It’s easy – don’t fuck anyone, don’t do any drugs and always assume the killer is still alive, because they always are
Horror is often snubbed as sensationalised low-culture thrill by its critics, but it has always been a popular genre regardless. The teen slasher came into its own in the late 70s and quickly became one of the most popular sub-genres in the horror category. Typically featuring a group of teenagers who have become disillusioned with the world around them, the slasher employs gratuitous violence and brutality as a way of punishing hedonistic youth. For all their sadistic torture, slashers, and horror more generally, are oddly traditional in their sexual and gender politics.
Gaining popularity at a time when American liberalism was thriving, these films articulate a masculine panic about youth culture. Until the late 80s, this style of horror was being churned out repeatedly, with the same storylines of a crazed killer hunting teens for their rebellion against suburban life bringing in huge profit. While this kind of movie took a downturn when movements like feminism demanded a more nuanced representation of women on screen, the conventions of slashers continue to influence every faction of the horror genre. Following a strict formula, there are rules that must be adhered to in order to survive. Here is your guide to survival 101.
NEVER, EVER, HAVE SEX
Because you will die. This is rule number one to surviving any horror movie. Although slasher movies set a precedent for grotesque violence and gory displays of blood and guts, sexual politics in horror has always been unusually conservative. As teenagers characteristically fall victim to the crazed killers or nightmarish monsters, puberty, desire and sexuality are punished under the harshest terms. Look at the horny teens in Friday the 13th (1980) who are axed off one by one as they sneak off for a cheeky summer camp romp. Or the flower-power couple in the genre-defining Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) who meet their fate with the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface. Twitch of the Death Nerve (Bay of Blood) (1971) sees two people mid-orgasm get a spear through their stomachs. The idea that sex equals death emerged in the 70s, perhaps in part as a reaction to emerging sexual liberties in USA, and has featured quite heavily throughout the horror canon. So, if you want to survive, keep your pants on.
ALWAYS ASSUME THE KILLER IS STILL ALIVE
The killer is ALWAYS still alive. That moment when the girl leans over to see if the killer is really dead, or see her walk away slowly, only to be followed by her attacker, needs to be avoided. The thrill has almost gone because we now know what’s coming: a superhuman serial killer escapes death even though he’s been stabbed 70 times and fallen out of a 20 storey building. Michael Myers in Halloween (1978) survives his fatal wounds and returns not once, but TWICE within about ten minutes. Many credit this cliché as a simply money-making device that allows a franchise to grow off the back of a film’s success (Halloween currently has ten films in its series, which I’m sure will grow). Either way, look behind you, because it’s always there.
DON’T FUCKING GO IN THERE
How many times have you screamed at the TV, ‘DON’T FUCKING GO IN THERE’? Well don’t. This never ends well. If you see an abandoned house with strange noises coming from it, RUN. If there is a banging noise upstairs, RUN. If you’re in the woods and someone suggests going investigating, RUN. Nothing good has ever come from an inquisitive mind in horror, so embrace ignorance.
THE SIN FACTOR: DON’T DO DRUGS OR DRINK ALCOHOL
The horror genre has often been cast aside by those who claim it’s nothing but a blood-fest with no redeeming qualities. However, from the 70s onwards, horror has offered a complex judgment on morality. The seemingly black and white polarity of good and evil is not so straightforward, and teens are punished relentlessly for any transgression from tedious adolescence.
The kids in My Bloody Valentine (1981) are yearning for the end of country living and the promise of liberation at college so decide to grab a few beers before the Valentines dance. Inevitably many deaths ensue, and only the rule-followers emerge triumphant against the mysterious mine-dweller-murderer. Terror Train (1980) sees beer-soaked fraternity jocks killed off by revengeful ultra-nerd Kenny Hampson when initiation pledges go awry. An odd brand of moral policing dictates the formula of almost all classic horror flicks – hedonism will cost you your head.
NEVER SAY “I’LL BE RIGHT BACK”
Because you won’t be right back.
STICK TOGETHER, BUT ALWAYS STAND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK
This is horror 101. Has anything good ever come from a gang splitting up? No. Would you want to be alone if a machete-brandishing killer was stalking you and your mates? No. So just don’t do it. Shall we remember what happened to the gang in Blair Witch Project (1999) when they all split up? Well, we’re still not quite sure what actually happened, but we know it was bad. Sleepaway Camp (1983) sees yet another group of teens dismembered one by one by the killer Angela, simply because the gang couldn’t see the sense in sticking together. It really is a numbers game, but you also want to grab the best seat in the house. Standing at the back will kill you, as will standing at the front, so make sure you get in early to reserve your place for the ride.
TRUST NO BITCH (NOT EVEN YOUR MUM)
Paranoia, anxiety and fear are the staples of any worthy horror movie, therefore trusting anyone is a rookie error. A good twist at the end is one of the most gratifying elements of watching horror, and the big reveal is often why we put ourselves through such sadistic torment. So if you want to survive, everyone is a suspect. Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho (1960)? A pioneering force in the horror lexicon, and a film that paved the way for distrustful familial characters and plot twists.
Norman Bates’ oedipal obsession with his murdered mother and disguise of her mummified corpse is enough to make you never trust anyone again. Period. Hockey-masked murderer Jason Voorhees’ from Friday the 13th is simply the successor of his mum, who previously slashed her way through Camp Crystal Lake. Basically, if you meet a stranger who seems nice, they will probably knife you to death with a machete.
STAY AWAY FROM THE PROM
Social events are breeding grounds for revengeful serial killers or teens driven to the point of insanity. As well as never having sex, and not touching alcohol or drugs, doing practically anything deemed enjoyable or superfluous must be avoided at all costs. Prom is an American rite of passage; a cornerstone for young adolescents to lose their virginity, spike the punch bowl and graduate to a deceptive state of adulthood. What killer wouldn’t want to stifle this jollity? The most complex of all prom night horrors is undoubtedly Carrie (1976). The bullied, traumatised Carrie is an unlikely villain, as her extreme Christian mother and cruel cheerleader classmates are arguably the true offenders throughout the film. However, it is Carrie who burns everyone to death at prom, so maybe she is the villain.
The bullied, traumatised Carrie is an unlikely villain, as her extreme Christian mother and cruel cheerleader classmates are arguably the true offenders throughout the film. However, it is Carrie who burns everyone to death at prom, so maybe she is the villain. Prom Night (1980) is the perfect prom slasher as we see a sex offender return to school to wreak havoc while watching Jamie Lee Curtis throw shapes to disco. And Dance of the Dead (2008) takes the zombie movie to prom where only the sci-fi geeks can survive. Unless you want to try your luck and dance your fears away, prom is a no-go.
DON’T BE A HERO
This means you should not possess any enviable qualities. If you’re the kind of person that people are jealous of, say goodbye now. If you’re a popular cheerleader, you might as well dig your own grave. Football jock? Forget it. If you look back over the catalogue of teen horror flicks, anyone who excels in high school greatness will be punished. The outsider is either the villain or survivor, making the genre’s social commentary one that centres around inclusion and exclusion. Look at the ladies in
Look at the ladies in The House on Sorority Row (1983) who get butchered as a result of the severe prank-gone-wrong murder of their house mother, and for their investment in American clique rituals. The teens in I Know What Did Last Summer (1997), played by the most incredible 90s cast you could imagine (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze, Jr and Ryan Phillipe), are the calibre of high schoolers who will inevitably be stalked and murdered. And one more thing: don’t be too cocky. If you undermine, taunt or ridicule the killer, you will learn to regret it.
BE THE FINAL GIRL
Gender constructs in teen horror and slasher is troublesome at best. Due to the gratuitous and sexual violence inflicted upon female bodies, horror is easily one of the most sexist film genres going. As each teen is killed off in some brutal fashion, typically one girl always remains: the ‘Final girl.’ The ‘Final Girl’ denotes a character who is typically virginal, attractive, and blonde, usually in that order. Playing into the conservatism of slasher horror mentioned earlier, the biggest chance you have to survive is by satisfying outdated standards of female virtue.
Halloween’s Laurie, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is perhaps the most exemplary ‘Final Girl’ there is. As a studious, sexually inexperienced but desirable, blonde young girl, Laurie chooses to babysit rather than rebel against the mundanity of suburbia like her peers. She survives the movie not through her strength of character or physical resistance, but because she follows the unspoken rules of horror. Laurie is both the victim and hero simultaneously, as this form of heroism is defined more by her ability to escape death than her capacity to triumph over her attacker. These tropes are seen time and time again, for example in Sally from Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Nancy from Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and it seems to work for these ladies. Therefore, try to be the ‘Final Girl’ and you might not die.
REWRITE THE SCRIPT
Reinvent the wheel like Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). The teen slasher saw a radical decline by the end of the 80s as the filmic structure was predictable, the storylines imitative, and trilogies were being churned out and regurgitated in order to maximise profit. The political and economic climate in America had also shifted, and by the end of the decade young women were a target audience for pop culture products and feminism was moving into the mainstream. Scream is often cited as “resurrecting” the slasher horror, and took the first step towards reclaiming horror for women. Its female protagonist, Sydney, is sexually active, self-determined and even cracks a few jokes whilst taking down numerous killers. With a postmodern sensibility, Scream celebrates its own self-awareness, makes no attempt to hide the tongue-in-cheek references to its horror predecessors, and allows Sydney to be a ‘Final Girl’ with endless sass. If you want to survive modern horror, rewrite the rules and defy convention.