Preface: While all the blame for horror’s metamorphosis to the slasher film cannot be placed on one franchise, there are two films that shoulder a majority of the blame: Halloween and Friday the 13th. Both must be examined individually to expose their culpability.
The seventies were a rough decade for the United States. With a police action in Vietnam, Watergate, the campus shootings at Kent State, and the sanctity of the Olympics violated by masked killers dominating the evening news, turmoil was abundant. In 1978, Halloween would launch not only its individual franchise, but it would propel the slasher-film to the forefront under the guise of horror. A six-year-old boy named Michael Meyers would become so traumatized by catching his sister having sex that he would become a deranged killer.
Horror has never shied away from getting up on the soap box. However, a monster of inhuman origin was always used as a symbol. Additionally, every monster had a weakness...something that would allow mankind to triumph. This was all about to change.
Halloween would establish a foundation for the slasher formula. Naughty teens seeking to explore their sexuality would pay with their lives. The “good” kid, usually a girl – giving birth to the term “scream queen” – would survive the wave of violence. The film would end with the often questionable “death” of the antagonist, but only after multiple false deaths.
The featured boogeyman of these new films proved indestructible. This was despite the premise that they were human. In the first film alone, Michael Meyers is stabbed in the throat with a knitting needle, slashed with a butcher’s knife, shot, and stumbles through a set of glass doors to plummet head first from a second-story balcony. All of this happens within about twenty minutes. Yet he simply vanishes in order to set up the sequel.
Halloween would take cues from the Exorcist and Jaws by commissioning a catchy theme to identify itself. Still, having a man wear a non-descript white mask does not constitute creating a monster. This film was merely about a killer...a one-man Manson family. It was to be the shape of things to come.