Butcher Knives & Body Counts (2011)
Essays on the Formula, Frights, and Fun of the Slasher Film
Essays on the Formula, Frights, and Fun of the Slasher Film
Edited by: Vince A. Liaguno
Genre: Film Appreciation/Analysis, Essay Compilation, Horror Films
Everyone is aware of the slasher subgenre of horror films. Even if you’re not a fan, you know the icons: Freddy, Michael, and Jason. You know the film that reputedly started it all, Psycho. You know the basic formula – crazed killer out for revenge, picking off teens in creative, bloody ways as they partake in sex, drugs and rock and roll. This book is written for slasher fans, by slasher fans, and it explores the genre a bit deeper than most critics would. Some of the essays bring merit to an often disregarded genre.
The book is split up into five sections: Slasher 101 (An Overview of the Genre), Films of the Pre-Golden Age, The Golden Age, The Postmodern Era, and Slasher IQ. I found Part I: Slasher 101 the most interesting as I read the theories and analysis of the genre by fellow fans. My favorite essays in this section include Evil Eight: The Secret Language of Slasher Films; Rise of the New Primitives; and Two Piles of Corpses: The Slasher and the Serial Killer.
Evil Eight explores the eight major concepts often employed within a slasher film: Family Values vs. Valued Family, Rural vs. Urban, Male vs. Female, Individual vs. the Collective, Natural Forces vs. Civilization, the Id vs. the Super-ego, Darwinism vs. Transcendentalism, and Ubermensch vs. Letzte Mensch. All are very interesting concepts, and as I read through them I could think of countless examples that fit into multiple categories.
Rise of the New Primitives compares contemporary slashers to tribal folklore by examining five elements: tribal bonding, tribal territory, the actors, the oral traditions, and the shaman heroine. Author Lucien Soulban describes in great detail how slasher films are new tribal stories by going in depth within these elements. At the beginning of the essay I was a bit skeptical, but at the end, I thought he made some great points, and thought it was a unique take on my beloved genre.
Two Piles of Corpses dictates the difference between a slasher and a serial killer. People like Hannibal Lector, Patrick Bateman and even Jigsaw are considered serial killers because they are white collar killers. They can afford to take their time and make a moral statement. They live the high life and have a much easier time covering their tracks. Slashers, on the other hand, represent the blue collar world. They hack and slash through numerous victims without an overall plan. They kill for revenge, they kill to punish. They don’t feel the need to make a statement; they just want their victims gone. I had never thought of this difference before, but I found it quite interesting.
Part II observes the years leading up to the Golden Age of Slashers. Here I discovered films that have been labeled by fans as precursors to the genre, films that date back into the 1920s. It opened my eyes and created a list of films I must see as a genre connoisseur, such as Pandora’s Box (1929), Thirteen Women (1932), Terror Aboard (1933), and The Ninth Guest (1934). This section also discusses how Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1945) is a parent to the slasher subgenre, as it employs the formula of picking off victims one by one. There’s a discussion of the two films believed to have kick-started the genre: Psycho and Peeping Tom, as well as both Italian and British horror, and of course, the classics, such as Black Christmas (1974), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Deep Red, The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and Suspiria.
Part III is the Golden Age, where slashers are explored from 1978 to the early 1990s. The section kicks off with Halloween (1978), and discusses mostly films from the early 1980s, 1980-1984 being the biggest for the genre. There are some great essays analyzing Maniac, Terror Train, Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp, Happy Birthday to Me, The Funhouse, Night School and Hell Night. There is also a fun personal essay by Harley Jane Kozak on her experience working on The House on Sorority Row (1983). She has a great sense of humor and I found myself laughing out loud at what she was saying.
Part IV was a bit of a letdown. There is no theory or analysis, just descriptions of the films that came after the 1980s slasher boom. This section starts off with Scream(1996), covering its clones, the torture porn genre, and the influx of remakes. Since this is the era of horror I’ve grown up with, I would have liked to see in-depth discussion on it, but instead I just got a rehash of the plots I know by heart.
While there were some great essays in this book, there were many that were lackluster. I loved the essays that delved deep into the subject matter and brought about a new way of seeing the films. Then there were others where the writers simply described their first experience watching their favorite slasher, which were okay, but not something that interested me all that much. A couple of the essays touched briefly on the accusations that slasher films are misogynistic, which I would have liked to see examined in more detail. I am a feminist and a horror fan, slashers being my favorite subgenre, and I don’t find them hateful toward my gender. Maybe I’ll have to write that essay myself.
My last complaint is about the editing. It looks as though the essays were just accepted and placed into the book formatting program without even being edited. There are multiple typos, a few instances where the wrong form of a word was used, a couple spelling errors, and a few missing words. The quizzes in the final part of the book, especially the first one on “Final Girls,” are all messed up with the lettering being off. It looks really unprofessional and throws off the reader when they’re engrossed in an essay.
I did enjoy most of this book, however the editing errors are glaring in places, and there is no analysis involved in the section on postmodern slashers. Still, it is a good read, full of interesting theories and analysis as well as the history of the genre. It’s definitely worth the read for horror fans.