Although it had always been prevalent in cinema, violence was only becoming glorified and exploited in the early 1970s. As far back as 1903 the ending in The Great Train Robbery is that of a pistol barrel pointed at a viewer. Film noirs of the 30s, 40s, and 50s only took it to another, somewhat respectable level, while the shock-and-schlock horror films of that time slid to the opposite end of the spectrum.
The 60s, a time of radical change in the world, produced yet another breed of on-screen violence, by gradually throwing in sex, nudity and other easily identifiable exploitations to further muddy the waters. One sub-genre that was taking a firm hold of on-screen violence was the slasher film, proposing a dark reflection of society typically through one character’s actions on a number of characters who were staples or stereotypes of the rapidly evolving American and European societies.
Alfred Hitchcock was the director most notable in pioneering this sub-genre with his indelible mark on celluloid that is Psycho. But more importantly, it was little known films like The Toolbox Murders or Driller Killer which helped this burgeoning sub-genre explode into the onslaught of slasher films the 80s produced. Films like Friday the 13th maybe wouldn’t have been possible if not for the inspiration of ones like, say, Bloodbath.
There’s something intrinsically frightening to a society where only one individual is a threat. At the same time though, there’s something utterly captivating about an individual who could pose a threat to an entire society, and the 80s capitalized on this idea as well, spinning it off into Predator, Die Hard and Rambo, where one man stands as both savior and menace.
Generally, horror films appear in greatest amount during or after a time of war, so it’s conceivable that during a war such as that in Vietnam, where a society finds itself in an opinionated divide, the horror genre, always in flux, should begin to peak once again. Just look at the last seven or eight years.
In the late 60s films were trying to shape the way audiences perceived life, society — the world, and were subsequently slapped on the wrist while critically applauded (e.g. Midnight Cowboy). Gritty realism was in full swing during this time and was spilling into the early 70s, so much so one could almost feel the slime on the streets of New York (just read some of the the article below).
Politics of cinema were vastly changing during this tumultuous time, especially in the horror and drama genres; in fact, by the mid 80s horror (and its many sub-genres) would be the most produced (and rapidly produced, at that) films of any genre! 1971-72, I propose, was the catalyst for this horror film explosion, due to a concentrated collection of four films which were typically filtered out of being considered in the “horror film” genre.
Through the future articles on this blog Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) will be carefully (open to debate) dissected. Subsequent comparison of the parts to circulating ideals, morals and motifs of those years will show that society is reflected in horror films as an instrument of aversion; and therefore, this genre can thrive in times when society needs to reflect upon itself in order to find something, anything, which could be more frightening.