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Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
88 Films
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Calum Waddell
Emily Booth
Corey Feldman
Mick Garris
Tobe Hooper
Eduardo Sánchez
Bottom Line: 

This entertaining 75 minute documentary, recently a big hit on the international horror festival circuit, was put together by Scotland’s High Rising Productions for next to no money as a side project, conceived as a DVD extra that became a celebratory trip down memory lane in praise of what can probably, without any exaggeration, still justly be considered the most significantly maligned genre form in the whole of cinema – the lowly slasher film. Already coming in the wake of “Going to Pieces”, produced in 2006 -- a documentary which had previously positioned itself as a fairly comprehensive history of the genre and its heyday  -- “Slice and Dice” avoids simply raking over the same old ground already exhaustively mined by its more slickly produced predecessor, and instead looks to make a virtue out of its very lack of budgetary resources by assembling a vast array of lesser known but still insightful commentators, actors and horror filmmakers and allowing them to talk generally about various aspects of a genre that simply refuses to die, no matter how many critical knives and axes have been buried in its remorselessly twitching torso down the years, since that night in 1978 when a babysitter-stalking figure called Michael Myers came home again and thus helped make the slasher film the phenomenon it continues to be today.

Although fan favourites such as actor Corey Feldman (“Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter”) and director Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) do appear here, the big hitters of the genre such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Tom Savini, et cetera, are only notable by their absence from the screen throughout the documentary.  Instead, “Slice and Dice” prefers to take an irreverent look at certain recurring themes and particular tropes which have always been an important feature of the slasher in all its many variants, allowing a diverse cast of talking heads to examine such motifs and ideas from their own perspectives, all the while refusing to impose any particular editorial thesis or viewpoint on the wide range of opinions being represented. The participants gathered range across the full spectrum of talent currently offered by the industry and include genre actors such as the always easy on the eye Emily Booth, new Scottish ‘scream queen’ Marysia Kay and “Sleepaway Camp” legend Felissa Rose. There is a large complement of genre filmmakers also brought into the mix, several of which have in their time been involved in the making of more than a few 1980s classics, such as writer-director Tom Holland (writer of “Psycho II” and director of “Child’s Play” and both versions of “Fright Night”), Mick Garris (“Masters of Horror”), Kenneth J Hall (“Puppet Master”, “Critters”), Kevin Tenney (“Witchboard”, “Night of the Demons”) and Scott Speigel (“Intruder”). Others, like Fred Olen Ray, veer more towards the bad movie and exploitation end of the scale (“Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers”) but still give a good quote when called upon to do so. Perhaps the most interesting interviewees are the younger writer-directors who have grown up with the genre and are now attempting, in their various individual ways, to reconfigure it for the present age: Adam Green (“Hatchet”), Dave Parker (“The Hills Run Red”), former film editor (“Scream”) turned director ("My Bloody Valentine 3D") Patrick Lussier and Jeffrey Reddick (creator of the “Final Destination” franchise), as well as British writer James Moran (“Severance”, “Tower Block”) and director Chris Smith (“Severance”, “Triangle”) – these are just a few of the diverse names who crop up frequently throughout the film, but there are many more.

Thus, this appreciation of the genre largely avoids recounting for the umpteenth time the usual anecdotes about the making of “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th” (all of which would doubtless be more than familiar to genre aficionados already) and goes for a more general overview instead, examining, for example, the rules of survival in a slasher by asking each participant what they would do to ensure they made it to the final reel (not having sex, or drinking, or taking drugs or doing anything that might in any way be mistaken for having a good time, seems to be the top answer!), or looking at the question of what makes a good franchise villain and asking why ‘the final girl’ trope seems so much more natural to the slasher movie than the final guy. At the same time, as a side consequence of this theme-based approach, we do still get a pretty valid rundown of the development of the genre as a whole; and, actually, this doc does a much more thorough job overall of detailing the genre’s cinematic roots than has been done previously -- moving well beyond  the cursory nod which any history of slasherdom must automatically give to Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom”, to allow Agatha Christie her due as well for coming up with the body count plot structure in the first place in her 1939 novel “Ten Little Indians”. It then examines the legacy and durability of this misleadingly simple plot construction, starting with its initial importance to Italian genre cinema -- where the body count structure became a major constituent of the giallo well before the emergence of the North American slasher proper, and is especially prominent in seminal works such as “Blood and Black Lace” and “Bay of Blood” (both directed by the great Mario Bava) which appeared many years before the release of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” – still  usually regarded as the start of the  modern slasher phenomenon even though Bob Clarke’s “Black Christmas” (without doubt one of the very best slasher movies of all time) came out several years before it. The vexed question of misogyny and the extent to which it is actually inherent within the genre briefly raises its ugly head; and the apparently unquenchable urge that now exists in Hollywood to keep remaking the same 1980s classics, as well as the role played by gore and the set-piece gore gag, in the development of the modern slasher, are also issues much examined. The apparent death of the genre in the late ‘80s and its rebirth in the form of the post-modern ‘90s slasher, which was heralded by Wes Craven’s “Scream” trilogy and followed by a succession of some increasingly bland franchise derivatives that were spawned by its success, is also  a question crisply addressed by this pacey, engaging and likable documentary.

The name High Rising Productions will almost certainly be familiar to anyone who regularly buys Blu-rays or DVDs of cult genre titles. In the UK they’ve been providing some excellent extra features for Arrow Video’s range of titles for a good few years now, as well as occasionally working on releases for Anchor Bay and Shout Factory in the U.S. In actual fact, the company consists solely of writer-producer-director Calum Waddell and his partner, the film editor and digital animator Naomi Holwill, who between them have managed to carve out a respected name for themselves in the last few years as reliable creators of quality documentary and featurette extras that can be seen on a considerable range of home viewing product. “Slice and Dice” started its life three years ago as a side project, with Waddell and former book illustrator Holwill working on it intermittently, Jess Franco style, while putting together various featurettes which had already been officially commissioned by Arrow Video. They eventually pitched it to Arrow as a possible full-length project and continued with it in the hope that Arrow Video would one day release it, either with one of their titles or perhaps in its own right. But by the time the documentary was completed, Arrow had moved into the Blu-ray market and felt that it was no longer suitable for their current requirements. Enter 88 Films, whose roster of cult genre titles makes this a perfect addition to its catalogue.

Anyone who has seen the company's work before this will recognise the distinctive High Rising Productions style instantly. It’s largely defined visually by Naomi Holwill’s quirky animations, which have previously been confined to the titles and credit sequences of their extras featurettes. But here the animation is creatively incorporated throughout into the main body of the documentary to allow, for instance, Tobe Hooper to appear inside the blade of an animated chainsaw during his interview segment; or for make-up FX artist John Carl Buechler’s image to be digitally melded into a pool of animated blood on the floor, as a sort of tribute perhaps to the final scene in Argento’s “Deep Red”?  

Describing stuff like this probably makes it sound like the animation would be rather intrusive and distracting, but this is not the case. Holwill is clearly a skilled editor, and, as well as judging when and where to apply her animation techniques to best effect, she also marshals the contributions of well over twenty participants into a cohesive, well-paced blend that manages to make what could’ve been a jumble of fragmented opinion turn into a seamless, well-organised, pleasingly structured whole, which is considerably enlivened throughout by a plethora of well-used classic clips from slasher trailers, rare stills and in some cases (where available) scenes from some of the actual films themselves, such as the wonderfully weird “Tourist Trap” -- which is actually available as an 88 Films title. The look of the work results in a consistently engaging piece of documentary-making which rekindles nostalgia for the golden age of the genre and perhaps engenders just a little curiosity about more recent attempts to keep the slasher flame burning. On this showing, it seems that the slasher really might be forever after all …

This 2-disc DVD release, billed as a ‘complete history of mad maniac movies’, in some ways undersells itself: good though the main feature is, there is actually much, much more included with the disc in the form of some rather brilliant extras. First up, the documentary comes with its own commentary track in which writer-director-producer Calum Waddell talks with the author of “Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut” (re-titled “The Slasher Book” in the U.S.) Justin Kerswell -- probably the world’s only self-styled homosexual vegan slasher movie fan! This commentary is as big a draw for me in its own right as the documentary itself, since I’m a massive fan of The Hysteria Continues: the fortnightly podcast, Kerswell (who is also the founder of the website Hysteria Lives) co-hosts alongside some international contributors to the slasher forum The Body Count Continues, and which covers all things slasher-related in an engaging, chatty manner while indulging in plenty of ribaldry that invariably take the form of constant references to Kenneth Williams-inspired double-entendres, songs about cats flushing toilets, and chunky Kit Kats (don’t ask me to explain, you’ll just have to listen).

In the course of their discussion, the enthusiasm of both Waddell and Kerswell for the slasher genre is very quickly made evident and this is one audio commentary on which you don’t have to endure any long pauses or boring, pointless descriptions of what’s going on in front of your eyes, as both participants have plenty to say for themselves and could’ve probably rattled on even longer if needed-- and it wouldn’t have been any the less enjoyable listening to them do so. Other extras here are just as interesting and are numerous in number. We get three introductions from various film festivals, one given by Waddell at the Sitges Film Festival in Catalonia, another by co-producer Joe Venegas in the U.S. at the Another Hole in the Head Festival, and a lengthier one from the documentary’s premier at the Glasgow Film Theatre, in which Calum Waddell manages to tempt Justin Kerswell and Naomi Holwill onto the stage to say a few words of their own.

Also of particularly special interest are the interview outtakes, which between them add up to nearly an hour’s worth of extra material that allows some of the participants to talk at greater length about their own work, or offer a more in-depth insight into their views than was allowed for in the main documentary which necessarily has to make room for many points of view due to the great number of participants. J.S. Cardone is particularly interesting here in his discussion of the censorship issues relating to his screenplay for “The Stepfather”, while Adam Green is even more impassioned in his account of the MPAA related furore that surrounded his attempt to get “Hatchet II” released into theatres unrated, only to have it mysteriously pulled after just a few days. Corey Feldman and Felissa Rose also provide entertaining extra anecdotes while Kevin Tenney talks in-depth about the making of “Night of the Demons”.

A 17 minute Q & A with writer James Moran and filmmaker Norman J Warren at the Glasgow Film Theatre is absorbing and amusing in equal measure as the duo discuss the pros and cons of remakes of horror classics and Warren discusses his own attempt to get “The Fiend Without a Face” remade. Warren is always fascinating to listen to, his enthusiasm for horror remaining undimmed even in his autumn years it seems, despite numerous failed projects and the British film industries snobby attitude to the genre being seemingly a constant hindrance. Moran – the writer of the screenplays for “Severance” and the recent “Tower Block” – is witty and charming, answering honestly that he’d take on the job of writing the script for a remake ‘even though it would probably be crap’ because if he didn’t do it, some other idiot would!

Also on disc one, a music video for the song ‘All Kinds of Twisted’ by the Edinburgh based garage punk band Acid Fascists, which is used as the title and end credits music on the documentary, is included and has a pleasantly giallo-esque feel, with lots of ‘70s style glow lamp effects and a electric guitarist who plays while wearing black leather gloves! There’s even a sly reference to Argento’s supposedly deliberate cameo in the taxi scene at the beginning of “Suspiria”.

Finally, a selection of trailers for Full Moon Productions movies is included, mostly consisting of dreadful Puppet Master movies it seems.

Over on disc two, we’re treated to another High Rising Productions documentary as a bonus extra, the 36 minutes long “Don’t Go in the Backwoods: Rural Rampages and the Horror Film”. This follows a similar formula to the main feature with a host of contributors discussing the roots of the backwoods sub-genre of slasher movie, then moving on to consideration of the major underlying themes and tropes which define its popularity. The fiction of H.P Lovecraft is quoted as one possible source of the genre, while Herschell Gordon Lewis’s “Two Thousand Maniacs!” became one of the earliest horror flicks to play on the idea of outsiders being menaced by locals who ‘do things differently’ in that infamous Southerners vs. Yankees gore fest of yesteryear. Jack Hill’s “Spider Baby” is also discussed as an influential precursor to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” which, along with 1972’s “Deliverance” ushered in a plethora of films dealing in similar subject matter such as Alan Ormsby’s “Deranged”. R.A. Mihailoff (Leatherface in TCM part 3), John Russo (director and writer of “Midnight”), Adam Green, Tony Todd (“Hatchet II”), Dave Parker (“The Hills Run Red”) and Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman are among the many names featured here, in what is also an engaging tour of an enduringly popular sub-genre, taking us from its cinematic beginnings up to classics such as Jeff Lieberman’s “Just Before Dawn” and recent entries like “Wrong Turn” and “The Descent”.

Finally, 45 minutes of slasher trailers are included, starting with “Peeping Tom” and including classics like “Terror Train” and “Hell Night” and some of the seedier entries in the genre such as “Don’t Answer the Phone”. This also comes with an optional audio commentary by Calum Waddell and Justin Kerswell in which the duo this time out give us their thoughts on each movie featured, and supply info and personal memories of their own encounters with the films from their youth – again, this is a completely engrossing listen and any fan of the genre is sure to find plenty of inspiration in it, and perhaps a handful of unseen titles to seek out, as a result of listening to these two knowledgeable and engaging cheerleaders for this still often reviled genre.

A fine feature-length documentary look at the slasher phenomenon is given a worthwhile stash of extras here, then, making a pleasing 2-disc set which arrives in the UK jam packed with engaging material. An easy recommend to anyone who has any kind of interest in this seemingly perennially resurgent genre.   

Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!

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