Monday, October 06, 2008

Theofantastique interviews Muir

Theofantastique, a terrific site that serves as a "meeting place for myth, imagination and mystery in pop culture," has just posted an interview with me regarding two of my books, Horror Films of the 1980s and Eaten Alive At a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper.

Here's an excerpt:

TheoFantastique: With the exception of Halloween, I have not been a fan of teenage slasher films. But in this book you devote a chapter to “A History of the Dead Teenager Decade” which was very helpful. In this chapter you reference the dissatisfaction of film critics like Roger Ebert with such films who look back for a more innocent cinematic age in the portrayal of the teen. How did horror films in the 1980s help teens and others grapple with the spectre of global annihilation and disease, like AIDS?

John Muir: Another critic I admire tremendously, Janet Maslin, also derided the slasher movie formula and said that slashers made the world (and specifically audiences…) mean. I strongly disagree. I think the world was already mean and ugly (thanks to Three Mile Island, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of Mart Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, the Manson Murders, the Vietnam War, Watergate, etc.). Slasher movies arrived at a time when teens were rightly wondering how many tomorrows they could count on, especially with Reagan’s finger poised on the red button.

So I’m not surprised or in any way judgemental that the entertainment of choice for a generation (the slasher film) concerned what I term in the book a “crucible of survival” in which only the clever, the moral, the resolute and the resourceful manage to survive an apocalyptic world that seems stacked against them. Slasher movies don’t take make audiences meaner (as Maslin suggested); they simply take the real world as it exists and demonstrate to teens that they can survive it; especially with the right skill set. Slasher films are a test; a gauntlet. Much like life itself.

Honestly, I believe that - when well-done - slasher films are cathartic and harmless. At least here, death boasts consequence and meaning. By contrast, look at something like Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), which says, basically, it’s okay to put an arrow in the head of someone else if he’s a communist; for “nationalist” reasons. I believe that message is far more harmful than anything contained in any Halloween or Friday the 13th film.

And let’s remember too: it wasn’t just horror films grappling with this kind of apocalypse mentality in the 1980s; it was punk music and punk fashion too. The aesthetic of the peace generation was replaced in the 1980s by the punk ethos.

Check out the rest of the interview here.

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