Oh how far the slasher genre has come from its humble beginnings. As it progressed through the ages of cinema, the genre has spawned some of the most memorable horror films in existence, from the creepy, dark-figure-moving-through-the-night mystique of Michael Myers in Halloween, to the teenager-stalking force of nature Jason Voorhees in the Friday The 13th series (technically starting with Part 2) and the dream-stalking child killer Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street. The slasher genre has starred multiple iconic movie monsters, not much different from the Universal monsters shown in the golden age of Hollywood, albeit a lot darker, violent, and more disturbing then their roots. These film series all spawned multiple sequels and an onslaught of cultural love and respect. Even if you haven’t seen the movies, you know the characters. Like every cultural trend, though, there is a defined beginning to the horror sub-culture that loved the idea of a masked maniac hacking and slashing their way through a group of teens. In this case, most look to the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho as the beginning of these series of films.
Psycho, the greatest mother-son bonding relationship story ever told, tells the disturbing story of Marion Cane (Janet Leigh) and her experiences at the lovely Bates Motel. Marion and her lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), decide that they are going to run away together and get married, thus starting their life anew. Unfortunately, all of Sam’s money has to be given to alimony, thus diverting their efforts. Luckily, Marion is entrusted $40,000 by her employer to bank, but instead she takes the money and decides to run away and meet up with Sam at his business. Tired and unable to drive in an incredibly dark and stormy night, Marion decides to call it a night at the Bates Motel. Unfortunately for her, Norman Bates (the wickedly amazing Anthony Perkins), the owner of the motel along with his controlling mother, has some dark and twisted plans up his sleeve. What continues from here is a twisted descent into the psyche of the original slasher icon.
Coming off of his polished masterpiece North By Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock decides that it was best to ditch the color oriented big budget spectacle and go for a rougher, cheaper, black and white thriller. Enter Psycho. Based on a novel by Robert Bloch, Psycho was a lot darker than most of the mainstream films that were coming out around at that time, and ushered in a completely new generation of horror films. Pushing for the same mystique of his earlier films, Hitchcock threw in a good amount of blackened blood to scare the audience, especially during the now famous shower scene that is constantly ripped off and parodied, and for good reason. The direction for this scene is completely unnerving, jumping back and forth from the killer to the victim, and the strategic shots of not showing the knife going into the skin. It’s a classic scene that is totally worth watching this movie for, along with the chilling performance by Anthony Perkins. Sure, it may seem tame nowadays, but at the time, this was a new class of horror, introducing the slasher genre to the world.
Over 14 years after Hitchcock unleashed Psycho into theaters, director Tobe Hooper decided to bring the slasher to new, original and incredibly horrific heights with 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Very loosely inspired by the Ed Gein case (and definitely not a true story, even though the opening tries to make you think otherwise), Chainsaw Massacre follows the story of two siblings who, with three other friends in tow, decide to visit their grandfather’s grave in Texas after they were told it was desecrated. While en route to their location, they come across a hitchhiker with sketchy intentions and a gas station that sells an abundance of “meat.” This all leads them to the home of a family of sadistic and twisted cannibals, including the now famous slasher icon Leatherface, as they dive into a world of murder and madness.
Though it might not look like it on the surface, Texas Chainsaw and Psycho have a lot in common. A road trip leads to a back road, and thus sends the protagonists on a trip to a hellhole led by a horrific individual or individuals. It’s a structure that is used over and over again, but it’s Texas Chainsaw that took it to new limits. Most importantly, it gave the main “killer” an object to be remembered by: the chainsaw. This arc for the character eventually overshadows the family he belongs to, but come on, Leatherface is the hallmark of this film. Similarly to Psycho, while Texas Chainsaw is overall a very violent and disturbing movie, it leaves most of the killing and the gore to the imagination, something that is pushed even more so in the ’80s. Utilized in Texas Chainsaw and also implemented in future horror films is the group aspect of the characters. You get to know these characters and their multiple personalities before they fall into the hands of the horror that unfolds upon them. It’s a nice little trick to make the payoff even more disturbing, and rewarding. Filmed like a documentary, I would consider Texas Chainsaw one of the most disturbing films of all time, mainly in the way it was filmed and in the simplicity of it, and is a great “Horror 101” film to start with if you’re new to the genre.
Over 56 years after Psycho and 42 years after Texas Chainsaw, the influence from these two films is still felt today. After many attempts to re-introduce the Psycho brand (including the horribly atrocious ’90s remake featuring Vince Vaughn as Norman – ugh), the series has seemingly gained interest in a younger audience with the insanely popular yet polarizing show Bates Motel. Likewise, Texas Chainsaw saw a rebirth after multiple hit and miss movies with the 2003 remake, which was actually pretty good, and though such recent efforts as Texas Chainsaw 3D are pretty bland, there is still hope for the series, with a new one coming out at some point next year. Along with this, the influences from both films are still felt today in the horror film community, with many new horror artists using classic call backs to these films to show their respect of the genre. With that being said, how could you pass the opportunity to watch both of these films at a Halloween double feature? Plus, with Psycho being shown in 35mm, this is an event that must not be missed by anyone who appreciates the genre. All hail the slasher film!
dir. Alfred Hitchcock
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
dir. Tobe Hooper
Screens Monday, October 31 @ Coolidge Corner Theatre
Double Feature – begins at 7:00 PM