31/31 – Day 24 – Horror documentaries, vol. 2

Posted: October 24, 2011 by StayFrosty in Film, Reviews

Apparently I’ve been in the horror history mood lately (including both my cinematic and literary desires), so I bring you my thoughts on two more documentaries:

Nightmares in Red White and Blue –   Nightmares covers the history of the American horror film, starting from Thomas Edison’s short Frankenstein through Eli Roth’s Hostel.  While this is a super interesting idea, and definitely deserves critical analysis, I think chronicling the entirety of American horror is going to require more time than an 85 minute movie.  Because there’s so much ground to cover and not enough time, this doc often comes across as more of a list of cool movies instead of a closer look into the development of the genre over the years.

You expect some discussion in a documentary, usually from some sort of expert or famous person within the genre.  Unfortunately, not much discussion actually happens – each decade is covered briefly, people talk about certain films and how effective they are, but don’t really go into any detail about the seminal films of each era.  There are a few good moments about how horror films reflect the times in which they’re made.  The most interesting commentary comes from John Carpenter, who talks about people experiencing two types of fear: fear of the other – that which is not like ourselves, and fear of the self – we have met the monster and he is us.  All other fears stem from these two basic ideas, Carpenter theorizes.  Can we just have a documentary on him?

While I always enjoy a horror doc, especially one narrated by the awesome Lance Henriksen, this movie just doesn’t have enough information for a serious fan.  But for someone new to the genre who’s interested in American horror, this is a good place to start.

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film – This doc makes a good choice to stick with one aspect of the horror genre, and while it doesn’t cover any major new ground, it does give a solid history of the slasher and the controversy that always seems to follow it.  It’s based on the book by Adam Rockoff.

The movie starts off by naming Halloween the first slasher, a choice that is debatable (and has been debated by many a fan over the years), but does pay homage to Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom as precursors to the genre.  Hell, even Scream 4 tackled this topic (with murderous results – the killer is a Powell fan).

It continues on into familiar territory, touching on Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and all the greatest hits.  It does cover some aspects of making a slasher, including the difficulty of the often low budgets and studio resistance.  It also isn’t afraid to talk about how quickly the movies turned into knockoffs, and lists a bunch of lesser known slashers (and even though it’s really just a list, it does give fans who want something more obscure to watch a few ideas).

They hit all the elements that create a slasher – the final girl, using a familiar location as a setting (summer camp, suburbia, etc), teenagers, using holidays or important days, detailed and wild murders, usually with a specific weapon.  I do wish they would have gone into more detail about each of the tropes, but again, with less than 90 minutes, you can only do so much.  In this case, each element gets about a minute mention or less. Lots of love and attention is paid to Tom Savini, SFX superstar and creator of many of the slasher genre’s most inventive and gory kills.  For a while, this movie almost turns into a Savini doc (which isn’t a bad idea).

Where this doc really hits its stride is in the discussion of the controversy that surrounded the slasher when it first appeared and continues to hound it every so often.  Using archival footage of angry parents protesting Silent Night, Deadly Night as something that will damage their children (“My kids are going to think Santa will kill them!”), the doc addresses this incorrect assumption intelligently.  The best and most well thought out answers to these accusations come from Felissa Rose of Sleepaway Camp (who’s pretty awesome all the way through – “I’m the chick with the dick!”).  Rose frankly addresses the parental accusations of slashers destroying their innocent children, calling out parents for scapegoating the genre to cover up poor parenting or because it’s an easy target.  She comes across as smart and funny and really seems to know what she’s talking about.

Amy Holden Jones, director of Slumber Party Massacre, takes on Siskel and Ebert’s decision that the slasher genre hates women, and is actually against the women’s movement, killing them in the movie for not staying “in their place”.  Jones picks apart their generalization of the genre, asking what’s wrong with having inherent sexuality in horror films, giving examples of female killers and revealing that more men get killed in slashers than women.  In fact, many of the women interviewed seem to find female slasher roles as empowering.

In the end, this doc isn’t saying much that us fans don’t already know, but it covers the ground well and isn’t afraid to show the controversy of this genre.  Definitely a great starting point for someone who wants to get more into the slasher or horror genre in general.  If you’re going to choose one, this is the way to go.

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