|Miniature of Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th at Cockington Green.|
Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980)—both more than thirty years old—are now America’s classic horror movies. Why do they enjoy such prominence in American culture? The answer rests in the content of their plots and the context in which they were produced.
John Carpenter’s Halloween catapulted the slasher film into American culture with its release in 1978. In 1974, before he made A Christmas Story, director Bob Clark made Black Christmas, a story of young adults alone in a secluded area, ready to be terrorized, an all but standard plot line in horror movies today. But Halloween’s central character Michael Myers was something new. He was not just a serial killer, but one who stalked his victims with creepy music in the background. And he was seemingly indestructible. Never before had such a character existed in cinema. Not too long after Halloween came Friday the 13th, another movie about an indestructible evil being that slaughters all in its path.
On a deeper level, these films perhaps resonated with the psyches of Americans who lived through the 1970s, America’s “long national nightmare” and its “crisis of confidence.” It was the era of uncertainty, a time of stagflation, the transformation of social institutions and mores, and the Vietnam War. Americans learned from the Pentagon Papers that their government had lied to them. The cinema of the 1970s reflected this cynicism and despair. It is not a coincidence that this was the era of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), and Jaws (1975). The disaster films of the 1970s offered viewers the thrill and spectacle of normal life upended along with the relief of escape and survival. America’s mood during the 1970s guaranteed the popularity of Halloween. Following in the footsteps of Michael Myers came Jason and then Freddy Krueger. The list of slasher films since Halloween is extensive, and these movies have become a regular part of America’s Halloween culture.