Friday, March 01, 2019

Horror Lexicon 19: Vice Precedes Slice-and-Dice

If you watch slasher films made in the 1980s (or the 1990s, for that matter) with any regularity, you understand one vitally important fact: vice precedes slice-and-dice.

In other words, the (usually) teenage dramatis personae of slasher horrors must indulge in some form of wild or inappropriate behavior before the Masked Killer offs them. In broad strokes, this means they must either smoke weed, booze it up, or engage in pre-marital sex.

It's ironic that two of the most powerful political forces in America teamed up during the 1980's to slam and denigrate slasher films as a form: feminists and religious conservatives.  Ironic because, in many significant respects, slasher films actually reflect well both set of ideological values (although admittedly in bloody, disgusting fashion).

In most slasher films, for instance, the sole survivor, not-to-mention destroyer of evil-doers is a woman, the so-called "Final Girl," and a character of strong insight and resourcefulness.  Name one other genre in which an independent, clever woman overcomes all the odds, and defeats the villain through her own skill and smarts.

On the second front, the teens punished by the Masked Killer (the supernatural hand of nature, or God, as it were...) in slasher films are those who -- in defiance of traditional moral values but in accordance with a more permissive society -- knowingly indulge in bad behavior. These movies represent a carefully coded, but conservative response to the "do what feels right" 1960's.

Sure, have premarital sex and smoke weed all you want...but there will be repercussions.

Regardless, slasher films depict a draconian universe with very simple rules.  

The are:

You play, you pay.  

You smoke, snort or fuck, and, well, you're out of luck.  

Jason, Michael and the like always kill first those teens who have stepped outside the confines of decency as established by the culture. These "monsters" serve as morality's avenging angels, and Jason's presence, at least, universally coincides with a storm (a sign that Mother Nature or God Himself is angry with the teens for their immoral acts).  Similarly, in Phantasm (1979), the Tall Man lures men to their deaths by becoming a sexually-inviting "Lady in Lavender."  Once the men have been distracted by their desire for sex, she/he easily kills them.

Is it just luck or happenstance that the wicked die and the virtuous survive?  No.  Not at all.  If you're smoking weed or having sex, you're somewhat less likely to notice/pay attention when the power goes out, when the front door is left unlocked, or when a killer wearing a hockey mask is hiding under your bed, I suppose. If you're paying attention to your vices and you're appetites, you're far less likely to be keeping an eye on your long term survival.

Some later films, including I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) take the Vice-Precedes-Slice-and-Dice leitmotif to a new plateau. The vice depicted in that film was selfishness.  The lead teen characters lied about killing a man in a car accident, and failed to take responsibility for their actions.  Accordingly, a bogeyman was created to punish them for their rampant immorality.

Films that have featured the Vice Precedes Slice-and-Dice paradigm include (but are not limited to):  Halloween (1978), Phantasm (1979), Friday the 13th (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), He Knows You're Alone (1981), Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), Graduation Day (1981), Friday the 13th Part II (1981), Hell Night (1982), Humongous (1982), The Final Terror (1983), Sleepaway Camp (1983), The Black Room (1984), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Friday the 13th (2009).

Finally, any discussion of this particular horror movie trope must include a notable example of its inversion. The satirical slasher film Cherry Falls (2000), involves a murderer who is killing the town's virgins. Accordingly, all the young people of the town organize a giant party wherein they can relieve themselves of their virginity, thus removing themselves from the potential victim pool. In this case, vice prevents slice-and-dice!

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