The Horror Honeys: Slasher Hexmas: So You Wanna Make a Slasher Flick?

Slasher Hexmas: So You Wanna Make a Slasher Flick?

A Head Honey Slasher Hexmas Horror Essay by Kat

We've all been there - sitting around with a group of friends, having a good time (usually drinking because when else does one get brilliant ideas amirite), when all of a sudden someone stands up and shouts THIS WOULD MAKE AN AMAZING MOVIE. WE SHOULD MAKE A MOVIE.

Ok, maybe this isn't how that happens, I don't hang out with prospective filmmakers, but stay with me. When making ANY horror film, good or bad, there are certain accepted/mandatory steps that each sub-genre MUST address. Otherwise, you've just made "a love letter to the genre" aka: a mess that no one gives a shit about, but hey... at least you and your buddies can say you made a movie together, right? Guys?

Of course that's not the reason you make movies. Especially slasher movies. The most maligned child of the horror movie sub-genres, it gets the least love, but aside from zombies, it's still the most popular sub-genre for fledgling directors to cut their teeth in. Why? Because it's EASY. There. I said it. Since we're into the 00s now, there isn't really much "fresh outlook" left to go around when it comes to slasher movies. All of the groundbreaking films and ideas (that weren't meta visions) happened already. And despite that relentless remake train, all of those movies did it first, and while they may not have done it better... deep down, you know that what you're doing isn't original. Now, this isn't meant to be a diatribe on remakes, but slasher films have a nasty habit of pulling the same gag their killers do - coming back when you least expect it. It gets exhausting, y'know?

So, what makes a trope? A trope is a recognizable convention or detail that shows up more than once in a set of films, so much so that it becomes a hallmark of the genre.  Now, not all of these tropes are predictable - but many of them are. So much so that you can usually call them out from the first 15 minutes of the film. Meta horror films like Scream and Cabin in the Woods put a lot of effort into highlighting these details and bringing them into the spotlight so that everyone could be like "ohhhh, I get it!" and feel like horror movie superstars. Here's a cookie. There are literally hundreds of horror movie tropes, but because slasher movies are far older than anyone likes to admit, they get all the fun ones.

Let's take a tour of the most popular slasher tropes. You may recognize a few.

Authority figures are useless: Inept cops have been a horror movie staple for the longest time. Taking some cues from its giallo forefathers, it's up to the plucky Final Girl, or intrepid retired cop or disgraced former CIA agent or private investigator to crack the case. and ultimately defeat the killer.

You survived longer than you should have.
Don't be Black/Gay: After the "throwaway characters" who die while the killer is warming up his slashing arm, characters deemed "different" or "strange" typically die first in horror films. Horror movies are not known for their racial or social sensitivity, so a trope borne out of an era of complete disregard for these characters has unfortunately led to the over stereotyping of these roles, and their subsequent predictable death being an accepted part of slasher culture. Is it awesome? Fuck no. Will it ever die? Sadly, probably not, although strides are being made in the independent sector to right these cinematic wrongs -  Slewhampshire, and Savage Sistas being notable examples.

Miguel A. Núñez Jr. ~ Died in every 80s horror film.
A Masked Killer: While masks aren't a requirement in slasher movies, they are typically used to a) disguise an unexpected plot twist killer impersonating a long dead suspect b) hide some hideous deformity or perceived deformity which is typically linked to the reason for the killer's murderous spree. As we learned from Scooby-Doo, masks also mean a dramatic unmasking and killer reveal that shocks everyone. Or... doesn't. My personal favorite: The Miner from My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Cruel and Unusual Death: Every slasher film features a death that is guaranteed to make you squirm. This death is often largely undeserved and is typically (although not always) suffered by a female character. However, it's worth noting that some of these most brutal deaths are linked in some way to the cardinal sins - Tina's death in A Nightmare on Elm Street being a great example.

Never gets old.
Dark Secret: The raison d'être for our tortured killer to be - sometimes the dark secret isn't harbored by the killer, but by the characters being stalked and slashed. Friday the 13th is a great example of this - the secret being the death of a young mentally challenged camper drowning while neglectful counsellors had the time of their lives. Dark secrets are typically revealed in a moment of character monologuing, in Pamela Voorhees' case, or in times of panicked truth telling where the victims reveal the truth behind the urban legend/mystery.

RIP Jason :'( Oh wait. You don't.
Deadly Prank: While not as popular in modern slasher retellings, older slasher films focused on teen/school slayings would feature a "boys will be boys" style prank gone wrong as the setting or preamble for the killer's eventual revenge driven killing spree. Blind vengeance is a popular slasher trope, and one that has outlived its original teen slasher origins. Terror Train is a great example of the fact that sometimes you have to just sit back and realize that if high school was the best time of your life, you were probably an asshole.

Science-based pranks. ALWAYS a bad idea.
Cardinal Sins: Slasher movies from the 70s and 80s were predominantly focused on the "wildness" of the "youth of today" - parents crying out for a way to punish their teens for their rebellions ways of sex, drugs and rock n roll were rewarded with masked killers punishing their wayward children in a host of terrifying ways. The number one way to die in a horror film? Have some sex. Using Friday the 13th seems like an easy way to play it, but there is no series that outlines these cardinal sins more clearly. Drugs, promiscuity, gluttony, all are punishable by the killer who in his faceless, wordless judgement is essentially the moral judge of the film.

Well, you should have known better.
Everyone Is a Suspect: Finding their roots in Italian giallo films, slasher films rely on a series of red herrings to keep the audience (and the victims) guessing when it comes to the identity of the killer. With the reveal of the dark secret, usually comes in-fighting, finger pointing, and a lot of desperate yelling that doesn't get anyone anywhere. Sound familiar? That's because it's in literally EVERY horror film (slasher or otherwise) when there is a need to foist blame for what is happening to the group of victims. In slasher films, everyone has a motive, and there are no truly innocent victims.

The entire Scream series was a red herring. A big one.
Special Days: How boring is it to die on a Thursday? SO BORING. Unless that Thursday happens to be the anniversary of a horrific accident, or a holiday like Halloween, the 4th of July, Valentine's Day, Christmas, or Saint Patrick's Day. That's way better. Holidays are the perfect time to relax with family, reflect on the good times, or die horribly at the end of a madman's weapon.

Happy Valentine's Day!
Invincibility!: What the hell is with killers that just WON'T die? I know that adrenaline makes you stronger and studies have shown that feats of unimaginable strength and dexterity have been performed under extreme duress, but this is just ridiculous. HOWEVER - killers in slasher movies typically have something else going for them.

He's starting to look like road kill.
Villain Protagonist:  There's a reason why horror fans have a desperate love for killers, it's not out fault - successful slasher films are built on the backs of their killer characters. Jigsaw, Pinhead, Freddy, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Ghostface, Madman Marz... the unifying factor is that each of these characters is the star of their story, whether they spend ten minutes on the screen or ninety, they are the one that everyone remembers. The Big Bad is a coveted place in the horror world, and there's nothing we love more than an identifiable baddie.

If you don't love Pinhead, you're a commie.
The Voiceless: This particular trope isn't always true, but sometimes the scariest thing about killers in slasher films is the fact that they don't talk. Silence is deadly. Silence is also cold, inscrutable, unfeeling, and doesn't give a shit that you don't want to die. You can scream cry for hours at a masked killer, but when his only response is to tilt his head slightly, you can kiss your ass goodbye.

If he could talk, he'd probably complain a lot more.
The Final Girl/Boy: Present in every slasher film, the Final Girl/Boy is the only one to escape the killer's mad spree - in the 70s and 80s, this lone female was typically represented as the epitome of wholesome goodness - she survived simply because she was a "good girl" - no sex, no drugs? No dying. As the years progressed, we work with what we've got. Final Girls became a little more tarnished, and also became a little more badass, taking on the killer with more than just clumsy good luck and a pocket full of gumption. Early examples like Sally from Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be stomped into the dirt by the modern Final Girl epitomized by Erin from You're Next. As we learned from Cabin in the Woods, the Final Girl (the virgin) may or may not survive, but she has to live to see all of her friends die horrible deaths - she has suffered, seen some shit, and will come away scarred mentally and probably physically as well. Just remember, surviving the first film doesn't guarantee a long life for our Final Girl -  Alice from Friday the 13th was the first to die in the sequel. Sometimes, even when you win, you lose.

This looks a whole lot like losing.
Do YOU have a favorite Slasher Film trope? 
Tell me on Twitter! @horrorhoneys