Early 80′s Vs. Late 80′s Slashers

Let’s face it, every slasher freak knows that the 1980′s was the decade of the Slasher film. However, a decade is ten years, and ten years is a long time. Taking a look back over those years, a steady progression of evolving (perhaps for the worst) plot lines and stories can be seen.

Starting with 1980, we saw an estimated 26 Slasher films released that year. Many “now-considered-classics” were released that year. Titles such as “Friday The 13th”, “Just Before Dawn”, “Maniac”, “Terror Train” and “The Boogeyman” became our new viewing pleasure. Most of these films had a very similar plot: a group of teenagers are stalked by an unknown maniac and brutally murdered in gory fashion.

In 1981, an additional 31 Slasher films were released. That’s 5 more than year one. Already, it is obvious that the genre will be going places. There was now an established audience for these films. This year would see the releases of “My Bloody Valentine”, “Nightmares In a Damaged Brain”, “Halloween II”, “The Burning”, “The Funhouse” and “Friday The 13th Part 2”. Again, plot lines remained about the same: a group of people stuck in a situation they can’t escape while being systematically murdered.

But in 1982, 32 Slasher films hit the market, the most so far this decade. It had become a very popular type of film at the time. Most movie theaters were showing a Slasher movie, sometimes even more than one at the same time! This year is considered by many fans to be the best year for Slasher films. Cult classics like “Pieces”, “The Slumber Party Massacre”, “Madman”, “Don’t Go In The Woods (Alone)!”, “Humongous” and “Unhinged” were all born this year.

By 1983, everyone was releasing a Slasher film. It was a guaranteed money maker, and with the additional 24 films that were released that year, it was continuing to prove that the audience loves horror and can’t get enough. “Scalps”, “Sleepaway Camp”, “Curtains”, “The Forest” and “Girls Nite Out” were released this year, will positive box office totals.

1984 is often considered to be the last good year for Slasher movies. A few last-minute classics saw the light of day, such as “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, “The Deadly Intruder”, “Splatter University”, “Friday The 13th Part 4” and “Nail Gun Massacre”. Many Slasher franchises had become established at this time as well. Studios were pumping out sequels, milking all they could from the ever popular sub genre. A mere 12 Slasher films hit the market this year, half the amount of releases from the prior year.

But by 1985, the home video market began to boom and technology became cheaper. With the release of consumer grade VCRs came VHS camcorders as well. Suddenly, any Joe Schmoe could grab a camera, point and shoot. And since the sub genre was still fairing well at the box office, just about ANYBODY could have their completed film released, at least to video. Many “S.O.V.” (that’s “shot-on-video” for you newbies) titles appeared on video shelves that year. Titles like “Blood Cult”, “The Mutilator” and “Horror House on Highway 5” became the gorehound’s new entertainment. Some say Slasher films lost their seriousness and marketability that year. Tired of the original Slasher formula, many films pioneered new plot lines and even added comedy into the mix. Fans from the original boom were slowly beginning to loose interest. This was the worst year of the decade with only 8 Slasher titles released.

In ’86 a good portion of Slasher films were debuting on home video. 28 Slasher titles were released that year, a noticeable increase over the last couple years. Also, the new sub genre “Comedy Horror” was birthed, with such films as “April Fool’s Day”, “Slaughter High” and “Dreamaniac”.

In 1987 Slasher fans were dropping off like flies. About 29 Slasher films were put out that year, proving home video was the new market. Films could be both produced and distributed cheaply to video stores. However, this year people started to grow restless with horror as a whole, and the new comedic elements made it hard for the viewer to decide when to laugh and when to be scared. Movies like “Cheerleader Camp”, “Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2” and “Hide and Go Shriek” attempted to stir mixed emotions in the viewer.

1988 was a year of generic horror. Titles like “Memorial Valley Massacre”, “Psycho Cop”, “Cutting Class”, “Iced” and “555” popped up on video shelves and old skool slasher fans had now moved onto Thrillers and discovering Italian giallos which began to hit the American market on video at about this time. American horror was dying, and fans had pretty much given up hope on the genre. 20 Slasher films were released this year, continuing a steady decline.

The final year 1989 saw very few Slasher titles released, around 17. At this point the films were no longer making money and the bigger studios were producing more family-friendly oriented films. Only a few decent titles like “Intruder”, “Hell High” and “Halloween 5” came out and from that point on it remained a downward spiral throughout the 90′s. Some believe us to be at the end of the twenty year cycle now. The early 80′s saw some great Slasher films that died off throughout the decade. And the same can be said about the last ten years. In the early new millennium we had some great films like “House of 1,000 Corpses”, “Cabin Fever” and the “Saw” series. Again, by the end of the decade many Slasher titles were shot on DV or HD and cheaply put out straight to DVD. Comedy re-entered the sub genre, once again tainting the emotional pureness of the Slasher film. One can only hope that in ten years the cycle can start over and the quality Slasher film will once again be reborn.

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About the Author

Dustin Ferguson is the director of the Terror at Black Tree Forest trilogy, The Legacy of Boggy Creek, Slumber Party Slasherthon and more.

6 Responses to “ Early 80′s Vs. Late 80′s Slashers ”

  1. The most notable difference between early and late ’80s slashers was how much tamer they became. Because of the MPAA backlash against Friday the 13th and slashers in general, studios began to produce goreless and sexless slashers, often making them resemble made-for-TV movies. Late ’80s films like Offerings and Go Hide and Shriek were dull compared to the glory gory days of slashers.

  2. The other thing about 70s and early 80s slasher is that they had an auteur theory influenced style. The way scenes were edited and framed was more cinema literate. After 84 or so the influence of MTV means you get shorter scenes, more sharp cuts, less tracking shots and a cleaner look. The characters also become more self consciously “teen”.

  3. Well articulated, Glenn.

  4. Have you read Richard Nowell’s “Blood Money”? He contends (and I agree) that the early slasher boom was finished by the end of 1981. Major distributors were already weary of the profit potential. His definition of what a slasher is/was is much more narrow, however. I believe the last great 1980s slasher was “The Prowler,” which was released at the end of 1981 (though I will always love “Silent Night, Deadly Night” for the outrage it caused and the fact that I had no trouble sneaking into a theater in the 7th grade to see it!).

  5. I’ve not read blood money. 81 is generally held as the peak year. As well as the famous slashers a number of other films were shelved and then put out later. I think the Final Terror was made around 80-81, but was only released after Splash became a hit. Evil Judgement was made around then and wasn’t released until 84. But until the VHS market took off hundreds of films never found distribution.

  6. I am arriving a lil’ late on this and sorry for being so anal, but “The Mutilator” was shot on film (my wild guess is 16mm, probably reversal stock).

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