Neal Damiano takes a look at Canada’s contribution to the slasher sub-genre, highlighting some of the great horror movies to appear during slasher film’s heyday including My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night and Terror Train.
Ask any horror fan what film started the slasher movement and most likely you’ll get a different answer from each person. There is no question John Carpenter’s Halloween sparked off the explosion of American slasher films in the late 70s and early 80s. But to understand the true roots of the slasher genre we have to go back farther to the early 70s. It was then that Bob Clark’s 1974 Canadian horror film Black Christmas laid the blueprint for what we’ve come to know as the stalk and slash trend later referred to as the slasher film sub-genre. It was the first film to profit on the thought of using a holiday as its background. This idea had filmmakers rushing to base their films on a holiday.
While American filmmakers jumped at the opportunity to stuff the theaters with as many low budget blood and gore slasher films as possible, Canada was taking its time making sure to leave its imprint on the genre by producing some of the best and most notable films in the style. The film that comes to mind is the 1980s slasher film Funeral Home. It took the basic element of slasher film: a young pretty girl being stalked by a killer and trying to survive so it should have garnered a big audience particularly because it had some really scary moments. However, it was largely overlooked on release and remains to be a little-seen slasher probably because of its tendency to rely on atmosphere, rather than blood and gore.
Late 1980 saw the release of two Canadian slasher films – Prom Night and Terror Train (a film which made my top 10 slasher films list) – that helped solidify Canada’s successful implementation of slasher genre convention into popular horror. These films also gave us arguably the greatest scream queen in horror film history Jamie Lee Curtis.
As early as 1981, slashers had almost saturated the horror genre but Canada can be thanked for releasing three of the most unique and enduring movies of the next 12 months. In February came My Bloody Valentine, in which we saw a coal miner take his revenge on the town of Valentine Bluffs. Happy Birthday To Me was released in May of 1981 and had some of the most bizarre killings in horror film history. In 1982 Visiting Hours hit theaters starring a very young Michael Ironside killing patients on their way to the hospital. The film went on to be included on Britain’s Video Nasties list and the only nasty to be shown on TV. We have some great slashers films in America – Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween – but one can’t deny the contribution Canada has made to the sub-genre just looking at these films alone we owe a lot to our neighbors up north.