June 20, 2007


(2006, US documentary)

New documentary on eighties horror films is a bit too revealing

Unrated region 1 NTSC DVD (Velocity/Think Film)

This is a good introduction to the sleazy genre of slasher films, that started in the seventies and hogged the eighties. High concept thrillers where teenagers were cut to ribbons - high body counts, inventive death scenes, and two-dimensional characters. The special effects relied on quick edits, prosthetic latex appliances and plenty of fake blood, and were sometimes the best bit in the film. There were plenty of shocks that made you jump out of your seat, a few groans for the shocks that fell flat, and if you were lucky, suspense. Some of them can’t be taken seriously today, because of atrocious acting, zero plot, fashion, and excess padding.

This new documentary celebrates the genre, weeds out the great films that do work and hopefully whets the appetites of new fans. Many of the films mentioned have since been restored uncut for DVD, because of their enduring appeal. New viewers now don’t have to be frustrated by the excessive censor cuts, when the films were first released.

There are wall-to-wall interviews with the directors and stars of the classic slasher films, including some that I haven't seen before. I was most interested to see the directors of the original Prom Night (1980) and My Bloody Valentine (1981). Sad to say that Bob Clark, director of Black Christmas, has since passed away after a road accident.

I still watch many of these movies, and I’d like to add a couple of criticisms. While many of the interviewees are very proud of the innovations and plot twists they dreamt up, it’s a shame that this DVD will introduce new fans but simultaneously spoil the endings, indeed show the endings, of most of the films mentioned. After seeing all the best scenes and the end of the movie, why go out and buy it? Having said that, the montages of gory effects certainly are impressively done, celebrating the excesses of the time.

Also, this history of the slasher genre, based on an exhaustive book of the same name, pretends to tell the story sequentially, starting with Friday the 13th (1980) and Halloween (1978). Only later on does it mention the films that came beforehand, films that influenced the genre and inspired those two films. Credit where credit is due, Friday the 13th ripped many death scenes from Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood, 1971) – these are mentioned briefly halfway into the documentary. Halloween was also heavily influenced by Italian horror, John Carpenter admits he liked the the innovative prowling camerawork in Dario Argento’s earlier films.

While the story of the US films influencing each other as they turn into box office hits, Black Christmas (1974) easily predates many slasher themes (killer in a frat house, teenage victims, escaped psycho), and pioneered the madman on the phone plot twist later used as the crux of the story in When a Stranger Calls (1979). I’d have preferred if all these 'inspirations' were more thoroughly covered early on in the story.

A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, Friday the 13th‘s Jason Vorhees, and Halloween’s Michael Myers got even more famous after this movie cycle, as well as many big stars still working today. But it’s the lesser known films that I’m happy to see included in this entertaining and informative docco.

Perhaps now we could get a restored My Bloody Valentine, so that we can finally see the scenes promised to us at the time, in the bloody pages of Fangoria magazine? A miner’s pick must have been one of the nastiest weapons of the genre – let’s see it in action!

Do you want to see more?
For more classic posters, visit the Internet Movie Poster awards.

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