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.
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.
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!”
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.”
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.
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.”
The Walking Dead returned this week with what I thought was a solid episode titled “Infected” and which really should have been titled “Attack D Block.” Although solid, it was not quite as good as the one from last week. It is understandable that the show would lead off with a higher caliber and then let the reigns out a bit before tightening things back up for the midseason finale. That being said, I was not disappointed by the zombies or (the majority) of the characters in this episode. I’ll run down those momentarily, but first a gripe: why in the bloody blue hell are there so many random red-shirts running around this prison? Last week, I mentioned that this bothered me. And it bothered me even more tonight. I can’t very well feel vested in the entire group when I don’t know who is in the entire group. They are just cannon-fodder. Although the gore and zombie munching was good, it remained essentially tensionless for me, as I never once felt that a main cast character would bite the bullet. However, in getting some extraneous characters out of the way, it will allow some of the other newly introduced characters to develop.
Let’s run them down.
Carol — She was my first mentioned last week, and I think she was the MVP of the show once again. While Rick keeps wallowing by trying to hold onto the past and be a ‘decent’ father, Carol has assumed the important role of protector and educator of the children. I really liked her interactions with Sophia replacements Lizzy & Micha. Carol is now a much more hardened and the way she acts with these girls is different now than she ever acted with her own daughter. She doesn’t coddle them, yet she also doesn’t come off as too cold to them. She playing the character with just the right amount of tenderness and firmness in my opinion. However, I didn’t like how she wanted Carl to kowtow to Rick about the weapons and children issue. Carol is embracing her inner Shane, and needing validation from the group’s ‘unofficial’ leader seems to echo back to her overbearing relationship with her deceased husband Ed. Something I’d look forward to seeing later in this season is an interaction between her and the woman who lost her child in this episode. Or, knowing AMC, they may just cut the latter out completely like the Governor’s 1st girlfriend last season.
Michonne — While Carol is hardening, we finally got a chance to see a softer side of Michonne! She almost ate it (or rather got eaten) after trying to return to the prison, when two walkers pounced on her, and sprained her ankle. It’s good to see that even the most badass characters are not invincible, but what really let Michonne shine was the interaction with sick baby Judith. There is so much that the viewers don’t know about this katana-wielding woman, which means more room for character development. Beyond her hatred for the Governor and her penchant for keeping armless zombies as companions, Michonne is an enigma. Perhaps a relationship later in the season . . .?
Darryl — He continues to be Action Jackson. Rick’s right-hand man was there to help clear the infestation in D block, then to bury the bodies, and then to drive Rick into the field when the zombies were pushing over the outer fences. While last week Darryl showed some sentimentality with Zack’s death, this week he was all work and incredibly focused on what needed to get done. His entire ethos can be summed up in this short interaction between him and Carol:
Carol: You okay?
Darryl: Uh-huh. Gotta be.
Rick — Man, this guy was on the verge of becoming the new Lori or Andrea. I was seething at him for part of this episode. YOU’RE LIVING IN THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE AND YOU’RE A FORMER COP! WHY GIVE UP YOUR WEAPONS? Fortunately Rick has learned the error of his ways. Even inside a fortified prison, there is the need to carry constant protection against the creeping spectre of death. Rick thought fast to pull the walkers away from the fence, but I wonder if they would have followed after him and Darryl without the enticement of pork snacks. Still, if the pigs were infected, then I guess they gotta go one way or another.
The Grimes Children — Speaking of infected, It seems like Judith has caught the bug. I laughed when Carl ran up and hugged his dad, only for Rick to send him back towards the others. Don’t they know how disease vectors work?
Dr. S — Well new doctor dude, what about disease disease vectors? Probably they are all already infected, since Carl and the other kids were close with Patrick the previous day. And anyway, Rick and Carl were both around the pigs and the baby, so they’d probably been exposed to whatever virus is wreaking havoc on the prison population. We didn’t get much of this new Dr. S in the episode, but along with Bob the Alcoholic Combat Medic, the group should be well off for medical emergencies.
The Greene Family — Watch out Hershel! Adults age 65 years and older are more susceptible to the flu than those younger. Beth is probably safe, even though she’s been in such close contact with the baby. Maggie is safe since she sleeps in the guard tower with Glenn. I have my doubts on Hershel making it through this season, but dying from the flu would be a cruel fate after being spared from a zombie bite.
Tyreese & Sasha — poor Tyreese was just about to close the deal when his new lady-friend went and died. Not only that, but she was murdered! Who immolated her and the other sick guy? Sasha? Mayhaps . . . she helped clear out the cellblock, but otherwise was conspicuously absent later in the episode. I gotta say though that Tyreese probably won’t last very long if he just goes plunging into darkened hallways with only a bouquet of flowers to defend himself. Geez, I mean I understand that these folks are living in a state of normalized violence, but who just follows after a blood trail without exercising a bit of caution?
The Newbies — Bob was in a background shot, but really didn’t have much to do in this episode. You’d think that he would have been tending to the wounded rather than Carol, seeing as how he’s a combat medic. Goodbye bearded bald guy bit on the neck. We hardly knew you, but your death will give a bit more prominence to your daughters Lizzy and Micha. I’m interested to see where the story takes these girls. Two possibilities are based on comicbook characters absent from the TV series: 1. they represent Hershel’s twin daughters Rachel and Susie and will have an ending similar to theirs or 2. they represent the twin boys Ben and Billy and will have an ending similar to theirs. Either way would make for compelling television violence. Odds are though that they go some entirely different way. Perhaps there has been enough child killing for one season — goodbye dead nameless girl wrapped in a sheet! Hello newly grieving mother — stay a while and develop please! Goodbye sick shower boy Patrick and the guy whose neck and guts he ate! Goodbye Tyreese’s cute almost girlfriend and that other crispy, smoldering guy. Goodbye sleepwalking-locked-in-your-cell-for-your-own-good-Charlie, whoever the hell you were . . .
Governor — we know you’re out there somewhere. Maybe one of your people is on the inside feeding rats to the walkers. If so, you’re really in it for the long haul against Rick and company. If that is the case, then I bet Bob is the inside guy. On the other hand The Walking Dead could go all Friday the 13th on us viewers and just introduce some new crazy guy we haven’t met yet as the rat wrangler.