A Collection of Caliginous Choppings

Posts tagged “1980s

Christmas Evil (1980)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the eleventh Slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, sleigh-vans-a-flying, ten vids-a-streaming, Santa’s assassin, crazy dancing eyebrows, Santa vs. Zombies, the anti-Santa Nackles, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, Tales from the Crypt, Santa’s demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

 

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Welcome back to the holiday horror list that I’ve been checking twice. Today’s pick is 1980’s Christmas Evil starring Brandon Maggart (note the misspelling in the print ad above) as the quintessential disturbed man in love with Christmas. Harry Stralding is a man with a fragile psyche. He’s been that way ever since Christmas Eve 1947 when he walked in on his mom and Santa Claus in the midst of some uncharacteristically festive activities. Although the film has established that Santa is just their father in costume (Harry disbelieves this when told by his younger brother Philip, later played by Jeffrey DeMunn), Harry’s glimpse of this encounter causes him to snap. He breaks a snowglobe and in a fit of rage uses it to cut a gash into his hand.

Years later, Harry is still a man with a rather fragile psyche. He works as a middle-manager of a toy factory, but feels dismayed when his coworkers don’t share his same admiration for the Christmas Spirit. Harry lives and breathes Santa Claus — his apartment is packed with red-and-white memorabilia, and he playfully gives himself a white shaving cream beard before shaving in the morning. This is all well and good, but his obsession has a much more sinister manifestation: he’s been spying on the children in his neighborhood. He’s been taking notes in his books of nice and naughty little boys and girls. Harry is pleased to see one boy taking out the garbage for his family, but another perusing a Penthouse magazine only takes Harry one step closer to the edge.

Where will his murderous rampage take him when he finally breaks and decides it is time to punish the bad people of the world? You’ll have to check out my guest appearance on The Phantom Erik‘s 100 Years of Horror podcast to find out!

The 100 Years of Horror is one of the finest horror film podcasts out their as Erik always thoroughly researches his films and covers each picture’s place in the history of the horror genre. Listen in as we discuss, not just the plot of Christmas Evil, but also how it relates to the battle between consumerism vs. traditionalism, what it says about the role of family and mental health issues, and where this film falls in the ranks of other holiday horrors such as Silent Night, Deadly Night, Santa’s Slay, and Santa vs. the Zombies (bleeeh . . .). We also manage to compare it to It’s a Wonderful Life, Psycho, and Maniac! Please have a listen to this excellent podcast by clicking HERE.

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Christmas Evil, directed by Lewis Jackson, unfairly gets lumped into the slasher flick pantheon of the 1980s. Truthfully though, this is a character study of a man brought to (and past) his breaking point. This ain’t a body-count film, but it is a well-crafted picture portraying one man’s mental breakdown. Or, a closer inspection may reveal that Harry Stradling, vehemently clinging to the lovely essence of Christmas, is sane, while all of us, disregarding peace on earth and good will towards men, are the crazy ones.

Merry Christmas Eve! I’ll be back tomorrow for one last goodie, but until then, feast your eyes on these posters.

Terror in Toyland VHS Box christmas_evil_posterchristmas-evil-polishDamn, Polish is an absolutely terrifying looking language.

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Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the eighth slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, crazy dancing eyebrows, Santa vs. Zombies, the anti-Santa Nackles, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, Tales from the Crypt, Santa’s demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

After taking a day to recover from the seventh slay of Christmas — the horror that was Santa vs. The Zombies, bourbon, and an open mic — the list has returned with the Yuletide Schlock Classic that is Silent Night, Deadly Night 2!

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If you haven’t seen the first Silent Night, Deadly Night film, don’t fret, because the first 40 minutes of this sequel recaps the entire previous movie. All of the kills. Both psycho Santas. The gratuitous sexy bits. All of the gore and none of the goodness! It really is quite amazing how they were able to include just about everything of importance from the first movie — minus the crazy grandpa and the working-at-a-toy-store montage. Then there is another 40 minutes or so of new stuff that is less rushed, less focused, and more crazy than everything from the previous film. (There is an excellent write-up on FEARnet that tells how the producers actually just wanted the editor/director Lee Harry to recut the first movie into something entirely new and different, but fortunately for us fans of terrible cinema, they were able to add some new stuff into the mix.

I won’t go into everything that Psycho Billy did in SNDN1, but I will say that Psycho Ricky tops anything his brother did in his night of mayhem, simply due to actor Eric Freeman’s outrageous portrayal. The story is like this: Ricky has followed in the genetic footsteps of his brother, and like his grandfather, has ended up in some sort of mental hospital for the criminally insane. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by a psychiatrist to be interviewed about his past transgressions. After retelling Billy’s story, Ricky gets into it about how he was adopted by a nice Jewish couple — from a Catholic orphanage — who seemingly shielded him from the horrors of Santa during his childhood. This doesn’t last too long however, as a chance encounter with two nuns and a thick red cloth set off all of his old memories. From this time forward, he gets set off whenever he encounters a tense situation along with the color red.

His first kill is to a would-be rapist, who he runs over with a red Jeep. Later, after growing up a bit, he kills an extortionist in a back-alley (with an umbrella through the belly) because he had a red handkerchief and needed to be punished. He kills an annoying guy wearing a red shirt in the world’s most brightly lit movie theater. He kills his girlfriend’s ex with a car battery jumper cable to the tongue. You guessed it — the car was red. Unfortunately, this is the tipping point for young Ricky, because he then proceeds to kill everyone else in the nearby vicinity. His girlfriend gets it, because she freaked out about her ex’s death and also needed to be punished. This probably wasn’t the reaction Ricky was expecting since the woman whose attempted raper he killed thanked Ricky.

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He then kills Barney Fife whose firearm lets Ricky continue his shooting spree, killing a football player, a poor soul casually taking out his garbage (despite gunshots in the neighborhood), and an explosion-prone red car. However, he does not kill the little girl with a red bow in her hair riding her tricycle around an urban warzone. She wasn’t naughty enough. The most senseless of these kills — the man acting out a simple garbage day routine — has since been immortalized in this oft seen clip:

The viewer get a bit of Eric Freeman’s dancing eyebrows in that clip as well!

Eventually the cops — better armed and less idiotic than before — catch up to Ricky, but they are more concerned about him foolishly throwing his life away with the revolver at his temple than trying to put down this spree killer. Afterwards Ricky ends up behind bars where doctor #13 has just finished with his interview. He’s finished also finished with his life, as Ricky has claimed another victim by strangling the doctor with his own audio tape. After making an off-screen escape through the orderlies, Ricky finds and kills a Santa Claus, relieving the poor guy of his suit, and makes after Old Mother Superior.

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Ricky sets off to finish what his older brother couldn’t accomplish. While Ricky goes after the old wicked nun, the nun accompanying the police, Sister Mary, informs them that Mother Superior has retired, lives alone, and has had a stroke. Judging by her face, she must have had that stroke next to an open fireplace. Ricky easily finds her, and the cat-and-mouse games begin between the Psycho Santa Brother and the world’s strongest nun confined to a wheelchair.

I don’t want to spoil things if you haven’t already seen it, but suffice it to say, you’ll hear some great lines before the closing credits start. Here are some of my other favorites from Silent Night, Deadly Night 2:

I DON’T SLEEP! — Ricky, when asked if he has nightmares

You’re good Doc, but I know all the moves. I could squash you like a bug. — Ricky to the Doc

Fuck this! I’m getting a beer. But I’ll be back! — Attempted Rapist to woman after being kicked in the balls

Red car! Good point! — Ricky to the Doc after he writes this in his girly handwritten notebook

Sounded like some squirrel getting his nuts squeezed. — Ricky about a man being harassed by an extortionist

I’m really MAD now! — Ricky, after getting his axe stuck in Mother Superior’s wheelchair

Overall, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is not as good as the first one, but most slasher sequels aren’t. This film was less serious than the original, and much more fun overall. It is oozing with camp, and the first 40 minute recap can be pretty boring if you’ve recently watched part one. In terms of my list so far, this movie is miles ahead of Santa vs. the Zombies, but not quite as enjoyable as Santa’s Slay. Technically though, it is a fine film as the editing and music are both strong. Sadly, the atrocious acting (and those damn dancing eyebrows) puts this out of the realm of scary. This film is like that hideously designed, itchy sweater your great aunt made you that your mom makes you wear to the extended family X-mas get-together.

Until tomorrow, keep squirming in that sweater, and keep those eyebrows dancing!

 

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Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the first slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, a scream queen hanging free!

Welcome to the first of twelve slays this holiday season. I’m gearing up for Christmas in bloody good style with a look at several Christmas-themed horror genre (film, literature, etc.) picks. First on the list, is Silent Night, Deadly Night, one of the more infamous of the killer-in-a-Santa-suit films. This movie is notable as being the one to make Paramount put the axe to Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th part 4: The Final Friday, and it also has one of the most memorable movie posters from the glut of 1980s slasher flicks. Although this one might not feature the best Psycho Santa Claus, when compared to other holiday-themed horror outings, this one is certainly not terrible.

silent night deadly night title

The movie opens up on Christmas Eve 1971 with a family on a roadtrip to see Grandpa. All of the familiar faces are present: father, hot mother, un-carseat-strapped baby, and little boy in the backseat. Little Billy is concerned that he won’t be back home before Santa Claus comes to his house that evening. But, Hot Mom comforts her son by telling him, “Don’t worry, Santa Claus is going to bring you a big surprise tonight. You just wait and see!”

It doesn’t take a genius to realize this bit of foreshadowing, but the family showing up at a mental health facility to visit the institutionalized grandfather does take aback an unacquainted viewer. Grandpa is in a catatonic state and completely unresponsive to his family or the doctor. The family leaves Billy to go and ‘review papers’ in the doctor’s office. It is telling the sort of parents these two are to leave a kid — maybe 5 years old — alone on his own in an insane asylum. As Hot Mom walks away, she drops another winning line with “Don’t worry, Grandpa’s not going to hurt you.”

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Creepiest Grandpa outside of Texas.

Crazy Grandpa snaps out of his previous state and rants to little Billy about the evils of Christmas. “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year. I’d be scared too, if I was you,” he says. Santa only gives presents to the nice children, but if you’re naughty, then you’ll get punished. “If you see Santa Claus tonight, you’d better run boy. You’d better run for your life!” Despite the foreboding tone, this warning would prove to better parenting advice than Hot Mom ever provided for Little Billy.

Later, on the drive home Billy confesses that he is scared that Santa will come and punish him, but Hot Mom tries to comfort her son by telling him that Grandpa is nothing but ‘a crazy old fool.” Little does she know, however, that elsewhere in the state some Santa suit clad criminal has just gunned down a store owner in a holdup for a measly $31.

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Predictably, the family stops by this Madman Santa who has been having car trouble. Little Billy urges them to keep driving, but his dad stops to help, and gets shot for his troubles. Billy hightails it to the woods, while Santa deblouses (gotta get those tit shots in right?) Hot Mom before slitting her throat. Santa decides not to pick off the helpless crying baby brother, and instead just shouts into the woods after Billy, who winds up at an orphanage 3 years later. (There is absolutely no closure on this Psycho Santa, so presumably he is still out there in the backwoods of Utah killing Hot Moms and store owners for chump change.)

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Saint Mary’s Home for Orphaned Children is not a very pleasant place for the Christmas-weary children of the world. The nuns running the joint seem to buy into the secular importance of Old Saint Nick, so you can imagine the shock that it causes when 8 year-old troubled child draws Bloody Kris Kringle and beheaded reindeer. The Mother Superior punishes the Awkwardly Mulleted Billy by sending him to his room.

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And Hitler just drew landscapes . . .

Sister Margaret thinks that the memory of the violence that Billy saw is just waiting to come out and be reenacted, but Mother Superior doesn’t care what she thinks. Mother Superior is old school, and feels that it is best to beat Billy’s violent urges into suppression. Which is exactly what happens after finding out that Sister Margaret has let Billy outside to play with the other children. He does, but only after stopping to peep on some older kids doing some pretty advanced mistletoe activities behind a locked door. (Mother Superior beats them too!)

That night, when Billy can’t stay in bed, so he gets tied down to the bedposts. Then the next day — Christmas Day — things come to a head, and although Mother Superior thinks her strict punishments have been effective, we know otherwise. Billy is dragged onto Santa’s lap, and punches the jolly fat man right in the nose. He goes off to cry in a corner, and there is an effective freeze frame of Billy looking up in terror at whatever punishment from Mother Superior lies in store.

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Ten years later, Billy has developed into an 18 year-old dreamboat. This tall drink of water is ripped, and baby-faced, with brown eyes, blonde hair, and just a hint of dimples at the corners of his lips. Sister Margaret has just landed Big Buff Billy a job at Ira’s Toys as the new stockboy.

The filmmakers provide an awesome musical montage of what it was like to work in a toy store in the 1980s. I don’t want to spoil the fun too much, but there is a lot of box hauling, child lifting, time-card punching, and milk drinking, all while Boss Ira nods approvingly, and Billy’s lazy coworker slacks off and drinks J&B whiskey. Unfortunately, things can’t stay all musical montage good for Billy, as Christmas is now fast approaching. Billy has been acting more and more off — staring off into space and suffering wet dreams turning to nightmares — as December 25th approaches.

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The tipping point comes when the regular Santa breaks his ankle and Billy must fill in. Billy is creepy and uncomfortable in the blood-red and white suit, and as children wriggle on his lap and he whispers to them to be good, or he’ll punish them. I really wanted this moment to be dragged out a bit, but instead we cut to the store’s after hours Christmas party, and one of the best lines from the movie with Ira’s: “Seven o’clock! It’s over! Time to get shitfaced!”

Sister Margaret is on her way, after being told that Billy was portraying Santa by the lazy J&B swilling coworker. But it is too late! All of the drunken holiday reveling, and overly forward, ripped-clothes lovemaking (read: attempted rape) makes Billy snap. It’s time to punish these naughty folks!

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He was gonna have headache anyway.

Psycho Santa Billy makes short work of the employees of Ira’s toys in a variety of ways that include X-Mas light hanging, boxcutter mutilation, clawhammer braining, and arrowing through the chest. Then Billy takes his rampage out on the streets. This is when 80s scream queen great Linnea Quigley gets offed in this movie’s most creative kill. As a neglectful babysitter, she leaves her boyfriend on the basement pool table, and goes upstairs, topless, to let in the homeowners’ cat. But when she opens the door, she finds that it isn’t the cat whose collar she heard jingling, but Psycho Santa Billy! He who chases after Quigley, wearing only hotpants, and impales her on a mounted deer head. The boyfriend gets thrown through a window and ends up impaled with a large chunk of glass. Finally, the babysittee comes away with a boxcutter, placed gently in her hand, as she is a good girl and not deserving of Santa’s punishment.

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With these balsa wood doors, I bet the homeowner’s heating bill is through the roof.

Billy continues on his rampage into the woods where he finally gets the chance to use that double-headed axe he’s been hauling around. The hapless victim is a sled-stealing bully who gets his comeuppance with a blow to the neck on a downhill run. His buddy (doppelganger of former pro-wrestler Edge) is left screaming his head off in the night.

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Adam Copeland would survive the deadly, silent night and go on to win 31 WWE championships.

Sister Margaret and the police are worried as the body count is rising. The police are scouring the neighborhoods, but only interrupting tender family Christmas moments instead of finding the murderous Kris Kringle. They deduce that he is heading for the orphanage, so they dispatch officers there, who manage to get there just in time to gun down Santa Claus. Only, it’s not Psycho Billy Santa, but the kindly, old deaf priest who plays Santa for the orphaned children.

As Billy stalks his way to the orphanage, one wonders if Mother Superior will be the next person on the wrong end of an axe swing. Find out if Santa Claus dies by watching Silent Night, Deadly Night yourself. This is an above average slasher film and it certainly deserves to be seen by any fan of horror and/or Christmas movies.

Some Thoughts

It had been years (maybe a decade+) since I’d seen this, so I was thrilled when I rediscovered how good the acting was. Lilyan Chauvin as Mother Superior was obviously the best, as she was classically trained, and ran her own acting school. I thought that Little Billy (Jonathan Best) was far less annoying and more believable than Weird Mullet Billy (Danny Wagner). Also, a superb and creepy performance was put on by Will Hare as Crazy Grandpa. Robert Brian Wilson as Psycho Santa Billy wasn’t terrible, but he’s no Thom Mathews.

The special effects are standard fare, but it really makes me nostalgic for the days of complete physical effects. CGI squibs and gunshots just don’t really cut it in comparison to something as simple as some blood bags detonating.

It was pretty sweet to see all of those old 80s toys in Ira’s toy store. However, it’s probably for the best that toy stores these days don’t stock double-headed axes or bow and arrow sets.

Perry Botkin’s music is creepy throughout, especially the opening with the child singing. Even the funny picks, like the musical montage were spot on in tone and definitively 80s. When you think about it, even outside of a Santa slasher flick, all those X-Mas songs about an old man watching children throughout the year, and breaking into their houses to leave gifts for them, are a bit disconcerting.

Fun fact: this film opened the same weekend as A Nightmare on Elm Street and outgrossed that film before being pulled from theaters after becoming the target of parents’ protest groups.

Silent Night, Deadly Night was written by Michael Hickey and directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

I recommend you watch it, and don’t be naughty this Christmas season!


Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

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I just finished this great documentary film about the humble beginnings, tumultuous but money making middle, slow sequel descent, and eventual rebirth of that most maligned subgenres of the horror genre — the slasher film. This 2006 documentary was written by J. Albert Bell, Rachel Belofsky, and Michael Derek Bohusz based off the 2002 book by Adam Rockoff. This feature is loaded with appearances from all of the usual big names like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Sean Cunningham, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, and Rob Zombie, but also features some lesser seen horror personalities such as Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp‘s Angela) and Slumber Party Massacre director Amy Holden Jones.

This film briefly touches on the early proto-slasher type films of Psycho and Peeping Tom, before acknowledging the true harbinger of the American slasher film movement with Halloween. That film, in my opinion, is great in just about every respect — an awesomely creepy score, atmospheric settings, appropriate pacing, and a strong ending — but admittedly, it does lack in gore. Fortunately, there are other (countless others) to fill the void in the blood and guts department. Savini and Nicotero discuss some of the effects seen in such slasher greats as The Prowler, The Burning, and Friday the 13th part 4. Additionally, the giallo film influence is mentioned, as these slasher greats are just as inspired by Italians maestros like Mario Bava and Dario Argento as they are American madmen like Ed Gein.

Halloween

Unfortunately, the slasher’s meteoric early-1980s rise was tempered by a mid-1980s backlash. Many of the early theatrical releases hold much more artistic value, but later churned out for the VHS-market releases simply provide a high body count without any sort of redeeming philosophical or artistic merit. When producers simply start pumping out film after film featuring a killer murdering on a certain day (My Bloody Valentine, April Fools Day, Graduation Day, etc.), something has to give.

Mardi Gras Massacre

Another nail in the coffin was the backlash from critics and concerned parents groups about the effect of slasher films on American audiences, particularly women and children. Roger Ebert is quoted as saying, “these films hate women.” Wes Craven admits “slasher films are considered one notch above pornography,” but many of these producers and directors, Craven included, feel that this idea is too short-sighted. Often times it is a strong feminine character who is able to survive the onslaught and provide representation of the sort of moralistic values the conservative (Reagan-era) leaders desired. Rather than being misogynistic, Amy Holden Jones maintains that a movie like hers plays to a woman’s true life fears, and contains more frequent and more graphically depicted male deaths. Also, Holden Jones adds that one can’t discount those movies that feature a female in the role of the killer. Betsy Russel (Mrs. Voorhees from the original Friday the 13th) puts it best with this quote: “I don’t think it’s demeaning to women! It’s an art form!”

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But what about the children? Won’t somebody think of the children? There is an anecdote retold about how protests of the movie Silent Night, Deadly Night not only led to its being pulled from theaters, but also convinced Paramount to put the axe to Jason Voorhees in The Final Friday. Children should be parented, rather than their biological producers smearing mud all over the good name of sleazy slasher flicks.  Besides, it is much safer to let teenagers key into these movies, with their fictional portrayals of violence, than to send them off to war as photographers (in Tom Savini’s case). Art, and I believe that is an apt term for a select number of slasher flicks, is a reflection of life and sometimes life is bloody, and filled with sexual deviancy or bodily mutilation. The desire of people to watch these films is to explore and understand part of the human condition and what it means to be a part of an ever growing materialistic society. Amy Holden Jones continues this line of thought: “Horror movies before [the 1980s], the metaphors had gotten old . . . I think in the 80s there was a new perception that the enemy was ourselves. That the worst possible enemy was another human who had gone crazy and whose motive was not rational and who could just come out of the blue and kill you.”

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This emphasis on reality may have been what made the slashers great originally, but it was the more fantastical Nightmare on Elm Street that brought a resurgence for the genre in the mid-1980s. Again, there is the idea of paying for the sins of youth: sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll equals death, but a film like Nightmare, and a killer like Robert Englund’s Freddy Kruger, is much more sophisticated and stylish than the earlier glut of slashers. Unfortunately, Freddy was wearing some double-edged finger blades, as his films and character led to the greater corporatization of the slasher killers. All of a sudden murderous madmen could be marketed to middle America. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Leatherface were resurrected and milked for sequel after sequel until these films divulged into self-parody (see Friday the 13th part 6). All of our masked antiheroes sort of just faded away, into a 1990s slasher slump.

Until Wes Craven returned with the ultimate meta-critique on the genre with Scream. This film harkened back to Hitchcock’s Psycho with a big-name actress killed in the beginning of the movie. It also laid bare all of the rules and underlying philosophy that makes a slasher film tick. Scream made horror (and particularly slashers) mainstream again by using popular actresses in a familiar routine, only slightly shook up, and with a nod and a wink to all the genre’s fans from the previous decade. A movie like Silence of the Lambs may have been afraid to admit that it was horror, but Scream laid it all out, and led to later slasher-esque films like Saw and Hostel, which emphasize the familiar old troupes, tweak things a bit, and amp up the special effects gore to torture porn levels.

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It is obvious that since the release Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film. horror has become more mainstream. Today Greg Nicotero’s gut-wrenching special effects in The Walking Dead are some of the most popular sights to be seen on cable television. Additionally there was an entire show focused on a serial killer with Dexter. True, there are still slasher stinkers (and remakes) cheaply being shit out by production companies, but there are some hidden gems out there like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon or the throwback Hatchet series to enthrall modern viewers. To quote former editor of Fangoria Tony Timpone, “the genre has an amazing resiliency, just like the characters in those films.”