Kings of the 80’s Slasher: Jason and Freddy
Many iconic horror films were introduced in the 1980’s. From the genius body horror films of David Cronenberg to the insanity of cosmic horror heroes Stuart Gordon and Clive Barker; the 80’s loved horror any way it could get it, but the slasher was true king. Many slasher legends were born from the decade, but two of them stood decapitated head over shoulders from the rest: Jason and Freddy. Both achieved iconic status, so much that the two are synonymous, even archetypal, with the slasher sub-genre.
The 80’s became a decade of excess, but it didn’t start out that way. Drying off the sweat of the sexual revolution and clearing through the thick clouds of marijuana smoke, the youth of the 80’s didn’t want to be associated with the previous generation. Sure, sex is on the mind of most teenage boys and girls, but there was a danger associated with it now; Aids. And what kind of childhood could be had when the youth knew that people like the Zodiac Killer, The Son of Sam, and Night Stalker – all to come of age during the boomer generation – walked among them? Gen X carried on though; computers, video games, Reaganomics, and popped collars had the road ahead looking mighty bright, but the past eventually comes back to haunt – enter Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.
Quick, think of a masked killer in a horror film. What’s the first name that comes to mind? I’m guessing one of three killers came to mind: Leatherface, Michael Meyers, or Jason Voorhees. Perhaps I just say “hockey mask”. You don’t even need context, it’s Jason Voorhees. Given that the game of hockey has long since ditched the goalie mask for a helmet, the hockey mask belongs to Jason.
Though there are others like him, as in Meyers and Leatherface, Jason has carved for himself an almost Jungian archetype status, becoming one with a general type. The makers of Jason, Victor Miller, Steven Miner, and company, took the basic elements of Jason’s predecessors and then gave him an angle no one had yet thought of yet; an almost mystical invincibility. Before Jason became Jason, he was merely the legend within the scope of a fictional movie. It was the story a young, deformed boy who drowned in a lake while two teenaged camp counselors were off having sex. After a brief appearance at the end of the film, he became something else entirely throughout the rest of the series.
The Jason Archetype
But it all started with Frankenstein’s monster, the prototype for Jason and his two spiritual brethren. The shadow that Frankenstein casts, all three masked psychopath’s stand large within. Though the implicit meaning of Frankenstein’s monster is time appropriate, and therefore different than our trinity, it is his embodiment of the western model of God that made him so effective. From Greek mythology to the Holy Bible, the image of God or Gods is that of a large, strong, wise, all knowing, sometimes all good, and powerful white man. Frankenstein’s monster, however, was an abomination to God. He had the image, the size, and physical power of a God, but his mind was feeble, making him dangerous.
Leatherface and Michael Meyers
The first to pick up the Frankenstein archetype and run with it to horror immortality was Leatherface. Like Frankenstein, he was a freak of nature with a feeble mind. Leatherface was a large, powerful white man with an affinity for his trusty hammer and mighty chainsaw. The thing that turned the archetype on its head, however, was his mask. The mask added a much darker element to the archetype – one that said “whatever is under this mask is so terrible it has to be hidden.” Next up was Michael Meyers. Like Leatherface and Frankenstein’s monster before him, he was a large, strong white man, but unlike the previous two, it wasn’t his feeble mind that caused unease, but the notion that he was pure evil. Meyers too had a mask, but instead of a mask made of human skin hiding the hideous, he was wearing a simple mask of a man(William Shatner) hiding the face of evil.
Then there was Jason. Regardless of whose house Jason Voorhees belonged to, no other horror icon in the genre had a backstory as fleshed out as Jason’s was at the time. What was originally intended to be a one off slasher film in the vein of Halloween, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to Friday the 13th and decided the story of Jason Voorhees should continue. The second film in the franchise introduced us to the first version of Jason, the iconic killer. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Jason was large, powerful, white, and had a sympathetic back story.
This first iteration appeared much closer to another, albeit less famous killer: The Phantom Killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Though his appearance was like The Phantom Killer (Jason first used a pillow case to hide his face), the sheer size and otherworldliness of Jason put him squarely in Leatherface/Meyers territory. The one thing that separated Jason from the others was the mystical nature of his being. Both Leatherface and Meyers are both horrifying, but they are only men. Jason Voorhees was an urban legend come to life, back from the dead and sent from hell to inflict bloody murder on just the type of people that watch his movies.
The Hockey Mask
Finally, in the third installment of the series, Jason comes together with his iconic hockey goalie mask. This act alone is what solidified Jason’s place among the greatest. It was the proverbial cherry on top; the one thing that brought it all together. So not only does he find himself a mask, but his mask is unmistakably recognizable to everyone in the U.S. (as well as Canada and Russia). The hockey mask was a reminder that not only was Jason once human, but an innocent child. The mask was the representation of boyhood, and the dreams being played out by every child who runs into the summer street to play stickball, soccer or street hockey.
We are being told that deep down, this immense, unstoppable monster is only a little boy, much as he was the day he drowned. What is behind that mask, as we are lucky to get a glimpse of quite a few times throughout the franchise, is the hideous face of death. Jason was a message to all that is hormonal – once the street lights come on and you’ve abandoned all that is child-like, do not give in to what your body is telling you. You’ll want to experiment, both chemically and sexually. Because once you do, you will die a horrible death.
In A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), a film considered by some to be one of the best horror films ever made, we were introduced to the legendary Freddy Krueger. By this point in time Jason and Michael Meyers owned the genre, but from the recesses of Wes Craven’s mind birthed a completely different, albeit equally terrifying killer. Everything about Freddy is iconic, from his old hat to his striped sweater; his fire burnt voice, and of course, his bladed glove. Much like the Giallo films decades before, the slasher genre loved its villains to be shrouded in mystery. Michael Meyers and Jason wore masks to cover themselves, and neither spoke. But Freddy? He didn’t wear a mask – didn’t have to, but over the course of the franchise became a chatter box. Also, Freddy was not the inverted hero archetype, but the trickster, or the male inversion of the witch.
The Freddy Archetype
Freddy was not the strong, silent type, but an evil jester who enjoyed toying with his victims. Since there are not too many models to go off of from this limited type of horror film villain, let’s explore how Freddy fits the mold of the Jungian archetype of The Trickster. The Trickster is considered to be in the shadow family of the archetypes, that is, usually associated with negative attributes. The trickster is a deceptive being, gaining pleasure out of the chaos and pain they cause. The trickster is not solely related to one sex, which fits here since Freddy’s most direct ancestor was a bitchy lady living in Oz with her flying monkeys.
Yes, much like the iconic singer, Prince, Freddy feared he too was just like his mother. His mannerisms were very similar to the Wicked Witch of the West, so much that the makers of the ridiculously silly Freddy’s Dead (1991) thought the same and threw in a scene where Freddy plays the Wicked Witch and never truly breaks character. Also, aside from the similar taunting that both Freddy and WWW do to their tormented, it is fire that bring both of them down. Freddy is burned alive by his neighbors, and the Wicked Witch starts a fire that leads to her own death (in the film at least).
Freddy Origin Story
Freddy’s backstory is one of the most unique origins stories in horror. It is explained that Freddy was not only a child killer, but it is heavily implied he was a pedophile as well. Turns out, his neighbors weren’t cool with it and decided to take the law into their own hands. They burn his house down with him inside of it. Freddy returns to exact revenge on the children of the parents who killed him, making them pay for their parent’s sins. Also, Freddy attacks the kid’s dreams. This is an allusion to the actions and excesses of the prior generation essentially killing the dreams of the current generation.
Jason + Freddy = 1980’s
For the bulk of the eighties, these two giants of horror, Jason and Freddy, reigned supreme. The freedom and innocence of childhood were gone, and what was waiting for those coming of age was a darkness no other generation had to face. Death lingered over every pubescent curiosity. Every naked breast peeked at, or first beer sipped had the vision of a machete massacre attached to it. And to fall asleep and dream about a future of prosperity meant four blades cutting you in half, reminding you that the future, the now is not safe. For the children of the eighties, Jason and Freddy weren’t just horror icons, they were the absolute foundation of their very fears. All hail Jason and Freddy!