Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, a documentary on horror’s most graphically disturbed era, finds its pulse quickly in an effort to get to the bleeding heart of the story. The viewer is led through a cursory historical exploration of mankind’s history of and obsession with violence, makes the obligatory cinematic shout-out to the 1960‘s with Psycho and Peeping Tom, then lands squarely on horror’s favorite holiday, Halloween.
Though there were slasher films prior (among them, 1972‘s Last House on the Left) John Carpenter’s 1978 film is credited with really launching the sub-genre and establishing the outline for slasher conventions: the unstoppable faceless bogeyman-esque killer (Michael Meyers), the familiar supposedly safe and tranquil environment (suburban neighborhoods) and an innocent, morally sound but terrorized heroine (sweet, virginal babysitter).
Halloween, however, managed to terrorize audiences with very little of the gruesomeness that became the slasher calling card in films like everyone’s favorite mountain retreat gore-fest, Friday the 13th (1980). The success of the two films with audiences paved the way for a bloody rash of films to flood the market.
The documentary quickly moves through a catalog and montage of some of the early 80’s most recognizable cut-up hits, Prom Night, The Prowler, Happy Birthday, My Bloody Valentine, Slumber Party Massacre, Graduation Day and the adolescent transgender nightmare that haunts many of us to this day, Sleepaway Camp.
Inevitably, audiences begin to tire of the genre conventions, feeling as if they’ve seen all possible kill sequence combination of random weaponry + vital organ or appendage. They begin to long for a side dish of “sophistication” with their beheadings. Enter Wes Craven and a new kind of nightmare in 1984, with Nightmare on Elmstreet. Skewing the current trend of simply racking up a bodycount, Craven goes for more of a psychological thriller where its less about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting naked with the wrong person — but more about having the nerve to fall asleep. No one is safe and it has nothing to do with making stupid decisions that advance the plot, it has to do with being a person. The end, or, I guess, goodnight.
Craven talks about what interests him in the genre beyond cheap scare and gross-out tactics, ”to me its much more about the social, economical, psychological zeitgeist of whats going in the culture at the time…” Which begins a far too short segment of what was happening outside the camera while people were being slaughtered inside the frame: Carter, Reagan, Reaganomics, post-Vietnam, a mass exodus to the seeming sanctity of suburban America, greed, obsession on physicality and physical appearance, and of course, AIDS (an unseeable silent but deadly killer).
We go through the decline of the genre, then its second coming in the 90s where big studios got involved, actual stars jumped on board and the whole thing became a parody of itself with 897 new combinations of Freddy and Jason, etc. Craven’s Scream franchise carved out its own niche solely due to its self-awareness and ability to poke fun at the genre while empowering the audience by letting them know, that Hollywood knows, that they’re in on the joke.
Overall the film about these films was an entertaining survey of the slasher phenomenon with a number of adequately disturbing clips, interviews with some of our favorite directors, a few less recognizable names responsible for movies you’ve surely heard of, the editor of Fangoria Magazine, and Felissa Rose, the infamous confused pre-teen with one dirty little secret in Sleepaway Camp.
By far the most interesting interviews came from Tom Savini, a special effects make-up artist responsible for some of the most memorial gore in the field. He’s also a recognizable actor having appeared in a various Romero films (which he did the make-up for) to things like From Dusk Till Dawn and Machete. His enthusiasm for the creativity involved in staging cringe inducing gruesome death sequences, framed by his experience as a photographer in Vietnam seem worthy of their own documentary.
The weakest point of this whole assemblage seemed to be the lack of exploration of political and critical forces that spawned this movement and the criticism against it, all of which made up approximately 10 min of this hour and half long doc. It serves better as a suggested viewing list for additions to your queue than any sort of a serious examination of what the meaning behind all these horrific deaths. The whole thing ends on a weak note with clips from modern Horror Cons and some narration about fans being a fun loving community. I guess the most important tid-bit one could take away would be, if you havent seen Sleepaway Camp, think about it. Seriously.
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Written by Angela Wagner (@angelamwagner)
Angela hesitates to call herself a writer, fearing commitment of any kind. A graduate of a respected university, she refuses to name drop until offered compensation (loan forgiveness) for doing so. She has a preternatural fear of being mauled by sharks, even while inland. She blames Spielberg. More »
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