Halloween/Nightmare/Friday the 13th
The Three Tenors of the Horror Movie Industry. In this day and age, it is difficult to think of one of these bloody heavyweights without thinking of the other two. A trifecta of terror, these characters shaped the golden age of 80’s slasher flicks, all in their own unique and individual ways.
Jason of “Friday the 13th” used the woods to cut a swathe through the world’s heart with his menacing machete and iconic look. Although he is not the only killer of his franchise, he is the face of it, and no one looked at a hockey mask the same since he donned it. The ultimate super stalker, Jason had the uncanny ability to stalk you slowly, but somehow always ended up a step ahead of of you thanks to his knowledge of the territory known as Crystal Lake and his near-supernatural ability. You never quite understood how he got in front of that screaming woman when he had been yards behind, but it didn’t matter – the end result was always the same, and always gorey enough for everyone watching.
Michael Myers of the “Halloween” series is similar to Jason in certain ways, but put his own stamp on a generation by bring the horror home, literally. Although he also carried an ominous blade and hid behind a mask, he proved that sometimes the monster isn’t out in the shadows, it’s right where you live. It might even be your own flesh and blood. Although Michael also possessed the ability to abruptly appear much like Michael did, the root of his madness came from a very real place of mental instability, which made the possibility of his existence all too real. Whereas Jason killed due to a strict sense of moral code, Michael’s basis was more on fixation on his sister – and cutting down anyone and everyone in his path.
And now we come to Freddy Krueger. Our mouthy, unique madman who didn’t come from the
darkness, or from home – he came at your mind. Everyone sleeps. No one can hide from dreams. And that is where Freddy lived – deep in the subconscious where no one could claw their way out – although he could definitely claw his way in. With his razor-sharp glove, Freddy took great pleasure in seeking his revenge and sating his twisted desires on children and teens, and always with a witty quip to add insult to fatal injury. He was frightening, but charming, something the other two may have lacked due to their strong and silent demeanor. But what Freddy Krueger may have lacked in subtlety, he brought with panache.
The Romero Oeuvre
George Romero shaped what we all know now as the modern zombie. What he created as a statement on topical culture of the time developed into a sweeping commentary that developed as the world developed, always cutting to the core of society’s faults by presenting people at their most basic and primal. Where the zombies initially were the cause for fright and foreboding, they eventually became sympathetic, even intelligent in their own way, whereas the living became sharp mirrors of the good and bad that lies within the human race. And since Romero always stayed punk rock and indie, his artistic vision never became compromised by outside influences such as film companies and big-time Hollywood ideals. What makes the “Living Dead” series so influential is that it is more than zombies lumbering for brains – it is teaching the world about human nature.
What would you do if your kid told you his doll was the cause of all the broken and hidden things in the house? Would you believe them? Probably not. Chucky and the “Child’s Play” series proposes the idea that every once in awhile, parents should take their kids seriously. Just a thought. Yes, I am aware that the chances of a serial killer possessing a doll are very slim, and that children’s imaginations are more powerful than a Higgs’ Boson Device. But this movie series, at least at its start, brought back the frustration of having your parent not believing something you believe to be inherently true. It takes you back to your childhood, and the fears you held as that child – yeah, most of them were irrational, the product of an active imagination. But just like the boy who cried wolf, sometimes when you needed your parents to hear you the most, they wouldn’t believe you. The double-edged sword of youth. Not to mention, Chucky the Good Times doll traumatized a generation enough to turn their dolls to look at the wall, or at least put them securely away in their toybox. You want your kid to clean up after themselves? Pop this movie series in. See them make sure there is nary a toy in sight.
Why do guys like taking their ladies to horror movies? Because they scream, grab and otherwise press close to their date, giving their man a chance to pull them close. That combined with a little naughtiness with the scares makes for a very fun evening in a dark movie theater, perhaps with a little action at the end of the evening if they play their cards right. “Hellraiser” takes the trope of sex and death a step further by really addressing the concept of pleasure being so close to pain. It brought BDSM to mainstream audiences long before “50 Shades of Grey” did, even if its payout was a little less romantic and a lot more bloody. The face of the franchise, known as Pinhead, would only prey on those who were willing, although they never quite knew what they were signing up for. He would promise the height of pleasure and pain, and he’d deliver – at least on the pain part. What makes this series so unsettling is how the line could become so blurred between the two, and where the fun would stop and the agony would begin.
Ah, the “Based On A True Story.” This series proved that you can grip and rip an audience’s heart by taking a real occurrence and making it your own. Although this series was wrought from both a true event and a frustrating trip Tobe Hooper took to the Sear’s Hardware aisle, at the time this movie came out no one knew what was real and what was artistic license. We’ve all been stuck on the side of the road, or met a stranger that creeped us out. This was also a time when if you had a flat, you had to rely on the kindness of strangers, even enter their house to use a phone. You ultimately had to put your life into another person’s hands. That’s what has horrified generations – and why the cell phone is literally a lifesaver. The “Texas Chainsaw” franchise also proved that even the most disgusting of movie didn’t need to have a drop of blood in it – the mind is a powerful thing, and will see what you want it to see.
A personal favorite of mine, Raimi’s “Evil Dead” has took the campy horror movie to a whole new level. With perennial favorite Bruce Campbell battling the demons of the Necronomicon, you were promised lots of gore in every color of the rainbow along with slapstick comedy and one-liners that would be quoted for decades to come. It is impossible to not to smile at the word “Boomstick” or “Woodshed,” (Or is it “Workshed?” Only Bruce will ever know…) and “I’ll swallow your soul” set a permanent chill down everyone’s spine. What “Evil Dead” and “Army of Darkness” taught us was that it’s okay to laugh. Don’t take things so seriously. Remember, it’s just a movie. They’re there to entertain you, people. Not every movie needs to be deep, sometimes it’s good to just sit down, watch a chick be assaulted by a tree, see people melt into oatmeal, and leave in a better mood for it.
What “The Blair Witch Project” set up, “Paranormal Activity” ran with. The found footage genre of horror has permeated our culture, making what we see and hear in daily life something very, very ominous. Frankly, I try not to think about what goes bump in the night and what goes on while I sleep. This series set up what those bumps in the night might actually be, and why you swear your hairbrush has moved somewhere new. It brings the concept of possession and pacts back to modern day. Also, the use of silence and building tension has never been more brilliantly used than in this series, making the otherwise peaceful sense of stillness something that is near painful to experience.
What is so great about “Scream” is that it reshaped the horror movie industry by calling itself out. In a world saturated with slasher flicks, what is a person to do? Flip the script. Hell, show the audience the script. And throw a reflection of the audience back at themselves. It’s not too far out to think that a generation of people raised with such an iconic horror culture would get ideas that they would put to use in real life. And as for the actual audience coming to see the movies themselves, what can you do with a well-tread concept of the classic slasher flick? You let them in on the joke. Yes, we know that the virgin lives. Yes, we know that you should never say “I’ll Be Right Back.” So Wes Craven redefines the horror movie once again by addressing the cliches, and putting them to both fresh and good use.
Also known as “Ringu,” this movie series brought Japanese horror to the rest of the world. Asian culture has a grasp on the horror genre that no one else quite has, and it is incomparable. No one quite wraps around your spine and squeezes it like the people who made “The Ring,” but I would be remiss to not discuss “The Grudge (Ju-On,)” “Shutter,” “Pulse,” or even Takashi Miike’s “Audition,” which is by far one of the most terrifying films I have seen in my life. But for all of these movies, “The Ring” is what brought the brilliance of Japanese and other Asian-infused horror to the forefront, and for that it will forever go down in history.
Ridley Scott’s “Alien” series took the scares to outer space. The idea of extraterrestrial creatures was not new to the world, as the concept of science fiction and the unknown is a surefire way to make people uncomfortable. But with one simple tagline, “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream,” “Alien” and its counterparts put into stark relief what would happen if you were millions of miles from home and faced with a superior killer. But what really made “Alien” something to be honored was the fact that this story proved that women could be not only badass, but more badass than men. “Alien” shattered stereotypical gender roles with not one, but both main characters being female. When all seems lost, and everyone is long gone, it comes down to alpha female against alpha female – and neither is going down without a fight.