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Slasher Summer: How to Make a Slasher Flick

Jason makes a movie
So easy, even a mentally challenged lake hobo can do it!

A cursory glance at Wikipedia tells me that "slasher films are a subgenre of horror films, typically involving a violent psychopath stalking and murdering several people, usually with bladed tools." This bare-bones definition doesn't do the flicks justice, though, as it fails to encapsulate all the tropes and idiosyncracies of the films we've been looking at all summer long.

The best way to learn is by doing, so if we're really going to crack what makes a slasher flick, you have to go out and make one yourself. I'm too broke to be the one to do it--probably because of my willingness to offer my creative input free of charge on my website--and I'm also way too lazy. Therefore, I am assigning this project to you, dear reader. You are now in charge of making it happen, but don't worry, I'll get the creative legwork out of the way for you, and I'll go step-by-step. All you have to do is write the script, secure funding, find a decent director, get a cast and crew together, set a production schedule, and get the thing distributed after it's been produced and put together. Nothing too difficult.

Before you get started, there's a few things you need to keep in mind throughout. First, originality is wildly overrated and unnecessary. Friday the 13th is a shameless rip-off that started life as nothing more than the title, and while Halloween started what Wikipedia refers to as "the Golden Age of Slasher films," it's not exactly an original idea either. I mean, if you're Alfred Hitchcock, go right ahead and get creative, but for the rest of you, it's too late to pretend you're not blatantly riffing on Psycho. Second, don't even think of depending on CGI. In all the films we've looked at this summer, I can't think of a single example of computer graphics working better than practical effects. These films depend on gory violence--on blood, viscera, and disarticulated body parts--and that's just not something CGI has even come close to mastering yet. People are more forgiving of a blow-up doll being pulled through a small window than they are a computer generated psycho leaping out of a mirror that shatters a little too perfectly. Lastly, if you're not having sadistic fun, your movie will bomb. Enjoy the slaughter, or it's just not worth it.


Chucky being made
Hey look, a visual gag

Naturally, the first thing you need is your antagonist. Most of the slashers we've looked at involve a singular killer, such as Freddy, Chucky, and Michael Myers. However, while Jason Vorhees is the primary villain in his series of films, not all the serial murders committed in the series are his; the first film belongs to his mother, and the fifth involves a copycat killer. Also, you can't ignore the entire family of killers in the Texas Chainsaw flicks, because no matter how iconic Leatherface is, he is only responsible for a small percentage of the series' kills. Therefore, you can't say a singular villain is necessary, but all of the killers are certainly "violent psychopaths." It's also worth noting that while they're usually men, there are a couple of women amongst them (namely, the Sawyer matriarchs and Pamela Vorhees).

As for the "bladed tools," they do seem like a requirement. Freddy might get creative from time to time, but no matter what he's doing, he's still got that bladed glove and isn't afraid to use it. Jason, Chucky, and Myers are all notorious knife-weilders, and you can't exactly have a Texas Chainsaw flick without the titular chainsaw. Even Pinhead gets in on the sharp metallic action with his favored hooks on chains. Come up with a signature weapon, and make sure it's made of metal. Don't be an idiot and use something like a noose, because then you'll just have to hang yourself with it.

Freddy silhouette
Good silhouettes make for good car decals

So we've established we need a psychopath (or multiple psychopaths) that uses a bladed weapon to murder people. Does he have to have supernatural powers? While all but the Sawyer clan eventually go the supernatural route, not all of the killers we've looked at this summer start that way. Despite Dr. Loomis' grand pronouncements about his evil nature, Michael Myers is never definitively supernatural in his first film; Pamela Vorhees is a frumpy middle aged woman, and though she shows a surprising amount of strength, she never crosses the line and is easily decapitated in the end. Still, there's no denying the supernatural powers of Freddy and Chucky, so you can go either way. It really depends on the tone you're going for.

Your killer's look, though, is far more important than his bent or even his backstory (which for some reason almost always involves a bunch of people doing something bad so that the town or lake or whatever might "deserve" the slasher's vengeance). It has to be iconic--to the point that you can recognize his silhouette--but you can't just throw a trenchcoat and top hat on him and call it a day. Wes Craven put red and green on Freddy's sweater, not because Freddy's a Christmas fan, but because Craven read once that those two colors hurt your brain when filmed side by side. This might be the hardest thing you'll have to do, but if you go for a creative weapon as opposed to just a knife, that could do a lot of the work for you. It doesn't even have to be original. You could just turn Oddjob into a slasher villain, for example; he's already got that slicy hat as his signature weapon.


Kevin Bacon and Crispin Glover
Pro tip: hire actors who will one day become famous

So you've created your blade-weilding psychopath, but he (or she, or they, whatever) has got nothing to do. He needs victims. Most of these franchises focus on lots of obnoxious teenagers, because everybody fantasizes about killing them, but it's not a prerequisite. Your chosen victim can be adults or even children, as evidenced by Chucky's frequent tormenting of each. That said, it's pretty rare for a slasher movie to get away with actually killing children, so if you want to victimize a child, that kid is going to have to survive the whole movie, and that means you need to find a young actor or actress capable of carrying your flick without being annoying. That's really hard, because few child actors are Danielle Harris or Alex Vincent, so all the money you'll save by using child labor you'll lose in the grueling casting process.

Teenagers are your safest bet. Paradoxically, they're also your target audience, so make sure your victims are relatively good looking. If you can find actors and actresses willing to show plenty of skin, so much the better. You don't have to show nudity to make a good slasher flick, but it usually helps to have a few boobies on screen, so make sure your actresses are free of no-fun clauses in their contracts. You should also hire one or two token uglies (that's Hollywood ugly, not Wal-Mart ugly). If they're charismatic, make them comic relief, and if they're not, make them early victims. Whatever you do, don't make any of them the protagonist, because that's just silly. If you hire any African Americans, your choices are similarly limited: either they are the first victims or they survive the whole movie. Hey, don't look at me like that. I don't make the rules.

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-e. magill 8/17/2017

  • The Halloween Reviews
  • Michael Myers' Top 10 Best Kills
  • Halloween's Top 10 Finest Moments
  • The Nightmare on Elm Street Reviews
  • Freddy's Top 10 Best Nightmares
  • The Friday the 13th Reviews
  • Jason's Top 10 Best Kills
  • Video Game Review: Friday the 13th: The Game
  • The Texas Chainsaw Reviews
  • Leatherface's Top 10 Most Intense Moments
  • The Child's Play Reviews
  • Chucky's Top 10 Best Kills
  • The Hellraiser Reviews
  • How to Make a Slasher Flick