The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos
Another relative newcomer to the Halloween scene is the psycho / serial killer. Popularized by film series such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, they reflect any number of modern fears – just as ghost stories reflect the fears of times past. In a way, they ARE our ghost stories.
Consider the ghostlike qualities of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s classic movie Halloween. He slips, unseen, from location to location. He’s always ready to manifest himself at the worst possible time. And, as it turns out in the innumerable sequels, he is just this side of immortal.
Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street takes it even closer to the ghost story. Freddy is the spirit of a dead child killer who manifests himself in teen aged dreams.
The frightening qualities of these Halloween horror movie serial killers is made real by the knowledge that there doesn’t seem to be any end to man’s inhumanity to man. And the media just serve to amplify those fears with their constant coverage of sensational crime.
The original media superstar killer was Jack The Ripper. In the year 1888 in London, the “Ripper” murdered at least six women in grisly fashion (some claim that he murdered as many as 15, but the other victims are not “official”). Some of the women were prostitutes – all were less than desirable denizens of the seedy Whitechapel neighborhood. Then, as soon as the murders started, they ended, leaving the police empty handed. The murders remain unsolved to this day.
The Ripper’s name comes from a letter that he sent to the police, taunting them and containing the signature “Jack The Ripper.”
In their time, the Ripper murders created a media storm, with newspapers covering every aspect of the gruesome killings. The social status of the victims just made the whole thing more salacious.
It is probably not a coincidence that, in the Halloween horror slasher movies, the bad girls die early, and the good one generally is left standing – if somewhat bloodied – at the end.
Another famous slasher killer from history is Lizzie Borden. After her parents were hacked to death with an axe in August, 1892, Lizzie, a 32-year-old spinster was charged with the murder. The trial became a media circus; Lizzie was eventually exonerated. But not before she became enshrined in history with the rhyme:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
Of all the historical serial killers, perhaps none has had as much of an influence on fiction as Ed Gein. In the 1950s, Gein, who lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin, committed a series of gruesome and bizarre murders at his rural farmhouse. His crimes eventually became – at least in part – the basis for the movies Psycho, the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the character Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.
Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being safe anywhere. Fear of those without “our” morals – or without any morals at all. All of these are why serial killers are such effective Halloween horror icons. While we know that ghost and vampires are figments of our imagination, we know that serial killers are all too real.