In 1960, the shower curtain tore open and the glimmer of the blade as it pierced through her naked body was the last thing Marion saw as blood trickled down the bath drain. Terrified audience members watching the scenes unfold in theaters were heard screaming, some collapsed, while others ran out yelling in disgust or horror (qtd. in “Disturbing New Pathways”). The legacy of Psycho (1960) by Alfred Hitchcock, renowned American movie director, inspired countless movies and created a new sub-genre in horror, known as “slashers”. According to Carol Clover, an American professor of film studies, the slasher movie is characterized as following the story of a psychotic killer who brutally victimizes a group of young attractive women with a phallic sharp object, until he is eventually overpowered or killed by the one “final girl” who survives (Clover 24).
In the 70s, the apex of slasher popularity movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Halloween (1978) began to capture the fascination of younger audiences and increased coverage of violence in media captivated the American psyche as slashers started incorporating scenes saturated with more gore and violence than before to lure audiences. Wes Craven, American film director, gathered a cult following with movies like The Last House on the Left (1972) and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as audiences began to identify with the dysfunctional family values and youth culture represented within the plots.
However, after a decade of exposure to such violence, audiences began to tire of the same narratives and mounting feminist backlash criticizing the depiction of women in these movies, contributed to a steady decline in the popularity as slashers began to release straight to VHS. Wes Craven, proved the resilience of slasher horror when he introduced Scream in 1996 to a slasher savvy audience through a unique satirical tone and revived the sub-genre. The Feminist movement had gained traction since the 70s and as American culture and fears evolved, the social setting and cinematic gender archetypes within the narratives resonated these shifting dynamics. While former slasher films focused on trembling female survivors who relied on their male counterparts to help them, later slasher films integrated modern representations of gender identifications into the narrative structure to include a more aggressive female protagonist.
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