Category Archives: Read

Slashademics

Tell most people you’re “into” slasher movies and they’ll give you this strange sideways look, like they’re doubting the authenticity of the complexities going on inside your cranium.

Pick up any academic film book and you’ll likely only find half a paragraph about slasher movies, writing them off as something like ‘hate-women films’ or the like.

Nevertheless, beyond the Teenage Wasteland’s, Legacy of Blood’s, and Going to Pieces’s’s’s, there has been a fair bit of scholarly study done over the years, much of it in research papers, but also a few books.

Therefore, if you’re looking to broaden your appreciation of the subtextual elements of the teenie-kill pics you so enjoy, maybe give any of these a go…

GAMES OF TERROR: HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH AND THE FILMS OF THE STALKER CYCLE

By Vera Dika (1990)

Way back in the mid-90s before DVD and before my parents stopped thinking the internet was evil sent by Satan, the only existing book about exclusively about slasher films was this.

After I’d devoured as much Friday the 13th and Halloween I could and still found myself hungry, Games of Terror introduced to be to six other early stalker films (as she calls them), which took a good six months for me to track down. This being a good decade before everything was reissued on DVD – only a few of these films were readily available on video cassette.

Rather than analyse psychological elements of the films themselves (see Clover, below, for that), Dika pivots her tome on the structural nature of the sub-genre; the ‘games of terror’ refers to how these films work on an interactive level, breaking down the common plot arc (from the event that prompts the killer X-years earlier to the heroine fighting and surviving), and posing the audience questions: Where is the killer? When will they strike? Who is the killer? etc.

vevo-9films2
The holy clutch of ‘stalker films’

Of the three books, Games of Terror is the easiest to get on with. It’s not overly verbose and doesn’t preach an opinion (again, see Clover for that!) and it enabled me entrance on to my Film Theory degree, which of course, I capped off with a research paper on 90s slasher movies, called Scream Queens and Screaming Queens.

The downside of the tale is that Games of Terror is fucking hard to get hold of. Look on Amazon and gasp at the three-figure prices for which it’s being touted! I took it out from the library about five times.

Aww, libraries… like phoning around old video stores, scouring the Free-Ads and taking the bus for an hour to go and get my copy of Happy Birthday to Me for £7 from a run-down old rental store, it all takes me back!

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAIN SAWS: GENDER IN THE MODERN HORROR FILM

By Carol J. Clover (1990)

Now this is a different kettle o’ fish altogether. Less an entire book, more a collection of essays bound together. The chapter Her Body, Himself is devoted exclusively to slasher films, which Clover begins with by stating that the killers murder a string of “mostly female victims,” and then goes on to namecheck a load of films where male victims outnumbered their gal-pals by significant margins.

Lack of objectivity aside, this is a great chapter for psycho-analysis of some of the grittier issues you sometimes find going on under the surface. Clover centres much of her research around The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which, ironically, the next book all but excludes from being a slasher movie at all!) and posits that all killers are psychosexually motivated to stab pretty young girls over and over in a grim tableau of the regular intercourse they’re incapable of having.

It makes sense, but her research lets her down. Some facts are plain wrong, while others require a lot of convincing. Still, the parts around audience identification with the killer shifting to the allegiance of the final girl are interesting and mostly valid, but read into sometimes in too much detail, especially when it’s widely considered that the core audience for these movies is frankly too dumb to tell the difference.

The rest of the book covers various other genres of horror and cries misogyny a little too easily at some points. Yes, it’s an issue and yes, some slasher movies revel in it, but Hell Night, for example (a film she discusses), certainly isn’t one of them.

BLOOD MONEY: A HISTORY OF THE FIRST TEEN SLASHER FILM CYCLE

By Richard Nowell (2010)

I only finished reading this book last week. There’s more in common with Dika than Clover, as Nowell charts the business end of the 1978-81 mini-boom of teen slasher films (thereby excluding films that aren’t necessarily tailored for teens, i.e. He Knows You’re Alone).

Nowell’s research levels go far beyond the previous books, though that’s likely because a lot more has been written on the genre in the intervening years. Still, he doesn’t miss a trick, finally pointing out that Clover’s effort has been the only oft-quoted work on the genre, and thus many people have taken her word for gospel thereafter.

Blood Money goes to great lengths to show how the often tiny production companies tailored their films to male AND female audiences, the way trailers were cut to show female bonding and girl-enticing elements of the films (Prom Night being the best example) and, surprisingly, goes to town on pointing out that Halloween was NOT the bootleg blockbuster it’s often painted to be, that it took a long, long time to make its money (much of which came from re-releases well into the 80s) and really showing how a trend starts, peaks, and fades away when it comes to the saturation point in 1981.

The disappointing aspect of this book is that most of the films he charts (those pictured above plus Black Christmas, Silent Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Terror Train, Final Exam, The Prowler, Just Before Dawn, Madman, and The Dorm That Dripped Blood) made much less money than we’re sometimes led to believe. Yeah, they all turned a profit, but some of the amounts were a lot less impressive than their reputations would have you believe, especially in terms of modern money.

* * *

In conclusion – read these! At least some of them. Despite my bitching about it, Carol Clover’s book is quite relevant, just a tad misinformed in place. And if you ever get in an argument with Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin, or the ghost of Gene Siskel, it’d be handy to be able to quote some of this stuff back!

Decembwhore

Shing-shing-shing-shing-shing. That’s the sound of bells, not my piss-poor attempt to put the Psycho strings into readable format.

Yes, Christmas is nigh and what better gift to give or have a tantrum over wanting than a horror book set during the holidays? …Like this one I wrote earlier.

You see how well it fits in with the spirit of the season? Santa, snow, …death

I know, I know. But I need to feed my dog turkey-flavoured kibble, man.

Should you feel the need to purchase for yourself – or your mom, dad, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, former roomies, friends, enemies, frenemies a copy, you can get it here (UK), here (US), or here (the rest of the world).

Support your local slasher blogs. And their dog.

Happy Holidays to you all!

– Hud xx

Volume of violence – ’tis a book on the slasher film

TEENAGE WASTELAND: THE SLASHER MOVIE UNCUT

J.A. Kerswell

In case you didn’t know, Justin Kerswell is the force behind Hysteria Lives!, about the biggest slasher devoted website around now Slasherpool has vanished quicker than a horny couple at Camp Crystal Lake.

I’ve been a casual acquaintance of his a few years: I gave him my VHS of Dead Girls, he scarred me with Satan’s Blade. We’re even. Weirdly, the author biog bit in the back of the book says that Justin is a vegan. And this is Vegan Voorhees. But I’m not a vegan, merely an animal-loving 85% vegetarian (for shaaame!) Weirder still, years ago he lived in Brighton, while I was out due west and then he moved due west and I moved to Brighton. I’m pretty sure if we ever met we might both drop dead in some Drew Barrymore Doppelgangy way.

Anyway, the book. “You should have written this!” my friend Lorna told me when she found my leafing through Teenage Wasteland a couple of weeks ago. Well…not really. As much as a slasher film geek I am, I’ve never committed fully to the cause. That’s to say, I’ve not picked up a lot of memorabilia aside from a handful of posters and my beloved Jason doll. Justin Kerswell, on t’other hand, could start a museum. Frankly, if I had all the posters, quads and lobby cards he does, I’d never be happy until I had enough walls to emblazon them on, dancing among them dementedly like that chick from To All a Goodnight.

Furthermore – and this is going to make me look lazy – there’s a few chapters devoted to the prototype era of the slasher film. Psycho, fine. Peeping Tom, great. And then it goes into the Italian giallo ouevre. Being part Italian I should rightly be proud of this kind of heritage but it’s practically alien to me. I couldn’t do it. So no, Lorna, I could not have written this.

What impresses most about Teenage Wasteland is the product itself: the book is beautiful. The covers fold out to reveal pristine recreations of posters for Friday the 13th (at the front) and Terror Train (at the back); there are numerous foreign and domestic prints, almost all of it’s in colour and it’s as stunning as a Kevin Spirtas calendar.

It’s so great that there’s some tomes on the genre now, coming from my hazy early days of addiction in the 90s where there was nothing but a few scathing mentions in almanacs and the Dika and Clover academic texts, I genuinely believed nobody else watched these films. With comparative ease Teenage Wasteland outperforms the competition just by the nature of its evident love for it.

Criticisms? None really – OK so I noticed a typo – it’s a journal of a love affair between man and film. Suffice to say, after this the world doesn’t need another overview of the genre’s golden years. What could it possibly say that hasn’t been touched on here? A guide to shot-on-video films? Ugh. Perhaps in a decade or so’s time it’ll be right for a retrospective on Scream and its disciples but I think I’m gonna stick with fiction, that way I can be lazy and blame it on art!

April Argument: Final Literation

A few years ago I naively sent off a book treatment to a few small publishing houses and received the usual wad of “bugger off” letters, however one person took interest in an idea I had and asked me to read a few of their spin-off Final Destination novels. This I did, revised my idea, and eagerly awaited the outcome of a ‘pitch meeting’. Silence. More silence. Apologies. We’ve lost the contract, no more books. Yeah, ’twas a brush-off. But, y’know, live and learn…and to be honest, the four books I read weren’t all that, as you may see…

fd1DEAD RECKONING

By Natasha Rhodes

The singer of a rock band has a premonition that the club she and her group are playing in will collapse on top of the crowed, squashing the lot of them. She flips out and several individuals scarper in time to see it come true.

Understandably pissed off, Death comes-a-callin’ on each survivor’s door as everyday items conspire their downfall. One is crushed by an elevator, another’s motorcycle explodes, there’s a fatal spider bite, someone is sliced by a falling sign blah, blah, blah.

Here, lead character Jess consults a psychic for advice, which is new, and has a chapter-long nightmare about death being a bridge. It drags.

Well enough written to pass a few lunch breaks and there’s no coyness about violence, sex or swearing but looking at a series that trades on visual spectacle and shock, the book form doesn’t quite work…

fd2DESTINATION ZERO

By David McIntee

A woman has a vision of a terrorist bomb on the subway and causes a commotion, which prevents a few other people going through the turnstiles, thus saving them for now, thus lining them up for gruesome deaths-a-plenty later on.

In this book, which was the best of the four by far, the heroine (Patty, I think) and her boyfriend visit the same psychic as the first novel and investigate their plight, uncovering an ancestor of Patty’s who, in 1888, had a premonition of her own that she thwarted, condemning the survivors to grim demises and something about Jack the Ripper.

There’s also some cops (I think) with some insider knowledge, who detail older cases of bizarre deaths, how planes that crash are always under-booked and stuff. A nice, interesting element to add.

In the present, people are chopped in two by falling glass, drowned in flash floods, decapitated by hubcaps and – get this – impaled by flying CDs! However, this was easily the best of the bunch.

fd3END OF THE LINE

By Rebecca Levene

In New York City, a group of teens from various countries gather for some unclear student exchange hoohah – two American siblings are included with stereotypes of other nationalities: posh Brit, permanently-stoned Dutch chick, ‘crazy’ Japanese girl, quiet, serious German boy.

One of the Americans has a premonition – again? yawn – that there’ll be a subway crash which will kill them all, so they, their aged guide and an old man escape in time. There’s also a medical intern who knows when people are going to die after a near-death experience of her own and she’s being stalked by the Mafia!

The group begin to DIE! DIE! DIE! Interestingly, one of the deaths was Xeroxed for The Final Destination (clue: the hospital and the over-filled bath). One guy gets flipped through the air and impaled on the antlers of a fucking live stag!! Two more are impaled on an umbrella display and another is done in when a flying chainsaw wraps itself around a lamppost, flying in ever-decreasing circles, sawing the victim in pieces upon each revolution. Yes, it was still running while it went round and around…

There was an okay twist thrown in but the death set-ups were so ridiculous I assumed Rebecca Levene was possibly a pseudonym for a group of 12-year-old boys ramped up on sherbert and Dr Pepper.

fd4DEAD MAN’S HAND

By Steven A. Roman

If the demises in End of the Line weren’t bad enough, Dead Man’s Hand takes a whopping half the book before we even reach the “opening” disaster. Ally is in Vegas with her on/off boyfriend, who she has married on a drunken whim and now they’re out of cash.

After we meet all the other characters, learn about their lives and Ally and new hubby bitch and moan at one another, we wait for the accident. And wait. And wait. Eventually, it comes, a neat little 70’s disaster movie type gag with an external scenic elevator shearing off the side of a hotel, killing all who tumble out and several on the pavement.

One hysterical outburst later, Ally, hubby and about three or four others are temporarily saved and later done in by electricity, broken signs and AIDS. Yes, AIDS is the final “joke” that Roman springs on us in what’s clearly something he wrote over a weekend and easily the worst of the lot.

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So, does it work? Well, yes and no. The whole premise of the Final Destination series is gold, with no end to the possibilities of working stories for it and books (should) always allow for better character exploration and thoughtful reflection. And yet, the authors try so hard to make their leads ‘edgy’ that they largely become unlikeable walking cliches: Jess in Dead Reckoning is a klepto-Emo; Ally just bitches her way through Dead Man’s Hand and the bro-sis duo in End of the Line are as cheery as a raincloud.

Unfortunately, both this series and the films still shy away from investigating what unseen force bestows these premonitions upon the leads, who aren’t already psychic: Is it the antithesis of Death? Is it Life? Is Life trying to help them survive? Then there’s the fact that horror movies are usually a visual experience and that can’t be transferred to the page effectively – horror books are usually far more psychological affairs. You can’t insert stingers and ejector-seat scares on paper.

There are two or three later entries (plus novelizations of the films) but after Dead Man’s Hand I had to quit. I wouldn’t wholly recommend these books; they’re written to a strict formula and too derivative of the filmic versions, which, as we know, became progressively lame. Shamage.

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