Metropol: Friday the 13th to April Fool’s: A Glympse At Holiday Horror

Friday the 13th

With the Friday the 13th remake, I thought I’d cover the whole phenomena, but then I realized that ever other Tom, Dick and Harry would be doing something similar. Some I’m doing something totally left field and showing you it’s place in a sub genre known as Holiday Horrors.

The Holiday horror sub genre isn’t as old as the Slasher genre by any means. While one could make the argument that A Christmas Carol was the first Holiday horror movie, the idea is thrown out because not everyone is targeted and random in the attack by the spectral beings involved in the story. They’re just a “scared straight” program only designed for Ebbenezzer Scrooge, showing him the error of rejecting the generosity of humankind expressed in the Christmas season. No, if we really needed a technical point of entry for the Holiday sub genre, it would be Amicus’ 1972 omnibus film Tales From The Crypt. Based of the EC Comics series, the most traumatic story in the five story movie was “All Through The House” staring Joan Collins as a wife who kill her wealthy husband for the inheritance on Christmas Eve, only to run into a cat and mouse game with an ax wielding psycho who’s on a murderous rampage disguised as Santa.

The Holiday horror came onto it’s own two years later with not one, but two films. While Silent Night, Bloody Night was technically the start of Holiday themed horror and was a solid movie staring John Carradine, the one most people remember was Bob Clark’s opus, Black Christmas. Clark (who years later, would be directing A Christmas Story) used a small budget to create one of the most prolific horror films of the 70’s. While it was your run of the mill “psycho in a sorority house”, Clark amped up the suspense and tension by never explaining the psycho. Hell, he never even shown his face save for a crazy eye during the climax of the film. The point being he dehumanized the killer and made him somewhat a force. Something that haunted the sorority house. Something that was largely picked up by Friday The 13th. This made the film a good payday and had Clark thinking of a sequel, but then dropped it due to lack of interest. Someone else, however, picked up the ball.

In 1978, a young director named John Carpenter and a young producer named Debra Hill brought Halloween upon the world. Using the same techniques Clark did, Carpenter created Michael Myers into the almost supernatural Shape. Utilizing the holiday in it’s namesake, the movie had become a landmark in the Holiday horror genre as well as setting the genre standards that would create the Slasher genre. Everything from the “blessed virgin” theme to the “Final Girl” (started by Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of famous actress Janet Leigh, known for being killed by Norman Bates.) all started with Halloween. What was made on a mere $325,000 grossed a whopping 47+ Mill in theaters and got people making slasher movies by the dozen. Including the one that would solidify the Holiday horror genre into the Slasher genre.

Friday The 13th was like other horror films made at the time. Slasher movies made on dimes in hopes to strike big. Inspired by Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, Sean Cunningham framed the film as sort of a roller coaster ride in the form of a giallo or Italian murder mystery. The rest was pretty simple. A group of teens in a secluded area get picked off one by one until there’s only one left.

What really made the movie work was Tom Savini, the F/X and makeup designer. His realistic designs for movie’s like Deathdream (by Bob Clark) and George Romero’s Dawn of The Dead caught the eye of Cunningham and was instantly hired thus propelling Savini into the mainstream. Savini is also credited as the man who came up with the overall mongoloid design of Jason for the film’s dream sequence. Savini’s effects helped the movie generate 45+ mill. in the box office.

To those not enamored by the franchise, Jason wasn’t the killer in the original film. He was originally the victim and reason people were dying at Camp Crystal Lake. His mother, Mrs. Vorhees was the killer, psychotically bent on stopping what happened to her son happen to anybody else. Producers however, were hell bent on a sequel and against Cunningham’s wishes, made Jason a killer. After gaining his iconic look in Part 3, Jason Vorhees became a cultural franchise and the “face” of the slasher genre.

Friday the 13th also solidified the idea that Holiday horror films was the in thing and the calender was torn in hellish glee by someone wanting to strike it big with the next holiday. Some were just blatant like Mother’s Day and My Bloody Valentine. Using the instruments of their holidays as bloody tools. Others used minor holidays like Graduation Day and Happy Birthday To Me. The trend was so rampant there was even a couple satires created.

The whole sub-genre came to a climax when in 1984, Silent Night, Deadly Night was released in theaters. The story of a tormented teen who snaps at Christmas became the target of powerful Parent groups, bringing the movie to a close several days after release. Their main complaint was that Santa shouldn’t be a killer. While the industry guffawed at the idea, they did wonder why this movie was picked instead of the numerous”Santa killer” movies before then. Especially Exploitation genius Dick Randall’s Don’t Open Till Christmas, which hit the theaters on December of that year. Tristar Ent., owners of Silent Night, re-released the movie on tape and made back it’s cost.

But the damage was done. Being the new moral panic mixed with the repetitious sequels was starting to run the audience ragged on body counts. While each Friday the 13th and Halloween sequel had the promise of blood and boobs, when the film ended, it just felt like the same movie. The holiday schtick wasn’t working any longer.

April Fool’s Day is considered by many as the movie that ended the trend. The movie was a horror comedy inspired by Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians with the Slasher element added to give and extra punch. Someone however failed to inform the PR department about this and it pushed the movie as a straight slasher film. Combine this with a let down ending that confused everyone and the bad reviews just poured in. While not the fault of the film itself and while it was a very good, thought out movie, it soured many a production house and as a result, ended the practice of picking up independently produced slasher films and all but ended the Holiday sub genre.

Now days, the sub genre is looked at as a relic form the 80’s. While there has been efforts to somewhat make money off of it (Leprechan, Uncle Sam, Jack Frost), it’s usually done with a tongue in cheek novelty. We have been seeing somewhat of a resurgence in the remakes of Black Christmas and Halloween. If Friday The 13th goes without a hitch, we just might see the sub genre rise from it’s grave.

Hey! If you have any comment or you’d like to ask a question or two feel free to either leave it in the comment box or email me at [email protected] Love to read from you.

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