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article imageOp-Ed: ‘Halloween’ — Rise of the Slasher Film

By Alexander Baron     Oct 31, 2013 in Entertainment
When is indiscriminate murder deemed entertainment? When it appears in a horror film, like the "Halloween" franchise that was launched in 1978.
Today is Halloween, but All Hallows Eve was never anything like this!
There are many different types of horror film; arguably the most sophisticated are those which are primarily psychological. The 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho contains very little in the way of action. True, it is vastly over-rated, but it does a fair job of maintaining suspense, even though the punchline is obvious from early on.
A much better offering is the low budget 1976 English film Schizo, a film that has a real twist in the tail. And one that sank without trace.
There is nothing the slightest bit subtle in what has been called the Halloween franchise which kicked off in 1978 with a film called simply Halloween.
This was directed by John Carpenter, who has since made a habit out of this kind of film. His later efforts include The Fog and what is arguably his best film, the 1982 science fiction thriller The Thing, a high quality remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World.
The first Halloween saw the screen debut of Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of Tony Curtis. Made for a bargain basement $325,000, it would gross well over a hundred million dollars in the US and worldwide. That kind of success screams for an encore; the encores came, and so did the screams.
The gratuitous violence of the film coupled with a plot that was really no plot at all provoked all manner of philosophising and moralising about its alleged misogyny, its possible effects on impressionable young minds, and so on. Halloween II was released in October 1981, taking up where the first film left off with the ghoul in the mask, Michael Myers, tracking his intended victim to the hospital.
The third film in the franchise was released the following year, and did not feature Michael Myers at all. With a budget of $2.5 million, it grossed a disappointing $14.4 million in the US, which could indicate that Myers was an essential ingredient, or that the public had seen enough of this type of film, or nothing at all.
The fourth film was released in 1988; the budget was doubled, but even the return of Michael Myers could not save it, and it grossed little more than Halloween III.
By the time another film called Halloween II appeared in 2009, the budget had grown to $15 million, and it took just under $40 million at the box office. Does anyone see a pattern here? True, the film did run to 105 minutes, but that is a lot of slashing for what?
By this time, John Carpenter had moved on to other things, but last week in an interview with the BBC he said: "The best compliment I got was standing outside a theatre and hearing the audience scream, that was just delightful."
He said too the working title of the first film was The Babysitter Murders; the change of name was clearly inspirational, how much would the films have taken at the box office with the latter?
The Halloween franchise is of course not unique. On May 9, 1980, Friday The 13th was released. Change the names of the characters, and you could hardly tell the two films apart. Friday The 13th was followed by parts 1 & 2 then in 1984 by Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter. Alas, it failed to live up to its name, perhaps because it grossed over $32 million at the US box office for around a two and a half million dollar investment. The following year saw the release of Friday The 13th: A New Beginning.
The year 1984 saw the third franchise of modern slasher films with A Nightmare On Elm Street. This was slightly different, but the villain, Freddy Krueger, was still doing what Jason - from Nightmare - and Michael Myers from Halloween were doing.
The year 2003 saw probably the silliest development in scream films with Freddy Vs. Jason. Its one saving grace is that no one invited Michael Myers; think how Freddy Vs. Jason On Halloween would have looked, probably like a latter day Abbott And Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.
If that was as far as the silliness went, the exploitation continued, but it wasn't all bad, check out for example the excellent theme song Dream Warriors.
Back to 1996, and we see the fourth slasher film franchise begin with Scream, in which the knife-wielding fiend wears a scream mask. If anything about these kind of films is genuinely controversial, then this one surely is, because it is based partially on the real life serial killer Danny Rolling who was executed only in 2006. Rolling was known as the Gainseville Ripper; the Scream killer was known as Ghostface.
Danny Rolling  whose shocking crimes were the bizarre inspiration for the Ghostface character in the...
Danny Rolling, whose shocking crimes were the bizarre inspiration for the Ghostface character in the "Scream" slasher film franchise.
Florida State Prison
Scream 4 was released in 2011 - after an 11 year hiatus. Although films 5 and 6 are said to be at the consideration stage if not exactly in the pipeline, Scream 4 cost $40 million to make, and took less than $100 million at the box office. Regardless of how accurate these figures are, the fact remains that these films are becoming increasingly expensive to make, which means they need to take big money simply to break even. Considering how many excellent low budget and even no budget films there are on YouTube - mostly shorts, it is true - it remains to be seen how long the big studios will continue to fund such franchises. Why not just give an independent producer like Tigre Hill a million dollars and see what he comes up with?
Whatever, these films will be with us for some time yet, if not as Halloween or Scream then as something else, Already they are not simply film franchises but have become part of popular culture having spawned - in no particular order - T-shirts and other clothing, training shoes, games, mugs, costumes, toys, and so on.
One question needs to be answered but probably can't be. Can today's sophisticated audiences really be so easily frightened by a semi-human fiend in a Star Trek mask with a knife in his hand, when they can watch real life murders including horrific beheadings on YouTube and other video sites?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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