This week marks the 20th anniversary of Kevin Williamson and the late Wes Craven’s popular 1996 slasher film Scream. While far from being the first slasher whodunit, the sub-genre owes a lot to Wes Craven’s iconic bloody film. In celebration of 20 years of Scream, Bloomeration has put together a concise history of the slasher sub-genre.
Théâtre du Grand Guignol
Humans were obsessed with fictional murder well before horrific slasher scenes played out on cinema screens. In 1897 until its closing in 1962, the Théâtre du Grand Guignol (which translates to “big puppet show”) in Paris specialised in risqué theatre productions. The theatre took its name from the French radical puppet Guignol, whose shows were often censored by Napoleon III’s police force.
When the Théâtre du Grand Guignol opened, it put on plays featuring characters that had never been seen before in theatre, including, prostitutes, street kids and criminals.
While Oscar Metenier was the first Director of the theatre, he was succeeded in 1898 by Max Maurey, who turned the theatre into one known for horror, gore and fear. Maurey didn’t hold back with his bloody special effects and measured his success by counting the number of audience members who fainted during his shows. He even hired a house doctor to treat those who couldn’t quite handle his performances.
Maurey’s theatre productions were said to have a huge impact on the horror genre as a whole, and subsequently were an influential factor in the creation of slasher films.
Trademarks of the slasher film
Slasher films are famous for their formula. A film just isn’t a slasher unless it has a killer, victims and violence.
Killers in slasher films are often males who are hell bent on revenge. The original Ghostface who was (spoiler) created by Billy and Stu, sought revenge on Sidney because of her mother’s affair with Billy’s father. While Freddy Krueger became a killer as a child after murdering his abusive father, he continued on his rampage in the afterlife, tormenting Springwood teens in their dreams in a bid for revenge after being burnt alive.
The nearly indestructible killers love to hunt down young attractive teens, who know the importance of a good party and are normally guilty of a minor vice which ultimately gets them killed. Victims can range from the brain dead jock, the cheerleader, the goof-ball, the horror nerd, and most importantly, the final girl.
The final girl is as the name suggests, the one left standing. She is usually a golden child, beautiful and morally pure. She is almost always the killer’s main focus.
Most of the time the slasher film would have been cut short had the victims done some incredibly simple things to ensure their safety, like, ignore the killer and contact the authorities, turn around at the appropriate time, and not frequent dark areas alone.
RANDY: “There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex.
“Number two: you can never drink or do drugs.”
“And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, “I’ll be right back.” Because you won’t be back.
1960-1970s & Slasher birth
While no one seems to know for sure which Hollywood production is considered the first ‘true’ slasher film, there is no doubt that the 1960s and 1970s brought the sub-genre into the limelight.
Ahead of the 1996 release of Scream, we saw iconic slasher films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Dementia 13, Blood Feast, Peeping Tom, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, Halloween and much more. The 60s and 70s were considered the most lively period for Slasher films.
The Genre continued on in the early 1980s with films A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, but things seemed to take a turn as the year went on.
Scream and the slasher re-birth
Plenty of slasher films were released in the mid-to-late 80s, however, they were often considered bad copies, or sequels that, while good in their own right just didn’t gain as much traction as their original films. Financial returns plummeted and the genre was condemned to straight-to-video productions.
However, many believe that the genre picked itself up again in the mid 90s with the release of Wes Craven’s Scream. Scream‘s references to classics such as psycho, with the line, “We all go a little mad sometimes”, brought the slasher genre back into the minds of many, and got horror enthusiasts reaching for classic slasher films. Part of Scream‘s success wasn’t that it stuck to the Slasher formula, but that it outright made fun of the genre’s over-used tropes, and went as far as breaking the fourth wall to get their point across.
Sidney: “But this is life. This isn’t a movie”
Billy: “Sure it is, Sid. It’s all a movie. It’s all one great big movie.”
Bringing real life tragedy into fiction
Often times Directors and Screenwriters seek real stories for inspiration, and the Slasher is no exception.
Believe it or not, A Nightmare on Elm Street was based on a series of stories published in LA Times.
Craven spoke about his inspiration for the film in an interview in which he detailed how he was inspired by a series of seemingly uncorrelated stories in which people died in the middle of their nightmares.
“It was a series of articles in the LA Times, about men from South East Asia, who were from immigrant families and who had died in the middle of nightmares — and the paper never correlated them, never said, ‘Hey, we’ve had another story like this.’ The third one was the son of a physician. He was about twenty-one; I’ve subsequently found out this is a phenomenon in Laos, Cambodia. Everybody in his family said almost exactly these lines: ‘You must sleep.’ He said, ‘No, you don’t understand; I’ve had nightmares before — this is different.’”
“He was given sleeping pills and told to take them and supposedly did, but he stayed up. I forget what the total days he stayed up was, but it was a phenomenal amount — something like six, seven days. Finally, he was watching television with the family, fell asleep on the couch, and everybody said, ‘Thank god.’ They literally carried him upstairs to bed; he was completely exhausted. Everybody went to bed, thinking it was all over. In the middle of the night, they heard screams and crashing. They ran into the room, and by the time they got to him he was dead.”
“They had an autopsy performed, and there was no heart attack; he just had died for unexplained reasons. They found in his closet a Mr.Coffee maker, full of hot coffee that he had used to keep awake, and they also found all his sleeping pills that they thought he had taken; he had spit them back out and hidden them. It struck me as such an incredibly dramatic story that I was intrigued by it for a year, at least, before I finally thought I should write something about this kind of situation.”
Much like A Nightmare on Elm Street Wes Craven’s Scream was unfortunately based on a true, horrifically sad, story.
WARNING: This one gets gory, if you have a weak stomach I suggest you skip this section.
Known as The Gainesville Ripper, Daniel Harold Rolling committed a series of murders at the University of Florida over a span of four days. Rolling murdered and mutilated the bodies of five students between the age of 17-23. He horribly defaced the bodies and moved them into suggestive positions. At the end of his disgusting rampage took a step back and ate a banana and an apple from their kitchen.
Slashers in the current day
Today, slashers have made their way onto the small screen and consoles.
The television series MTV’s Scream, which has has been greenlit for a third season, has brought the beloved slasher out of its limited two-hour film time slot, ensuring audiences adequately care about the characters before they meet their untimely death. Alongside MTV’s Scream is Ryan Murphy’s TV take on the slasher genre with Scream Queens, albeit a little unconventional, Scream Queens does seem to sit within the slasher category.
Not only are modern audiences treated to TV versions of the sub-genre, but also video games. The story-heavy choice-and-consequence game Until Dawn saw enormous success when it was released on the Playstation console, since its release a host of new horror titles have emerged. Possibly the most exciting of them all is Friday the 13th: The Game.
While Slashers have made their mark on both TV and gaming audiences, they still hold a firm place in the film industry. Some new and upcoming slasher productions include Leatherface (2016), Friday The 13th (2017), Chucky 7 (2017) and Halloween Returns (2017).
We wish scream a very happy 20th birthday!
We hope you enjoyed our history of the Slasher genre, if you’re a slasher fan let us know your favourite film, TV series, or game in the comments below!