I never even reviewed the first season, did I, from when this was a Chiller show? It was fun. It was kind of a ‘grown-up’ slasher. Well, it wasn’t teens-at-camp, anyway. The victim pool’s problems weren’t “what about curfew?” or “where’s the party,” but real, mortgage-paying actual-life kind of problems. There was a wicked knife, a wicked mask, some solid gore (well, runny, chunky gore), and an opening scene on Halloween night that’s to die for, or, you know: from. And Slasher wisely brought across one of the actors from Harper’s Island, so that we can feel confident that these creators know what-all’s come before (HI being, in my unhumble estimation, as good as the slasher’s got so far, on the small screen). If you’ve forgot the particulars of that first season, you can remember most of them just by watching the old trailer (the seven sins, have to go to the prison to talk to yesterday’s slasher, a house-with-a-history, an art gallery . . .).
Too, Slasher came along when we were getting a steady diet of MTV’s Scream, and Fox’s Scream Queens, and Hannibal had just upped the game on television, and The Exorcist and Bates Motel and a few others were already shuffling around at the door, and of course you can’t pretend American Horror Story wasn’t going on, getting the audience hyped up for horror horror horror.
Anyway, that first season of Slasher did what a serial slasher is supposed to do: generally gave us at least one body per episode, in set-piece grand guignol fashion. There were surprises and reversals, favorite characters dying, red herrings graduating unexpectedly to “corpse #6,” and of course a killer you weren’t supposed to have guessed way early on in the proceedings.
It was a good time.
And, I guess Chiller must have either canceled it or sold it or something—I missed that press announcement—because now the screen that comes up before the episodes starts says it’s a Netflix production. Which is cool; Netflix does good tv. And, this model—this AHS-model of “this isn’t the same story, everybody reset, all you actors change costumes”—is promising, and is perfect-made for the slasher. I mean, that’s been Scream‘s problem so far: in a slasher that’s working like it should, nearly everybody dies. And that puts a real damper on continuity. So, it’s so much easier just to take “slasher” as the umbrella a lot of stories can huddle under, and cycle through a few seasons, running variations on that meatgrinder of story we all know and love.
Slasher season 1? That was a small-town, “we’re all adults here”-slasher.
Slasher season 2 is the “I know what you did last summer” variety, with the necessary camp counselors and “it’s a reunion!” mixed in.
To synopsize: five years ago, a clutch of counselors did something they maybe shouldn’t have, and now they’re back to cover that up. Only, it’s winter instead of summer. And, surprise, somebody knows what they did, and is making them pay for their transgressions . . . with blood.
Sure, it’s a touch Lost-y, what with how the story handles exposition: we flash back to summer camp to get piecemeal what went on back then, and every ep is kind of focused on a single character. And they’re not remotely likable characters—you spend a lot of time wondering if there’s even going to be a final girl or not—but what Slasher definitely has going for it is that you can’t guess who’s doing it. Even when you think you’ve got it figured out? Wrong.
So, to back up, here’s how slashers tend to work:
1. a prank that leaves a victim in its wake.
3. the pranksters all end up in the same isolated place, and start dying
4. set-piece kill, set-piece kill (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLuNpzmee9M)
5. let’s LEAVE (or call the cops, or hide, or weapon up, etc) / well, that didn’t work
6. is one of us doing it? leads to: The game of thrones red herrings
7. third-reel bodydump
8. oh, THAT’S the killer, and here’s their monologue/reason
9. big final chase/standoff, where the prey becomes predator . . .
10. and, phew, guess that’s that (wrong)
Pretty much, every slasher still follows the formula Agatha Christie laid down in And There There Were None. Sure, some keep the prank/catalyst hidden for a long while, some don’t let the killer monologue, and some do a poor job of keeping you guessing, but this is pretty much it. A wrong is done, and, the world in fiction being nominally ‘fair’—fiction is fantasy, is the thing our world is not—an avenging force rises to punish, and punish, and then punish some more, usually, we secretly hope, getting carried away in the process, and losing its own self to the dynamic, so completely is it committed. Which is where the governor on the system steps in: the final girl. The reason she doesn’t kill the slasher in Act I? Because, at that point, the slasher’s still just punishing the guilty. And also because Act II is where the final girl processes through whatever issue she’s brought TO the story herself (childhood trauma, current relationship, whatever), so of course she needs to ‘become’ her other self before any tables can be turned.
And of course there’s all kinds of room for variation—think You’re Next, right?—but, what’s nice here, it’s that Slasher is pretty much the classic build, cut up into eight separate episodes. And it’s got the added bonus of how blood sure does look cool against all that white-white snow.
In proper slasher fashion, yes, not only does nearly everybody die, but they die hard. And there’s some legit-bad stuff going on with it all. Which is necessary for horror. If it’s comfortable, tune over to something different, right? Good horror transgresses, confronts, revolts, and not just at a physical level, but a moral one. Slasher continually makes us ask whose side we’re on here, finally. Like any good story, it asks us if we’re complicit, and to what degree, and how do we feel about that. That alone is worth the price of admission. All the gore just makes it more fun.
Which is to say: this series is alive.
To be honest, I figured the first season of this show was a one-and-done affair. It was a good enough watch, but it didn’t up the slasher game, didn’t bring anything new, just kind of remixed a lot of the elements already on the table. This second season, though . . . I’m impressed. It’s aware of the genre not in some glib, meta-way (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but in a way that feels like it’s probing not just at the boundaries of the genre itself, but at its very core, it’s reason for being.
I mean, sure, once you’ve seen it, you of course realize that the story-dynamic in play is one of the two or three most time-honored ones local to the slasher (there’s ‘escaped maniac,’ there’s ‘supernatual entity’ . . . and then there’s this one, which is straight out of 1980, or 1997). But that just means we should have seen it coming. That we don’t speaks well to how the rest of the story wraps us up in itself.
Slasher: Guilty Party is definitely worth a watch. I don’t see how a true fan of the genre could not watch it, really.
And, even more exciting? This AHS same cast/different story format, it’s going to allow this series to run through a lot of different kinds of slasher stories. Which is to say, there’s potential to pull in a slasher novel, say, cut it up into a series. Just so long as one ‘escaped maniac’ season doesn’t follow another ‘escaped maniac’ season, Slasher should be able to keep on going, keep on growing. I’m excited for it. And, with Scream Queens gone now and the third season of Scream still in production, as far as new slashery goodness on the small screen, Slasher is where it’s at.
So, until Cassie and Vlad get their own bloodbath of a series, you can find me here, watching some Slasher.