As part of last year’s marathon, I watched a documentary called Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film… As a result, when I drew up my list for this year, a lot of slashers sneaked onto the list (enough for several weeks). I won’t get through them all, but there will be at least 6-9 slasher films in this year’s marathon.
One of the conventions of slasher films is a holiday themed setting. This trend was arguably started by Bob Clarke’s influential 1974 film Black Christmas, but it really kicked into gear (along with Slashers in general) in 1978 with John Carpenter’s Halloween. After Halloween‘s success, slasher films were flooding the market, many of which attempted to copy Halloween by focusing on different holidays. Indeed, at this point, there’s a pretty full calendar of slasher films that you can watch, if you’re so inclined… and in case you can’t tell, I am so inclined. I think this trend overlaps a bit with the convention of having some sort of historical element to the story (i.e. a tragedy of the past revisited in the present), but on the other hand, lots of slashers aren’t calendar oriented either. Still, it’s a common enough trope that I watched a bunch recently:
- Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
- Uncle Sam (trailer)
- New Year’s Evil (trailer)
- My Bloody Valentine (1981) and My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009): One of the better films to arise out of the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th was 1981’s My Bloody Valentine. A prime example of both the holiday setting and the historical tragedy revisited, this movie takes place 20 years after a horrible mining accident in which the sole survivor was named Harry Warden. He managed to survive only by eating his friends. Warden blamed the supervisors, who had neglected their post in order to attend the annual Valentines dance, and eventually took his revenge. Harry warned the town that so long as they held the dance, people would die. 20 danceless years later, the town of Valentine Bluffs had finally had enough and started up the old tradition of the Valentines dance again. Suddenly, people start disappearing and it seems that Harry Warden’s curse wasn’t just the ravings of a madman. Again, this film is generally a cut above most other slasher films of the era. It’s more polished and it has more of an interesting story than most, not to mention that the whole miner’s outfit thing makes for a great slasher costume (not to mention the trademark pickaxe, which can come in handy for the slasher on the go). It’s the little details that make this one work though. I’m no expert, but the production design really seems to capture the mining town aesthetic, the working class characters are actually somewhat empathetic (unlike the throngs of teens in a lot of slashers), and how can you not like the killer’s poetic calling cards (a card on the first victim reads: “Roses are Red, Violents are Blue, One is Dead, And So Are You!!!”). There’s an inferior remake that was released earlier this year, and despite being slightly elevated by the gimmick of 3D, it ultimately fell flat. It’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of the original, but if you haven’t seen either, check out the original first (like a lot of remakes, this one is perhaps most notable for shining a light on a generally overlooked film). *** for the original, ** for 3D!
- Halloween (1978 – Trailer)
- Grindhouse: Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
- Graduation Day (trailer)
- April Fool’s Day: This movie came out during the tail end of the slasher craze and its box office was ruined by word-of-mouth – once people heard about the twist ending (which I will not ruin), they stayed away in droves. Personally, I found it to be a rather unique slasher film and I appreciate the winking and nose-thumbing aspects of the movie. The film opens as a group of teens head to the island vacation home of their friend Muffy St. John for Spring Break. It being April 1st, it doesn’t take long for the pranks to start, and things get pretty hairy pretty quickly. As the weekend progresses, guests begin to disappear and Muffy starts acting very strangely. Again, it’s one of the higher quality slasher efforts, with a decent look and actors who aren’t completely made out of cardboard (indeed, many of the characters are privileged punks, so the fact that you don’t seem to mind hanging out with them is actually an accomplishment). Interestingly, the gore is surprisingly minimal here, and the real focus is on the story. The film knows what it is and it has a sense of humor, something that audiences just weren’t ready for yet, I guess. The ending does feature a bit of a twist, and I’m sure there are some who don’t like it (and don’t get me wrong, this is not a tightly written film – there are plenty of near disasterous plot holes), but I thought it was an interesting and new idea. Alas, audiences did not respond and this film seems to signify the waning interest in slashers at the time. The big three slasher series would limp into the nineties, but after this film, the slasher craze was effectively dead. ***
Muffy is a bit strange
- Black Christmas (1974 – Trailer)
- Joe Vs. The Grinch (Family Guy)
- A Holiday Character So Alluring (Robot Chicken)
- Silent Night, Deadly Night: Slashers in general were controversial in their time, but this film apparently upped the ante to the point where people were protesting and picketing movie theaters. And they were successful – this film was pulled from theaters after a week or so, and it then became very hard to find on video (and apparently even DVD, as I had trouble getting my Netflix copy). In all honesty, this is a pretty mean-spirited movie, so I guess the protesting is understandable. I mean, this is a movie where not one, but two Santas get gunned down in front of a group of orphans (and one of the Santas was a kindly old deaf priest (the other was a homicidal axe murderer, but that’s besides the point)). This isn’t a very impressive movie. There’s no real artistry, the performances are crappy, and even the Santa costumes are pretty lame. There are some high points though, including one of the first scenes in the movie, when an old man warns our young hero that Santa is coming to kill him because he’s been naughty. He does this in a weird, grizzled old-timey tone that is just awesome. It’s probably the best part of the movie. Also, what can I say, I’m a sucker for the Christmas setting. This film doesn’t really come anywhere near the Christmas horror classics, but it’s worth a watch if you like slashers and Christmas. **
Santa’s gonna git ya
And that wraps up the slasher calendar for this year, but we’ve got another installment of slasher sequels coming, as well as some other miscellaneous slashers. In other news, The Devil Rides Out is now unavailable, so the Hammer Horror week needs to be replanned.
As usual, Kernunrex is doing it up at his site, and he’s making lots of headway. He’s even playing Castlevania (in an experience similar to mine with Metroid, he was able to beat the game using save states) and other horror related video games. It’s always funny when we have overlap too. He watched The Deaths of Ian Stone this week – a movie I watched last year (our thoughts are very similar). Other than that, not much overlap… though I can see some convergences coming later.