Friday, 10 May 2013

Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever

2013
Dir. Calum Waddell

Ever since Alfred Hitchcock filmed Janet Leigh being stabbed to death in a shower in Psycho (1960), stories of knife-wielding madmen - stalking and slaughtering helpless, usually scantily clad victims - have become a permanent fixture in horror cinema. Hitchcock humanised the monster and made audiences think twice about being alone in the company of that nice looking, quiet guy from next door. You know, the one who lives with his mother.  

Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever takes an often irreverent look at the universally-maligned, frequently misunderstood, slasher sub-genre which came in the wake of Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Made by Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill of High Rising Productions, who have been widely acclaimed for their work with Arrow Video and other labels, it is a knowing love letter to stalk and slash cinema. Amongst those discussing the appeal of the slasher are the likes of Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Adam Green (Hatchet) Jeffrey Reddick (creator of Final Destination), Tom Holland (Child's Play), Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D), Mick Garris (Masters of Horror), Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) and Corey Feldman (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), to name but a few.

Delving into the history of hack 'em up cinema, Slice and Dice mainly concerns itself with discussing the rules and conventions of the slasher flick, which, as you know include:

• A group of teens in an isolated location
• A masked/unidentified killer who is usually avenging a past ‘misdeed’
• Drug/alcohol use
• Characters having premarital sex
• The use of knives or other sharp implements as murder weapons – killers in slashers prefer the thrill of the chase and the intimacy afforded by killing victims up close and personal. Guns are rarely used.
• Phones/cars that have a nasty habit of not working when they’re needed most
• Ineffective police/authority/adult figures
• Characters’ splitting up to look for other characters/investigate strange noises, usually in creepy woods or in dark basements.
• There is always one girl (the ‘final girl’), usually the one who doesn't have sex or indulge in drugs/alcohol, who is left standing after her friends have been bumped-off by the killer. She must use her resourcefulness to escape and stop the killer.
• The way is always left open for a sequel, should your slasher movie be successful.

Psycho (1960)
Scream (1996)
It is of course fine to highlight these conventions – it would be expected in any documentary on slasher cinema, but while Slice and Dice does this well; it never ventures far enough away from this aspect to be considered a truly serious attempt to probe and analyse slasher cinema. New comers will find much to savour and take note of throughout, however seasoned connoisseurs will not discover anything new. Waddell has seemingly used Randy’s famous speech from Scream as his template throughout. Proceedings are divided up into neat, digestible sub-categories. Genesis of a Genre briefly looks at the influence of Psycho, Peeping Tom and the gialli of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, as well as Agatha Christie’s murder mystery And Then There Were None – the blueprint for all body-count movies – as interviewees to try to describe what constitutes a slasher film. Later titles are also touched on to give an idea of how much the slasher has evolved throughout the years – Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Behind the Mask are all name checked. Between the talking head segments are clips, posters and trailers for every slasher imaginable – from classics such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and obscure gems like Just Before Dawn and Motel Hell, to Scream and the post-modern copycats and homages it inspired, such as Final Destination, Behind the Mask and the Saw franchise.

A Nightmare on Elm Street III (1987)
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
While Rules of Survival – self explanatory, really - simply rehashes the rules to surviving a slasher, it does feature Corey Feldman revealing a deep-seated understanding and love of the slasher movie when he discusses how they form cautionary morality tales for young audiences. Similarly, Emily Booth points out the parallels between slashers and fairy tales, but this notion is never picked up again. The Secret of Slashing Up a Great Villain explores the motivation behind the murders in the slasher, and the love of masks exhibited by classic slasher antagonists. Final Girl offers up more meaty subject matter as interviewees get stuck into issues such as misogyny and female empowerment, while The Gore the Merrier takes a peek at some of the more imaginative gore-gags and SFX within the slasher archives. You Can’t Kill the Bogeyman, which incidentally is another of the film’s stronger points, looks at the enduring appeal of slashers and how this has led to countless sequels and remakes. Discussions abound about how consistently diluted sequels attempted to recreate the thrills of the original and made initially threatening villains over-familiar to audiences – audiences who still clung to the life-altering experience of watching the original entry of any given classic slasher series - and how remakes – which are the new sequels - can serve as introductions to the original films for younger generations.

It would have been interesting to explore the Italian giallo, the exploits of Ed Gein and American urban legends (with their conservative moral coding - though there are nods to the ‘legend of the hook’ in the beautifully animated title sequence) instead of just rehashing rules and conventions. That may not have been in keeping with the tone of this particular documentary though, which is playful and irreverent throughout. To ponder academic analyses of the slasher, such as Laura Mulvey’s notion of ‘the gaze’, or Julia Kristeva’s writings on abjection (though Creep director Christopher Smith does touch upon the former), is not what Slice and Dice is about. It’s fun, accessible and cheeky without ever patronising its core audience.

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
Where it really comes into its own is by investigating the lasting appeal of the stalk and slash trend, and when it touches upon fandom and the appeal of familiarity within slasher plots. Audience participation is a core component of these films, and one that adds to the morbid entertainment garnered from watching people being cut to ribbons by a knife wielding nutter in the deep, dark woods from the safety and comfort of our living rooms; safe in the aloof assurance that we would never make such foolish mistakes as those made time and again by slasher fodder.

Slice and Dice should provide solid entertainment, and will prove indispensible for those with a latent interest in slasher films; however, for those already fanatical about them, it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. It will reinvigorate your love for them though. Winner of the Best Documentary award at the annual South African Horror Film Festival, and given a competitive late night slot for its premiere at the Sitges Film Festival, Slice and Dice was obviously a labour of love for its director Calum Waddell. Made for a pittance and as a three year long side project, the passion exhibited by Waddell for the subject matter glints from the screen like moonlight reflected on a blood-spattered blade.

The Burning (1981)
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever is released on DVD Monday 13th May 2013.

Special Features:
Audio commentary with director/ producer Calum Waddell moderated by Justin Kerswell, author of Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut;
Additional ‘outtake’ interviews featuring Corey Feldman, Felissa Rose, J.S. Cardone, Kevin Tenney and more;
Post-screening audience Question and Answer session from the Glasgow Film Theatre featuring Slice and Dice interviewees James Moran and Norman J. Warren;
Footage from the Sitges Film Festival World Premiere;
Footage from the USA premiere at San Francisco's Another Hole in the Head Festival;
Footage from the Scottish premiere at the Glasgow Film Theatre;  
All Kinds of Twisted (Theme from Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever, performed by The Acid Fascists) music video;
Full Moon trailer park including trailers for slasher greats Tourist Trap, Puppet Master and Intruder.

Bonus Documentary: Don't Go In The Backwoods - an extensive look at the backwoods horror genre from Two Thousand Maniacs to the Hatchet series.
Trailer Park of Legendary Slasher Titles - over 22 trailers, with optional audio commentary, for classic slasher movies, including Peeping Tom (1960), Black Christmas (1974), Halloween (1978), Fade to Black (1980), Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980), Final Exam (1981) and many more.

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