28.9.09

Teen Cinema Retrospective: Cruising, Hanging Out and Lined up for Slaughter

The period between the late 1960s and the late 1970s was noticeably “low on teen movies”, and interestingly “has been celebrated as one of the most fecund [periods] in American cinema history” (Bernstein, Pretty in Pink: The Golden Age of Teen Movies). This period is lauded as a “time when a handful of gifted visionaries stamped their signatures over a number of pictures” (Bernstein). One such visionary was George Lucas who produced one of the only memorable teen films of the period American Graffiti (1973) which fondly looked back at the innocent 1950s from a 1970s standpoint. It has been suggested that:
American Graffiti set the guidelines for almost all the big box office youth films that followed. Cruising, high schools, hanging out in town centres (which soon became malls), and the absence of homes and parents as significant settings or forces in teen life, characterize virtually every teen ‘party’ film and most of the more serious teen dramas of growing up (Rapping, "Hollywood's Youth Cult Films").
Another teen film which looked back on more innocent times gone by during this same period was Grease (1978). Grease took off where the beach romps of Frankie and Annette left off; in Grease the audience experienced what would happen after the summer’s end when Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) again cross paths after a brief summer fling. Whilst Grease was, and still is, immensely popular its influence on teen cinema is not great, rather it was simply a reflection and a comment on beach films and juvenile delinquent films of the past.

In 1978, the same year Grease was released, a low-budget slasher film was released that would pave the way for teen films to form a genre in their own right. Halloween (1978) would have an everlasting influence on teen movies, and get the ball rolling for the most prolific, profitable and popular of sub-genres within the eventual greater teen genre. The film depicted a plot which eventually became the teen slasher paradigm: “a mysterious figure stalks and kills four teens, all of whom are sexually active, while a fifth escapes with her life, ostensibly since she’s a virgin” (Shary, Generation Multiplex). With a lineage as far back as Rebel Without A Cause the teens of Halloween are shown to have neglectful parents, in fact “not a single parent is at home with their children (where they belong)” (Lewis, The Road to Romance and Ruin). These houses, as Michael Meyers’ (Tony Moran) psychiatrist, Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence) describes, are “all lined up in a row...all lined up for slaughter”. These lined up, parentless houses in white, middle-class suburbia would become part of the iconography of teen cinema from slashers such as Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) to comedies such as Weird Science (1985). Another aspect of Halloween which would continue to be a presence in teen cinema was virginity, loss of virginity and sex and its importance as a rite of passage for teenagers, but not, sometimes, without its dangers.

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