The late 2000s saw the film industry faced with a pretty catastrophic shifting of ideals. Out were mid-budget adult dramas and in were blockbuster superhero films. However, another emergence that occurred was the re-ignition of the horror genre.
A subgenre of horror, slasher films, have also become a notable genre in the mainstream eye. Noted for their use of gore, violence, and an invincible antagonist, slasher films often use a simple premise to great effect. Therefore, many other films of varying genres have used tropes from slasher films to enhance their own movies.
Jaws is a slasher movie where the indestructible force is a shark. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, the film employs a pretty simple premise to perfection. Led by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, the movie concerns a police chief, a marine scientist, and a fisherman who must stop a shark from terrorizing a quiet island.
Jaws was monumental upon release for its direction, iconic score, and for being the typical summer blockbuster. A massive hit, the film made over $470 million at the box office. A mixture of Moby Dick with Hitchcock-like mastery of suspense, the release of Jaws marked a watershed moment for the film industry, but few realize its plot is squarely in the slasher movie genre.
Before Jaws, Steven Spielberg had experience using the tropes of slasher films to his own benefit. The first film he did it with was 1971’s Duel, the movie which initially marked Spielberg as a director on the rise. Originally aired as an ABC Movie of the Week, the film tracks a businessman who is followed by an angry truck driver who wants to kill him.
While the truck driver is the one in control, the film cleverly makes the menacing truck out to be the real villain. The movie also makes out the feeling of helplessness and desperation to great effect, like many slasher movies before it. The film’s ending is reminiscent of the climactic endings of other slasher movies, except in Duel, the thing that dies is not flesh and blood.
‘Something Wild’ (1986)
Before he achieved mainstream success with Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme was an acclaimed genre filmmaker. Coming from a B-Movie background, Demme had a string of colorful and charming comedies including 1980s Melvin and Howard and 1984’s Swing Shift before he made Something Wild. Starring Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith, the film follows a businessman who is kidnaped and taken on a wild ride by a free-spirited woman.
A road movie and screwball comedy packed into one, Something Wild failed to gain traction at the box office, grossing just above its $7 million budget. While most of the movie is a light endeavor, the ending of the film, in which Griffith’s ex-husband comes back and tries to cause trouble, is very similar to many slasher conclusions. Ray Liotta is electric in only his second screen appearance as the crazed ex, offering Something Wild even more vigor than it had before.
‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ (1992)
Also a ‘blank from hell’ movie, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle built on the growing success of adult psychological thrillers to deliver a solid addition to the genre. Directed by Curtis Hanson, the film is about a vengeful woman who poses as a nanny in order to get back at the family she believed was the reason behind her husband’s suicide.
Rebecca De Mornay is scathing as the vindictive imposter while Annabella Sciorra is convincing as the likable wife. Julianne Moore is also completely arresting in a side role, only her second-ever performance on screen. The movie has its moments, using classic slasher death scenes and an ending to enhance the film’s fright.
‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987)
Possibly the most acclaimed ‘blank from hell’ movie ever made, Fatal Attraction deterred potential adulterers for years following its release. Like Jaws did with the ocean, the movie scared off married men from jumping into bed with strange women. Surprisingly nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture, Fatal Attraction stars Michael Douglas as a married lawyer who strikes up an extramarital affair with an obsessive colleague, played by Glenn Close.
The movie was a major success being well-received by critics and audiences alike, posting over $300 million at the box office. Close’s performance was particularly praised, being nominated for Best Actress and being voted 7th on AFI’s top 100 villains for her character Alex Forrest. With a crazed heel that keeps coming back, Fatal Attraction takes slasher film ideas to create a lasting and quintessential 80s movie.
‘Dead Calm’ (1989)
One of the last films featuring Nicole Kidman before her venture into worldwide stardom, Dead Calm was not a hit, breaking about even at the box office. However, the film was the catalyst that launched numerous careers including Kidman and director Philip Noyce’s. Starring Kidman alongside Sam Neill and Billy Zane, the film follows a murderer who takes hold of a woman after leaving her husband to die on a faraway vessel.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Charles Williams, the book had also famously failed to be adapted by Orson Welles for an unfinished project titled The Deep. Although classified as a thriller, Dead Calm is far closer to a slasher with its serial killing villain, animated suspense, and campy ending.
‘Smooth Talk’ (1985)
Loosely adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates short story, Smooth Talk won the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic category at the 1986 Sundance Festival. However, this praise did not transfer over commercially where the film was released to little response. Led by Laura Dern, the movie concerns young Connie who is teetering on womanhood, and her encounter with an older, mysterious man.
The man, Arnold Friend, is played by Treat Williams in a repelling but effective manner. The character himself was inspired by Charles Schmid, a murderer from the 1960s. Although no physical violence occurs in the movie, Williams’s Arnold Friend is a dangerous obsessive who keeps coming back and is truly redolent of many classic slasher film antagonists.
‘The Guest’ (2014)
Having experience in the horror genre, including 2011’s slasher hit You’re Next, director Adam Wingard was prepared when he took on the challenge of directing the mystery-thriller The Guest in 2014. Written by frequent collaborator Simon Barrett and led by Dan Stevens, the film centers around the Petersons who are mourning their son when they are visited by one of his friends, David.
Mixing elements of 80s movie action with comic book style, The Guest is a blast, with Stevens being exceptional in the lead role. Opposed to other slasher-style movies where the villain is repulsive, The Guest’s antihero is perfect in every way, making the audience root for his triumph. In the end, the movie brings a satisfying conclusion to a ripping, electric joyride.
Unlike other films that use slasher tropes, Men is a horror film in the most jarring sense. His follow-up to the outstanding Annihilation, Alex Garland’s Men is elusive and difficult. The film, led by Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, follows a young woman who retreats to the countryside after a tragedy, only to discover a series of unsettling residents.
Combining elements of folklore and anthology, the movie, like most of Garland’s work, is strict on answers but generous with metaphors. Divisive among critics, Men is a slasher with one of the genre’s most defiant and all-encompassing villains, allowing the movie to be a truly striking gore fest with timely societal commentary.
‘The Terminator’ (1984)
It may surprise some people to hear that the original The Terminator movie grossed under $80 million at the box office. However, audiences knew a classic when they saw one, causing The Terminator to grow into a nonpareil that spawned 5 sequels. Directed by James Cameron, the film surrounds a cyborg sent back in time to kill the leader of a future resistance.
Inducted into the National Film Registry in 2008, the film cemented director Cameron and leading man Arnold Schwarzenegger as megastars of the industry. Although a sci-fi and action film, the plot of The Terminator proves it is certainly a slasher film. With an indestructible killer who will stop at nothing, the movie takes elements of slasher movies to create something new and timeless.