Making a Successful Slasher

Frank

This post by Frank Larnerd

The very first slashers come from the ancient Greeks. In his first adventures, the hero Theseus battled six different slashers, before going to Crete to fight the monsterous Minotaur. First he had to face the chthonic bandit, Periphetes, who beat travelers to death with a giant club. Second was Sinis, a robber who disposed of his victims by tying them to two bent pines which ripped them apart once they were released. The witch Phaea was Theseus’ third challenge. This old crone could transform herself into an enormous boar which devoured her targets. Next was Sciron who feed his prey to a giant sea monster. In his fifth encounter, Theseus challenged Cercyon, the King of Eleusis who broke his opponents’ bones in wrestling matches. Finally, Theseus faced Procrustes the Stretcher. Procrustes would offer weary travelers his bed. If they were too short to fill the bed, he would stretch their limbs. If they were too long, Procrustes would cut off their feet to make them fit.

320745Modern slashers owe more to urban legends of the fifties than to the ancient Greeks. The story of “The Hook” would provide many of the tropes that we identify with modern slashers: kids alone in a deserted location, a twisted killer with a unique weapon, and a warning against teenage promiscuity.

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Filmmakers in the eighties used the fear of spree killers like Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer to focus the slasher concept into a marketable commodity. Slashers continue to be hot sellers throughout the 90’s and on into the 21st century. Each time subtly changing to reflect fears of the public. Without having to look too hard, we can see a correlation between Jigsaw and the media reports of torture in the early 2000’s.

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So what do you need to create your own slasher in 2014? Here are a few things to consider when crafting your very own axe wielding psychopath.

* Back story – Every slasher needs a reason to be a kill crazy monster. Freddy was the son of a hundred maniacs. Jason’s mother was killed by camp counselors and Cropsey was disfigured by cruel kids. Like any good character, give them a motivation for their actions and they will be more than just a killer in a mask.

* Appearance – Most slashers are disfigured in some way. They look fearsome and abnormal. You don’t want to lay eyes on them, let alone have them touch you with their decomposing hands.

* Weapons – Many slashers have a particular trademark weapon. Freddy’s glove and Leatherface’s chainsaw help to set them apart from similar slashers and bring a primal fear to their audiences.

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* Intelligence – This one goes both ways. Single-minded killers like Michael Myers provide great thrills as do highly intelligent slashers like Dr. Hannibal Lector. Find a balance for your slasher and the thrills will follow.

* Setting – Usually tied to the back story, the setting should be remote and creepy. Of course cell phones never work there. Try to avoid clichés of the woods, or summer camps.

* Mask – Some slashers were a mask to disguise their revolting appearing. The dehumanizing effect of wearing a mask helps to relate the inhuman passions of the slasher.

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* Victims – Usually teenagers, they provide fodder for the slasher’s cruel rage. They should be likeable enough to root for and make you worried they might not survive.

* Last Girl – A slasher is only as good as his greatest challenge. The Last Girl is usually intelligent and morally uncorrupted. Her goodness and wits prove to be a slasher’s greatest obstacle.

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* Do something different – Make your slasher chase after senior citizens, or swap genders and make your Last Girl a fraternity jock. Do something different and your slasher will stand out amongst the sea of bloody imitators.

Follow my slashings at www.franklarnerd.com

Or be come a victim my friend on facebook!

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14 Responses to Making a Successful Slasher

  1. Mike Staton says:

    Great post, Frank. Love the intro, bringing in the Greeks. Also enjoyed the list of requirements to make a slasher novel without clichés. The last bit about the last teenage girl, the one innocent, not corrupted and adaptive and creative, while she can be hot for a teenage boy, she seems to often be a virgin; unlike the girls killed earlier in the book or movie, she wasn’t in bed with a boy prior to the “kill.” Lol.

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  2. Neva Bodin says:

    Many good points and ideas Frank. And I believe I understand the reason some people want to be scared vicariously and then return to reality after they put the book down and enjoy the fact that they are really safe. But…I’ll leave them to it.

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  3. Doris says:

    While not a fan of slashers, the points you make are very useful and with a bit of ‘magic’, can apply to most any writing. I also loved the early Greek references. Now that was an imaginative, blood-thirsty bunch. But then you add the Roman emperors and, well the new slashers are late-comers. *Grin* Doris

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  4. Wranglers says:

    I’m not a fan of slashers either. I never really thought about building the character. This is good advice for someone developing their character.

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  5. Wranglers says:

    Frank, what an excellent post. I loved the photos. Slashers scare me to *DEATH*. I enjoyed the Greek history lesson and the modern day one too. I also loved how to create a Slasher. I think these characteristics can be used on other characters, just not as extreme. I got a kick from come become my victim–friend. Cher’ley

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  6. Thanks for the information, but I couldn’t even dissect a frog in eighth grade science class without getting sick so I think I’ll stick to what I’m writing.

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  7. sstamm625 says:

    Great post, Frank! I too particularly liked the reference to/information about the ancient Greeks. We got nothing on them for creative and cruel killing methods.

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  8. sstamm625 says:

    Also, love your author pic homage!

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  9. Nancy Jardine says:

    The images are too gruesome for words,… 😉 I’m afraid I’m not ‘slasher’ author material, Frank. I’m too wimpy to think up the innovative scanarios that would get new attention. Although I don’t read the genre, I feel there’s been a lot of stories out there for the last couple of decades and it has to be very difficult to be ‘different’ now – though your suggestions would help someone who wanted to write for the market.

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  10. erinfarwell says:

    Love this post – the way it lays out the formula and your recommendation for changing things up.

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  11. Thanks for all the kind comments!

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  12. Travis says:

    Good point about all the intense violence the Greeks gave us. I remember one play about a wife feeding her own children to her husband with the lines (after he found out), “It’s not because I loved them less, but I hated you more.”…or something like that. Chilled me to the bone. I loved the movie Cabin in Woods. The way it took all the horror tropes of the 70-80a and gave them purpose. I think with horror, you want to do it from a new angle. If original and scary enough, it will take off.

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  13. Loved this post, Frank. I had no idea of the early “slashers” and found it to be very interesting. Your tips on writing, or even costuming was excellent, if a little scary. This was the perfect post for October. Halloween will never be the same – I’ll definitely be looking over my shoulder!

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  14. S J Brown says:

    Interesting. Lots of good advice here even if you aren’t building a Slasher.

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