A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?” For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep. Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film 2006, USA. Directed by Jeff McQueen. Based on Adam Rockoff’s book Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986. Starring John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tom Savini, Sean S. Cunningham, Amy Holden Jones, Rob Zombie, Stan Winston, Joseph Stefano. Have you ever tried to find a greatest hits disc of a band that’s been around for thirty years or more? This one has three of the songs you love, but not the other two you’re looking for. That one has the other two, but only two of the first three, and one of them is a crappy live track. Yet another one only has the latest hits, and everybody knows some of their best stuff was earlier in their career. Trying to find the perfect documentary on the slasher film is just like that. There are numerous horror docs out there, going as far back as TERROR IN THE AISLES (1984), but it’s tricky bringing the whole band together for a satisfyingly comprehensive collection. Not to mention, no one can agree on what they should play once everyone gets there. As with damn-near anything, it all comes down to a matter of preference. I enjoy spinning any of these discs, but the greatest hits of horror that I can best sing along to is GOING TO PIECES: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film. Based on Adam Rockoff’s book of the same name, GOING TO PIECES is a historical and critical look at the much-maligned slasher films that really took off in the early ’80s. For those who slept through a third of horror history, the slasher films are more or less any film where a great deal of slashing is done. Hey, it’s not science. The basic premise is that a masked killer stalks and slays teenagers, frequently on the anniversary of a specific event or holiday, often with little reason other than he’s bonkers. He’s probably got a pretty big knife, machete, axe, chainsaw, or anything else that could act as a symbolic penis for future critics who want to study his movie. He’s not always male, but he tends to be (and, even when he’s a female, he still has a big symbolic penis, because that’s just how these things work). The slasher flick usually comes complete with a virginal (or at least non-slutty) last-girl standing, and a moral message of varying degrees of subtlety: if you do bad shit, you’re going to die. Regardless of the simplicity of this message, and the fact that the final survivor is almost always a girl, you know you’re watching a slasher film if some pissed off critic is going on about the decay of civilization and the horror movies’ complete lack of respect for women. GOING TO PIECES features interviews with horror masterminds including John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN), Wes Craven (SCREAM), Sean S. Cunningham (FRIDAY THE 13th), Paul Lynch (PROM NIGHT), Fred Walton (WHEN A STRANGER CALLS), Amy Holden-Jones (SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE), Rob Zombie (HOUSE OF A THOUSAND CORPSES); makeup wizards Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and Greg Nicotero; actresses Betsy Palmer (FRIDAY THE 13th) and Felissa Rose (SLEEPAWAY CAMP); PSYCHO screenwriter Joseph Stefano; and numerous others. You might be looking at this list of names, asking where is George Romero or Tobe Hooper or Jamie Lee Curtis? Keep looking, pal. Jamie Lee doesn’t do these things, and if they got every single amazing horror director together in one place, the universe would actually implode. That IS science. While this is my go-to-guy of horror documentaries, I admit that there’s barely any time spent with a few undisputed classics, such as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). It’s that whole greatest-hits thing I was telling you about. We start out with some of that we-all-have-a-reptile-brain stuff from John Carpenter, and there are shots of lots of famous real-life slashers. Caligula. Gilles de Rais. Elizabeth Bathory. Jack the Ripper. There’s a brief segment on the bloody Grand Guignol Theatre, where decent, upstanding French folks went to see people get pretend tortured and killed on stage (for a little more on this, feel free to check out my October 29th post entitled “The Danse Macabre”). Then we jump to 1960, with what this movie claims are the earliest slasher films: Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM and Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. While both were essentially dealing with the same kinda topic, fairly sympathetic nut-balls with mother issues, one director’s career was ruined and one became a legend. Not mentioned in the documentary were a few films predating PSYCHO that meet much of the slasher criteria. Maurice Tourneur’s THE LUNATICS (1912) was a silent film adaption of an old Grand Guignol play. Public outcry from this one resulted in the Hays Code in 1930, the first set of industry guidelines that tried to restrict what could be shown. Sounds kinda familiar. There were numerous “old dark house” movies through the late ’20s and early ’30s, always utilizing the madman-on-the-loose plots that would eventually be called Michael, Jason, and Freddy. In THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932), sorority members start getting killed off and subsequently crossed off in a yearbook. Forty-nine years later, they would call this GRADUATION DAY and it would feature a young Vanna White. Jacques Tourneur would follow in his pappy’s horrific footsteps with THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), a mostly bloodless but nonetheless effective tale of a killer who targets only women (feel free to check out my October 16 post on the films produced by Val Lewton). There was THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945), about a mute maid who might end up as worm food, or a noir-ish story that follows a serial killer called WITHOUT WARNING (1952). And what about all the people getting whacked, some of them virginal young women, in Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie? GOING TO PIECES also gets into the critical outrage over hacking and slashing, mostly where it concerned Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Ironically, Ebert had been a champion of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which is still an infinitely more disturbing thing to watch than anything Jason Vorhees ever did. But then he met that uppity, balding freak Siskel, who never met a horror movie he didn’t hate. Enraged over the violence in FRIDAY THE 13th, Siskel gave away the ending on their show, Sneak Previews, and urged his viewers to bombard Betsy Palmer with letters of outrage for appearing in such an unrelenting piece of filth. About a week before Halloween, 1980, Siskel and Ebert called out the growing number of slasher flicks and declared a supposed war on horror. Among others, they mentioned DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, calling them misogynistic “women in danger” films. While there are undoubtedly elements of that in horror movies, those elements are present in even more non-horror movies that never get brought up in these kinds of discussions. I think these old white dudes might have missed a couple things. Ebert claimed to have been in an audience where young males were yelling out encouragement as the killer went after scantily-clad females. Is it not possible that young males might just yell out encouragement because they are seeing scantily-clad females? Just saying. And if there’s one thing we’ve come to learn, it’s that horror movies, more than any other, invite audience commentary. You don’t shout out to Lincoln that his zipper’s down when he’s giving the Gettysburg Address, but if there’s some creep wearing a pig’s head sneaking up on a skinny-dipper, you might find yourself yelling at the screen like you’re actually there. Siskel, meanwhile, claimed that these movies were a reaction to the women’s movement of the 1970s. For all of the intelligence he tried to project, he wasn’t smart enough to follow the stories through to their end. You know, to the part where a girl was the only one smart and strong enough to survive the unstoppable maniac. Amy Holden Jones, director of one of these terrible, woman-hating movies, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982), here disputes everything these critics had to say. She says that they are suffering a “complete misunderstanding of the genre.” While Ebert assumed that slasher movies hated women and wanted to see them hurt, Jones insists that we want to see them in jeopardy so we can feel the vicarious thrill when they ultimately escape. As with everything, the truth undoubtedly lies somewhere between these two opinions. GOING TO PIECES runs a brisk 88 minutes, covering a lot of ground in not much time. All of the major signposts in the slasher road are here, with occasional detours into the lesser-known. The interviews are fun and informative, cut and scattered in attention-deficit style to keep everything moving fast, which hides the fact that we don’t get as deep into the marrow of the genre as some of us might have wanted. Effects guys get some love here, especially Tom Savini. It’s only fair, since every exploding head full of shrimp and apple cores owes him at least a small debt. There’s a fair amount of behind-the-scenes stuff, especially for FRIDAY THE 13th, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is revealed to have come from Eastern philosophy. Who the hell knew? The late Wes Craven comes across very well in all of his clips, and it’s easy to forget, after all the sequels, how amazing SCREAM was the first time I saw it. Another hour of run-time, though too much for the casual viewer, would have made this a comprehensive chunk of bloody gold for hard-core slasher fans. As it stands, it’s merely my favorite greatest hits horror collection at the moment. If you dig the horror documentaries, there are more than you might think out there. Nearly as good as this is THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (2000), a more academic view on slashers, with professors you only wish you’d had in school, and appearances by Tobe Hooper and John Landis. This one’s got the TEXAS CHAINSAW stuff that was missing from GOING TO PIECES, not to mention the always amusing Landis. NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009) is more of an overview than a slasher retrospective, tying various events in the United States’ history to the monsters, aliens, demons, and killers that have appeared on our movie screens. There is an occasional political slant to this one, so don’t go there if you can’t take a little Reagan-bashing. Do go there if you enjoy Romero. TERROR IN THE AISLES (1984) features more mainstream stuff, like JAWS, MARATHON MAN, and WAIT UNTIL DARK, among the horror clips. It’s also got Hitchcock explaining how to create suspense. With Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen as likable hosts sitting in a crowded movie theater. From 1985 comes DARIO ARGENTO’S WORLD OF HORROR, itself the directorial debut of Michele Soavi, who went on to make THE CEMETERY MAN (1994), one of the last really good Italian horror movies. It shows Argento before his own work started to suck the butter right off your popcorn and includes an opening double-murder sequence cut from SUSPIRIA (1977). If you enjoyed the 1997 indie film COVEN, or even if you’ve never heard of it, AMERICAN MOVIE (1999) is a great behind-the-scenes trip through horror filmmaking. The documentary itself won a Grand Jury prize at Sundance and has by far overshadowed the movie it was documenting. You might want to check out BEST WORST MOVIE (2010), which traces the making of the utterly terrible movie TROLL 2. Come prepared to laugh, but don’t be surprised if you should shed a tear as well. Don’t forget HIS NAME WAS JASON (2009), a whole lotta Vorhees packed into a small space, and NEVER SLEEP AGAIN (2010), which chronicles the entire NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET saga (outside of that unnecessary remake). While not entirely about horror, I could not give any higher recommendation to MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (2010). It’s all about the string of exploitation movies made in the Philippines from the late 1960s through the ’80s, from schlock horror to women in prison and ridiculous karate flicks. As if it needs to be said, Roger Corman makes more than just an appearance here. I also urge you to seek out NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation (2008), about all the crazy, awesome cinematic shit that’s come out of Australia, and VIDEO NASTIES: The Definitive Guide (2014), a three-disc extravaganza where you can find the trailers to every film banned in the U.K. Some of them look completely amazing, and, like me, you might want to track down anything you haven’t already ruined your mind with. You might as well come out here and investigate a strange noise or something. See larger image Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film Every fear you’ve ever felt. Every evil you’ve witnessed. Every nightmare you’ve ever known…have come together for the first time on film. Going to Pieces is the ultimate anthology that takes you on a horrifying journey through your favorite slasher films including, Halloween, Psycho, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and When a Stranger Calls. Interviews with horror icons John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Rob Zombie, Tom Savini and many more guide you through a series of gruesome scenes from classic films and recent hits. Watch as the history of the slasher film comes alive…if you dare. New From: $3.99 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.