Archetypal Characters Within the "Slasher" Film Sub-Genre
One of the most telling traits of a society is how it entertains itself. Although Americans of the late twentieth century have many choices for distraction, one medium has had a particularly significant impact upon the fabric of American culture: film. Through pandering to the ideas and beliefs of the audience, filmmakers parallel those ideas and beliefs in their creations. This correlation was demonstrated in the glut of so-called "slasher" films during the period 1974-1984. Although the films were diverse in form and execution, the basic plot of these movies involved some sort of deranged psychopath gleefully stalking and killing a number of unfortunate teenage victims. Within this sub-genre there can be found a number of basic character styles, or archetypes. These archetypes not only serve to bind certain movies into the slasher category, but also to provide a window into the culture that they cater to.
In order to present a specific example of each archetype, I have chosen four films that are exemplary of the overall sub-genre. Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) tells the story of a van full of traveling teenagers and their run-in with a family of backwoods cannibals. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) has killer Michael Myers strangling baby-sitters on the night of said movie title. Sean Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980) looses a hockey-masked psychopath upon a host of unsuspecting camp counselors. Finally, Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse (1981) finds four teens trapped in a carnival with a murderous sideshow freak.
The most evident archetype within the slasher sub-genre is the Virgin. Usually the Virgin is the protagonist of the film, a female teenager of moral purity and physical desirability. Massacre's Robin, Halloween's Nancy, Friday's Jane, and Funhouse's Cynthia all fit this description. The Virgin, as her title implies, is depicted as a non-sexual being, devoid of any erotic thoughts or actions during the film. Although the trait is usually only implied, both Halloween and Funhouse's protagonists are explicitly stated to be actual virgins. This asexuality is a symptom of the overall noble behavior that the Virgin characters share. Massacre's Robin is constantly fretting and fussing over her handicapped brother, and Halloween's Nancy relinquishes an anticipated date to baby-sit for family friends. Being the central character, the Virgin must eventually do battle with the antagonist slasher. After a failed attempt to escape the Slasher, the Virgin usually turns to the offensive, as when Friday's Jane dispatches the killer with a well-placed machete swipe. Essentially, the Virgin will seek a passive release from her situation, but will resort to violence if necessary.
In contrast to the immaculate, angelic Virgin is the Slasher, a deranged murderer who will stop at nothing to end the lives of the generic band of teens he encounters. This generally male...