Confessions Of A Slasher Movie Fan In The 80’S

A kid in the 70’s, I grew up like a Monster Kid was supposed to. I began with the Universal horror classics like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, and then graduated to Hammer Horror, Godzilla movies, etc. Support was provided by The Monster Times, Famous Monsters and all the Warren horror magazines, as well as Aurora monster model kits. Then, at the dawn of the 80’s, as I became a teenager, the slasher phenomenon happened and I was hooked.

These flicks were new. They pushed the envelope with their stalk-and-kill format, bringing a sense of reality to the horror movie. No longer were vampires, reanimated corpses and werewolves the creatures that stalked victims; now it was the all too real serial killer. One of the particular strengths of the horror movie is its continuing ability to examine whatever fear a society is experiencing at any given time: the atomic terrors of the 50’s, the fear of nature and what kids were turning into during the early and mid-70’s, today’s torture porn. In the 70’s, serial killers were becoming a more common phenomenon and really making an impact on the public’s psyche with the likes of Zodiac, Richard Ramirez, and the Son of Sam generating a general sense of unrest. It was only natural that they’d work their way to the forefront of the horror flick too.

After the low-budget Halloween was released in 1978 and became a hit, the slasher movie floodgates started to open. With the success of Friday the 13th two years later, anyone with a camera, an actress and a blood squib was suddenly hopping on the slasher mill. Hollywood wasn’t far behind either, each studio hoping to find their own Friday the 13th like Paramount was lucky enough to have done. Each week it seemed like a new slasher flick was showing up at my local small-town theatre, most of them named after some holiday or event in order to cash in on the formula established by Halloween then cemented by F13th. I mean, they brought Final Exam to town. Final Exam! If ever there was a sorry excuse for a slasher flick, it’s Final Exam.

Though I wasn’t old enough to be going to these R-rated beauties on my own at first, my friends and I would find ways to get into the theatre. Right at the peak of the slasher cycle, however, I turned 18 and getting in no longer required any imagination. What remained though, was the anticipation I felt each and every time before the lights would dim and the flick would begin. The thought that drove the excitement was, “What if this is the movie that REALLY freaks me out?!” Man, I miss that feeling.

The 80’s was an era when movie critics and community groups protested slasher flicks, adding to the attraction by making them seem forbidden. In their eyes, and in the minds of a lot of people who’d only heard about these dangerous flicks through the media, if you were a slasher fan, you were sick. The point that the anti-slasher lobbyists were missing is that, for the most part, slasher fans could tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Each gore effect was like a magic trick. We wanted to be fooled by the make-up artists’ illusions (All hail Tom Savini!). We also liked the suspense that lead to each attack, and we liked identifying with the final girl as she fought off the killer and survived through to the sequel.

Living in Canada, censorship was also an issue in the 80’s as numerous slasher flicks would show up cut. We weren’t quite as bad as the UK, but we were close. This censorship only drove the compulsion to seek out uncut versions of the edited movies. In some cases, this would take years. Add the damage done by Canada’s chopping block to the none-too-subtle self-censorship already imposed on filmmakers by the MPAA, and you could find some pretty bloodless slasher flicks circulating around the great White North in the Regan era. I can recall catching a screening of Mother’s Day wherein one of its lunatics is about to behead an unaware hippie. The axe swings, there’s an obvious cut in the image and on the soundtrack, and the hippie just disappears as the scene continues. Nice editing job. Though not a slasher flick, don’t even get me started on the cuts inflicted on George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead when I caught it during its original Canadian release. Let’s just say it was all tease.

Of the slasher flicks I went to see in the 80’s, the best audience response I experienced was during the original Friday the 13th, though When a Stranger Calls was a close second. Stranger, however, didn’t sustain the audience involvement the way F13th did. It’s hard to believe today, but the tension in the air at that F13th screening was palpable. Each kill was greeted with a communal scream from the audience, giving us non-screamers a rush as people everywhere around us lifted out of their seats. And that ending, stolen fresh from Carrie, ensured that everyone was talking about the movie as they left the theatre and into the next day at work/school.

Today, though that communal slasher movie theatre experience is for the most part gone, slasher flicks from their golden age are available uncut and pristine on DVD and Blu-ray anywhere. Can’t find them at your local retailer or rental shop? Just order them online. Flicks that even die hard slasher fans dismissed in the day are being reevaluated and enjoyed for what they have to offer (I’m talking to you, Pieces). And this, I think, is one of the great lessons we can learn from Retro Slashers: You never know what piece of today’s “trash” is going to be tomorrow’s treasure. Now go find a red leather zipper jacket to put on, drop the needle on some Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, and pop Don’t Go Into the House into the VHS machine (or do you have Beta?). A gnarly experience is waiting.

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About the Author

A Writer/Project Manager at Graphcom Group (an advertising agency) by day, and a freelancer at night, I’ve written, mainly about movies, for Retro Slashers.net, The Buzz, Rue Morgue, and Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment magazine Studio CX. I’m a grad of Humber College’s (Toronto) Film & TV Production program, and I’ve directed and co-written short films, one of which (Florid) won the Viewer’s Choice Award at the 2004 Reel Island Film Festival. I’ve been heard as a movie reviewer and pop culture commentator on CBC Radio, and I’ve edited and contributed scripts and ideas to television productions including My Messy Bedroom and Thrill on the Hill (CBC-TV’s Canada Day Celebration). My movie review cartoon strip And Yet I Blame Hollywood was adapted and animated as 26 two-minute television interstitials for CBC-TV’s late night program ZeD, and I wrote every single stinkin’ last episode.

26 Responses to “ Confessions Of A Slasher Movie Fan In The 80’S ”

  1. Great piece, man. I am right there with you, same feelings, same experiences. It is a different world, but hey, what can we do? Just gotta roll with and try and enjoy the flicks we love and find some new ones to love along the way.

  2. Great article… thanks for sharing!

  3. Great Article. Final Exam is awesome!

  4. Seconded, don’t bash Final Exam!!

  5. Great piece, tickled my nostalgia.

  6. Thank you. I’m tired of people defending Final Exam. A poor excuse for a slasher. Lame, off screen virtually bloodless kills with a killer that has no motive whatsoever (if you say thats what makes the film ‘creepy’, you should be smacked).

    Have you seen Dreamaniac? Just came across a copy. Fucking amazing.

  7. Great piece Dave! I grew up in the 80′s as well and I too think the first Friday the 13th was my scariest movie experience. Slasher films will always hold a special place in my heart. There’s nothing like them. And don’t be hating on Final Exam! I’d take that over Twilight ANYDAY!

  8. I like Final Exam. :(

    Nice piece Dave! Thanks.

  9. I’m not a fan of FINAL EXAM but would like to be. I find the good in pretty much every old slasher, but there’s something about movies like FINAL EXAM and HE KNOWS YOUR ALONE that feature silent, maskless killers that feel bland and boring. But I do plan to re-appraise.

  10. Call me lame but I like FINAL EXAM. I really can’t think of ANY 80′s slasher film I dislike. I have a VERY high tolerance…

    -RHR

  11. Wow. So much love for Final Exam. Okay, I have to say that I haven’t seen it since that original theatrical screening waaaaay back in 1981, BUT what I recall the most about it was leaving the theatre, severely let down by the attack scenes, and thinking, “What the…?!” when it came to the killer. Maybe I should splurge, get the disc and review it here…

  12. What I find funny is the guy above that was bashing Final Exam, also praised Dremaniac!! That is one of the biggest “Shit-pickles” that I have ever had the displeasure of seeing!

  13. HAHAHA! I was thinking the same thing. Dreamaniac is a piece of poo. I liked the killer from Final Exam because you have no idea who he/she is and why they do it. Alot fresher than the usual killer and their prolonged monologue.

  14. I was just having an online convo about this regarding the way it felt to “discover” horror in the 80s as compared to now. Now people can take their iPhone and look up any movie at the video store, and read the reviews and whatnot. Before, you just went on awesome box art and blind luck. I came across some wicked movies that way… I mean, how unexpected was Maniac?!?

    I am not a Final Exam fan. Personally, I feel having NO backstory at all is just lazy writing and doesn’t add to a movie that is already kind of lost to begin with. That said, I still have my trusty old vhs and every couple of years I pop it on and hope for the best… That’s just the way I roll.

    The Lisa Lisa reference only made this article more perfect!

  15. DREAMANIAC makes a great double feature with NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST 2 if you’re wanting to play “spot the homoeroticism”. Interestingly, both were made in 1986 and feature similar “final boy” stories.

  16. Great write up. Out of all horror movies slasher movies are my favorite. At first I didn’t care for Final Exam, but after watching it a few times, the movie has grown on me. At least it was better than Splatter University.

  17. Dreamaniac is amazing in a very bad way. Way more fun and coked out hilariousness than Final Exam. Final Exam is just plain boring. The end.

  18. Dreamaniac…gawd! This is 80′s homoerotic horror at it’s best! Best line…”She f*cks men…and then she kills them!” -Gay lisp and all…and NOES 2 IS pretty gay also…

    -RHR

  19. I’m not going to defend Final Exam, it’s obviously a polarizing film. It’s definitely in my slasher top ten however.

  20. I really disliked Final Exam back in the 80′s but grew to really like it when it came out on DVD. It’s a unique slasher and is quite creepy.

  21. I like Final Exam. I gotta say, it is pretty much like Halloween with the killer being unknown and all. Of course, I’m not a huge Halloween fan so perhaps FE and Halloween differ in a lot more ways than that.

  22. I have a similar story as this (as most of us here do). One of the BEST double features I saw was in 1983: MOTHER’S DAY and NIGHTMARE (aka Nightmares in a Damaged Brain). Great times!

  23. Dont listen to those people final exam was crap, great article, im 42 and share a lot of the same exp

  24. I really like Final Exam, had a good atmosphere, a killer whose backstory wasn’t forced down our throats and Raddish, one of the best teens in a slasher.

  25. Final Exam rocks, back-stories are over rated. Why not just kill someone because you can and want to, that’s scary. Plus the acting is above average from all the major players.

  26. Slasher movies are like hardcore punk. They are all virtually identical, but they have a great accumulative effect. In any other context Final Exam is a poor movie, but in slasher terms its good. Even the Mutilator is OK.
    now, Don’t Go In the woods Alone, is poor even in context

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