Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Survivor’s Guide to Slasher Films

I was raised on horror movies. My mother didn’t like to see movies by herself so when I was growing up, if her friends Rose or Pearl weren’t available, I’d get to be her tag-along buddy at the old Old Orchard Theater, back when it was the bustling multiplex of its day. In the 1970s, there was very little concern or even awareness about keeping children out of “grown up” movies, so it was never an issue. I remember seeing a lot of disaster films and I’m pretty sure that I saw most of the famous ones: Airport, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, Two-Minute Warning. Anything with the threat of lots of people being annihilated, we were there, eating popcorn from the most right-in-the-middle seats we could find. I don‘t think that these movies made me any more worried about being in airplanes or a tinder box-like high rise: as long as Charlton Heston wasn’t in sight, I knew that I was safe. (Very coincidentally given everything, Charlton Heston’s mother actually lived on my block.) In between Smoky and the Bandit and its sequels, we saw a lot of horror movies: Audrey Rose, The Exorcist, The Omen, the kind of films with images that wormed their way into your brain and are nestled in there for a lifetime. 

My teen years were when slasher films came into prominence, perfectly dovetailing with that time in my life when Seventeen magazine and my own hormones conspired to turn my thoughts to clandestine adventures with boys: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night, Terror Train, the Halloween franchise. Slasher films are the specific classification of horror that is most true to my generation, and, in hindsight, it occurs to me that I learned a lot from these movies and the heroines who triumphed: how to be a successful survivor, how to avoid trouble, how to face it head-on if trouble comes your way. It would be an exaggeration (and a sad statement about my life) if I said everything I ever needed to learn in life, I learned from watching slasher films, but I still did learn a few very valuable lessons of what to do and what not to do in a slashtastic environment. Just in time for Halloween, I offer these examples for your consideration.

If you hear something crash, do not go exploring.

Just don’t. For God’s sake, who are you? Magellan? Don’t you see that it’s a little, well, foreboding out there? The lunatic has escaped the asylum, it’s the anniversary of a grisly event, the dogs are going crazy in the yard (though some of the wussier ones will just whimper and hide), the clouds are hanging dark and low, the local schizophrenic just said something disturbingly ominous and then cackled, it’s freaking Halloween! How many more signs do you need? You need one more? Okay, all the power suddenly went out in your home, just like that. Stop pressing on that stupid receiver button, has that ever worked? The phone is dead, too. Are you satisfied yet that something is askew? So something crashed upstairs or in the basement. Things happen. It was probably just some tacky glass figurine you hated anyway so I’m going to have to insist that you get out of the house NOW. You do not earn a merit badge for exploring: you get a pickaxe in your brain. MOVE. 

Also, do not leave your car. Ever.

So what’s a terrorized scream-queen to do? You get in your car – first check for psychos in the back seat, then immediately lock your dumb-ass 1970s-era car doors one-at-a-freaking-time and they’re all like five miles apart – and you drive. If some maniac jumps on the roof of your car, who freaking cares? You are encased in a motorized machine. Why would you get out? Why? Because some maniac jumped on your roof? So what? Take it up with Allstate when you’re safe and sound, reading Jane Austen and sipping cocoa by a fire. If you’re in a car and he’s outside of the car, you have a distinct advantage. See that little thing under your right foot?  It’s called an accelerator. Could you please, pretty please, just press your foot down really hard on this? I don’t care if you run out of gas – which, I can pretty much guarantee you, you will – stay in your car and blast your horn. If you get out of your car, you deserve what you will get. I’m not blaming the victim, but this whole chain of events could have been avoided if you didn’t go investigate in the first place.

Do not go to camp or anywhere out in the woods or in a boat on a body of water.

Stay in the city. If you’re not in a city, go to one and stay there. Despite the carjackings, muggings, and random, unprovoked harassment by strangers, you really will want to be in a city to stay safe and avoid the more misanthropic of sociopathic psychopaths. Disaster movies: they often happen in cities, psycho-killers, not so much. This only makes sense: if you hated humanity to the point where you terrorized and murdered any nubile teenager who crossed your path, where would you want to be? If I was the type who took deep breaths behind a hockey mask and mail-ordered scythes the whole month of October, who was consumed with an inexplicable-I-was-just-born-that-way enmity toward others, I would want to be around as few people as possible, just enough of a supply to satiate my appetite. I’d head for the camps, the woods and the lakes, that’s what I’d do, and I’d just wait for the drunk, slow teenagers to arrive. Even, as in Halloween, a sleepy, leafy suburb would do. Urban teens also have the advantage because they are much more street-smart and tough than your average voluptuous hayseed and her studly but slack-jawed suitor. City kids are not consumed with an ill-advised urge to “go explore” whenever they hear a crash inside the house. City kids have this little instinct called self-preservation coursing through their cynical veins and they know to run like hell. So stay in the city if you’re in one, go to the city if you’re not, and try not to let the horrifying bloodbath going on in the boonies bother you too much. Go check out the cool new restaurant around the corner instead, or maybe that indie boutique. You’re safe. Well, okay, not really. You're safe from from horror film lunatics.

Don’t have sex!

Listen, we get it. We’ve all been there. He’s really cute: you have hormones and then there’s peer pressure and even though you're totally not a slut, you think he’s really the one and all that, and maybe if you don’t have sex, there’s another whole back story about how you’re afraid you’ll lose him if you don’t. But listen to me: the ones who survive if a rampaging, madman is on the loose – the only ones – are the virginal ones. Your sexually active friends - P.J. Soles, I’m looking your way and, no, your gum-smacking and pigtails do not throw homicidal maniacs off your trail, these things infuriate them, apparently - and their lovers are impaled through mattresses time and again, and, no, that wasn’t a metaphor (at least by me). Crazed serial killers have a heightened morality in some regards and frown upon what they interpret as promiscuity. So don’t do it. Take a cold shower instead. Yes, by yourself. In a city, not in a podunk motel. And don’t check on any unexplained crashes. You should be safe to finally have sex when you’re in your mid-thirties.

Don’t be a Smart-Ass Buddy, either.

The Smart-Ass Buddy is the male counterpart to the sexually active female in a horror movie. Everyone knows that. So you think it’s funny to put on a mask and scare everyone for a brief moment before you start laughing like a hyena (I don’t know if hyenas really laugh, but work with me) and everyone is relieved for a moment because you are not actually a serial killer, you are a smart-ass buddy? Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but this kind of tomfoolery does not sit well with the guy in the mask lurking behind the window curtains so you’ve pretty much written your own autopsy at this point: death caused by beheading, a one-way pass through a woodchipper, tossed out of a stained glass window and then, after you limped off to the woods (no!), you were dismembered with a power saw. It’s your call, weisenheimer. Is it worth it to get a cheap laugh? No, not at all. The psychopath has a famously bad sense of humor about this sort of thing. He favors serious but not smug potential victims.

Think he's dead? Think again.

Okay, so somehow you - non-violent, virginal, serious you - have managed to dispatch the guy who naturally lives and breathes murder like bunnies were born to munch on grass. Never mind how. He had you cornered in a closet, he had all the weapons, the talent and the unstoppable drive to do it and all you had was a flimsy wire hanger, your screams, and a desire to not be eviscerated, but somehow you defeated every odd and not only survived but killed him. Or did you? First deaths do not count, have never counted, in slasher films. You have at least one, probably two or more deaths ahead of you and I’m not even going to mention the sequels. Time-wise, you are almost at the end but you’re not there yet. You don’t run 3/4 of a marathon and then stroll off to grab a coffee! When Jason or Freddie or Michael Myers appear to be lifeless and you have a clear path out, you do not lean against the wall and to sob and catch your breath. Now is not the time to reflect on your murdered boyfriend, your many friends who are now impaled on many camp beds. Now is the time for action. You wouldn’t break out your best stationary to start writing sympathy cards to all the parents who’ve lost their children to the guy you just killed, right? Nor do you even get on a damn rotary phone and start dialing! Listen, we’re proud of you, we really are. Should we ever be on the outs with a homicidal maniac, we’d want you on our team. The problem is that you are not safe until you are out of the house. Do you hear me? I thought we covered this in the first point. GET OUT, for cripes sake. Do you need a hand-written letter scrawled in blood and attached a rock that comes crashing through that big bay window? Will you understand then? You’ll get one soon enough if you don’t stop slacking. Leave already!

While we’re at it, stay away from windows, too.

Now why – why?! – if you’re being menaced by some furtive lunatic in the dark would you stand in front of a window and look out? He can see you, you can’t see him. When dealing with maniacs, you will want to level the playing field as much as possible. Standing in front of a window – one that was built to be crashed through – is just not using your noggin.

Babysitting is rife with occupational hazards.

Pity the poor babysitter. She’s not out on a date with some serial killer taunter: she’s earning money, she’s being responsible. She’s also just spent the night changing diapers, had Spaghetti-Os flung in her hair, stepped on countless Legos and read the same stupid book to the bratty three-year-old 17 times before he finally fell asleep for about $10.00 and now she has to deal with this annoying, whispering perv who keeps calling her. Calling her and asking her how the children are: has she checked the children? Of course, this is one of those houses with windows everywhere (see above) and it’s all really quite sucky. She ends up being harassed, threatened, tormented, and she hasn’t even been paid yet. Plus her clothes get torn. Here’s my recommendation: don’t go into babysitting. It’s totally not worth it. Get a job squeezing lemons at that one stand at the mall, fold shirts at the Gap, take up a paper route. Babysitting will kill you, no joke, and you’ll still have to change diapers before all that, and you don’t want to spend the last few hours of your young life with Cheerios in your bra because that seems totally unfair. Why walk into such an obvious trap? Get a job making lemon shake-ups at the mall instead. The worst you will risk is being embarrassed in front of your friends, an ugly uniform, a manager with bad breath leering at you and carpal tunnel. Comparatively, it’s a walk in the park.

So there you have it, my friends, a survivor’s guide to slasher films. Do not go exploring, don’t leave your car, stay in the city, don’t have sex, don’t be a smart ass, make sure they’re good ‘n dead, stay away from windows and don’t go into babysitting. You should be fine.


What was that noise?


  1. I want to make popcorn and watch horror movies with you!

  2. And turn on the lights when you walk through the house/mental hospital/garage/creepy barn. Or at least be sure to bring a working flashlight along with you...and USE it!

    I also advise that after you kill the bad guy the first time, grab his weapon (but only if he dropped it to the ground...not if it is still clenched in his still twitching fingers) and run with it. You know he's just going to wake up in a few minutes anyway, so disarm him!

  3. Yes, Shannon. Yes!

    I know, Stephanie: the first thing I do when I walk into a dark room is turn on the damn lights! And, yes, grab that weapon and BOLT.

  4. Wasn't there a film called "Cherry Falls" where it was the virgins who were slain, not the ones having sex? Cue sex scenes. Obviously.

  5. what a fun post! I just found your blog from a link on Vegan Burnout. I love it! Keep up the good work! Ill be check back. :)

  6. Thanks, guys!

    Vanilla Rose, there are exceptions to every rule, especially when there's the possibility of lots of sex. :) As my friend Missie pointed out to me, there is no shortage of horror set in the city, either. For the specific '80s slasher films I came of age during, it was all about the country, though.

    Nice to meet you, HayMarket8!

  7. Just got my payment for $500.

    Sometimes people don't believe me when I tell them about how much money you can get by taking paid surveys from home...

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