It’s a good time to be a slasher. Nearly twenty years ago, Scream revitalized the genre, kicked off a series of clones and also-rans—some of them quite excellent—that finally landed us at Leslie Vernon, at Tucker and Dale, at Cabin in the Woods, at You’re Next and It Follows, even accomplishing the unheard-of feat of crossing over into television land: Harper’s Island was the first, but now we’ve got Scream and Scream Queens.
Everybody who says the slasher’s run its course, that it’s too tired a genre, that it’s played all the tricks it can play? They’re snuffed before the first reel’s done, and probably off-screen, as their complains and obections and doomsaying hardly even matters anymore. The slasher boom of the eighties might have died under the weight of its own success, but the slasher never stays down for long.
Case in point: The Final Girls. If you watch that list above, the movement or development of the slasher for the last decade or so would seem to have been from ‘self-aware’ to ‘stripped down,’ yes? From glib self-referentialism back to the basics. But there’s been an alternate vein the slasher’s been tapping the whole while, and that’s exactly where The Final Girls (note the very cool plural) situates itself—right alongside Detention and Stage Fright and The Killage, but with a healthy dose of that good old Final Destination dynamic we know and love, and, yes, that necessary self-referential fun. Specifically . . . do you know John Scalzi’s Redshirts? This is that, pretty much. Except, instead of being on some poor man’s Enterprise, this crew’s trapped in one of those Buzzfeed “How to Survive a Horror Movie” listicles.
And, what’s legitimately surprising, here? Some real and actual emotional content. I mean, with the slasher, we go along on the ‘bookworm-to-warrior’ ride pretty happily—it’s basically Braveheart, in that it makes us pretty sure that could be us, given the same circumstances—but not many slashers have any element of tear-jerkage to them. They should, don’t get me wrong. And, yeah, you might get a little misty at the end of Just Before Dawn, say, when the final girl shoves her arm down the killer’s throat—”Look, Pa, our baby’s growing up!”—but the razor edge you’re usually balancing for the duration of the slasher experience has laughter on one side, a scream on the other.
This time, though, with The Final Girls, there’s some real Harry Potter-looking-into-the Pensieve stuff going on at one level, and then there’s a sacrifice-cum-striptease that is both tender and profane. Really, I haven’t seen a lot like that.
So, I’m not saying The Final Girls is perfectly paced or that every line lands. They don’t. And sometimes the action-y scenes are somehow a little too laid back, or a joke is stretched well past the breaking point. But I verymuch like the DNA The Final Girls is injecting into the slasher, that most self-imitative of genres. You know how if you infect one Borg, you infect them all? More than any other genre, that’s how the slasher works: in fighting for those box-office or VOD dollars, it becomes a game of one-upmanship that seems to cycle faster than it does in any other genre. What I’m saying is that the emotional core of The Final Girls, that touchy-feely stuff hidden mongst the jokes and the gore and the titilation, it could propogate. Or, I hope it does. Something like that, it could reform the whole genre. The slasher is covered in blood, sure. But there’s a beating heart underneath all the transgression.
Thanks, The Final Girls, for that reminder.
Check the trailer:
* and, I’m thinking I’ve done write-ups of most if not all of these slashers listed here. just search them up via the search box? or maybe I’ll come back through, hardlink them all. (or maybe they’re somewhat linked here already). got a story to write right now, though . . .