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Lest we forget: killing time with teen slasher films

By in Culture

BILLY-RAY BELCOURT — The Gateway (University of Alberta)

Ghostface, the famous masked murderer of the Scream series.
Ghostface, the famous masked murderer of the Scream series.

Edmonton (CUP) — If the horror genre has taught us anything, it’s that our greatest fear is fear itself and that the human race is one deranged species.

A terrifying combination of cannibalistic serial killers, teenage psychopaths, masked murderers and the iconic phrase, “I see dead people” is deeply entrenched in the minds of any child who experienced the horror films of the ‘90s. Most lovers of scary movies will wholeheartedly appreciate the terror-inducing narratives that were crafted during this decade as the industry produced films in almost every genre imaginable including alien, zombie, supernatural and psychological. But most memorably, the popularity of the ‘90s horror film placed the teenage slasher amongst pop culture royalty, creating a legacy of film conventions that continue to this day. These movies are also prime procrastination tools for any student dying to escape from school work and the stresses of midterms.

Despite the specificity of this genre, some of my favourite horror films were borne out of the notion that teenagers and young adults could mastermind vengeance-fuelled killing sprees. The intricate web of murders and the limited set of potential victims and perpetrators always generated suspense and anxiety. As someone easily startled by unsuspecting and dramatized “jumping out from behind the closed door” scenes, these slasher flicks always kept me tense and on the edge of my seat. Even if I know something is going to suddenly come hurdling into the frame I’ll still manage to make that awkward grunting noise when something surprises and scares you at the same time, which is why the slasher sub-genre fuels my love of horror films.

Considered one of the most successful films of the decade, Scream was able to ingeniously satirize the clichés of the horror genre through its characters who blatantly discuss the possible series of events based on classic horror flicks like Friday The 13th and Halloween. But most importantly, Scream left us perplexed about the origins of the killer. This created a new kind of movie watcher, one who shouted at the T.V. every five minutes trying to guess the murderer’s true identity. Ultimate glory for movie watchers wasn’t experienced until the credits rolled and the person who “called it” was crowned victorious.

Scream situates us within a group of high school classmates, a police officer and a reporter as a masked murderer terrorizes the town with his revenge-fuelled rage. It effectively established a new storyline that proved to be both novel and interesting, paving the way for similar films.

Released one year after Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer took this teenage murderer trope to another level by depicting all of its central teenage characters as capable of committing murder and suppressing its consequences. Taking place one year after the protagonists cover up a car accident that left one man dead, the film takes viewers on a suspenseful ride as the group of older teens are stalked by an unknown killer. Incorporating much of the same conventions as Scream, the identity of the hook-wielding murder and his motives are hidden behind even more death and human depravity, leaving viewers emotionally invested in the film’s outcomes.

Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer will always be remembered as horror films that left viewers questioning the goodness of man and the hidden intentions of the pubescent population. But above all, these films are undeniably entertaining and deserve to be re-watched on Saturday nights, because let’s be honest, you weren’t actually going to do your readings anyways.

Photo: Movie Still

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