The Slasher in the Machine

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The analogue to ‘found footage’ in fiction would be the shoebox novel: somebody drags a box out from under the bed, there’s all these clippings, let’s lay them out one after the other and thread a narrative through them. Which is to say, as Man Bites Dog and The Blair Witch Project and the rest established in no uncertain terms, these stories are artifacts. But when Chronicle uses what would seem to be that technique—for long sequences, we’re only looking through a (telekinetically levitating) videocamera—it’s a lot less about “Hey, look, I found this old videotape, let’s plug it in, see what’s on it” and more about our point-of-view being locked in that camera (which no way can survive the crazy events), as a way not so much to document the moment as to limit our frame, ratchet the tension even higher.

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The Town that Dreaded Sundown

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Is a serial- or spree-killer who wears a mask and kills ‘misbehaving’ teens a slasher? If not, then what of Ghostface and fifty other killers, right? But, the slashers we know and love, they usually have a signature weapon, don’t they? Michael’s got his knife, Jason’s got his machete, Leatherface rips that chainsaw to life every chance he gets. But there’s weapons of opportunity, too. Jason’s hardly above getting the job done with a speargun, and Freddy, while he actually wears his signature weapon, as often as not his victims die in ‘dreamy’ ways (barbells, television set, etc). Which is to say, this killer in the new The Town that Dreaded Sundown, he doesn’t limit himself just to that boring old knife. No, this guy, he even goes so far as to break Batman’s cardinal rule: guns. Which his why I’m asking about serial killers vs. slashers, trying to tease apart which is what: shooting lovers parked in their cars out in the woods is a bad story we know from headlines, right? And aren’t slashers a lot more made-up?

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Don’t Look (Behind You) Now

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With slashers, I’ve always been in John Carpenter’s camp: these people aren’t getting punished for having sex, they’re getting killed while naked simply because that’s when they’re the most vulnerable, the least likely to be looking around the room.

However, like Jim Rockford says, If fifty people tell you you’re drunk, then maybe it’s time to lie down, right? Meaning, when the slasher was busy getting codified back in the seventies (Black Christmas, Jaws, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, on up, to, say, Tourist Trap and Friday the 13th and Just Before Dawn and The Burning), this killed-for-having-sex dynamic wasn’t so much in play. But it soon would be. Just because everybody was saying it. And, really, I don’t know if  the critics started pushing that first—Clover & Co.—or if all the films trying to cash in on Halloween etc made it real. Or if that was just the talk around the popcorn machine, and soon it was real enough that Scream and Cherry Falls could even play with it some, invert it, hang it out to dry, throw it against the wall to see what sticks.

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Stage Fright

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I can’t figure why exactly slashers and musicals are something that’s been tried now twice. Once here, and once in Don’t Go In the Woods. I mean, Nazis and zombies, that just makes sense. But I can’t figure out what slashers and musicals share, exactly. And, maybe it’s not slashers in particular, even. We’ve already had Cannibal: the Musical, haven’t we? Maybe horror is just something we like to see strained through the musical. If it is something particular to the slasher, though . . . what, right? Is it that they’re both pretty formulaic? Like, gleefully formulaic? Could be. Or—this is sounding more likely to me—I bet it’s the fact that each rely so heavily on set-pieces. Musicals have sing-alongs every X minutes, and a slasher’s guaranteed to deliver an over-the-top kill every X minutes. Which is different than ‘formula,’ of course. Formula is kind of like ‘recipe’: put these characters in that situation, and the same thing’ll cook up each time. And that’s not at all bad, either. A lot of people indict slashers for this very reason, whereas I see that as their strength, maybe even their saving grace. But, yes, I think that’s it: a slasher and a musical, no matter what else is going on, we’re getting a specific kind of scene ever few minutes. Their rhythm is the same. And they’re each exuberant, and unselfconscious. They’re not ashamed to let a person sing their inner thoughts, they see nothing wrong with going into unnecessarily graphic detail about how exactly the knife enters the eye-socket.

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Jamie Lee Curtis

Thanks to Jesse Lawrence for the heads-up on The Final Girls. Excited. ABC gave us HARPER’S ISLAND, yes? One of the best miniseries ever. And, this premise of a final girl support group is something I’ve been playing with for a while myself. So, this’ll either make it obsolete—which is great, I should have been faster—or it’ll show me what not to do (not hoping for this outcome at all). Anyway, looks like good people all around. Excited. Also, for those who missed it: The Last Final Girl (not my novel, but a write-up on Danielle Harris).

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You’re Definitely Next

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Once upon a time, a little movie called Scream asked What if the victims in the slasher knew the formula of the movie they were in? It started a revolution, a renaissance, one that finally made room for a Leslie Vernon to look at things from the slasher’s point-of-view, one that left room for Tucker & Dale to see what happens if the bad guys were the victims this time around. One that opened the door for Cabin in the Woods, which posed the question What if all these cliché conventions are part of something real, something vital for us all?

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Cabin in the Woods intro/extro

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[ this is the script of the pre- and post-words I gave for a charity event Cabin-screening Friday night, down in Manitou Springs ]

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The slasher. We can all make a list of our ten favorite, yes? Which of course we consider the ten best. So . . . that list starts where? Psycho, Peeping Tom? Bay of Blood? Maybe, maybe not. Definitely Black Christmas in seventy-four, anyway. And let’s not forget Texas Chain Saw Massacre from that same year, which gave us a mask, that all-important signature weapon. And you can’t ignore Jaws, either. Which, no, didn’t involve masks or signature weapons, unless teeth can count, but there was plenty of stalking the nearly naked, there was plenty of blood, plenty of looking through the killer’s eyes, and, for about the first time, plenty of what would become so important exactly four years later: theme music.

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We’re All Happy Now, Stitches

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Awards Stitches completely owns:

  • best death-by-umbrella ever, in the history of whatever
  • best cat-murder in a long, long time (to specify, this is the death of a cat, not Gage 2.0)
  • best ‘bet I can extract your intestines and make them into a balloon-dog’-scene
  • best high-heel-to-throat
And, Stitches, he deserves some nominations, too. He camps it up with the best of them. And the whole set-up of this, it’s slasher-by-numbers. There’s the inciting prank, the necessary interval of time, for all the pranksters to grow into proper victims, and then there’s the big party. Seriously. Remember in Scream, or Cherry Falls, how there’s a lot of story before the party? A lot of set-up? Not so here. They’re handing out invitations nearly immediately, and then it’s a quick fast-forward to the ‘parents are gone/invite everybody over night. Which is also, conveniently, a return to the scene of the crime. And somebody’s birthday. It’s a perfect storm for slashers, I mean. If Stitches hadn’t risen, then some other slasher would have. And Stitches makes all the necessary obeisances to its predeccessors: Stitches quips like Freddy Krueger, he looms just out of frame like Michael, and he’s just as unkillable as Jason. All in all, man, if you like slashers, then this is definitely quality stuff. Highly recommended. So hoping there’ll be a sequel.

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Three Things We (Horror Folk) Can Learn from The Mooring

1. Horror can still be very disturbing and very complete without gore and nudity

Is there even any profanity in The Mooring? I can’t think of it, if there is. Which isn’t to say over-the-top gore isn’t a complete riot, just all kinds of fun. I like it when I have to hide my eyes. Last time that happened, I guess, would have been Excision. First time? Probably The Exorcist. Well, okay, The Eyes of Laura Mars, but that wasn’t from gore, but absolute, undiluted terror; I was eight, I think. But, nudity in horror—for a long time the theory (or, maybe, just the practice?) was that it was enough of a pendulum swing the other way from gore that it allowed the visual palette of the film to achieve a kind of balance. Or is that just a rationalization? It could have been just as simple as the filmmakers knowing that, even if the story was thrown together and the production poor, there was still one way to lure their target demographic to the drive-in. One way that’s significantly cheaper than hiring a Tom Savini or a Kevin Williamson. And sometimes I think nudity in horror—in the slasher in particular—is just the director being all leery, taking advantage of girls fresh off the bus, as it were. It’s not called exploitation cinema for nothing. And nudity could even be setting the audience up to be punished, I suppose: if it’s thrilled when the clothes are peeled off, then what about when the skin is? Maybe you should have asked for that shirt to stay on, yes. Anyway, Scream got by without nudity, with just the suggestion of it (sexuality’s still important to the slasher, and there is some of that in The Mooring, albeit of the creepy kind), and a lot of others have as well, and are none the worse for it. But, yes, it is kind of built into the genre, I know, as the My Bloody Valentine redo makes very clear, in skintastic 3D. I prefer John Carpenter’s explanation over Carol Clover’s too. That axe-to-the-head, it’s not Jason punishing these people for having sex—what does he care?—it’s a single killer striking at the best opportunity: when people are distracted, and when they have no clothes, when they’re tangled up in blankets or seatbelts, and when they’re far enough from the group that their screams won’t be heard. And it’s probably night, too, making for an easy step back into those ever-important shadows. And, yes, the The Mooring cast is of course young, making nudity hardly an issue, but we’ve all seen beach and lake and river horror movies—even Kid Rock music videos—and know full well that half the time, the nudity comes from other boats. Boats that seem to be there specifically to display naked people. On the water, nudity’s always a bikini string away. For The Mooring to be set on the water and have no nudity, though—and be low-budget—it’s refreshing, it’s surprising. And it completely works.

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The Last Final Girl

Life in a slasher film is easy. You just have to know when to die.

Aerial ViewA suburban town in Texas. Everyone’s got an automatic garage door opener. All the kids jump off a perilous cliff into a shallow river as a rite of passage. The sheriff is a local celebrity. You know this town. You’re from this town.

Zoom InHomecoming princess, Lindsay. She’s just barely escaped death at the hands of a brutal, sadistic murderer in a Michael Jackson mask. Up on the cliff, she was rescued by a horse and bravely defeated the killer, alone, bra-less. Her story is already a legend. She’s this town’s heroic final girl, their virgin angel.

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