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Friday, May 24, 2024

Slasher Saturdays – Origins

Slasher Saturdays

Where did the slasher film come from? How did it all start, and most importantly, what was the very first movie that we can can say with any certainty was the very first of the kind? 

If you know your horror than you will already be familiar with the more popular answers. Halloween (1978) is recognized by many as the film that set the blueprint for the whole sub-genre, while Psycho (1960) has been called the slasher prototype. I will be taking a closer look at both of those masterpieces in due time. But during the course of my research I discovered something interesting, a film which has been cited by some as perhaps the earliest example of a slasher movie, though certainly not by all. 

Thirteen-Women-One-SheetThirteen Women, made in 1932, predates any other movie that has been called the first slasher by a considerable distance. Evidently what convinced some viewers to call it so was the presence of two very important tropes; that of a number of victims being systematically picked off in inventive ways by the killer, and the cause of the murders being a past trauma or event that acts as a spark for what happens in the film. 

Suffice to say, these are the only things which link this movie to the slasher genre and so to call it a slasher film is a very tenuous leap to say the least. Nevertheless I thought I would watch this picture and see if anything else was hidden away that could further connect it to our subject. 

In truth there really isn’t anything else that could make me call this the first slasher. It is interesting to see the two most prominent themes of the genre present in the narrative but all the other aspects of the movement are absent. True, the murderer is similar to the slasher killer in the sense that the crimes committed are fairly elaborate and methodical, but there is very little actual slashing involved, save for one murder committed with a knife. 

thirteen-women-e1332350399870One thing that I do find interesting is the female focus of this movie. A common theme of this blog will invariably be alleged misogyny and whether the slasher film is an attack on feminism in general (spoiler, not really, but we’ll get to that later). One thing is certain about the slasher genre; while male characters do meet with brutal deaths, the focus has always been on the plight of the female, whether by design or unintentionally. In the case of this film, not only are all of the victims women, but so is the killer. That isn’t a spoiler by the way, it’s an important plot point, one which therefore separates this movie from a typical slasher as the mystery of the murderer’s identity is a fairly common trait of the genre. 

What Thirteen Women really is to the slasher fan is a pleasant distraction. A brief foray out of the territory of the genuine slasher film into something that is slightly similar to what we know and love but not actually a part of the movement. It certainly isn’t the start of it. No, this is an intriguing example of what the Hollywood horror/thriller was like in the 1930s.

myrna-loy-thirteen-womenThe best horror films are representations of the fears and anxieties of contemporary society, and this one fits that bill perfectly. Scarred by the experience of the First World War, the United States had adopted an isolationist policy, preferring to steer clear of international politics and focus on its own interests. Many horror films from this time were shaped by this stance, which is why so often the villain was a foreign entity, as in Dracula (1931), and the hero was an American placed in danger in a far away land, as in White Zombie (1932).

Thirteen Women features a villain who is explicitly oriental, and her motivation for murder is a direct comment on American mistrust of of the native, white norm. 

This is not the first slasher, but it is a pretty fascinating old American thriller which I recommend checking out. 

So where do the answers to the questions with which I started this little essay lie? We will find out next week in Slasher Saturdays, exclusively at Geek Pride. 

Michael Dodd
Michael Doddhttps://www.geek-pride.co.uk
Prolific writer attempting to slowly take over the internet through various explorations of cinema, heavy music and everything in between.

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