Friday, January 25, 2013

What's Gone Is Gone

When it is that you encounter certain films determines so much about how you respond to them. For instance, in the early '80s, I was at the perfect age to be smitten with slasher movies. For adult fans, the slasher wave was more of a dreary nuisance rather than anything to celebrate, but in the early '80s, slasher pics were the big forbidden fruit for kids like myself.

I'll confess, though - it wasn't just the gore and the scares that attracted me but at a formative age these films performed the valuable service of offering a window onto the next stages of life I was heading towards - high school, college, young adulthood. For a socially stunted young person curious about what lay ahead in life, movies like Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine were fascinating to me, regardless of how poorly written or acted they might've been. Deeper critical assessments didn't occur to me. I just craved the view into the everyday lives of older kids and young adults that slasher films offered - even if that glimpse would always be truncated by an axe, or machete, or the whole tool shed.

One thing I loved about slasher movies was their ordinariness. You know, even when they were about nerds and outcasts, the John Hughes films had a Hollywood sheen to them but slasher films never had an once of glamminess. He Knows You're Alone (1980) is a perfect example of that. It all takes place in semi-shabby New York locations. Everybody's working class. These were people I recognized.

Hell, they even had glasses from McDonald's!

Watching He Knows You're Alone back in the day used to make me want to live in that world with those people - well, sans the knife wielding maniac, of course. But the rest of it, going to the ice cream shop, the amusement park - all of that was ideal. Now, thirty-plus years later, it all fills me with nostalgia for a world that's vanished. Oh sure, there's still plenty of ice cream shops and amusement parks to be found but the mood is different, the world just isn't the same.

It's ironic that He Knows You're Alone, which was part of such a notorious, controversial trend in movies, now plays as such an innocent - practically gentle! - film. Yes, there's the requisite slasher movie murders to be had but there's not a mean bone in this movie's body. Caitlin O'Heaney plays such a regular person here, the kind of "girl next door" that doesn't really exist on film these days. Horror heroines aren't allowed to be so normal and down to Earth anymore. The same goes for all the people around her who are uncommonly relatable by today's standards - even her kid sister isn't precocious.

It's so rare (impossible?) now to see movie or TV characters who genuinely like each other and who enjoy each other's company without being out to one-up each other in hipster snark or strained, bizarro behavior that the simple friendships and (mostly) innocent courtships portrayed in He Knows You're Alone feel so appealing in their uncool, unfashionable sincerity (even though one of O'Heaney's friends is up to sexual hijinks with their married college professor, it doesn't come across like such a moral blemish on her character).

Back when I started watching slasher films, I was on the brink of adolescence. Now, I'm middle aged. I don't have my whole life ahead of me anymore. But He Knows You're Alone connects me to that time when I still did and when life seemed full of promise and possibilities.

And for that, I continue to love it.

You know?


Wings1295 said...

Post of the week! I totally agree with all you wrote here. I was also a socially stunted teen, had only ONE friend who I wasn't actually related to. Movies like this, and TV shows as well, were my glimpse into what was going in life and how people made and maintained friendships.

One of the reasons why I named my tumblr blog "My Third Parent" was because TV WAS the third parent I had, showing me things my parents did not.

I also love the real, gritty, working-class atmosphere you mention. I think many of the 70s sitcoms showed this world. Laverne and Shirley was about people I could relate to, people who weren't always sure where the next dime was coming from.

Love this post. Now I want to watch He Knows You're Alone again!

Captain Blake said...

Good one. I first caught 'He Knows You're Alone' on late night TV as a kid, stuck out in the boonies in a house with too many windows framing endless dark woods. Scared the shit out of me.

The opening is pretty brilliant as far as slashers go, and its hard on for 'Halloween' makes it creepier than most.

Totally agree on the role innocence and likeability play in the continued enjoyment of something as gloriously derivative as this. Caitlin O'Heaney and Don Scardino are just two of the things that put this one near the top of the 80's slasher heap for me.

knobgobbler said...

Excellent post... and right on the money for me as well.
It's not that I see those days through some filmy gaze of happy nostalgia... but the characters and their lives do feel more 'real' to me somehow, and at the time there was comfort in seeing people on screen who weren't so different from myself and my friends.
One point you've brought up on various occasions is how remakes of some of these older films will put the characters in bigger 'showcase' homes, nicer cars... played by more attractive actors. 'It's Alive' one of my favorite examples of that.
I think films of that era were riding the tail end of the grittiness of the 70's... right before the big surge in music videos and everything starting to have an over-produced look all the time.
Even fantasy movies like Close Encounters had comparatively 'normal' characters... which made the FX all the more amazing in contrast.

FilmFather said...

Great post. As we're about the same age, I totally related to all the points you made about discovering and loving the early '80s slashers as a preteen -- excuse me, "tween."

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