The slasher film is a popular genre that has gore as one of its core values. They are films like Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (one of my favorite titles), Friday the 13th, Scream, and even Psycho.
The monster, as in other horror genres, is unstoppable. Though it is bent on killing, it somehow eludes death itself. Typically the monster isn’t very fast moving, it’s just overwhelming. And he’s always there. Somehow he got into your house and is creeping in the hallway behind you. You look in your rear-view mirror and see him sitting in the backseat. How did he get there?!
He typically uses ordinary weapons (chainsaw, machete, your basic thrashing hooks) that require close contact. He is often faceless and, like many other horror movies, the prey rarely escapes.
Audience as Voyeur
Many horror genres use the audience as voyeur technique, slasher films take the most advantage of it. The audience is put in the place of watching others. The camera is put in the place of the monster’s eyes—the view from the bushes, from inside the house—we are put into the monster’s shoes, though with a cool distance that allows us to be entertained with the excitement of the hunt, without risking ourselves.
Death and Sex
In slasher films, death is exhilarating. That’s actually what we pay to see: death played out in inventive ways for our enjoyment. Because we all fear that death = nothingness, these films give us the fantasy of a payoff. There may not be anything more after death, but at least the act itself was interesting.
Sex is not an uncommon piece of these films, often it’s a major plot point. The stereotyped genre: kids are having sex and they shouldn’t be, now they’re going to pay. It’s a play off folk tales that remind children of the good behavior they should aspire to. Adding the audience as voyeur, we get to enjoy the naughty behavior as well as live out the grisly consequences (more on slasher morality in a future post).
So what does the slasher film say about the physical body? The fantasy played out in slasher films is exhilaration in life and death. Sex is life, death is…well, death. So in the highest of highs and depths of depths, in the throes of the bedroom (or backseat or campground) to the lows of our ended existence, it is all very exhilarating. The slasher film views life as a roller coaster: always over the top, always stomach churning, always exciting.
What does this say about how we view the body? Slasher films get our physical existence right in that we are rooted in the physical world. But in the glorification of the physical, there is a horror that lurks near. If the body is all we have, the body becomes a piece of meat to experience these highs and lows. We, the voyeuristic audience, enjoy and anticipate innovative ways to chop up our corporeal selves.
Some films turn this inside out through camp, but the honest-to-God-unapologetic-slasher-film enjoys gore. As do we. We don’t want all of life to be thrilling, but we sure do enjoy a couple hours of excitement. Then we can relax, having lived out this drama in the comfort of a theatre seat and big tub of popcorn.
Maybe the biggest fear in slasher films is the boring or ordinary, or, rather, that we are boring or ordinary. Our protest to our prosaic lives is to live out these intense moments on the screen. We don’t do very much with our bodies, so seeing them squirm, writhe, run and fight for their lives is exciting. I don’t expect slasher films to be very popular in areas of the world where genocide or other real horrors are prevalent.
We aren’t the best in knowing exactly what our body is for, or how to properly risk it. Even Christians, people that should have the most robust views of the body, are often at a loss. Many evangelicals are afraid of the physical or bodily world so we, at best, don’t talk about it or, at worst, only say the body is bad (like many “purity” type messages). What does the Bible say about this?
Christianity teaches that our bodies are important and have an inherit dignity, no matter what we choose to do with them. Because we are made in a way that reflects the One who made us, our bodies are of infinite importance. We can make decisions that take us farther and farther away from their original intention, but we can never get so far as to not reflect the Creator. Conversely, we do have the possibility of living in such a way that uses our bodies for their original intent, and there are real benefits to this.
Even in the afterlife, Christianity teaches that we will have our bodies. The hope for a Christian isn’t a disembodied life of angelic song, it’s a life with a body. Forever. The proof of this is Christ Himself, who is now resurrected with a perfect body that He will have forever (and that many people saw in real life). And even in the ultimate horror of living forever sent away from our Creator, we still have bodies, though they will be in a constant state of decay.
The highs and lows of the slasher films work because we know our bodies are of much significance. When this significance is transgressed, we pay attention. And we should.
Read other posts in the Theology of Horror series.
I’m loving this series!! I grew up avoiding slashers at all costs, and once I saw a few, I wasn’t afraid of them as much as I was shocked by sex and gore (which were there to shock me, so good job, film makers!). I still choose not to watch them, but I was very intrigued by your post and how you picked the genre apart. The true horror of the slasher film is that we are portrayed as only bodies to be used and abused and dissected. Loved it, Greg.
Thanks for reading, Deborah!