FIRST LOOK: GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM (Based on the book by Adam Rockoff) (Oct. 06) by Jsyn - Adam Barnick

Featuring: John Carpenter/Wes Craven/Malek Akaad/Amy Holden-Jones/Paul Lynch/Sean Cunningham/Herb Freed/Greg Nicotero/Tom Savini/Chela Johnson/Anthony Timpone/Jeff Katz/Stan Winston.Robert Shaye/Joseph Stefano/ /Betsy Palmer/Harry Manfredini/Armand Mastroianni/Felissa Rose/Fred Walton/Lilyan Chauvin/Fred Walton /Joseph Zito/Rob Zombie

Jsyn's Review:

This new documentary from Starz Originals is a nice warm slice of nostalgia pie. As the title states, it’s not about horror movies in general, but specifically focuses on the often neglected, red-headed stepchildren of the genre known as “slasher” movies. And that is what makes this doc so unique.  

Now anyone who lived through them can tell you that the Eighties were an awesome time to be a kid. Not only were hordes of dedicated Star Wars and Planet of the Apes fans still running amok, Transformers and G.I. Joe ruled the playgrounds in tandem. Most of us caught bad cases of Pac-Man Fever, which we owed in large part to the stunning advent of the home video game market. Music was the coolest, I think, it’s ever been. Between Prince, The Police, Culture Club, Duran Duran, and yes even Michael Jackson, there was something for everyone and most of us loved it all.

And on top of all that, our beloved horror genre evolved and morphed into something that still affects us to this day. A whole new crop of violent and intense horror flicks aimed squarely at our demographic popped up at the local shoebox theater. No more silly rubber monster suits, no more cutaways right before the "good parts". Movie screens literally ran red with blood.

Our beloved Fangoria magazine became a bible of sorts, something that the freaks, geeks, and outcasts of high school life all connected on. Special Effects Artists became the rock stars of the film industry. Anti-heroes replaced role models. Yes, it was a good time to be a kid, and some feel, the beginning of a modern renaissance in the horror genre.

All those warm and fuzzy feelings come rushing back with Going To Pieces. It’s a very entertaining look at an unlikely film revolution that only now are film snobs starting to see the value of. The vibe of the eighties slasher film is present in this entire new-wave of box-office topping genre films. It's a fairly straightforward "back to basics" approach that seems to be pleasing the fans and filling studio coffers at the same time. This documentary attacks the subject of slasher movies with the same zeal that most of my generation attacked the “horror” sections of local mom ‘n’ pop video stores during our adolescence.

Producers Rachel Belofsky, Rudy Scalese and Michael Ruggerio do a fantastic job of combing through (it really seems) the entire catalogue of slasher movies released during that time period, or close to it. The obvious ones like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street are there, but they also give face time to forgotten gems like Happy Birthday To Me, My Bloody Valentine and The Final Terror. The interviews with genre veterans also range from the obvious to obscure, including conversations with Sean Cunningham and Tom Savini along with Herb Freed, director of Graduation Day who is now incidentally, a rabbi!

The overall presentation is easygoing and kind of jumps around chronological order, but this retrospective really captures the charm and spirit of the slasher film heyday. Those flicks were made on the cheap and quick and this doc reflects that hurried enthusiasm.   If you are any sort of self-respecting genre fan, I strongly recommend you set your TiVo to Starz, October 19, 9:00pm. Hopefully a loaded-with-special-features DVD is close behind.  

All this waxing nostalgic for the good ‘ol days make me wish for a souped-up DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor. I’d SO be on my way back to 1980! ~ Jsyn

Adam Barnick's Review:

Much as Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon’s slasher deconstruction demonstrated how there was more than mindless random murders to the formula, and could be worthy of legitimate study, GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM feels in a way like a companion piece; it’s a complete celebration of this influential subgenre, rather than an in-depth analysis. But its infectious enthusiasm and respect for its subject matter wins out, definitely the most entertaining horror special to be broadcast this Halloween.

G.T.P. starts off touching on man’s natural inclinations towards violence or acts of watching violence, since early history. From the Coliseum’s atrocities to the staged beheadings of the Grand Guignol, violent entertainment (whether real or fictional) has always been with us and will always be with us. Wes Craven, one of the first interviewed, touches on historical digs and how the archeologists always look for rocks which were sharpened into weapons.

G.T.P. touches on slasher’s genesis in film with two of the most important genre films of the 60’s, Psycho and Peeping Tom, briefly examining how the controversial subject matter combined with its unorthodox presentation basically condemned Michael Powell’s career. It took twenty years before the film became a recognized classic, but his work did lay foundations for modern killers.

Psycho, however, made an immediate impact. The late Joseph Stefano makes an all-too brief cameo speaking about the project’s origins and how Hitchcock decided he wanted a star for the shocking death of Marion Crane.

Jumping up to Halloween, director John Carpenter discusses the cultural unease of the time period his film was released in, and how its “safe scares” as opposed to real-world scares were a viable alternative. He also speaks of how one major thing Halloween brought to the table was the idea of the unkillable boogeyman.

All your favorite groundbreaking slashers as well as their imitators are discussed, and many of horror’s heavy hitters make appearances. Sean Cunningham speaks of how Friday the 13th was attracting interest before it was even a script, just due to an advance ad campaign (which was actually concocted to see if anyone would sue them for using the title Friday The 13th), and how his timing with a last minute call to an investor who he’d originally passed on ended up launching the series.

F13’s groundbreaking FX (courtesy of Tom Savini) also set the standards for a breed of film that could show as much as they could get away with. Savini discusses the impact his makeup had and the challenges of being one of the pioneers of the modern gore effect, and also wishes for the days of subtlety and restraint to come back to filmmaking! He touches on the selection of a weapon in slashers, and how none of them ever care to use a gun because the film would be over before you know it.

Throughout, this doc has some of your favorite well-known and lesser known kills featured onscreen. Make no mistake, the emphasis is on how much fun these films were to see and the documentary’s pace and energy match that.

Particularly with the more noted/groundbreaking films covered, we get more emphasis on the people who helped launched their particular franchise. Betsy Palmer gives Ms. Voorhees’ backstory, and she and Savini comment on one of cinema’s first onscreen beheadings. Henry Manfredini reveals the origins of his signature theme/sound effect that weaves through every Friday the 13th , As well as the fake-out music used at the film’s end.

The steady grosses for Halloween, and the immediate grosses for Friday the 13th (one of the first of its kind to be picked up by a major studio and given a national simultaneous release) made the studios wake up and take notice, as well as the independents. The slasher deluge had begun, some better than others.

The Prowler, He Knows You’re alone, Happy Birthday to Me, Slumber Party Massacre, Graduation Day, Sleepaway Camp, just about any one you can think of is touched upon; nearly all with classic clips.

The average horror fan will recognize many people involved but there are other treats for hardcore viewers, like rarely-interviewed directors such as Joseph Zito (The Prowler, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) and Paul Lynch (Prom Night). Lynch speaks of how astonished he was that Jaime Lee Curtis wanted to be in the film after she’d “done this before.” Herb (Graduation Day) Freed, now a practicing Rabbi, simply explains how they “watched what the others had done” and copied the structural steps to get their film made.

About now the formula for slasher’s success (and demise) had been established. Teens, masked boogeyman, POV shots, a location familiar to audiences as “safe” that becomes disrupted. The “final girl” significance is discussed as well, in detail.

After Friday the 13th raised the bar on what could be accomplished with onscreen special makeup effects, often audience sympathies/interests turned to the killer- drawn more to the innovative special effects and less to the stories, many of the films soon became all about the gore and helped drive one of the first nails in slasher’s coffin. C-list imitators flooded the market and seemed only to raise the bar in violence, not in innovation or narrative twists.

This is touched on especially during a blow dealt the subgenre in 1984 when public parental outcry over the Santa imagery in Silent Night, Deadly Night reached proportions where the film was pulled from release. Siskel and Ebert discuss in a clip from this time the moral reprehensibility of these films that just want to ‘hurt women’ and put them back ‘in their place’.

This is quickly neutralized by welcome comments from Felissa (Sleepaway Camp) Rose, Amy Holden-Jones, and others. Jones intelligently and succinctly explains the feminism behind her film and others, where we don’t want to see ‘a girl tortured’ but rather a character in jeopardy, creating suspense, who finally survives.

Lion’s Gate exec Chela Johnson steps in to explain how the audience for these films is made up of far more women then critics would like to realize. Every person picked for this doc offers insightful, intelligent comments and anecdotes. Some are followed through and analyzed and some are not.

Despite this, the box office began to wane as copycats jumped on the bandwagon, setting the stage for the need for a more sophisticated killer- namely Freddy Krueger.

Wes Craven gives the intriguing backstory on the dream idea, and how while Bob Shaye speaks of how he struggled to finance the film and keep it going. Craven also speaks of the Eastern philosophic roots of the Elm Street story…surprisingly no Robert Englund interview, nor do any of the actors who have portrayed these killer icons. They do touch on how quickly Freddy caught on, and how this contributed to the downfall of slashers as well, as repeated sequels in all the monster franchises started to wear audiences out.

Until about seven years later, when a slasher with a smart new twist makes the scene: SCREAM. Playing off modern audiences’ savvy, scream took the old formula and added a twist to it, and the slasher genre is off and running again. Like their killers, slashers will always come back.. and even non-slasher films such as the newer, more brutal pieces like House of 1000 Corpses, Hostel and Saw owe a debt to their murderous forebears -

There’s a giddy energy to the presentation, with a lot of catchy music (provided by Manfredini as well) and kinetic camerawork, unsual for a documentary of this type but it certainly breaks up any chance of “talking heads”. Everyone has something interesting to say, and the choice to bring in some studio executives who are also fans was a welcome one.

Aside from Lionsgate’s Chela Johnson, New Line Cinema’s Jeff Katz shows up to deliver commentary on many of the films in true high-energy fanboy fashion. I owe him a beer when he’s in town for calling the Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning and Haute Tension filmmakers on their films’ “twists” as well as recognizing there was even merit in the sillier, poorer-acted slashers of the time.

It never sticks around long enough to do too-in-depth examinations of each area it brings up, though this would probably result in a four-hour running time. One could even make this into a multipart series, taking an entire special to devote what GOING TO PIECES touches on in fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter though; they achieved their goal of intense entertainment.

Going To Pieces
runs like a bullet train through the genre’s rise and fall (and rise) and makes you proud to be a fan. It was put together by people on our side and even ends with a mini-tribute TO us as fans, primarily filmed at the recent LA Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. It’s a fun rush and a valentine to this period of horror history and the fans who keep coming back for it. -Adam Barnick

Going to Pieces: the Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film will Premiere Friday, October 13 at 9pm on the Starz Network.

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