It’s not funny if you have to explain it, says conventional wisdom. But the truth is: sometimes you need a little background information to fully appreciate the joke. Here are ten sly slasher movie moments that prove the genre’s just as adept at tickling the ribs as tearing them out with a pair of gardening shears…
10. The Slumber Party Massacre
The first film in this infamous series is famed for its dry humour, the funniest example of which comes as the killer’s whirring drill-bit penetrates a spot in a door next to a list of “Emergency Drill Procedures”. But keep an eye on Trish’s dresser as Kim bombards Russ Thorn with ornaments and you’ll spot a more subtle in-joke lying out: the book Rubyfruit Jungle. This celebrated novel turned its author, Rita May Brown, into a lesbian icon – but critics’ reactions to The Slumber Party Massacre, which she also wrote, must’ve made her feel like running back into the closet and slamming the door.
9. Jason X
Sean S. Cunningham is the man who launched the Friday the 13th series and he – along with his nephew Noel, who produced this instalment – is name-checked on a piece of interstellar debris in Jason X marked “Cunningham Realty”. It’s not the first time the family name has had a mention: in Part VI, Megan gives a location as “Cunningham Road”, while police uniforms in Jason Goes to Hell reveal that Crystal Lake itself is in “Cunningham County”.
8. Urban Legend
Turning urban myths into deadly reality, this campus-set slasher stages every one of its deaths as a big sick joke. Another joke can be found in the details: keep your eyes peeled for the school crest of Pendleton University, seen briefly at various points in the film, including here on Loretta Devine’s shirt. If you understand Latin and don’t mind spoilers, you’ll find a giveaway gag in the motto beneath, which translates as: The Best Friend Did It.
7. Prom Night (1980)
Thanks to tax credit benefits introduced by the Canadian government in 1974, it became cheaper to film your exploitation quickies north of the border, resulting in a string of now-classic slashers like Black Christmas, Terror Train, My Bloody Valentine and Happy Birthday to Me. For set dressers, passing Canadian locations off as American suburbs became quite an art, but few faced as big a challenge as the makers of Prom Night, which was shot at a well-known Toronto school overlooking a rocky beach. Their solution? Rename it Alexander Hamilton Senior High after one of the USA’s Founding Fathers and stick a giant American flag in the grounds. Shame about all the Ontario licence plates, though.
Jamie Blanks’ 2001 slasher is loathed by many but plays a whole lot better if you approach it as a black comedy version of Sex and the City, with a killer whose nosebleeds hark back to a similar plot device in 1982’s Alone in the Dark. Typical of its wily style is the moment when Kat describes Dorothy’s boyfriend, played by David Boreanaz, as “no angel”… Of course, Boreanaz had made his name as a character called just that in TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
5. Freddy Vs. Jason
It took 16 years and who knows how many boardroom meetings to bring together the heavyweights of horror, after New Line Cinema first approached Paramount with the idea of a match-up suggested for Friday the 13th Part VII. It seems only fair, then, that the studio behind the eventual slasher smack-down should get to make a cameo appearance in the end result. Here, as Freddy hurls a triplicate of metal sheets at Jason, they form the familiar New Line logo as they fly through the air.
4. Evil Laugh
A decade before the Scream trilogy unleashed its multi-level take on slasher movies, Return to Horror High was running fast and loose with the “movie-about-a-movie-within-a-movie” idea. But it was the Fangoria-reading Barney character of Evil Laugh who provided the blueprint for Scream’s Randy, warning his buddies away from cliché-ridden certain death with lines like: “You’re going to have sex? Don’t! Every time someone has sex in a horror story they get murdered!”. Other notable quotables include: “I just hope a guy in a hockey mask named Jason doesn’t show up” and “Why do those dumb kids keep going back to Camp Crystal Lake?”
3. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
This criminally neglected postmodern slasher flick offers a more astute deconstruction of the genre than any textbook on film studies – without skimping on the shocks, laughs and nudity. In one of its more mind-bending moments, Kane Hodder (the stunt man/actor famous for playing Jason Voorhies) is seen entering a familiar-looking house at 1428 Elm Street – Nancy’s address in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Looks like Freddy Vs. Jason could be in for a rematch!
2. Halloween H20
By the late 1990s, ironic slashers were de rigeur, but this belated Halloween sequel managed a compound in-joke more memorable than most: Janet Leigh’s character leaves school in the exact same car she drove in her most famous horror role, Psycho’s Marion Crane, while a familiar snatch of music from the Hitchcock classic plays faintly in the background. Consider that Leigh is the real-life mother of the other actress in the scene, Jamie Lee Curtis (“If I may be maternal for a moment,” she says) and fold in the fact that this was one of Leigh’s final roles, and you arrive at a meta-textual moment that’s both clever and affectionate – and topped off with the “Everyone’s entitled to once good scare” line from the original Halloween.
It’s impossible to conclude a list of slasher in-jokes without arriving at the mother of all homages, Wes Craven’s Scream. Barely a scene passes without a reference of some sort to a horror film or cliché of the past, but it’s this sequence – as Randy watches Halloween on TV – that captures the essence of the film most perfectly. Unaware that a killer’s sneaking up on him from behind, Randy yells “Behind you, Jamie” at Ms Lee Curtis on the screen. Meanwhile, via CCTV, Sidney and a cameraman are watching Randy watching Jamie, themselves screaming “Behind you!” at their screen. Oh, and the real-life name of the actor playing Randy? Jamie, of course. And your head? Spinning.