As humans, the one thing we have in common is our sense of fear. It drives every aspect of our lives within every single decision we make. Fear is the most powerful tool one can use against another, because if you utilize it correctly – you can control a being with mere words, actions, or imagery. Horror movies have always gave us a reason to be afraid, but allowed us as the audience to control our intake. If it scares you, you can make it go away as you are in control of both your fear and entertainment. Sure, there are those that sleep with the light on for a few nights after one viewing, but others simply take these flicks as a boost of adrenaline, where they alone can get the same rush compared to that of a roller coaster or another type of thrilling activity.
Its easy to scare someone. Hell, I could do it right now to you as the reader by making some unexpected image pop onto the screen. Its difficult however to combine both fear with entertainment, but when the right script comes along, you have a recipe that is destined for cult status. There are two kinds of horror movies out there. Those that are a flash in the pan as they just caught you with the right jump scare, and those that live on in pop culture because they created a legacy of fear with an interesting plot, an unstoppable antagonist, or by simply making you laugh without making you cringe. Yes folks, I am speaking about slasher films.
These movies are not always scary and almost always bomb with critics, but are the centerpiece of the genre and assisted in embedding horror in Pop Culture. Ever since Psycho, audiences have never had more fun than they do watching people die. Maybe it is because we are so fascinated with the demise of others. I mean, that kind of what “celebrity” is all about. For this little Pop Capsule, we are going to look back at some favorites, explore tropes, and hopefully not get too scared as we take a look at how this genre has evolved and…devolved over the years. Grab some popcorn, as there are definitely to be a few familiar faces to be seen.
Oh..of course spoilers will be everywhere so keep that in mind as well – will ya?
As a kid and even a young teen, I got introduced to slasher films with the basics. I can’t even start speaking without talking about the granddaddy of them all, which is of course John Carpenter’s Halloween. This movie is such a big deal as you can watch it today and enjoy it over 90% of the current market as it really hasn’t aged. Jamie Lee Curtis plays our lead protagonist Laurie Strode, who is a teenage girl with the same angst as other teens from the late 70’s, but with a bit more wisdom in her. This is the film that outlined what a “Scream Queen” is meant to be as Laurie may not have been the first, but she is the image. Take one girl who has a brain compared to her sex-driven and often stupid friends, throw in a lot of loyalty and class, and you have the definition of that label.
I know, some might have thought Psycho would be the best place to start or even “Birds”, but to be honest I didn’t even watch Psycho until I was at least eighteen and never really cared for giant creature flicks like Birds or The Blob, despite their huge followings. Halloween featured a very human cast of teenagers who were kind of misfits. They drank, smoked pot, had unprotected sex, and were entertaining to watch even when the killing was not occurring. I know those are some weird attributes to praise, but show me a group of high school seniors that act like the cast of iCarly or Saved by the Bell. They didn’t exist then and they really don’t exist now. It is fun to watch relatable young people die when they are one dimensional, and that is exactly what most of these teens did.
Instead of just being “MAN KILLS TEENS” for no reason, Halloween featured a plot of a guy by the name of Michael Meyers who killed his older sister as a kid, got locked up in a psych ward, and then escaped years later to find and kill/terrorize his little sister (Laurie) who was just a baby during the incident. His psychiatrist Dr. Loomis is kind of the narrator for the plot as his eerie lines tell our tale to mend in some narrative as he tracks Michael down before he unleashes hell on the humble little street. Forget about all that we know about Michael from Rob Zombie’s prequels and that easter egg fact that Michael’s mask is Shatner’s face. When you see that cold, white, expressionless face in the shadows, it is enough to send a chill down your spine. Michael didn’t just kill to kill, he had his own motives that only Loomis really could decipher. He killed those who got in his way and those who Laurie loved, just to see her suffer. Laurie’s fear was so real in that first film because she was a authentic and a good person. Sure, Annie (the best friend) was likable I guess, but she was only interested in sex and a good time, so that made her easy fodder for his blade – alongside nearly every friend Laurie had who met their demise.
Laurie was absolutely clueless of why this chaos was happening, but the audience knew. The audience also got to see a teenage girl protect two young children while she tried to save her own life as more and more death surrounded her. There are brilliant chase scenes in this film, but nothing quite compares to the setting. The Strode house is in a normal neighborhood, but once it goes dark there is nothing. No one to help, no house to run to with an open door, and a hellbent Michael who is eager to stab his way into Laurie’s life. Remember when you were a kid and you would hear a noise and slowly peak out the curtain just to see a few blowing trees in the darkness? Add a mysterious and strong figure who wants you dead into that, and you have the element that Halloween preys on in the viewer’s psyche. The viewer knows that the old Dr. Loomis can stop Michael due to his determination, but teens keep dying and tension keeps mounting as Michael gets closer to Laurie. When the brother and sister finally do meet, it becomes a game of timed survival. Of course Laurie lives, but so does the unstoppable Michael, birthing a legendary franchise out of one of the finest horror films of all time.
I don’t know what it was about Michael. More than a lot of other killers, he seemed like he would be the easiest to kill, but I assure you I would run if I even seen his mask in the night. It is almost as if the aura is scarier than the man. As the franchise progressed we got to see a direct follow-up to the original with Halloween II, which took place in a hospital that Laurie was taken to with Loomis right on Michael’s tail. It was an “ok” sequel that was entertaining enough I suppose. I have always thought of that film as the piece that kind of turned Michael from human to superhuman. He seemed even more unstoppable and dear god, where were the doctors in this hospital. There were like six or seven young nurses and not much else. Laurie also seemed to be one of the only patients. Yeah, it was silly, but it was good enough for fans to get a bit upset about Halloween III, which took the name in a different direction. Halloween III: Season of the Witch was supposed to be the next story of the franchise. Halloween as a whole was going to be like a theatrical version of The Twilight Zone, with a new story every time. I guess because there was a continuation of the first film viewers felt rightfully cheated when Michael wasn’t featured, but the third installment is oddly loved by horror fans anyway, and in the 4th movie, we got to see a young Danielle Harris take the crown as the newest scream queen with Michael now stalking his niece, Jamie Lloyd.
Laurie is dead at this point (from a car accident of all things), and a new cast trying to protect this young girl is pretty much what the story revolves around with 4 and 5 – with Dr. Loomis in tow to keep one familiar, non-murdering face in the picture. I for some reason like these two films the best, narrative wise. Sure, the plot was kind of squished together, but we got to learn a bit more about Michael and he became more and more of a force to be reckoned with as the movies went on. There was also a bit more tension as who would want to kill a child? In The Curse of Michael Meyers – or Halloween 6, Michael kills off Jamie right from the start after giving birth. This movie doesn’t make a ton of sense and has a new actress play an older Jamie, but we do get a bit more continuation from the first movie and the last appearance of an alive Dr. Loomis (as Donald Pleasence passed away during filming), so it is decent enough. Halloween H20 kind of changed everything. The past three films suddenly became retconned, and Jamie Lee Curtis is back as Laurie Strode with a son. Yeah, it is bizarre, but a fun, 90’s slasher that takes all of the big teen names at the time such as Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams and throws them into do or die situations. I guess that brings us to Resurrection. Tyra Banks and Busta Rhymes star. Laurie Strode dies for real at the hand of Michael. Yep, that kind film. Not great, but stupid fun.
I hear a lot of criticism for Halloween: Resurrection, as if Halloween was too good for its existence. To those “fans”, this is the same franchise that killed its main character once off-screen, deleted the main protagonist from the next three films as if she never existed later just to bring back Jamie Lee so the next installment could sell and give some nostalgia. Yeah, Halloween is great, but if you are trying to protect the lore from being absurd, you would have to go back in time and stop every Halloween after II from being produced. It is kind of fun having two timelines though, as we the fans get to make our own decision of what is canon. Resurrection was indeed terrible from a narrative standpoint, but it is a film you could have fun watching as you pick a favorite character from a bunch of new cast members and hope they live up until the end. That kind of is what Halloween is all about. Someone has to live. Michael never gets them all, and following along with the whimsy is just part of the experience. I should bring up the Rob Zombie remakes too I suppose as they are part of the overall experience of Halloween – like it or not. Quickly. They are good films and do great at giving fans a bit more depth, but I just don’t consider them canon, even though Danielle Harris was brilliantly cast as the new Annie. It is almost like someone took out the viewer’s own imagination and replaced it with a script, so while the horror is grittier and the story is actually more complex – I feel that both of these titles are more suspense movies, rather than classic slasher horror flicks that we were accustomed to with the overall franchise. The audience has to have a bit of mystery to be a afraid, and Zombie filled in a few to many blanks that just changed the atmosphere of the original product.
God, that was wordy – but in order to understand how horror franchises work, or slashers to be exact – you kind of need to see Halloween’s flawed timeline to know that most fans don’t care about perfection. They’re still passionate about narrative, but it doesn’t have to all make sense to entertain and those plotholes are always filled with the imagination of the viewer. Go ahead, look up Halloween fan films that exist that travel down both timelines. There are some great ones on Youtube as I type this right now made with a lot of love and decent little budgets. Of course these mainly chase the forgotten 4,5, and 6, but all are made with so much love and passion that their shortcomings of production value are alleviated by the efforts as a whole. Halloween is not where the slasher began, but rather where it found its identity. With rumors of sequels in the pipeline, there is no way we have seen the last of Michael Meyers, so hopefully the legacy continues on to both haunt and mystify the viewer for generations to come.