Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006)

Executive producer: Michael Ruggiero (no actual director credited)

Ah, the slasher film. If the horror genre has always been considered (possibly with good reason) kind of disreputable and the bottom end of film-making, just above actual pornography, the slasher film often seems to be viewed (again, possibly with good reason) as the disreputable bottom end of the genre. Going to Pieces doesn’t really do much, it has to be said, to try and correct this perception or argue that the slasher has been unfairly maligned all along, and it recognises that considerations of crass commercialism drove the subgenre more than art, but it does do a fair job of presenting the phenomenon of the slasher as an interesting one, whatever may be said for or against the films themselves. And the phenomenon really is quite extraordinary; there is something genuinely remarkable about the rapidity with which the subgenre arose out of certain early landmarks—most notably Halloween and Friday the 13th—and hardened into a set of reasonably rigid genre signifiers (did any other genre settle into formula in quite the same way and at quite the same speed as the slasher did? And did any other genre decline so rapidly because of that formula?)… in some ways it’s remarkable that it took until the mid-90s for such an overt parody of it as Scream to be made.

But the critical venom it attracted was pretty amazing as well; the documentary includes a chunk of Siskel & Ebert blasting the slashers of the early 80s. The film has a bit of a stab (sorry) at confronting the misogyny issue, which Gene & Roger use as their particular weapon against the slasher film; however inherently misogynistic the slasher may or may not have been, women are—as someone says as the very end of the film—vital to it. It is notable that the “final girl” is usually the survivor when all is said, done, and chopped into little bits, and the director of Slumber Party Massacre, Amy Holden Jones, argues that we like seeing the final girl in trouble but we really want to see her win. Mind you, as the film does also acknowledge, the final girl usually makes it to the end by embodying the conventional values of the society around her, which maybe makes the slasher even more conservative than the arguments used against it. And it does also give us slasher director Herb Freed—now a rabbi (quite a career change)—acknowledging he got out of making horror after being unnerved by the responses of audiences to his film Graduation Day. The issue is not exactly black and white.

Going to Pieces also does a fair job of situating the slasher in its particular historical moment, Reaganomics and the rise of AIDS and things like that, and makes a certain argument that the sequelitis afflicting the genre from the 80s onwards could be read as a sign of the excess of the decade. If there’s one thing I don’t think it does terribly well, though, it’s situating the slasher within genre history; it recognises the influence of films like Psycho and Peeping Tom and of Italian directors like Bava and Argento, but it never really shows how the wider horror genre actually reached those points over the decades. How did horror go from Dracula in 1931 to Psycho in 1960? Going to Pieces won’t tell you that. But it will show you what happened once the slasher took off at the start of the 80s, and that’s something it makes a reasonable fist of doing.

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