The Birth and Evolution of the Slasher Film

On this Halloween night, it seems like a good idea to look at the history of a slasher sub genre I quite like–the slasher film. Sure, there’s plenty of awful slashers out there, but when done really well like Halloween, the films are gripping and frightening. It’s also a weird genre in that the films are so formulaic, with points that are always hit. Anyone that’s seen a few of them can picture the way it’s “supposed” to go in their heads. But when did it all start? The foundation came a lot earlier than you might think.

Four years before Halloween started the craze, Bob Clark’s other Christmas movie, Black Christmas, had the slasher formula down pat. It’s all there: young people getting killed one by one in a centralized setting, POV shots of the killer doing his work, the “last girl” etc. Other 70s films that predate Halloween like Alice, Sweet Alice also contain many of the same elements.

Two older films are also credited with having an influence on the slasher genre: Pyscho and Peeping Tom, both from 1960. Although both boast low body counts, the basis is there, especially in the case of Peeping Tom, which features a killer filming the death of his victims, giving a view not unlike the soon to be popular POV shots.

And yet, early precursors of the genre can be found even further back. Readers of the mystery genre will know that Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and the numerous film adaptations that followed, fits the early slasher bill. In it, a group of people who have done some sort of wrong are all gathered together on an island, at which point they are told that one by one they will be killed, which is exactly what happens. What is odd is that there are two other films that predate the book’s 1939 which feature similar plots. And in those two films we find the earliest slasher type films.

Thirteen Women (1932) and The Ninth Guest (1934) both feature the same warning of predicted death, with prophecy being fulfilled as the body count rises. The Ninth Guest in particular seems like an exact copy of the Christie book until you realize the book came later.

If anyone knows of earlier instances of these type of films, let me know. But in the meantime, check out these two 30s pre-slashers. Both are worth a look.

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