In 1989 Missouri passed the first Slasher Law in the United States. The bill was sponsored by Democrat Doug Harpool and signed into law by Republican governor John Ashcroft. Harpool claimed the law was designed to keep children under 17 from renting or buying any video that included graphic materials.
The law maker also claimed the law would only apply to “slashers” or “blood and gore movies.” When the bill became law video stores were forced to hide their slasher films in back rooms with the porn. If a store was found guilty of renting slasher films to children, then the store owner or employ got hit with a $200 fine.
A funny thing happened after the bill was passed. Missouri claimed the law applied to all violent films and not just slashers. The Slasher Law was so vaguely written that it applied to boxing, pro wrestling, cartoons, and religious films. The phrase “graphically violent videos” covered a lot of territory so video store owners had no idea what they could and couldn’t rent to customers.
Fortunately for store owners and slasher fans, the Eighth Circuit Court ruled The Slasher Law violated the First Amendment (free speech) and overturned the law in 1992. The Court stated The Slasher Law was “unconstitutionally vague” and “chills the exercise of First Amendment rights” because “every application of the statute creates an impermissible risk of suppression of ideas.” Also slapped down was Harpool’s claims that the law targeted “obscene” films. As the Court noted, “obscene” is used to describe pornographic films so the term doesn’t apply to violent slashers.
The Slasher Law was heralded as a way to protect children from evil slasher films but it became an example of government overreach. It was sold to the public as a positive for the public good but morphed into a blunt weapon that smashed small businesses and crippled free speech in Missouri. If the Slasher Law had spread across the country, it really would’ve had a chilling effect on slashers and horror films. But the good guys (slasher films and their fans) triumphed over tyranny and we can enjoy slashers without fear of prosecution or persecution.