Genre Research

A slasher film is a subgenre of horror film, and at times thriller, typically involving a mysterious, generally psychopathic killer stalking and killing a sequence of victims usually in a graphically violent manner, often with a cutting tool such as a knife, a machete, an axe, or a chainsaw.
Vera Dika attempts to define the subgenre by its often formulaic plot structure. She theorizes that slasher films loosely adhere to the following formula:
Past event
1. The young community is guilty of a wrongful action.
2. The killer sees an injury, fault or death.
3. The killer experiences a loss.
4. The killer kills the guilty members of the young community
Present events
1. An event commemorates the past action.
2. The killer’s destructive force is reactivated.
3. The killer reidentifies the guilty parties.
4. A member of the old community tries to warn the young community (optional).
5. The young community takes no heed.
6. The killer stalks members of the young community.
7. A member of some type of force like a detective etc., attempts to hunt down the killer.
8. The killer kills members of the young community.
9. The hero/heroine sees the extent of the murders.
10. The hero/heroine sees the killer.
11. The hero/heroine does battle with the killer.
12. The hero/heroine kills or subdues the killer.
13. The hero/heroine survives.
14. But the hero/heroine is not free.
• The hero—The hero is the protagonist. The main character is usually a female (sometimes male in other slasher films) and the quietest, most nervous one. Whenever one of their friends goes missing (i. e. killed), they are the first to notice it. The main character is usually not using any illegal material, they don’t have sex (at least, rarely) and do not exhibit rebellious behavior, unlike their friends. The hero is usually aware of the killer, while their friends are too busy having fun. In the middle of the movie, when maybe three or four friends are killed, the hero and the other survivors fight the killer. Their last two or three remaining friends are usually killed near the end of the film, while the hero triumphs against the killer and is saved by the police/help/adults. Not all slasher films let the main character win.
• The killer—With notable exceptions, the killer in the slasher film is usually male. His identity is often, but not always, unknown and/or concealed either by a mask or by creative lighting and camera work. He is often mute and seemingly unstoppable, able to withstand stabbings, falls and shootings by his victims. He is usually very strong and sometimes very big, making it almost impossible to kill him. His background sometimes includes a childhood trauma that explains his choice of victim, weapon and location (the killer can be made out to be pitiable or misunderstood). Slasher villains tend to prefer handheld weapons such as knives, axes, machetes and/or chainsaws as opposed to firearms.
• The victims—The victims tend to be young, attractive, high school or college-aged adolescents. Much has been made about the choice of victims. Some theorists claim that they [young people] are punished for indulging in vices such as pre-marital sex or illegal drugs. Other theorists claim that is simply a matter of the activities making the victims unaware of their surroundings, making them easy prey for the killer. The violence often takes place during or after sexual activity. According to Barry Sapolski, it has been argued that through a process of classical conditioning slasher films have a desensitizing effect. Exposure to scenes of explicit violence juxtaposed with sexual images is believed to blunt males’ emotional reactions to film violence and lead males to be less disturbed by scenes of extreme violence and degradation directed at women.
• The first victim—Often a minority. In later films, the minority victim is actually turned into a Sisyphean figure who is aware of his tragic fate, expecting to die early in the movie.
• The location—Many slasher films are set in isolated locations such as on islands, deep in forests, small towns, abandoned buildings and farms. The killer may have a connection to their chosen location, such as from a tragic event or just live/frequently visit the area. The locations are generally low in population, sometimes with very few to no inhabitants and are far away from civilization, which can present a problem for the police and other emergency services to arrive quickly if requested by the victims. Mobile phone reception may be too weak to make a phone call, and the killer can isolate his victims further by cutting the phone or electrical lines, disabling communication devices (short wave radio) and destroying their means of escape such as their vehicles, which makes escape near impossible. This can allow the killer to freely kill his victims without the need to worry about interference from the outside world.
Final girl—Slasher films frequently have only a single survivor. She is frequently a female peer of the victims but is cinematically developed in comparison to his or her cohorts. She usually does not indulge in the illicit activities of her friends.
• The adults—Many slasher films have adults that are unaware that the youths are being attacked by a killer. Usually after the final girl calls the police or parents, either the phone is dead or they never make it in time. In some slasher films, the adults are sometimes attacked/killed by the killer themselves and the group of friends have no help at all. In many slasher films, the parents are usually away for some vacation or work or something that involves leaving the teenagers by themselves. When somebody calls the police, they frequently thinks it’s a prank until they see the killer for themselves.
• The violence—One thing that separates slashers from thrillers and murder mysteries is the level of violence. Slashers generally de-emphasize plot and character development in favor of violence and terror. Plots are constructed around giving the audience the experience of watching the killer’s murders. The deaths are often violent and graphic, with originality being valued in the later films to hold audience interest.
• The police— The police generally fall under one of three categories in horror, and especially slasher films. They are either extremely slow-witted, and get killed after laughing off a threat, or are extremely competent and either get killed, or turn up at the end of the movie when most characters are dead to arrest the perpetrator.
• The obligatory sequel set-up- In the final shots of the film, we find out that the terror isn’t over yet as the wheels go into motion for the follow up for what the viewer just watched.


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