A slasher is a horror film involving a mysterious killer stalking and killing a sequence of victims usually in a graphically violent manner. Serial killers may be psychopaths, cannibals, “explorers” of carnal experience (cenobites), or reanimated mindless corpses (zombies). Paranormal entities (ghosts, demons), or iconic monsters (vampires, werewolves, aliens), had already been discussed in my two previous horror tune blogs.
Important forerunners to the slasher genre include Peeping Tom (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and the Italian horror and psychological thrillers known as “giallo” (yellow). The name pays homage to the cheap paperback mystery novels with trademark yellow covers that served as inspiration for the films. Besides being very influential in the genre, these films also helped to set a new level of tolerability for violence and deviant behavior in movies.
Splatter films came to life in the early sixties with the film Blood Feast (1963). Director Herschell Gordon Lewis, who up to that point was producing low-budget nudie films, was searching for a new exploitative angle. He settled on graphic portrayals of gore and graphic violence, a niche that virtually no one had explored.
“You can’t kill the boogeyman!” (Halloween, 1978)
The slasher film subgenre reached its peak in the early eighties. The famous trio of psychopathic killers Michael Myers (Halloween), Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) and Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) cemented their fame and horror franchises around that time. The “master of terror” John Carpenter created a perfectly simple, tense, creepy, terror-filled, stalking, synthesizer-based theme song that has been chilling us with a disturbing sense of impending doom every Halloween ever since.
“I told you not to hang up on me” (Scream, 1996)
In the mid 1990s, slasher films experienced a revival with satirical-suspenseful storylines, more developed-clever characters, and less focus on gore. Ghostface and The Fisherman “put to good use” a hunting knife and a meat hook to become pop culture horror symbols. “Sidney’s Lament” a brilliant, pretty scary composition by Marco Beltrami fills us with intense fear. Although I know that “the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long” (Lao Tzu), I still wish it was a little longer.
“You kids shouldn’t have messed with that little girl. You brought this all on yourself” (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003)
Producer Michael Bay revamped the 1973 original film, and gave Leatherface and the slasher genre new life. Using a blank sheet music “made of human skin,” chainsaw wielding composer Steve Jablonsky conjured a sinister, creepy, and disturbing score. It will leave even cold-blooded killers panic-stricken.
“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth” (Dawn of the Dead, 1978).
The term “splatter cinema” was first use by George A. Romero to describe “one of the best horror films ever made” (Roger Ebert). This rather complex gem was a sequel for the Night of the Living Dead (1968), where Romero has attempted to replicate on film the atmosphere and gore of EC’s horror comics like Tales from the Crypt. Dawn of the Dead has been attributed higher meaning, as it relates to the destruction of modern society by solitude and greed. Besides it is also somewhat exploitative for its own sake, and its over-the-top gore involving evisceration can turned out to be very comical (“splatstick”). Dario Argento’s cut of Zombi: Dawn of the Dead features a versatile terror soundtrack by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin. They combined Mellotron, twin guitars, funk bass to produce a wide variety of pieces ranging from slow jam, techno-jazz, and pseudo-country, to violent tribal-disco.
“He doesn’t want us to cut through our chains. He wants us to cut through our feet” (Saw, 2004)
A new breed of splatter films labeled “torture porn” (or “gorno”) surface at the dawn of the new millennia. These movies were characterized by graphic depictions of extreme violence, nudity, torture, mutilation and sadism. Nathan Barr masterfully composed dark, epic, heart-racing music for Saw. The dramatic “Hello Zepp” makes you feel like the music is starring at you with murderous intent.
As the very successful recent TV series Dexter (2006) and The Walking Dead (2010) demonstrate, slasher and splatter have made it into our living rooms. The music themes by Rolfe Kent and Bear McCreary hook us to our flat screens, take us on a roller coaster ride, and haunt us in our dreams. Let’s put our bladed gloves on and continue to celebrate Halloween on Elm Street and Camp Crystal Lake to the scary tunes of our favorite mass murderers.
Notable slasher/splatter music scores
Suspiria (1977) – Goblin
Friday the 13th (1980) – Harry Manfredini
Halloween II (1981) – John Carpenter
The Funhouse (1981) – John Beal
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Charles Bernstein
Re-Animator (1985) – Richard Band
Hellraiser (1987) – Christopher Young
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) – Christopher Young
They Live (1988) – John Carpenter
Village of the Damned (1995) – John Carpenter “March of the Children”
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) – John Frizzell “Julie’s Theme”
Final Destination (2000 – Shirley Walker
28 Days Later (2002) – John Murphy “In the House – In a Heartbeat”
Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Tyler Bates
The Amityville Horror (2005) – Steve Jablonsky
Hostel (2005) – Nathan Barr
The Devil’s Rejects (2005) – Tyler Bates
House of Wax (2005) – John Ottman
The Hills Have Eyes (2006) – Tomandandy
Black Christmas (2006) – Shirley Walker
Halloween I & II (2007 & 2009) – Tyler Bates
The Final Destination (2009) – Brian Tyler
My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009) – Michael Wandmacher “Buried Alive”
Friday the 13th (2009) – Steve Jablonsky
The Crazies (2010) – Mark Isham
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) – Steve Jablonsky