PCR past bannersPCR current banner
   Nolan's Pop Culture Review--now in our third calendar year!
   PCR # 116 (Vol. 3, No. 24) This edition is for the week of June 10--16, 2002.

La Floridiana
Deadguy's Dementia
Digital Divide
Wake Up/Comics
Matt's Rail
Mike's Rant
PCR Archives 2002
Crazed Fanboy homepage
PCR 2002 Home

The Enlightenment by Terence Nuzum

Part 2
"You May Not Walk Away From This One..."
The Birth of Slasher and Splatter

The main surviving sub-genre of 70s horror films is inarguably the slasher film. From its birth in the 70s, mainstream acceptance in the 80s, to a firm fixture by the 90s, the slasher film has seen many changes yet it has perservered. The slasher genre certaintly had its roots in the 60s ("Psycho", "Peeping Tom", "Blood and Black Lace" etc.) and even earlier in the 40s with "Night of the Hunter", but it was in the 70s that it started to grow. In the early 70s, a public, tired of vampires in dinner suits and Universal monster retreads, became enthralled with a new terror, a realistic terror: The Slasher. In a slasher film, the "slasher" is usually unseen, not counting the occasional knife-wielding hand shots, until the climax of the film. It's this suspense that produce the chills which most horror films of the day lacked. Unlike a Dracula film where one knows Chris Lee is the dreaded Count, slasher films opened up the possibility of any character at any time revealing his murderous intentions. Slasher films also added a more urban atmosphere as familiar locations were used: viewers saw small towns, orphanages, dorms, and of course, the backwoods.

Blood and LaceSlasher films in the 70s started out kinda rocky, though, with Canada's "Blood and Lace". Directed by Phillip Gilbert, "Blood and Lace" opens with the for-its-time violent hammer-murder of a prostitute and her lover. The story then picks up several years later where we find out that the prostitute's daughter is now in an oprhanage. From there everything goes wacky. The girl is sent to another orphanage run by a woman who kills the kids to get child welfare money when she runs out of space. But it gets even stranger. For some reason, the 40-year-old detective character takes a romantic interest in the prostitute's daughter and shows up--in a fright mask, wielding a hammer--to protect her (a bizarre plot for a movie with no real function except as a exploitative cash-in). Blood and LaceThe slasher of the film turns out to be the detective protecting the girl, so in the end he's really not bad--making this perhaps the only (thank god) heroic slasher film. The film received a PG-rating but as I must point out it is imfamously referred to as "the sickest PG-rated flick ever made". That comment is not to be taken lightly. No, it's not what you are thinking though. Its not bloody and it contains no nudity. But it seems that every male character in the movie is a pervert. From the hero-detective who wants the 17-year-old heroine, the social worker who has relations with the evil orphanage mistress, to the orphanage's slimy handiman who tries to force sex on our main character. The film just has a sleazy quality to it that makes one want to take 2 showers. It leaves you with a nauseous feeling and it's not from the gore.

Twitch of the Death NerveMario Bava is the one who really kick started the movement in 1971 with "Twitch of the Death Nerve". Bava's film self-invented the body count genre (though Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Niggers" certaintly influenced this style) which spawned many imitators including Sean Cunningham, who shared the same U.S. distributor, Hallmark, with Bava. Cunningham went on to rip-off Bava's film with the Friday the 13th series. Bava's plot involves 13 murders. In the film, each family member is knocking each other off one by one until no one is left. The particulars of the murders would become the blueprint for the entire Friday the 13th series. Bava pulls no stops from machetes to the head, garoting, spear deaths, knifings, and even a shotgun blast. The final shot is one image that few will forget. The two surviving family members come home to find a shotgun pointed at them by their kids before they are blown away. The two kids then run off into the sunset like a typical 70s kiddie flick. An unnerving image to say the least.

Black ChristmasThe other influential slasher film of the period was Bob Clark's "Black Christmas". If anyone has any doubts where John Carpenter got his inspiration for Halloween, read on. Clark's film takes place in a girl's college dorm house during Christmas time. The girls have been receiving strange calls from some prankster over the phone. Later it gets worse as the caller starts to make strange noises, etc. We also discover that the stalker has actually been making the calls from inside the attic of the house. There are several sub-plots going on to confuse you like one person may not be who you think he/she is, etc. but the point to focus on is really the setup and execution of the film. Clark shows us only the killers hands from his POV, he gives us a house full of victims to be dispatched in orderly fashion, and he has it all take place on a familiar holiday. Clark established a skeleton of sorts that the slasher films to come would build upon and also created a chilling film that still strikes fear in the most jaded viewers.

Overseas in Italy, a different kind of slasher film existed, The Giallo. A Giallo is a film that is primarily a detective story that portrays the killer as a grotesque usually hidden in black and wielding a nasty weapon like a knife, axe, even a clawed hand. Bava's early entry "Blood and Black Lace" pioneered the style in the 60s and newcomer Dario Argento pushed it further in the 1970s. Argento's masterpeice "Profondo Rosso(Deep Red)" was also a huge influence on Carpenter's Halloween. Deep RedIn Profondo Rosso a pianist while hanging out on a street corner with his friend witnesses a woman's murder in the window of her apartment. He proceeds to play detective based on the notion that he saw a face in a painting on the wall of the apartment which goes missing. This is just part of Argento's method for the film by leaving subliminal clues for the viewer both visual and aural. One scene has a character claim that he'd like to bash in the teeth of another while later in the film a character's teeth are smashed in against a desk. Because the viewer has heard about a similiar act earlier on the latter scene shocks because it seems so familiar. It's these mind tricks that make the film so frightening and so far above any other slasher film. In the opening credits a child seemingly commits murder during Christmas time which Carpenter would later mock using a different time of the year. It also contains a soundtrack that one can only deduce Carpenter ripped-off.

HalloweenFinally we arrive at 1979, slasher films had been around for a while in many forms, some good: Texas Chainsaw Massacre--and some bad: Blood and Lace. But it took a decade's worth to produce the epic, John Carpenter's Halloween. "Halloween" is so derivative of all that came before you can't really praise its orginality but what can be praised is the fact that it combined elements from all others and added class for the mainstream. Halloween is the 70s slasher film's only masterpiece, save Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Its ability to take familiar themes, shots, and even music and still scare the hell out of you is testament to its greatness. I won't delve into the plot because we all know it by now, sicko Michael Myers escapes from the mental hospital to stalk and kill the town of Haddonfield, Ill. more than 10 years after he killed his sister with a butcher knife. Carpenter picked up the holiday theme from Black Christmas and the murdering child prologue from Profondo Rosso but turned them into something all his own. He saw what had come before and bettered it. If Halloween was a guitarist then it would be Jimi Hendrix. Slasher films in the 70s ended on a great note but the 80s awaited and with mass acceptance came worthless sequels and wisecracking killers.

Last House on the LeftSlasher itself is a sub-genre within horror and within that is a sub-genre, Splatter. A splatter film is usually a slasher film that overdoes the gore to point of exploitation. That's not to say that it's a bad thing because if not for one particular splatter film the horror films of the 70s may not have possessed the realism they do. That film is Wes Craven's Last House on the Left. Last House on the Left(1971) was Wes Craven's debut feature. The story follows 2 girls who run across a gang of criminals that brutally rape and murder them. The criminals then seek shelter in a house that turns out to be the home of one of the girl's parents. Last House on the LeftThe parents finish off the criminals one by one in far more gruesome fashions than that which befell the two girls. By lifting the plot from Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring" Craven explores the idea of a good family resorting to the methods of a killer. Human devolution to be exact. Craven would later explore this theme further in The Hills Have Eyes. The visceral horror that shows up onscreen remains to this day unmatched in the history of cinema next only to a snuff film. The girls are raped, forced to pee and kiss each other before being slaughtered via their intestines being ripped out and then they are shot. The criminal's deaths at the hands of the parents are no kinder. In one scene the mother performs fellatio on one of the criminals only so she can bite off his penis! The main criminal's death is attributed to the chainsaw weilding father. Craven's creation is a sick unabashed look at the horrors of the real world, and yet because of this, it is an engrossing film. Like Twitch of the Death Nerve, Last House on the Left whether by happenstance or luck helped create a whole new language in horror films.

Cannibal Holocaust

Another splatter film worth mentioning is 1978s Cannibal Holocaust. In Cannibal Holocaust a group of filmmakers travel to a rainforest to capture on film a cannibalistic tribe's way of life. They are in turn slaughtered and eaten. The film has some of the sickest scenes ever and to this day is banned in several countries. It's strange disappearance on video in the U.S. I'm sure is no coincedence.

Slasher films remain so vital to this day due to the fact that the killer is not a supernatural monster, but instead your next door neighbor.

Cannibal Holocaust

Next: Witchcraft and Satan in the 70s!

"The Enlightenment" is ©2002 by Terence Nuzum.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.