Two masterful film directors, John Carpenter and Wes Craven, have made their mark on the horror genre and the broader film industry. Beginning in 1978 with John Carpenter’s Halloween, and spanning almost 20 years, these auteurs have left an indelible footprint in Hollywood. They are the reason why the slasher genre became popular and why certain aspects of the horror film persist.
Halloween (1978) was made with a production budget of $325,000. In 1978, John Carpenter didn’t have a lot to work with per se. He had a small cast and crew. The director and the crew would drive around the city and just shoot. This is, of course, something in which a lot of up and coming filmmakers can relate to. Carpenter was as resourceful as possible, and the end justified the means as Halloween grossed more than $40 million. Again, considering inflation and the time period, that was a lot of money.
But it’s more than just the money. Carpenter’s film began a new era of horror. Movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Scream were all inspired by what Carpenter brought to the silver screen. Halloween’s influence included three main elements:
For those that have seen Halloween, or even if you haven’t, you definitely recognize the masked villain Michael Myers. Jamie Lee Curtis’ character, Laurie Strode, meanwhile, became an iconic final girl. Both of these characters were so different from what audiences had seen in horror movies, i.e. a strong female character and a centralized villain in Michael Myers. These characters still resonate today because of their relatability.
The relatability of the characters harkens back to the cinematic quality of the film. And what I mean by this is that the movie is very realistic. The world is believable, the characters are believable, and the entire premise is plausible. As we’ve seen with horror films since the 2000s, the scariest films are not necessarily the goriest or the ones with the most blood or kills. But rather, what we fear the most are situations that can happen to us in reality. For instance, Laurie’s story is believable for a number of reasons. She is a student, and her dialogue, actions, and relationships with other characters are familiar. To add, the villain and the acts he commits are plausible. In the opening scene, Michael is presented as an average boy from a suburban town, dressed in a clown costume on Halloween. Though he murders his sister, Judith, There aren’t any fantastical elements to him.
Moreover, the term ‘slasher film’ was born after Halloween’s release. And even though a lot of slasher films indulge in killing and blood, not many have reached the peak and relatability that Carpenter’s film has.
Halloween didn’t rely on blood and guts. There was a legitimate story, with real characters. Too add, the camera and music enhanced the realism.
For example, during the beginning of the film, we are in the POV of Michael Myers. The shot itself is a long, continuous take in which Michael ends up killing his sister. This inspired Sam Raimi, director of The Evil Dead (1981), to include something very similar within his film. And of course, there is the music. Everyone recognizes the Halloween theme. It’s so distinct and within the movie, it haunts us. As soon as the film starts, the score sets the mood for the entire story.
The mark that Halloween has had on the horror genre is ineffaceable.
Wes Craven, director of films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996), also left his mark on the genre. Like Carpenter, Craven gave us horror movies that scared us, but that didn’t rely heavily on blood. The characters were relatable, and the situations they were placed in were scary. Like Halloween, the characters were young teenagers. Now, this is not the prime reason why we can relate, but rather, it’s how the characters interact. Their drinking, sex, and dialogue are why we feel for these characters. We’ve been there. We’ve done that, so when they’re killed, it affects us as an audience.
After watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, audiences were left scared for days and nights. And in essence, isn’t that why horror films are made, to scare us?
Furthermore, Craven introduced a new type of horror villain: a funny, not too serious guy, but one we feared. Of course, I’m referring to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). Prior to the film’s release, the horror movie villains were serious and rarely interacted or taunted their victims, like Michael Myers. But Craven showed that the villain doesn’t have to be serious all the time. This same aspect was featured in Scream, where the killers also have a sense of humor.
Scream’s self-referential style made it unique. This occurs during the opening scene, in which a girl (Drew Barrymore) is talking on the phone with one of the killers. This scene references “scary movies” and pokes fun at its own genre, including iconic slashers like Freddy and Jason. And of course, it introduces Ghostface. It shows that he likes taunting and having fun with his prey, which is something that Craven also employed within A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy Krueger’s kills. Another cool aspect of the film is that in the beginning, we’re introduced to Drew Barrymore’s character, but she’s killed off relatively quickly. This is ironic because Barrymore’s character was a prominent figure on the posters. Nevertheless, what this does to the audience is that it puts us on our toes; it lets us know that anything can happen at any moment, and that makes for a more fulfilling, gratifying and unique cinematic experience.
Like Carpenter, Craven liked to work with a small budget. A Nightmare on Elm Street cost roughly $1.8 million to make. But it made that money back easily and then some. Scream’s budget was much higher, around $14 million, but it grossed more than $170 million worldwide. The financial success complements the reception of these films by the audience, especially years and decades later.
In summary, what these two film directors have done for the horror genre and film industry as a whole is unparalleled. When you think of good horror films or scary movies, you’re likely to think of one of the films that either Carpenter or Craven wrote and/or directed. When you think of horror icons, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, or the masked villains from Scream come to mind. Carpenter and Craven have inspired countless other filmmakers, especially within the horror genre and in fact, set off a new subgenre, the slasher fil, or at least made it mainstream.
In fact, the screenwriter of Scream, Kevin Williamson, cites Halloween as a source of inspiration for his pursuit of writing and ultimately, coming up with the idea and story behind the Craven-directed film. Even though I cover a 20-year period of Carpenter and Craven’s careers, it is undeniable that their impact has remained.
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