Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film
While watching the documentary Going to Pieces, I had to resist comparing it with The American Nightmare. That documentary was an ambitious piece which linked several seminal horror movies to the social concerns of the period in which they were made. Going to Pieces had a much more limited scope, with its focus on, well, the rise and fall of the slasher subgenre. Any comparison with American Nightmare would be unfair, so I did everything I could to take it on its own terms. As a stand alone piece, Going to Pieces should gain the love of the legions of slasher fans, but won’t gain any converts.
Based on a book by Adam Rockoff, the documentary takes a look at the beginnings of the slasher flick, and follows its history right up through the recent torture porn films. Rockoff pulls together an impressive list of people to interview; John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Greg Nicotero, and Sean Cunningham are just a few of the topline names that discuss the subgenre. But Rockoff plunges deeper, and gets plenty of lesser known producers and directors of such films as Graduation Day and Happy Birthday to Me to talk. This lends the doc a certain authenticity and breadth. Following a chronology that begins in 1960 with Psycho and the woefully underappreciated Peeping Tom, the film quickly shifts to a discussion of Halloween as the film that established most of the slasher conventions. It then moves on to Friday the 13th, and how that film upped the gore content, thus changing slasher flicks forever. The doc then covers the glut of movie maniacs that followed in Friday’s wake, and shows how the popularity has ebbed and risen in cycles over the last 30 years.
It’s interesting to see just how the makers of the subgenre view these films, but the biggest flaw is that they’re not saying anything you wouldn’t expect. They defend the violence, the role of women as both victims and survivors, the maniacs themselves. But of course they do. It would have been more interesting to bring outsiders to the conversation, as American Nightmare did (ok, so I couldn’t totally ditch the comparison. Sorry). Instead, any view from the outside focuses on the virulent backlash to the movies. The late, often closed minded Gene Siskel attacks the entire cycle, going so far as to intimate that its films are depraved and dangerous. There’s also a segment that touches on the campaign of mothers that successfully ousted Silent Night, Deadly Night from theatres. It’s a sad display of just how mindless and vicious people can be, and ironic that they may be more numb than the movie maniacs presented in these movies.
Going to Pieces also uses title cards on occasion, but the following segments fly by so quickly that they’re of little use. Even more irksome is how the film doesn’t identify some of the folks it interviews. Though it’s easy to piece together who’s who from the topic of discussion, it would’ve been great if everyone got their fair due.
One thing the doc does right is its use of location. How great is it to have Harry Manfredini discussing his famous "ki ki ma ma" theme on a boat in the middle of a lake? Cunningham does his interview in front of a rustic cabin, and Carpenter strolls through a graveyard, ultimately ending up in front of a boulder that bears his surname. These locations connect the doc to the films. They’re a wonderful touch.
Ultimately, Going to Pieces preaches to the converted. It’s not going to convince anyone who disses slasher films that they have any merit; and it’s telling slasher fans what I’m sure they already know. Any documentary should have an argument, but in place of one, this doc merely doles out grand amounts of praise.
It also has grand amounts of special features. There are six bonus interviews, including one with the late Bob Clark, who some argue beat Carpenter to creating the slasher flick. I gather these were cut for length, as they’d fit perfectly in with the rest of the doc. There’s also a slasher trivia game, with both a novice and advanced level. Even with a profound knowledge of the horror genre, I found both levels to be tougher than expected. There’s a trailer for the film, and a gallery of trailers for Think Films, the company that produced the doc. Then, there’s the commentary. I’m a big fan of commentaries in general. The good ones offer all sorts of background to a film. This one, however, is a total waste. It probably would have been interesting had Rockoff done the discussion, but instead I get a conversation between the film’s two producers and its editor, and not even a good one. A complete waste of time.
Going to Pieces was never going to be American Nightmare, but then it wasn’t supposed to be. It’s a look at the slasher subgenre, created by a fan for the fans. If you love the cycle, you’re bound to love this flick. If you avoid those movies, avoid this one too.