Horror & comic Geek from Minneapolis
Our Lance David Fier takes a look at why we don’t seem to see the birth of as many long standing new slasher icons in modern horror films.
What Happened To The Age Of The Horror Icon?
The horror film genre, often disregarded as tripe by many filmmakers and fans, yet as old as filmmaking itself.Â Â Horror as a concept hasÂ a massively rich history which stems back centuries through story telling.Â This was essential in human social development since the beginning of civilization.Â Long before parents couldÂ depend on daycares, teachers, counselors, andÂ police to keep their children safe, they simply told them horrifying stories of monstersÂ that would carry them away if they misbehaved or wandered too far from home.
With the birth of film in the late 1800s, horror films becameÂ an immediate staple with such titles as Le Manoir du diable or The House of the Devil, byÂ French stageÂ magicianÂ Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s.Â YouÂ see, MÃ©liÃ¨s believedÂ film was the nextÂ evolutionaryÂ stepÂ for illusionists, as he created some of the veryÂ first eye popping visual effects while filmmaking was in it’s infancy.Â Over 25 years later we get the birth of the movie monster with Nosferatu, the unlicensed German adaptation of Bram Stokers gothicÂ novel,Â Dracula.Â It wasn’t long before the “Age of the Movie Monster” came to pass with 1930s and 40s classics such as Frankenstein, DraculaÂ and The Wolf Man.Â The 1960s and 70s brought us demonic forces like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen.Â I could not discuss this era without also mentioning the greatÂ George A. RomeroÂ and his 1968Â flesh eating classic Night of the Living Dead which launched the horror genre’s love affair with the zombie, eventually elevatingÂ theÂ zombiesÂ toÂ their own sub-genre.Â Â Only 6Â years later however, everything changed yetÂ again when anotherÂ brilliant horrorÂ director,Â Tobe Hooper, gave us a revolutionary new flavor of evil.
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In 1974 Texas Chainsaw MassacreÂ was released and changed the face of the horror genre in a more significant way than ever before and helped launchÂ the “Age of the Horror Icon” as I call it.Â It was a time when some ofÂ our most cherished andÂ memorableÂ horror villains wereÂ brought to life.Â Sure the classic movie monsters like DraculaÂ are still remembered but those storiesÂ of vampires and lycanthropes have been told forÂ hundreds orÂ even thousands of years.Â The horror icons in the blink of an eye, about aÂ 15 year window,Â exploded in aÂ kind of horror renaissance.Â First bringing us Leatherface the hillbilly cannibal,Â andÂ MichaelÂ Myers, a terrifying mental patientÂ that thinks like a demon, moves like a ghost, but kills like a man.Â Soon there was an army of these modern fairytale monsters & even heroes.Â Jason, Freddy, Chucky, Ash, Wishmaster, Pinhead, Leprechaun, Blade, Tall Man, Pumpkinhead, Sandman, Ghostface, and the list goes on!Â These killers were terrifying, but made you want to root for them.Â Fans couldn’t get enough and it led to each character getting in some cases as many as 9 orÂ 10 sequels.Â Just as quickly as this heydayÂ of the horror filmÂ equivalent of comic bookÂ superheroes overflowed, it dried up.
DespiteÂ most of these horror icons continuing to be treasured and featured in sequels and reboots, the ability to create new onesÂ that are asÂ likable and sustainable seems to be a lost art, this is due partiallyÂ to the natural flow of popular horror phases.Â Whatever style of horror film that is currently popular and attracts the best talent and writingÂ comes in waves.Â It seems we are back in the thick of a paranormal demonic threat theme, which actuallyÂ has several excellent entries recentlyÂ such asÂ The Conjuring.Â Eventually tastes change of course,Â but there is more to it than that.Â Many of the creators ofÂ these long lasting characters neverÂ intended themÂ to be what they became, they simply wanted to make an impactful film with a terrifying villain, not necessarily a cultural phenomenon.Â When John CarpenterÂ was firstÂ piecing togetherÂ Michael MyersÂ for hisÂ film Halloween, he had no idea the character would spawnÂ 7 sequels to dateÂ plus a remake, and 2 sequelsÂ to the remake!Â Once other filmmakersÂ and producers realized the staying power of theseÂ teen slashers, the genre became saturatedÂ with everyone’s own version ofÂ Jason Voorhees.Â Some worked, but most failed, and by the mid 90sÂ it led to the concept growing quiteÂ stale, but not yet dead.Â The final nail in the coffin was just around the corner.
Horror legendÂ Wes CravenÂ (Yes, even his name is scary) firstÂ really hit the scene with theÂ cult classic The Hills Have Eyes, about a family that becomes stranded on a road trip and is being picked off by another family of cannibalistic desert nomads. Â Later Craven becameÂ perhaps best known for his brilliant 1984 film, A Nightmare on Elm Street.Â Staring unarguablyÂ one of theÂ top horror icons from this time,Â Freddy Krueger, a murderer returned from a fiery death for revenge who can enter your dreams and take your soul.Â Then, 12 years later he delivered toÂ us the self-reflective, genre deconstructing gem, Scream.Â AÂ huge breath of fresh air to a decaying horrorÂ concept but also an epic mic drop, one that brought aÂ respectable end to a terrifying,Â fantastic, ridiculous, fun, and forever irreplaceable era of horror films.Â Craven very sadly passed away justÂ last year at the age of 76,Â but theÂ impact heÂ made in the horror industry will never be overlooked.
Scream introduced the slasher baddie Ghostface,Â who had a simple look, the somewhat common white plastic Halloween ghostÂ mask with black nylon hood and robe.Â Ghostface in the filmsÂ was simply a series of disturbed people all dawning the same costume at different times.Â They are psychoticÂ horror fans, who follow horror film themes and rules to commit intentionally horror film style murders, and if they get caught they will blame the same horrorÂ films.Â The killers and also the murderÂ targets all seem to be subconsciouslyÂ aware that they are in a horror film and use what they know about the genre to get away with murder or stay alive while a classic masked teen slasher is on the lose.Â Still while engaging in all the same tropes of the genre of course, such as lots of parties and drinking.Â Not to mention oftenÂ referencing other iconicÂ horrorÂ villains and filmsÂ who’ve established these rules and tropes.Â It was the perfect fan-serviceÂ parody of an aging horror style thatÂ simultaneously honored and respected that style.Â After Scream, the popular horror icons that hadÂ already beenÂ established were thenÂ immortalized and creating new characters that could capture the same spirit became extremely difficult.Â There was actually aÂ HUGE surge in teen slasher filmsÂ that resulted from the success of Scream,Â all featuring masked or deformedÂ killers with catchy names, butÂ none stood the test of time.Â The “Age of the Horror Icon”Â was officiallyÂ over, and Silence of the LambsÂ had already ushered in the more sophisticatedÂ “Age of the Psychological Serial Killer.”
There are some minor exceptions to this rule, but even these stand out from the classic icons is some substantial ways.Â Some may point to Rob Zombie’s,Â Devil’s RejectsÂ series which can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be from continuation to continuation, and is more of a mash-up of theÂ best of RobÂ Zombie’s favorite films.Â And of course there is Jigsaw, the genius engineer/gamester from the Saw series.Â The first Saw film from one of my favorite modern directors James WanÂ was excellent, but belongs more in the psychological serial killer category.Â This wasÂ before the series just devolved into torture porn, which if you are not familiar is horror that is just disturbingÂ brutality for the sake ofÂ being as disturbing andÂ brutal as possible without any substance.
Nope, the horror icon era was a one of a kind.
Don’t get me wrong, I like modern horror.Â We get a relativelyÂ good mix ofÂ the demonic threats, with theÂ aforementionedÂ Conjuring and alsoÂ InsidiousÂ series.Â We get great newÂ modern movie monsters in films like The BabadookÂ andÂ It Follows, along with Universal Studio’s plan to reboot their classic movie monsters (Dracula, Wolf Man). Â The studios certainly aren’t showing any signs of giving up on the classicÂ horror icons either with new Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street films amongst others thatÂ are in the works, but no new icons, just the classics from thatÂ one glorious pocket ofÂ time.Â Those horror heroesÂ and how they all came to be is just one of those unique filmÂ history anomalies.
Maybe one day we will see a resurgence, with aÂ whole fresh new crop of indiscriminate murderersÂ inÂ a second “Age of the Horror Icon.”