No. 214 – Psychos A-Go-Go!

The Burning, Maniac Cop and Killer Klowns From Outer Space posters ©Filmways, Inc., Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment and Trans World Entertainment Corporation, respectively

Progs 20962099‘s (2018) Survival Geeks story Slack N’ Hash, written by Emma Beeby and Gordon Rennie, and drawn by Neil Googe with colours by Gary Caldwell v a variety of cult slasher films such as The Burning (1981), [we’re going to assume that hedge trimmers are a logical progression from garden shears, and we’re also going to assume that “Maniac Fireman” is a logical progression from] Maniac Cop (1988) and, well, anything with a scary clown[1] in it – among others – and tropes and paraphernalia pertaining thereto

The most references to horror films are to be found in the archetypal cabin in the woods serving as headquarters to the twisted Final Girls[2], and features:

  1. Jason Voorhees’ machete from the Friday the 13th (Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros., 1980) franchise
  2. Madman Marz’s (Paul Ehlers) axe from Madman (Jensen Farley Pictures, 1981), or indeed a generic axe used in any number of slasher flicks
  3. Leatherface’s (Gunnar Hansen, 1947–2015) chainsaw from Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Bryanston Distributing Company, 1974)
  4. The baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire could be a reference to Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) “Lucille” as seen in AMC’s The Walking Dead
  5. Sharpened sticks, perhaps part of a boobytrap (undetermined)
  6. Large hooks on chains, probably from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  7. Possibly the metal spike that impaled Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton, 1920–1987)) in The Omen (20th Century Fox, 1976)
  8. Mounted wolf’s head, possibly from The Cabin in the Woods (Lionsgate Films, 2012) – but for entertainingly exploiting horror film tropes, well worth a mention anyway
  9. Hunting knife from The Prowler (Sandhurst, 1981)
  10. Sickle from Children of the Corn (New World Pictures, 1984)
  11. Fred Krueger’s (Robert Englund) arm with bladed glove from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (New Line Cinema, 1984)
  12. Severed arm with hook, possibly from Candyman (TriStar Pictures, 1992), although this is a common weapon employed in slasher films
  13. Fishhooks on chains form Hellraiser (Entertainment Film Distributors/New World Pictures, 1987)
  14. Possessed mounted deer’s head from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (Rosebud Releasing/Embassy Communications/De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/Palace Pictures, 1987)
  15. Hair curlers from a rather innovative murder in Sleepaway Camp (United Film Distribution Company, 1983)
  16. Billy Murphy’s (Daniel Norris) machete from The Final Girls (Stage 6 Films/Vertical Entertainment, 2015)
  17. Cargo hook either from John Carpenter’s The Fog (AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1980), or possibly from I Know What You Did Last Summer (Columbia Pictures,1997), but again, a common enough weapon in slasher films
  18. Cropsy’s (Lou David) garden shears from The Burning
  19. Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask from the Friday the 13th (Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros., 1980) franchise
  20. Billy Murphy’s mask from The Final Girls
  21. Trapdoor from Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (New Line Cinema, 1981)

The irrational fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia[4], and although its origins are unclear, some maintain that it dates back to 19th centrury works such as Edgar Allan Poe’s (1809–1849) Hop-Frog (The Flag of Our Union, 1849), Catulle Mendès’ (1841–1909) La Femme de Tabarin (Parade, 1876), and Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s (1857–1919) opera Pagliacci (1892), all of which featured murderous clowns. In the modern era, however, Stephen King’s novel It (Viking Press, 1986) is largely accredited with popularising the idea.The slasher horror film genre has seldom had good press in its time, but has recently undergone a more serious re-evaluation among film theorists and cultural historians, prompting discussion in both conservative (the inefficacy of sexual freedom) and liberal (adjustment of gender representations; legitimising female rage at male aggression) camps.

Having its roots in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s (1899–1980) Psycho (Paramount Pictures, 1960) and Michael Powell’s (1905–1990) Peeping Tom (Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors, 1960), the slasher film evolved quickly into the easily recognised formula of the isolated, masked male pitted against young, sexually active women, whose promiscuity – or even tantalising prudishness – triggers the killer’s murderous fury, usually based on the recollection of some past trauma.

The Video Recordings Bill passed by the British Parliament in 1984 – with legislation following soon after in the US – led to the labelling of many slasher films as “video nasties,” and however arbitrary and self-defeating that may have seemed to many, it did lead in the mid-80s to a decline in slasher film production and distribution of material deemed to contain “excessive violence”.

Subsequent films, however, which were to become known as “yuppie slashers,” like Fatal Attraction (Paramount Pictures, 1987), Pacific Heights (20th Century Fox, 1991), and the Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs (Orion Pictures, 1996), brought an air of respectability to the genre, and with the appearance of convention-bending slashers such as Scream (Dimension Films, 1996), Scream 2 (Dimsension Films, 1997), and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (Dimsension Films, 1998), the genre was back on track and open to a new range of possibilities.

Notes

  1. There are, at time of publication, more than 50 horror films featuring clowns
  2. “Final Girl” referring to the ultimate – usually female – survivor of a slasher film, eg. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in John Carpenter’s Halloween
  3. As it happens, there was indeed a very real (but non-homicidal) Bobo the Clown, performed by Chester Eugene Barnett (1903–1985), whose successful circus career in the US lasted from the late 1920s to the early 1970s
  4. “Coulro,” from ancient Greek word for “one who goes on stilts”

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