of the first of its kind.. The 1970s saw a number of new filmmakers such as Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter and others making names for themselves in the horror genre. Many of these directors were young, but would soon be considered important to the horror genre. Slasher films are often considered exploitation films because of their use of their often low budgets, nudity, gore and shock techniques.

Early Slashers

The movie that is considered the first proper slasher film is Black Christmas (1974) directed by Bob Clark, later the director of A Christmas Story. Black Christmas was noted as one of the earliest films to present some of the sub-genre's characteristics that the slasher film would come to be known for: a mysterious stalker, a set of adolescent victims, a secluded location cut off from adult supervision, point-of-view shots showing the "killer's perspective", and graphic depictions of violence and murder. The film was remade in 2006 by Dimension Films.

It wasn't until the huge box office success of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), both of which spawned numerous sequels and countless imitators that endlessly recycled their predecessors' character archetypes and plot. Halloween, though not the first film of its kind, was the first to introduce the concept of the slasher as an indestructible evil force and is often considered the film responsible for the rise of the slasher trend, popularizing many of what would become key elements in the genre. A long succession of slasher films started to be produced, though Halloween actually has far less graphic violence than the slasher genre has become known for.

Golden Age

Following a trend set by Black Christmas, Halloween, and Friday the 13th, many films of the era focused on holidays or special occasions, such as My Bloody Valentine, New Year's Evil, Happy Birthday to Me,The Funhouse April Fool's Day, Prom Night, Mother's Day, and Silent Night, Deadly Night (followed by such others as Bloody Birthday, Hell Night, Terror Train, Visiting Hours, Mortuary, and Night Warning).

During the height of the genre's popularity, despite a strict formula developing within the genre, audience interest was maintained by developing new, increasingly "novel" ways for victims to be killed (as the Friday the 13th series is best known for), as well as increasingly graphic and realistic special effects (Some of the most effective were The Burning, The Prowler, and Maniac). Some series, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and later Child's Play, added supernatural twists to the slasher formula, as well as comedic elements as the respective series progressed. Earlier films, such as Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, were also revived and given a series of increasingly gory sequels in attempts to compete with other franchises. The genre arguably peaked in 1983, a year in which, according to the book Crystal Lake Memories, nearly 60% of all box-office takings were for slasher movies. Even feminists took a satirical stab at the sub-genre with Slumber Party Massacre (1984).

Franchises and Anti-Heroes

Long-running franchises in the genre tended to focus more and more on the returning villain than on surviving victims, effectively transforming characters once viewed as frightening monsters into antiheroes. Notables include: Leatherface, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Chucky and the Jigsaw Killer, all of whom have become some of the most recognizable 20th century American pop culture icons.

Decline and Direct-To-Video

The profitability of the slasher genre began to dwindle, and controversy over the subject matter would eventually persuade some studios to stop producing and distributing slasher films. Sequels to the most popular slasher series, as well as new series such as Leprechaun, would continue to be released in theaters or direct-to-video throughout the early to mid-1990s. However, few gained the success of the genre's earlier productions, and even entries in the established Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street sagas became less frequent. now, tons are direct-to-video, Killjoy", Puppet Master", and Demonic Toys. Sometimes, horror films air on TV before DVD release, such as Beyond Re-Animator and IT.

Revival and Remakes

Scream and the New Film Cycle

The slasher genre resurfaced into the mainstream in the mid 1990s, after being deconstructed in Wes Craven's Scream (1996). The film was both a critical and commercial success, which attracted a new generation to the genre. A self-aware satire of the slasher genre, whereby the characters realize they were in a horror film and didn't make all the usual mistakes (i.e. saying "I'll be right back"). Critics lauded Scream for its fiendishly clever storyline and three-dimensional characters, with more of a focus on suspense than gore. The script carried its own learned analysis of slasher films, and was directed by Wes Craven, a popular maestro of the genre who also created such classics as Last House on the Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Followed by two equally successful sequels; all three starred Neve Campbell as main character Sidney Prescott, an attractive, intelligent and resourceful young woman who's characterization both mocks and typifies the Final Girl stereotype. To date, the most commercially successful film series in the genre, earning a combined total of over $290 million in the US, and over $500 million worldwide.[24302] Scream was parodied in Keenen Ivory Wayans' Scary Movie (2000), which began its own series, parodying the entire horror-film genre.

Scream kicked off a new slasher cycle that still followed the basic conventions of the 1980s films, but managed to draw in a more demographically varied audience with improved production values, reduced levels of on-screen gore, increased self-referential humor, more character development, and better-known actors and actresses (often from popular television shows). This trend continued for the duration of the 1990s with films such as a nearly shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Valentine, Cherry Falls, New Nightmare and Jason X.

Chucky of the Child's Play series also returned to the screen, first in Bride of Chucky and later with Seed of Chucky. In 2003, two of the largest slasher series, Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, were combined by New Line Cinema in the film Freddy vs. Jason.

The New Wave and Influence On Other Sub-Genres

Many new directors paying homage to their old favorites have come into the light such as Rob Zombie with his films House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil's Rejects (2005). Another new director popular for paying homage is Eli Roth, with his film Cabin Fever (2002).

Up until 2004, most slasher films followed the trend of Scream (1996). That was until a clip shot by James Wan had been seen around the internet. This short clip would soon be turned into the film Saw.

In 2005, horror director Eli Roth would make an even more gruesome film following the success of Saw, which was Hostel (2005), which influenced other films like Turistas and Captivity. The films following the successful style of Saw and Hostel would become known as torture porn. These include films like Wrong Turn (2003) which was followed by Wrong Turn 2 Dead End, a direct to video sequel, and Wolf Creek (2005).

Remake and Reboot

In 1998, the Halloween series was revived, playing off the success of the Scream franchise. The new film, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, was conceived as a direct sequel to 1981's Halloween II, and would lead to one further sequel, Halloween: Resurrection.

Another revival came in 2003 when a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning popularized the prequel. The success of theTCM remake would soon lead to a slew of other slasher remakes, including Toolbox Murders (2004), House Of Wax, When A Stranger Calls, Black Christmas, The Hitcher, the "reimagining" of John Carpenter's Halloween, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Friday the 13th reboot, The Last House On The Left, and Sorority Row. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) remake is currently in development. A remake of Child's Play and Hellraiser are also in development.

Influence Outside The United States

Notable slashers coming out of Francemarker: Haute Tension (2003) directed by Alexandre Aja and Them (2006) directed by David Moreau.

Defining the Sub-Genre

The definition of a slasher film varies depending on who you ask, but in general, it contains several specific traits that feed into the genre's formula:

There is substantial critical debate as to how to define the slasher sub-genre and what films are and aren't slashers. For instance, Vera Dika rather strictly defines the sub-genre in her book Games of Terror only including films made between 1978 and 1984Vera Dika, Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th and the Films of the Stalker Cycle, (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990), ISBN 0-8386-3364-1. where as Carol Clover in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws has a looser definition, including films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its sequels Carol Clover, Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, (Princeton University Press, 1993), 0-6910-0620-2. In Peter Hutchings book The Horror Film he considers the films following the success of Halloween critically different than films prior (such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre).Peter Hutching, The Horror Film (Longman, 2004), 0-5824-3794-6

Dika attempts to define the sub-genre by its often formulaic plot structure. She theorizes that the slasher films loosely adhere the following formula:

Past Event
  1. The young community is guilty of a wrongful action.
  2. The killer sees an injury, fault or death.
  3. The killer experiences a loss.
  4. The killer kills the guilty members of the young community
Present Events
  1. An event commemorates the past action.
  2. The killer's destructive force is reactivated.
  3. The killer reidentifies the guilty parties.
  4. A member of the old community warns the young community (optional).
  5. The young community takes no heed.
  6. The killer stalks members of the young community.
  7. The killer kills members of the young community.
  8. The heroine sees the extent of the murders.
  9. The heroine sees the killer.
  10. The heroine does battle with the killer.
  11. The Heroine kills or subdues the killer.
  12. The heroine survives.
  13. But the heroine is not free.Vera Dika, Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th and the Films of the Stalker Cycle, (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990), ISBN 0-8386-3364-1.

She further goes on to attempt to define the sub-genre's appeal to its audience as being three fold:

  • Catharsis—Through a release of fears about bodily injury or from political or social tensions of the day.
  • Recreation—An intense, thrill seeking, physical experience akin to a roller coaster ride.
  • Displacement—Audiences sexual desires are displaced onto the characters in the film.Vera Dika, Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th and the Films of the Stalker Cycle, (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990), ISBN 0-8386-3364-1.

Other common characteristics include:

  • The Killer—With notable exceptions, the killer in the slasher film is usually male. His identity is often, but not always, unknown and/or concealed either by a mask or by creative lighting and camera work. He is often mute and seemingly unstoppable, able to withstand stabbings, falls and shootings by his victims. His background sometimes includes a childhood trauma that explains his choice of victim, weapon and location. Slasher villains tend to prefer hand held weapons such as knives, axes, machetes, and chainsaws as opposed to bombs or guns. As the sub-genre developed, some argue that the real star of a slasher is the killer, not the victims or Final Girl. Throughout most of the franchises, the killer is constant. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers are notable examples of this phenomenon.

  • The Victims—The victims tend to be young, attractive, high school or college-aged adolescents. Much has been made about the the choice of victims. Some theorists claim that they young people are punished for indulging in vices such as pre-marital sex or drugs. Other theorists claim that is simply a matter of the activities making the victims unaware of their surroundings, making them easy prey for the killer.

  • Final Girl—Slasher films frequently only have a single survivor. She is frequently a female peer of the victims but is cinematically developed in comparison to his or her cohorts. She frequently doesn't indulge in the illicit activities of her friends. The heroine is also known as the final girl because by the end of the movie, all of her friends are dead, and she's left alone to deal with the killer. Certain movies do deviate from this in favour of having a final boy who tends to be morally suspect.

  • The Violence—One thing that separates slashers from thrillers and murder mysteries is the level of violence. Slashers de-emphasize plot and character development in favor of violence and terror. Plots are constructed around giving the audience the experience of watching the killer murders. The deaths are often violent and graphic, with originality being valued in the later films to hold audience interest.

Controversy and Critical Analysis

Censorship Advocates

The slasher genre has been widely derided by critics, and has frequently come under fire from censorship advocates, such as Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who once led a crusade against video nasties.


Films such as Scream were warmly received because of their self-aware, parodic take on the sub-genre. Roger Ebert coined the derogatory nickname "Dead Teenager Movies", although he did write a highly favorable review of the original Halloween. On November 12, 2009, pop culture list website The Top 13 listed the best slasher films of all time, ranking Black Christmas first.


Three, often cited, content analyses were performed by Cowan and O'Brien (1990), Weaver (1991) and Molitor and Sapolsky (1993). These analyses sought to verify or refute assumptions made about the sub-genre.


Feminist scholars have critically considered the sub-genre. Notables include: Vera Dika's Games Of Terror tended to the genre's formula and its treatment of female victims, Carol J. Clover defined the Final Girl in her book Men, Women and Chain Saws, Cristal Isabel Pinedo's Recreational Terror considered female spectatorship.

See also


External links

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