Working on a new slasher right now, and leaning towards making it a screenplay, mainly so the form can keep it reined in for me, somewhat. Too, this time, I’m doing what I’ve never done: thinking it all through ahead of time. Which has involved a lot of re-watching, a lot of thinking. And, on the idea that reasoning from first principles (or at least memory) is somehow a pure way to get to something at least in the area of truth, I’ve been intentionall ducking Carol Clover and all the other slasher analyses out there. Just because I want to figure out what the slasher is, not simply agree with people smarter than me. And, here’s what I’ve got so far — those pieces without which a slasher isn’t really a slasher, and in no really good order :
- Injustice, some Initial Crime which can, narratively at least, more or less ‘conjure’ the slasher and his or her ensuing rampage. Prom Night‘s the easy one to example here, but A Nightmare on Elm Street really complicates it, I think, and wonderfully: there you’ve got Freddy come back to enact his own brand of justice on the children of the parents who killed him. Granted, he wasn’t exactly a good guy before being burned alive, but the injustice visited upon him is what turned him into a slasher, I think. In a sense, I mean, like most of the victims in a slasher, the parents kind of ‘deserve’ what they get.
- Red Herrings. So many slasher movies forget the red herring. Or, like, say, My Bloody Valentine, the red herrings. Right at the core of Scream, even, which rebirthed the whole genre, that’s what you’ve got: so many red herrings that the audience can’t really help but participate, engage, invest themselves in the story.
- Illicit behavoir. Say no to drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll, and you just might live through this thing. Halloween‘s what really cemented this for us, probably. And it’s been said enough that I don’t need to go into it, I think.
- Masks. In the initial installment of a franchise, anyway, in order to sustain your red herrings, you have to hide the identity of the killer. And yeah, the mask is just the Americanized black gloves of the giallo, from which the slasher inherited so much, but you can do it with camera angles too, per Friday the 13th. And, really, the famous POV-cam of the slasher, all handheld and not that steady (even the slasher Jaws uses this a lot. Terminator too), though a convention now, I’ve always thought it had lot less to do with jacking up the tension by seeing the victim run (or identifying with the killer, or voyuerism, etc) and a lot more to do with that being the most effective way to keep the slasher’s face out of the shot.
- Set-piece and/or Poetic Killings. Saw’s taken them to new heights, sure, but back in the eighties, whole movies were written around a few staged kills. All about the effects.
- No Authority / Isolation. Cheerleader Camp, Black Christmas, etc etc. It’s so stupid in slashers how nobody ever just calls the cops, right? Or, really, what’s stupid is how the cops never show up, or, if they do, they never take the threat seriously, or even if they happen to take the threat seriously for once, they’re all keystone about it. Too, though, if the authorities did believe the kids, then that’d mess up the whole balance, just by reaffirming that your parents can save you, and will. And that’s hardly what horror’s about.
- Stock characters. You’ve got your final girl, your exposition boy, your funny guy, and then a slew of redshirts, each sure they’re going to live forever, and already dead because of that.