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60   The War of the Worlds (Haskin, 1953)
59   The Abyss (Cameron, 1989)
58   Starship Troopers (Verhoeven, 1997)
57   X-Men (Singer, 2000)
56   The Final Countdown (Taylor, 1980)
55   Flight of the Navigator (Kleiser, 1986)
54   Scanners (Cronenberg, 1981)
53   Le Dernier Combat (Besson, 1983)
52   Starman (Carpenter, 1984)
51   Donnie Darko (Kelly, 2001)
50   Time After Time (Meyer, 1979)
49   Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise, 1951)
48   Sunshine (Boyle, 2007)
47   Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006)
46   Planet of the Apes (Schaffner, 1968)
45   Super 8 (Abrams, 2011)
44   Dark City (Proyas, 1998)
43   I Am Legend (Lawrence, 2007)
42   Spaceballs (Brooks, 1987)
41   Dark Star (Carpenter, 1974)
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“Transformers” (Bay, 2007); “G.I. Joe” (Sommers, 2009); “Friday the 13th” (Nispel, 2009); “Star Trek” (Abrams, 2009); “True Grit” (Cohen, 2010); “Footloose” (Brewer, 2011); “Clue” (2013).  This list of recent and upcoming major theatrical film releases all have one thing in common, their status as remakes of past movies.  This list is by no means exhaustive, as the movie going public has been met with a consistent barrage of cinematic ‘updates.’  This trend begs the question why?  Have filmmakers become so unoriginal, lacking in creativity to the point that remaking someone else’s work is the lone recourse?  Is it just a matter of the passage of time, after so many years a film becomes fair game for this treatment?  Why are the particular movies that are being remade chosen from amidst the breadth of America’s rich film tradition?  Creativity is a difficult issue to address regarding the cinema, which has always been firmly rooted in literary adaptations.  It’s difficult to imagine that every book which could be effectively translated to the screen has been attempted or that no one out there is capable of the sort of artistic invention necessary to make it in Hollywood.  It is also very difficult to pinpoint a time frame after which the remake becomes acceptable.  Take for instance the literary classic “Ben-Hur,” first adapted for the screen in 1925, it was remade to the tune of 11 Academy Awards in 1959.  An initial gap of 34 years between versions, no one has attempted another rendition of the film in 52 years since, despite its terrific success.  Yet the 1975 cult favorite “Death Race 2000” (Bartel) was redone in 2008, a gap of just 23 years for a movie of both questionable following and thematic material.  Clearly these questions fail to generate a satisfactory answer to an inquiry into the nature and motivation for modern filmmaking, indicating the need for further study of this growing modern phenomenon.  I believe that by breaking down and analyzing the different elements of the popular remake, we’ll find distinct ties to the culture at the time of the films’ release which indicates that a greater power than time and literature is at play in determining when and what films are to be remade.

 

Genre, Ideology and the Slasher Film

S. I. Hayakawa described artists as “the antennae of a nation” (139), attributing to them the unique ability to channel the many voices expressing the needs and desires of society at a particular time and, at a minimum, reflect back a single cohesive message.  Hayakawa was likely referring to more traditional forms of art, painting, theatre, etc., describing the artist’s position as a symbol or culture creator.  However, modern society, driven by technological advances in the means of both production and distribution, has turned to movies, music and other forms of social media as today’s dominant art forms, and just about everybody has become an ‘artist.’  My goal is not to argue whether popular film constitutes art and its creators artists (for these purposes we’ll take for granted that they are), but rather, as Thomas Shatz stated, that “the commercial cinema is a communication system – it structures and delivers meaning” (692).  The messages Hayakawa and Shatz refer to go beyond the story; movies have the ability to say a great deal more about the culture in which they were produced than simply what’s played out on screen.  The classic theory that ‘art imitates life’ finds new legs in regards to the study of film, traditionally viewed by those who question its acceptance as a valid art form as but a mechanical reproduction of reality.  This line of thought falls well short of the truth, as the medium itself, through editing, mise-en-scene, etc., can construct and communicate messages (Thank you Mr. McLuhan).

            Cinema’s relationship to ‘reality’ is perhaps best described by the term simulacra, a copy without an original, as it is impossible for such mediums to impart a story entirely free of the creator’s biases.  Jean-Luc Comolli and Jean Narboni, one-time editors of the French film revue Cahiers du Cinema, addressed the issue of camera impartiality in a letter they published in 1969 entitled “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism”.  They described film as “one of the languages through which the world communicates itself to itself,” further noting that film in actuality “reproduces the world as it is experienced when filtered through the ideology” (815).  Comolli and Narboni call upon Louis Althusser for a definition of Ideology, who defined it as “perceived-accepted-suffered cultural objects, which work fundamentally on men by a process they do not understand” (815).  Put considerably more simply, Ideology is a set of beliefs cultural, economic, social, which guides the actions of movements and/or individuals, often without their conscious knowledge of such phenomena.  Ideological film study utilizes both a macro (genres, eras) and micro (individual films) analysis of cinema’s relationship to the society or culture in which it was produced and released.  Film, as a material product of a given system, is inherently an ideological product of that system and, as Comolli and Narboni point out, most films are steeped in their given Ideologies.  Many would point to public demand as dictating the direction of popular cinema.  But when one notes the tie between demand and economic success, we see that what the public wants and pays to see is in fact what the Ideology wants.  Despite moviemaker’s best efforts, few are able to distinguish their works from the machinations of these so-called “cultural objects,” values ingrained in them and those around them from birth.  Films thus become, in Comolli and Narboni’s terms, “unconscious instruments of the Ideology which produces them” (815), continually working to perpetuate that system.  For the United States, that ideological system is Capitalism or, as Robin Wood notes, “the values and assumptions so insistently embodied in and reinforced by the classical Hollywood cinema” (1977, 718). 

            Comolli and Narboni’s stance on the influence of Ideology in filmmaking is clearly a negative one, as they extol the many virtues of cinema which attempts to attack the prevailing system.  A similar view is expressed by Rick Altman, who found through the Ideological approach to film “Hollywood taking advantage of spectator energy and psychic investment in order to lure the audience into Hollywood’s own position” (683), further eluding to the cyclical, conversational effect of a dominant Ideology described by his French contemporaries.  Wood takes a more diplomatic stance on the issue, claiming an increased awareness of the “importance of seeing works in the context of their culture, as living Ideological entities” (1986, 2).  This does, however, acknowledge the French notion of Ideology speaking to or promoting itself through film.  In his article “Ideology, Genre, Auteur,” Wood attempts to establish a critical framework for discussing modern Hollywood cinema, incorporating Ideological study with elements of genre theory, which he saw as “rooted in…Ideological tension” (1977, 719), in generating a more complete picture of a film’s impact.

            The label genre film, defined by Thomas Shatz as a “familiar formula of interrelated narrative and cinematic components that serves to continually reexamine some basic cultural conflict” (691), encompasses the vast majority of Hollywood productions, the films previously identified as imbued with the current Ideology.  Many critics and theorists are quick to negate or ignore the genre film, often looking upon them as bassist and repetitive to the point of offending perceived standards of art excellence traditionally centered upon praising the unique.  Some, however, like Robin Wood have championed genre movies as a legitimate arena for film and cultural study.  Shatz said “a film genre has come into being precisely because of its cultural significance” (693).  Leo Braudy takes a similar view, arguing that “genre films, in fact, arouse and complicate feelings about the self and society that more serious films, because of their bias towards the unique, may rarely touch” (664).  In reviewing the list of recent and forthcoming remakes to grace the silver screen we’re presented with many familiar genre associations:  “Star Trek” – Science Fiction;  “G.I. Joe” and “Transformers” – Blockbuster Action;  “True Grit” – Western; “Clue” – Screwball Comedy;  “Footloose” – Teen Angst Drama.  These are but a few of not only the titles seeing a rebirth, but also the genres returning to prominence.  Movie-goers have been inundated with a barrage of ‘franchise reimaginings’ from one very surprising genre in particular, that being the Horror film, more specifically the slasher or teenie-kill pic.

            Many might ask, quite reasonably, why study horror movies?  For most, the seemingly gratuitous depiction of violence and gore, the typically abhorrent treatment of female characters, the crudity of production and development, among other things, render the bulk of the genre disgusting and unwatchable.  It becomes clear that this is the stance of many film theorists and critics when one considers the available body of serious written work on the horror film, which I found limited largely to the efforts of Robin Wood and feminist film theorists like Laura Mulvey and Carol Clover, who offered a compelling justification for her interest.  “What makes horror crucial enough to pass along is, for critics since Freud, what has made ghost stories and fairy tales crucial enough to pass along:  its engagement of repressed fears and desires and its reenactment of the residual conflict surrounding those feelings” (71).  Wood takes a similar vantage point when assessing horror amongst the pantheon of genres stating that “one could approach any genre from the same starting point [repression]; it is the horror film that responds in the most clear-cut and direct way, because central to it is the actual dramatization of the repressed” (1986, 75).  In other words, horror films have the potential to paint the clearest picture of cultural attitudes within the framework of a dominant Ideology constructed around those repressed feelings.  While the horror genre has continually evolved, spawning various offshoots and subgenres, the basic concept, representation of a society’s fears and repressed emotions via the monster and his victims, has generally remained the same.

            There exists, however, a subset of horror films “down in the cinematic underbrush” (Clover 66) which warps this basic pattern, that is not concerned with recognizing and resolving the repression it addresses.  The Slasher or Teenie-Kill Pic has become widely recognized as among the most formulaic and despicable evolutions of the horror genre to date.  Summed up beautifully by Carol Clover as the “story of a psycho killer who slashes to death a string of mostly female victims, one by one, until he is himself subdued or killed, usually by the one girl who has survived” (66), the slasher has become entrenched among the lexicon of popular American cinema.  Killers like Michael Myers of the “Halloween” series and Jason Voorhies of “Friday the 13th”, without uttering a single word, have hacked their way to a level of iconicity rarely reached by any character in any other type of film.  This subgenre’s shear existence for many critics presents a quandary, leading most often to the rhetorical question “Why bother?”  This question would seem to take on even greater relevance when one considers that virtually all of the films which fall into this classification have very recently been born anew via the remake.  Robin Wood recognized the teenie-kill pic’s overall draw in justifying his study of the subgenre, stating that “their popularity…suggests that, even if they were uniformly execrable, they shouldn’t be ignored” (“Horror” 195).  Box office tallies would indeed support Wood’s point, as movies like “Friday the 13th” (Cunningham, 1980) and “Halloween” (Carpenter, 1978), operating on extremely thin budgets of $550,000 and $320,000 respectively, have rewarded their makers with returns of $57,000,000 and $78,500,000.  Clover proffers a more politically motivated response, suggesting that “the slasher, not despite but exactly because of its crudity and compulsive repetitiveness, gives us a clearer picture of current sexual attitudes than do the legitimate products of better studios” (68).  Her stance, being geared toward sexual attitudes, reflects the feminist perspective she’s taken in studying these movies.  While this approach is inarguably valuable in understanding the nature of these films, its narrow-sightedness, ignoring economic and broader social issues, fails to give us a complete picture of what these movies represent and why they’ve returned to prominence at this particular time.  To do so, I would again turn to Wood’s ideas of combining the Ideological approach with genre theory to achieve a more complete understanding of the social factors at play in the slasher film.

            Wood frequently refers to the slasher film as “Reactionary.”  To understand this idea, it is important to consider the era previous that the movies are reacting to.  The 1960’s and early 1970’s represented a tumultuous era in the history of the United States.  Led by the largely free-spirited and permissive baby boomer generation, civil unrest reached a zenith.  Internal battles over the handling of the Vietnam War and racial and gender equality led to mass protests throughout the country which threatened the very fabric of the nation.  As the baby boomers aged and these movements waned, giving way to the excesses of the me generation, the economy began to dip as well.  A recession, which saw unemployment rates jump from 5.6% in 1974 to 8.5% in 1975 and remain above 7% four of the next six years before peaking at 9.7% in 1982 (Labor), gripped our still recovering country.  The American public (a construct of the prevailing Ideology) naturally sought change and found it in the ideals embodied in traditional American capitalism.  Spearheaded by the Reagan administration and individuals like the Reverend Jerry Fallwell, an ultra-conservative, faith-based movement came to power which promised reaffirmation and a return to the salad days through the “good ol’ values” they felt our system was founded upon.  It was during this time, beginning with 1978’s “Halloween” and ending with 1984’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” (Craven), that the teenie-kill picture reached its peak as well.  As noted, Wood recognized the films in this genre as “reactionary,” attacking those that fail to adhere to the doctrine of the dominant Ideology, as opposed to the “apocalyptic” horror films of the 70’s which “recogni[zed] that ideology’s disintegration…as all it has repressed explodes and blows it apart” (1986, 192).  In essence, the teenie-kill movie can be read as a response to or consequence for the permissiveness of the previous generation as these films’ potential to subvert the prevailing capitalist Ideology of the era by seeking to reconcile those repressed feelings, simply falls by the wayside. 

            The second wave, or reimagining, of the slasher genre comes, in my opinion not coincidentally, during a similar crisis in the American economy.  Unemployment has in some states hit all-time highs and nationally flirted with the records set in the 1980’s, jumping from 5.8% in 2008 to 9.3% in 2009 and 9.6% in 2010 (Labor), as we’ve witnessed the near collapse of major portions of our country’s economic infrastructure (and again gas has become a treasured and expensive commodity).  Though perhaps presenting themselves in different forms, similar conservative social and political movements to those of the early 80’s have once more come to fruition as the public again grasps at straws, looking for solace in this trying time.  Bracketed by 2007’s remake of “Halloween” (Zombie) and 2010’s rendition of “Nightmare on Elm Street” (Bayer), the timing of these new movies and evolution of the slasher genre clearly suggests a strong connection between film production and Ideological demands.  Robin Wood identified a list of concepts present in the dominant Ideology of classical Hollywood which represent many of the tenets of the conservatism behind the social reactions on display in the horror cinema of these two economically trying times.  There are five items on this list which I would like to stress in regards to the slasher film.  The ideals of Capitalism and competition, progress/ technology, marriage and family or legalized heterosexual monogamy, the settled/motherly woman and with it the settled husband/fatherly male, are all elements of America’s dominant Ideology which worked to shape the teenie-kill flick.  To this list I would add a sixth of my own, Christianity/Catholicism, which I believe to be as ingrained in American Ideology as the ideal of capitalism.  Utilizing genre theory to establish the motifs present across both the original and redone entries in four particular slasher franchises, “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” “My Bloody Valentine” (Mihalka, 1981/Lussier 2009) and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” I will show how five particular motifs illuminate the reactionary nature of these films.  First, the killer, a disfigured or shrouded form designed solely for the execution of puritanical vengeance.  Second is the killer’s choice of weapon, a blunt or bladed hand-held instrument which facilitates both stealth and an abundance of graphic, close-up death scenes.  Third, the terrible place, which acknowledges the creepy or disturbing nature of this genre’s settings.  The fourth motif is the films’ victims, with few exceptions defiant, sex crazed teens.  Finally, slasher flicks generally feature a lone survivor, almost always a female who has more clearly accepted settled womanhood.  Each of these are central elements of all eight movies and all have their ties to American Capitalist Ideology, a connection which will begin to answer the question why have remakes become a prevailing mode of film expression?

               

A Brief Disclaimer

                Even the casual fan of the horror genre will no doubt recognize some glaring omissions, from amidst the pantheon of slasher flicks, in the list of movies I’ve chosen to analyze.  Arguably the most notably absent films are “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (Hooper, 1974) and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) along with a legion of the latter film’s more direct imitators.  Many would cite “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” with its iconic image of Leatherface brandishing his bloody chainsaw, clad in his Sunday best and the facial remnants of his victims, as the forefather of the modern slasher.  Despite the obvious presence of all the previously identified tenets of the slasher genre, a blade wielding nearly unstoppable killer, an unquestionably terrible place, a trail of slaughtered teens survived by a single female, I would contend the treatment and reading of these motifs creates a distinct separation between “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the movies it inspired.  Where the 80’s slasher film failed to in any way subvert the dominant Ideology, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” succeeds in the manner suggested by Wood, embracing the obliteration of its Ideology by what it seeks to repress.  Rather than a single, hulking, emotionless killer, we have a patriarchal family of three generations of slaughter-house workers.  Some depth of character and emotion is established within the family, which Wood sees as the true monster, as they’ve been forced to kill to survive after losing their jobs to automation.  Wood recognizes this as a direct attack on capitalism, as we see the most graphic version of people literally living off of each other.  There is also a distinct difference in the nature of both the victims and the lone survivor of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”  Here the teens, rather than being punished for promiscuity like the victims of later slashers, are simply guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, killed more for their own curiosity than any overt behavior.  As Wood continues, the “traditional values of [capitalist] America have been negated” (1986, 71) distancing “Texas Chainsaw” from its cinematic imitators who perpetuate those values.

            “Psycho” and later movies like “Dressed to Kill” (de Palma, 1980) and “Eyes of Laura Mars” (Kershner, 1978) would seem to possess many of the same thematic elements of the slashers I’m studying as well.  Again, certain variances in the treatment of those motifs would suggest a second branch in the lineage of the slasher movie.  Both Clover and Wood support the distinction between the two, labeling this second subgenre the “violence against women movie.”  Both subsets can be shown, in many ways, to represent the same Ideological perversions, however, the focus in the violence against women pictures is more easily identified as a “hysterical response to 60’s and 70’s feminism” (Wood 1986, 195).  In this case, the killer has not been rendered a blank slate, his behavior being more directly attributable to a psychotic disturbance, typically sexual in nature.  While the weapon, terrible place and lone survivor motifs remain relatively intact, the victims have, like their killer counterpart, been altered.  Rather than the mounting pile of teenage corpses of both sexes as in the teenie-kill, these movies generally feature one or two female victims dispatched with very little hesitation, followed by the lengthy stalking of one last female who inevitably comes to grips with her own sexuality in order to win the day.  Something worth further study may be that very few of these films spawn either sequels or remakes.  Perhaps American Ideology has evolved to the point of no longer accepting the exploitative nature of these films.

 

The Killer is Me

“This is not a man.”

                –Dr. Loomis, “Halloween” (1984)           

           

One key element of the study of genre films is the characters inhabiting those films, many of which will share particular traits or modes of action with characters in the same position in multiple films across a genre.  For instance, the vast majority of American westerns center around a John Wayne type:  rough, rugged and virile but with a heroic nobility and appropriate amount of sensitivity.  Horror films (along with the American Gangster movie) typically provide a unique twist to this standard.  In the action, western or comedy movie the central and most identifiable or lasting character is the hero/heroine, as opposed to horror films where the fixed or central character is the monster or villain.  The iconic images from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are of Leatherface brandishing his chainsaw, zombies devouring human flesh in “Night of the Living Dead” (Romero, 1968).  This same pattern, monsters as central to the action, is followed in slasher flicks, where the monsters are not only, generally speaking, the lone survivors of the mayhem to grace the movie’s seemingly inevitable draught of sequels, they also reveal the most about the time in which the film was produced.

            Typically, the monsters in horror movies can be viewed as representing some repressed aspect of society, the return of which the audience is invited to identify with.  The goal of both the film’s victims and its audience then is to understand and confront this repressed feeling in order to defeat the monster it spawned.  In the teenie-kill pic this standard has been corrupted, the very nature of the monsters mutated by the cultural forces at play.  Robin Wood describes the change in slasher monsters in terms of Freudian psychology.  He associates the traditional monster with a “creature from the id, not merely a product of repression, but a protest against it” (1986 195). For instance, the cannibalistic slaughterhouse family in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” forces the audience to address repressed feelings regarding the traditional conception of the family, which he believes is the real monster, as well as the horrible potential of modern capitalism, desperate people with no recourse actually feeding off the bodies of other people.  Wood describes the monsters of Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s progeny as “superego figures, avenging [themselves] on the sexual freedom of the young” (1986 195).  Born of the sins of youth, these newer monsters’ sole purpose is to suppress such urges by purging society of those who fail to conform to the demands of the dominant Ideology.  Directed towards a predominantly teenage demographic, teenie-kill pics invite masochistic identification with punishment.  Counter to Linda Williams’ insistence that these monsters are “sexually disturbed but entirely human” (731), I would argue that through various cinematic devices like costume, demeanor, lighting and (minimal) character development, these monsters have been rendered almost completely non-human.  As Robin Wood states, “the sexual guilt which the [victims] are by definition incapable of analyzing, confronting or understanding can never be exorcized” (1986 196), designating that sexuality and its monstrous celluloid incarnation as simply evil and leaving the lone recourse in the face of that evil of continuing to repress those feelings of guilt.  It is in this dynamic, further forced repression at the risk of dismemberment, that the slasher offers the greatest support to the dominant Ideology and its desire for a settled, docile citizenry.

            The teenie-kill monster, as an inhuman, asexual representation of evil, becomes most equitable with a demon or even the devil himself, a suggestion that the free-thought and liberation of the victims is a sin worthy of The Dark One’s personal attention.  Michael Myers of the “Halloween” films provides an excellent framework for establishing the trappings of this particular motif.  Myers’ psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, expresses his patient’s association with evil beautifully in the following monologue:

I met this 6 year old child with a blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes.

The Devil’s eyes.  I spent 8 years trying to reach him and then another 7 trying to

keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes

was plainly and simply evil.

                                                                                    –Dr. Loomis, “Halloween” (1978)

Loomis’ statement openly acknowledges the nature of Myers and of this entire genre of film.  Physically, the creators of “Halloween” took great steps dehumanizing Michael, as he is compulsively clad in a baggy blue mechanic’s jumpsuit and a (William Shatner) mask, leaving only a mass which resembles the human form.  John Carpenter, the movie’s writer and director, himself refers to the character of his creation as “The Shape” (Nobile), inviting the audience to create their own modes of identification with him.  Myers’ dehumanization is further displayed in his complete lack of emotion and total non-responsiveness to a variety of stimuli, particular those of a sexual nature.  His only purpose on this earth being to collect the souls of those who sin against the Ideology he represents, Michael becomes but a vessel for what Wood calls an “instrument of puritan vengeance and repression.” (“Horror” 194)  Finally, his status as but a shape as well as ties to pure evil are confirmed in his imperviousness to pain.  Stabbed in the eye and shot multiple times, Myers still succeeds at walking away, undetected, having gotten up undeterred by a two-story backflip out of a window.

            This same process is witnessed in the other monsters of the slasher genre:  Mrs. Voorhies in the original “Friday the 13th” and her son Jason in the remake, Harry Warden in the “My Bloody Valentine” films and, though the execution is slightly different, Freddy Krueger of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series.  The physical aspects of their dehumanization are fairly obvious and consistent throughout the eight films.  Jason Voorhies and Harry Warden both don the full body jumpsuit of some sort of laborer, a quiet acknowledgement of the patriarchal nature of the dominant Ideology, and, like Myers before them, cover their faces with a mask that draws similar masculine allusions to the suit.  Freddy Krueger has been grossly deformed via the fire that consumed him alive and his overly impish and playful behavior closely associates him with many classical conceptions of the Devil.  Mrs. Voorhies of the original “Friday the 13th” (Cunningham, 1980) has been rendered as androgynous as possible, appearing in a thick tan sweater and non-descript jeans, sporting a short, manly haircut and sharp, hard facial features.  Her invincibility is called into question when her head is chopped off by Annie and she fails to appear alive in any of the forthcoming sequels.  However, as I mentioned, the physical form of these monsters are best described as vessels, vehicles for the puritanical vengeance they seek out.  With both Mrs. Voorhies and Harry Warden, we see that vengeful spirit transferred from one host to the next, the new vessel having witnessed and embraced the actions of their now dead commiserate.

The Weapon, The Look and You

“Actually, they were more like finger knives or something.”

                –Nancy, “Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

 

Like the monsters themselves, there is very little variance in their choice of weaponry.  Myers, Voorhies, Warden and Krueger all turn to bladed or edged weapons, knives, spears, pick-axes, hammers, pitchforks and the like, with numerous potential reasons for such a selection.  Carol Clover said “such implements serve well a plot predicated on stealth, the unawareness of later victims that bodies of their friends are accumulating just yards away” (79).  In addition to being quiet, these weapons lend themselves to considerably more gory and excruciating death scenes, opening the door to a wave of burgeoning special FX masters in the 80’s and the growing creativity in the realm of CGI with the modern efforts.  The use of first person camera is similarly prevalent in slasher films.  The opening sequence of “Halloween” is a rather memorable, lengthy first person shot in which, its later revealed, a six year old Michael witnesses his elder’s sister sexual impropriety and takes his beloved butcher’s knife to act upon the sexual confusion the incident creates.  As with the bladed weapon, the use of first person camera can be explained as a functional aspect of the plot, often being used to hide the identity of the killer.  This was utilized to good effect in the original “Friday the 13th,” which introduced the character of Mrs. Voorhies in the final act of the film.  For the purposes of this paper, I have paired these two cinematic tactics, knives and 1st person shots, in establishing this motif of ‘the weapon’ because I believe that, from an Ideological perspective, they serve the same ultimate purpose. 

            One societal trend American capitalist Ideology seeks to thwart is the move away from the traditional conception of the family constituted of a father, the breadwinner and final authority in the household, a mother, serving the father and maintaining the stability of that household, and children, eternally obedient to the will of their parents.  Slasher films respond to this trend by exacting bloody revenge upon those that threaten the ideal of the nuclear family, in particular women.  As previously noted, much of the work done in the past regarding the slasher has centered upon feminist film theory and is based primarily on the writings of Laura Mulvey.  I feel it is in the motifs of the weapon and use of first person that we see the full culmination of this feminist approach and get the strongest impression of our Ideology’s wrath towards the progress made in the women’s liberation movement of the previous eras.  Mulvey, whose ideas are founded in psychoanalytical theory, developed what she called “The Look,” best summarized for our purposes as a process whereby the camera takes a male perspective, becoming an instrument for the objectification of women (841).  Cynthia Freeland furthered these ideas in regard to the teenie-kill pic specifically, citing an identification created between the male viewer and the male protagonist of the film, in this case the killer.  Freeland said that this identification allows the viewer to “possess the film character of the woman by proxy” (743) and in turn opens their attention up to focus on the achievement of a satisfactory narrative resolution, the female character’s murder.  

            The process of the look requires identification with a male point of view and a male protagonist.  As I stated, it would in the case of the slasher be the killer whose perspective is taken.  Yet the killer himself, as an object of pure evil, has been dehumanized, his form but a frame or vessel for the force he carries.  The phallic nature of the edged weapon and the penetration that comes with it reconciles the need for a male protagonist, countering the monster’s inherent androgyny.  The use of first person, reserved for the elongated hunt of female victims, amplifies the identification experienced by the audience.  In essence, the viewer is given the knife and is permitted to harmlessly act out their own fetishist desires.  Mulvey’s look is one of sexual desire, whose return from a woman is an offense punishable by death.  Robin Wood summarizes this dynamic nicely, noting that “the male spectator enjoys a sadistic revenge on women who have begun to refuse to slot neatly and obligingly into his patriarchally predetermined view of the way things should naturally be” (1986 196).  The patriarchal order exemplified by the teenie-kill through these juxtaposed trends can be read as a reflection of the capitalist Ideology attempting to validate its ideal family unit.

            I would also like to briefly address another aspect of the United States’ prevailing Ideology embodied in the choice of weapons in these movies.  The weapon represents one way in which the slasher lauds the competitive nature of our capitalistic system.  Makers of teenie-kill flicks have consistently strove to outdo the movies in the genre which came before.  Michael Myers’ use of a butcher’s knife, deer antlers and phone cord to dispatch his victims is primitive in light of Freddy Krueger’s knife hands.  This effect is even more apparent in the reimagined slasher and no monster really mixes it up more than Jason.  Not to be limited in his choice of weaponry, Voorhies employs a wood chipper, railroad spike, fire poker, bear trap, hangs a girl in her sleeping bag over a blazing fire, bow and arrow, hatchet and his signature machete to mow down a record number of teenage misanthropes.

           

A Suburban Nightmare

“You’re going to Camp Blood, ain’t ya.  You’ll never come back.  It’s got a death curse.”

                –Ralph, “Friday the 13th” (1980)

 

                Carol Clover identified “the terrible place” as a central motif to the slasher film, describing it as “a house or tunnel in which the victims sooner or later find themselves” (78).  She specifically sites the Bates Motel of “Psycho” and the deranged family’s decrepit abode in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as examples of this theme.  Similar spaces are created in the later waves of slashers, typically represented by the locale where the bloodbath was both initiated and sees its climactic finale.  In “Halloween,” it’s the Myers house where Michael, as a youth, witnessed his older sister’s indiscretions.  The house is then revisited, aged and abandoned much like Michael himself, both as the site of Michael’s first contact with heroine Laurie Strode and amidst the final battle between the two.  In “My Bloody Valentine,” it’s the claustrophobic confines of the Hannigar Mine, where a cave-in began the carnage and eventually concluded it.  “Nightmare on Elm Street” featured Freddy’s boiler room lair prominently in the dream sequences of his female victims Tina and Nancy.  Finally, in “Friday the 13th,” it’s Crystal Lake where Jason, as a youth, drowned and later made an apparent attempt on the life of survivor Alice.  The modern remakes of these movies make use of the same settings with the exception of “Friday the 13th,” which incorporated (adult) Jason’s underground den and interlaced series of tunnels, more akin to his hut not featured until “Friday the 13th Part II” in the franchise’s original run. 

            Certainly the terrible place Clover describes is a key element of not only the slasher flick, but of the horror film in general.  What would Dracula be without his ominous Transylvanian castle or Dr. Frankenstein without his secret laboratory?  For the purposes of these analyses, I would propose a different approach to viewing the Teenie-Kill pic, focusing instead on the movies’ larger, overall setting.  As the liberalism of the 60’s and early 70’s gave way, there was a mass migration of the aging baby boomer generation to the growing suburbs of America’s larger cities.  As reactionary films, slashers of the late 70’s and early 80’s feature attacks from their monsters on the supposed idyllic suburban lifestyle they purported to live.  Perhaps the most interesting example is provided by “Nightmare on Elm Street” via the dream sequences of its female leads.  For both Tina and Nancy, their nightmares follow a fairly consistent pattern, beginning with over-lit, almost cloudlike images of their neighborhood.  These picturesque summer environs, often featuring children playing, quickly turn dark and ominous as Freddy begins his stalk.  The chase inevitably leads to a door which opens to a downward staircase into Freddy’s boiler room lair:  dingy, cramped, and hot with the flickering red shadows cast by the boiler’s flames.  The religious implications of the dichotomy between the two settings is clear, as if to suggest beneath the imagined heaven of the suburbanite’s community exists a lurking hell of their own creation.

            The other original slasher films take a very similar tact, a hell-bent monster invading another quaint suburban setting.  In “Halloween,” Michael Myers quietly begins his stalk of Laurie Strode thru Haddonfield amidst the comfort of a nice autumn afternoon.  As darkness descends upon the town, so does the vengeful force of Myers, the night and day contrast again harkening to the heaven and hell dynamic so prominent in the “Nightmare” movies.  “Friday the 13th” adapts the same concept to its summer camp venue, an extension of suburban towns featured in the other slasher films.  Summer camp counselor presented a popular pursuit of middle class teens looking for not only gainful employment, but a season of uninhibited drug use and intercourse with members of the opposite sex.   The relative boom in camp attendance at the time, reflected more prominently in the era’s glut of screwball comedies like “Meatballs” (Reitman, 1979), could be largely attributed to the increased presence of mothers in the workplace, needing camp to act to some degree as a babysitter when their kids were out of school.  The slaughters at Camp Crystal Lake could be viewed as punishment for women’s growing denial of the traditional role of settled wife, who’s ‘job’ is gracious servitude of husband and children.  “My Bloody Valentine” makes more direct allusions to hell, as the bulk of the action and majority of deaths occur in the mine tunnels dug beneath the small town of Valentine’s Bluff.  The town itself, with its aging architecture and unpaved roads, may be under attack for its failure to embrace the technological progress demanded within our capitalistic system. 

            The religious implications of the settings have not been lost on the recent set of teenie-kill remakes.  We’re still given the dueling heaven/hell or day/night imagery present in each movie’s predecessor.  However, there seems to be a greater emphasis placed upon the class struggle hinted at in the prior incarnations.  As the economy has again declined, there has been much discussion of terms like ‘the vanishing middle class’ and ‘welfare state.’  The rich, most often those that have fully embraced the trappings of the dominant Ideology and a group largely composed of the conservative right politically, have distanced themselves even further economically from the now struggling-to-stay-afloat middle.  We find this dynamic manifested in the ‘terrible places’ of the later films.  In 2007’s “Halloween,” a (failed) attempt is made to give Michael Myers more back story by exchanging his generic middle class upbringing for that of an overwhelmingly dysfunctional, lower-class, broken home.  In “Friday the 13th,” the camp has been replaced by a luxurious lakefront vacation home.  Few punches are pulled in establishing the difference in the economic prosperity between Trent, the homeowner’s son, and his, as he put it ‘hoodlum,’ friends.  Indeed, the lone crime committed by Trent’s girlfriend Jenna, appears to be compassion for the welfare of their new, financially lesser-than acquaintance Clay.  She can be seen as being punished for denial of the status offered via association with a representative of the Ideology’s interest such as Trent.  Trent himself is spared until giving in to the seductive allure of Brie, a true bastion of the hedonism these films are responding to.  “My Bloody Valentine’s” remake again features a small, behind-the-times mining town facing financial difficulty.  This economic struggle is highlighted in the changes in Axel’s character, returning to sell the business rather than work in it as in the 1981 version, the ultimate expression of competitive capitalism.  Finally, “Nightmare on Elm Street” features a similarly idyllic suburb to that of the original.  However, much greater emphasis seems to be placed on the poor home lives of Freddy’s newest victims, for instance Nancy’s parents’ divorce and her mother’s destructive alcoholism, a level of detail glossed over in 1984.

 

Youth is Wasted on the Young

“And then the rain turns to blood and the blood washes away in little rivers.”

                –Marcie, “Friday the 13th” (1980)

 

            Almost all of the victims in slasher flicks, the inhabitants of the terrible suburban places, share two very obvious traits:  youth and a pension for misbehavior.  The victim’s age would seem to serve multiple functions.  As Robin Wood noted, “these films’ overwhelming popularity with young audiences suggests they shouldn’t be ignored,” (1986 195) and a teen audience can best relate to the terror experienced by fellow teens.  From an Ideological perspective, the teenage years are often thought of as our most impressionable and, if the goal is further proliferation of the dominant Ideology, Hollywood is best served by pandering to that demographic.  Slasher films, it has been suggested, represent a response to the decadence of a preceding generation.  The victims of the 1970’s/80’s wave of teenie-kills are the children of the Baby Boomers and are being punished for their parents’ negation of classic norms.  The same could be said of the 21st century wave of slashers and its victims’ Generation X/Grunge, Slacker parentage.  The punishment aspect of the films is frequently rather blatant and, more times than not, is explicitly stated by a secondary character of advancing years who survived the turmoil of the previous era.  The best example might be Ralph of “Friday the 13th.”  Aptly referred to as a “harbinger of doom,” Ralph twice appears to sermonize on the evils in the camp’s past and warn of the danger to those who don’t respect that history.

            It is worth noting at this time the one recurring exception to the teenage rule, as I believe it further reinforces the reactionary nature of the victims’ ages.  With the exception of the “Halloween” movies, each film sees to the killing of one adult who stands as a bridge between the death of the youths and sins of their parents.  These characters might best be described as facilitators, survivors of each film’s opening carnage who should know better than to promote the return of the circumstances which caused it.  The “My Bloody Valentine” films would seem to most unabashedly embrace this pattern.  The original features Mabel, proprietor of Madame Mabel’s Laundrette and a veteran of the town’s now taboo Valentine’s parties.  Despite full knowledge of the standing warning against it, Mabel has assumed the role of party organizer.  The reward for her efforts is impalement by a pick-axe and a spin in a clothes dryer, the burns perhaps eluding to her eternal punishment.  The remake provides the owner of the Thunderbird Motel, a seedy establishment catering to the elicit, stabbed through the chin while wearing little more than a brassier.  Both “Nightmare on Elm Street” films follow a similar pattern, each concluding with Nancy’s mother being gored and sucked into a pane of glass, retribution for her complicity in Freddy’s murder and her refusal to accept the consequences to her child of those actions.  Finally, the cast of the original “Friday the 13th” includes Steve, whose family owns Camp Crystal Lake and apparently refuses to accept the damning curse placed upon it.  Steve brazenly reopens the camp, stocking it with a fresh crop of adolescents for the slaughter.

            The second trait of the teenie-kill victim, their desire to act inappropriately within the contexts of the prevailing Ideology, is arguably among the most accepted and well known motifs of the genre.  We all know that if you have sex in these movies you die.  According to Wood, “the ‘ideal’ inhabitant of our culture is the individual whose sexuality is sufficiently fulfilled by the monogamous heterosexual union necessary for the reproduction of future ‘ideal’ inhabitants” (“American” 72), thus those engaging in pre-marital sexual intercourse become subject to the killer’s puritanical sense of vengeance.  The tradition began with “Halloween” and Lynda and Bob’s romp at the home where their friend Annie is meant to be babysitting.  Bob retreats to the kitchen for a beer postcoitus and is quickly impaled by Myers upon a set of deer antlers hanging on the wall behind him.  Michael then proceeds upstairs and, donning a sheet to remind us of just what day it happens to be, strangles Lynda with the chord of the phone she happens to be speaking on.  In “Friday the 13th” Marcie and Jack receive the same fate.  After sex Marcie heads to the bathroom to clean up and Jack is swiftly stabbed through the neck from under the bed.  A drawn out stalk of Marcie then follows, culminating in an axe to her face.  “My Bloody Valentine” cleverly pokes fun at this standard in the fashion in which some of the killer’s victims are undone.  Mike and Harriet, having snuck away from the group that’s taken the festivities into the mine for a quickie, are ‘drilled’ together mid-act.  Sylvia, while waiting for John to return with a beer (a frequent occurrence in the genre), is mounted on a broken water pipe, with the jagged end protruding from her mouth in a very phallic manner as a slow trickle of water leaks out.  Similar examples can be found throughout every film, old and new, in the genre, a clear indication that pre-marital sex simply will not be tolerated by our conservative Ideology.

            So indeed, sex in the slasher does equate to a death sentence to be carried out immediately.  However, this does not account for all of the executions in these teenie-kill pics.  The scope and reach of the American Capitalist Ideology is far greater than that in the slasher film.  Clover, emphasizing the feminist perspective in regards to the victim, suggests that many male casualties in particular, are punished for simply impeding the killer’s progress or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  While women are killed for being women, Clover states that “boys die, in short, not because they are boys but because they make mistakes” (81).  I feel like this is an oversimplification of the circumstances surrounding the demise of members of both sexes.  The differences are clear between the two, more women are dispatched and typically in a more drawn out and dramatic fashion.  However, the implication that female victims are murdered for murder’s sake denies the conservative, reactionary nature of the movies.  A more thorough reading of the characters reveals that nobody, regardless of gender, dies just because.

            Many characters, in both waves of slashers, while not guilty of having sex exhibit overtly sexual behavior.  Howard of the first “My Bloody Valentine” and Ned of the original “Friday the 13th” are good examples of this trend, as neither carries even the implication of a sexual partnership with anyone else in their respective films.  This fact does not inhibit either from putting their horniness on full display, both flirting excessively with members of the opposite sex.  Howard’s crimes also include a very un-masculine attempt to flee the approaching killer leaving the women behind, a level of cowardice unbecoming a man amidst capitalist Ideology.  Ned is ostensibly a third wheel to Jack and Marcie and his envy of their relationship is apparent.  Ironically, Ned’s behavior is punctuated by a staged drowning, designed to steal a kiss from Brenda, which harkens to Jason’s death, calling into action the retributive force his drowning created.  Similar conclusions can be drawn in Glen’s death in the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” and Jesse’s in the remake, both having been spurned by love interests Nancy and Chris respectively.  Counter to Clover’s hypothesis, the same standard can be applied to the majority of the female victims not guilty of actual intercourse.  The original “Friday the 13th” presents multiple strong examples of this variation in Annie and Brenda.  Annie is killed while hitchhiking to the camp, an act frequently associated with the free-spirited hipsters of the previous generation and an affront to her responsibility as a consumer in a capitalist society.  Brenda’s circumstances bare a much stronger resemblance to those of Howard and Ned.  Her fate is sealed the moment she suggests a rousing game of ‘strip monopoly’ and pulls out Marcie’s bag of marijuana.  Annie’s character in both versions of “Halloween” is given a similar treatment, murdered in the car on her way to rendezvous with boyfriend Paul, having turned over her babysitting wards to Laurie and shirked her role as a settled mother figure.  She too is guilty of the consumption of pot, a drug which receives little tolerance in the teenie-kill movie.  Almost all of the victims in both “Friday the 13th” movies are witnessed smoking, with the most memorable instance of punishment for indulging in the wacky-tobacky being Wade of the later version, gutted while basking in the glory of his very large and fruitful crop.

            I feel it incumbent upon myself to dispel one particularly popular myth regarding the victims of teenie-kill pics.  I’m sure that most are familiar with the notion that the “black guy always dies first” in horror movies, an expression often tied to the slasher.  This is a blatant misnomer, however, as there is in actuality an extreme paucity of ethnic diversity of any kind in these films.  The four original works feature not one single African American, not even briefly or in passing in the background.  The same is true of the newer “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” the latter serving up one Asian American for a few lines via webcam.  The remakes of “My Bloody Valentine,” survived by a single ineffectual African American police deputy and “Friday the 13th,” featuring one Asian and one African American who both fall prey to the same vices as Howard and Ned before them, could be viewed as progressive in this respect.  This may be an indication of a lack of room for racial diversity within American Capitalist Ideology and presents a wonderful topic for future discussion.

 

The Last ‘Man’ Standing

“The old girl scout comes through again.”

                –Laurie Strode, “Halloween” (1978)

           

The lone survivor’s importance and meaning to the slasher film lies in the contrast between them and their less fortunate comrades.  First of all, lone survivor is a somewhat misleading term, as the carnage is not truly all encompassing.  Many characters of varying weight within the films live to see the conclusion and, as is the case with the “Friday the 13th” franchise, survival in one film does not ensure the same in the next sequel.  The lone survivor moniker is applied, with rare exception, to a female lead who is successful at turning the blade back upon the monster and at least temporarily thwarting his advance.  Laurie Strode of “Halloween,” Annie of the first “Friday the 13th” and Whitney of the second, Sarah in both “My Bloody Valentines” and Nancy in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies all reject the degradations which lead to their friend’s deaths and in many ways embody the settled mother figure identified by Robin Wood as an element of American Capitalist Ideology and an ideal inhabitant of it.

            Laurie Strode, particularly in the original “Halloween,” perhaps most perfectly personifies the nature of the lone survivor in the teenie-kill flick.  Her physical appearance is most comparable to the classic conception of a librarian, exuding very little femininity or sexuality.  Laurie is first witnessed wearing a loose fitting sweater, plain ankle length skirt and opaque beige tights, hiding all skin from the neck down and revealing nothing of her form.  This outfit is later replaced by jeans and layered tops, again leaving everything to the imagination.  The process of her desexualization is completed by her short, straight hair and the school books she’s rarely seen without.  Laurie iterates her own lack of allure, blaming it on the idea that “guys think [she’s] too smart.”  This stands in stark contrast to her friends Annie, who spends much of the film wearing nothing but a button down shirt and panties, and Lynda, who first appears clad in a very skimpy cheerleader outfit.  Laurie not only embraces, but seems to thrive on her role as adopted ‘mother’ to the children she’s babysitting, as previously noted taking on Annie’s responsibilities in this respect as well.  Describing herself as a girl scout, Laurie lovingly carves pumpkins and makes popcorn for the kids, consoling and protecting them in the face of the danger presented by Michael.  Annie openly denies these responsibilities, paying little heed to the child in her care and admitting to taking babysitting jobs simply to have a place to exercise her sexual liberation with boyfriend Paul.  Through these elements of mise-en-scene, the audience is led to believe that it’s Laurie’s virtue and immersion in her role within the dominant Ideology that gives her the strength to fend off her attacker.         

The worth of both Sarahs in the “My Bloody Valentine” movies can be seen similarly through their contrast with the female character each is closest to.  In the original, it is established early that Sarah’s greatest confidant is Patty who, via physical appearance and general behavior, represents much of what the Ideology is seeking to destroy.  Patty is tall and curvaceous, particularly paired with the petite and mousy Sarah, and possesses a very jovial personality, what many would consider to be ‘loud.’  While Sarah turns away the advances of two men, Patty openly invites male curiousity, proclaiming whilst describing her dress for the party that she “may not make it out alive!”  The dresses themselves represent something of an homage to an old Hollywood standard most closely associated with the western or gangster, where the color of the outfit often signified to which side a character belonged.  Sarah arrives wearing a full length white dress, the color most associated with virginity in American culture, and very little makeup.  Patty arrives adorn in a bright red, low-cut, very short and revealing dress, as if having self-applied the scarlet letter, and quickly claims her perch upon Hollis’ lap.  As should be no surprise, Patty meets with a rather gory end.  In the remake, a similar dynamic is created between Sarah and her slightly younger employee Megan.  While Sarah, again desexualized through choice of clothing and overall presentation, is concerned with raising her family and securing her home life, Megan is busy having an affair with Sarah’s husband that results in a pregnancy out of wedlock, a blatant affront to the puritanical doctrine of abstinence.  Megan’s untimely demise comes at work, to which she had arrived wearing cutoff jeans and a tight t-shirt that said ‘Ready to Party,’ and it is at this time the audience learns of Sarah’s knowledge of the affair.  Her true mettle as a settled mother is exhibited in her decision not to act upon that knowledge for the sake of maintaining a comfortable household.

            The lone survivors in the remaining films can be described in many of the same ways.  Both Nancy’s of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies are plain in comparison to their sexually active friend Chris.  In the original, Nancy is witnessed twice denying the advances of Glen, while in the remake her character is considerably more shy and withdrawn, never really even acknowledging the sexual impulses of her peers.  There’s the allusion in the first “Friday the 13th” of Annie spurning the nefarious advances of the older Steve and she is the lone teenage counselor at the camp not to openly endorse the rampant drug use of her colleagues.  Her status as a survivor would seem pre-determined, as she is the only player in the strip monopoly game to leave the table almost fully clothed.  The “Friday the 13th” remake presents an interesting twist on this motif, with both Whitney and her brother Clay surviving the night, though Whitney is left in doubt as she is grabbed by Jason leaping out of Crystal Lake in a scene that mirrors the conclusion of the original.  While this more than likely represents an attempt by the movie’s creators to be original and mix things up, the pair’s survival could easily be attributed to their familial connection and devotion, a reaffirmation of the ideal family lauded within capitalist Ideology.  Clearly life and death in the teenie-kill pic hinges on a character’s acceptance of the ideals presented by the dominant Ideology, whether that involves the denial of basic sexual impulses and desires or devotion to the classic conception of the nuclear family.

 

Conclusion:  The Dangers of Pure Art

            Given the reading of these slasher films that I have provided, the connection between the genre’s ever present motifs and elements of the prevailing capitalist Ideology at the time of the films’ conceptions seems a very reasonable conclusion.  Economically trying times call forth a level of conservatism that is flaunted within the movies produced under those circumstances, leaving little doubt as to the reactionary nature of this form of media.  The killer can be seen as a reaction to the liberalism and permissiveness of the previous generation and a definitive nod to the influence of Christianity in our society.  The masculine nature of the weapons utilized as well as the lone survivors and victims of the teenie-kill are certainly allusions to the roles individuals are expected to fill within that Ideology.  In the settings we see the effects of competition, progress and technology and a further affirmation of the importance of faith and spiritualism.  It’s these connections, between motif and ideological influence, that creates the bridge between film communication and societal norms and answers the question of why these particular films are being remade at this particular time.  Looking outside the horror genre, we can see further validation of my hypothesis in the other films being brought forth to the public for a second go around.  “Footloose” (Ross, 1984), a drama rife with teen angst surrounding the young’s desire to express their selves through dance, is undergoing a similar treatment.  Many of the same motifs present in the slasher can be identified to some degree in “Footloose,” with the killer replaced by an overbearing pastor, his blade exchanged for church sermons.  The teens in the film are being punished for much of the same misconduct as those in the teenie-kill movies, the impetus again being the sins of a previous generation.

            There is, however, one still lingering question that I would like to attempt to answer before concluding.  Why?  Why study film in this fashion?  Who cares about remakes and horror films in particular and what they mean?  I would turn to Kenneth Burke and his chapter “The Nature of Art Under Capitalism.”  In it, Burke discusses the differences between what he dubs pure art and propaganda and the affect each can have within a capitalist system.  Lobbying the value of propaganda, Burke states that “pure art”, which would include the narrative cinema and genre pieces discussed in this paper, “tends to promote a state of acceptance” (320).  While the general appeal and broad entertainment value of pure art creates an enjoyable film going experience, it ultimately serves to numb its audience to the real hardship and inequity in the viewers’ lives.  He goes on to state that “pure art is safest only when the underlying moral system is sound” (321), which Burke contends is rarely the case within a capitalist system such as that of the United States.  Slasher films and other similar movies are but a dalliance, a momentary catharsis which blinds us not only to the hardships of our lives, but to the conditions (often generated by the prevailing Ideology) which create those hardships.  Tania Modleski recognizes this effect in her essay on the contemporary horror film, identifying them with the proliferation of technology or ‘dead labor,’ arguing that this “has resulted in the invasion of people’s mental, moral, and emotional lives, and thus rendered them incapable of desiring social change” (764).  It’s through knowledge and understanding of the processes at work in the modern Hollywood film and social media in general that people can come to recognize the true nature of the culture which they inhabit.  Tony Williams, in an effort to justify his study of 80’s horror, suggested that “rather than bemoan contemporary generic failure we should analyze and interrogate the various texts no matter how unpleasant and reactionary they appear.  We may find significant links rather than definitive breaches with the past” (165).  His idea couldn’t be truer than in respect not only to the return of the teenie-kill pics and the torrent of Ideological mutation signaled by their arrival, but also as a reminder of the previous social conditions surrounding those movies’ creation.

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80 Tron (Lisberger, 1982)
79 Cube (Natali, 1997)
78 Andromeda Strain (Wise, 1971)
77 Brainstorm (Trumbull, 1983)
76 Stargate (Emmerich, 1994)
75 Cowboys & Aliens (Favreau, 2011)
74 Fahrenheit 451 (Truffaut, 1966)
73 The Time Machine (Pal, 1960)
72 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Fleischer, 1954)
71 Demolition Man (Brambilla, 1993)
70 Primer (Carruth, 2004)
69 9 (Acker, 2009)
68 Back to the Future 3 (Zemeckis, 1990)
67 Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008)
66 Men in Black (Sonnenfeld, 1997)
65 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977)
64 THX 1138 (Lucas, 1971)
63 Star Trek (Abrams, 2009)
62 The Thing from Another World (Nyby, 1951)
61 Altered States (Russell, 1980)

First a few words on the list and its construction.  While I’m not oblivious to such things as historical significance and overall production value, this list represents a ranking of my enjoyment of the movies relative to the other movies on the list only.  Also, I have not viewed every title that one might have grown accustomed to seeing on such Sci-Fi collections.  So my apologies to fans of movies like “Forbidden Planet” and “A Scanner Darkly”, I haven’t gotten to those yet.  And I haven’t seen “Avatar” and don’t believe I ever will.

100 Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979)
99 War of the Worlds (Spielberg, 2005)
98 Rollerball (Jewison, 1975)
97 Existenz (Cronenberg, 1999)
96 Innerspace (Dante, 1987)
95 Fortress (Gordon, 1992)
94 Star Trek:  First Contact (Frakes, 1996)
93 The Last Starfighter (Castle, 1984)
92 Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990)
91 Barbarella (Vadim, 1968)
90 Universal Soldier (Emmerich, 1992)
89 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Jennings, 2005)
88 The Fountain (Aronofsky, 2006)
87 The Quiet Earth (Murphy, 1985)
86 Star Wars:  Ep 3 – Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 2005)
85 Back to the Future 2 (Zemeckis, 1989)
84 Gattaca (Niccol, 1997)
83 Pitch Black (Twohy, 2000)
82 Explorers (Dante, 1985)
81 Them! (Douglas, 1954)

David Cronenberg’s latest features none of the themes or concerns so stunningly prevalent in his earliest features; it is a period piece about a moment in “intellectual history.” Foucault derides such a universalist approach, but in a way, it is highly satisfying and uniquely fascinating: that an idea, or set of ideas, and their origination and development, should form the backbone or source of interest in a tale that hinges, perhaps, on a romantic relationship. I was immediately reminded of Social Network: two dramatic (i.e. not boring) films about the ways in which singularly genius yet odd men with poor social skills managed to change the way the world thinks – and the humans that are betrayed, damaged, or destroyed on the way. And yet neither film necessarily sweats on the effort to portray these supposedly “bit players” or even necessary catalysts as worthy of further record: the fascination remains with the man who, unattractive though he is, manages to implant something in our minds that seems particularly OF him. In reality, they are men in the right places at the right time – and of the right background. Surprisingly, it is the Protestant in A Dangerous Method who falls prey to superstition and his own crippling guilt; what was Cronenberg trying to say? Was he merely attempting to capture a pivotal moment in our understanding of the human mind? Probably not – it was such a fun battle of egos and symbols and sexual predilections. It’s all about men, really. And perhaps Cronenberg’s love of a special man: Freud. Who seems to right about everything. In the end, perhaps the film does indeed relate to his earlier ouvre.

Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is significantly difficult to dismiss. A shallow viewing may convince one that the mass quantities of realistic and “gratuitous” violence and gore are wielded primarily for immediate shock value and a desire to push the viewer to hysterics and nausea. And, of course, this is true – to a degree. The use and value of explicitly unpleasant visuals and actions in horror films is of particular interest now, as recent genre productions from around the globe are alarmingly rife with the “torture porn” inspired by so-called “J-horror” titles, such as, for example, Audition. Horror films refuse to turn a critical eye on themselves as they once did; people truly seem to consume films like Hostel or Saw for the masturbatory quality of ever-more creative and disturbing forms of torture and violence. Cannibal Holocaust‘s self-conscious use of extremely realistic violence (and documentary footage of the killing of various animals), on the other hand, demonstrates an impressive prescience. As the main character asks at the conclusion of the film, with wonderful melodrama and cheese, “Who are the real cannibals?” It seems an obvious question, but I was struck, simply because I expected so little. As Chas Balun writes in the DVD’s accompanying notes, “Is Cannibal Holocaust an indictment of such films that exploit Third World countries and their people (and animals) for sensationalistic purposes? Or does it imitate what it so righteously condemns? Are the film’s transgressions in the service of art or commerce?” Word.