Archive for the ‘Slasher’ Category

SP vanFirst off I must confess I am not a big fan of satire. Most of the time I don’t get it. I am the kind of person who takes things literally. So when I watched Amy Holden Jones‘ 1982 satirical slasher film The Slumber Party Massacre I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. I didn’t realize that the stupidity of the characters and directions was supposed to be that way. In fact, though I laughed at several places, it wasn’t until the scene with the body in the refrigerator that it hit me, “Hey, this is supposed to be funny.”SP frige

 

SP bloodI thought it was strange that the two boys couldn’t hear the hot telephone repair girl in the van, and the girl in the shower was smart enough to try and keep the blood from leaking out from under the door, even though she failed, but when the killer all the sudden looks down for no reason, I couldn’t decide if it was bad directing or bad acting. SP pizzaWhen one of the girls takes the pizza box from under the dead delivery man and begins eating the pizza, I was beginning to get the hint.

SP trunkThere are several other scenes that made me smirk or grin, including the body dump in the trunk of the car, SP angelsthe Charlie’s Angels pose, and the SP three girlsThree Stooges walk down the hall, but I still was not convinced.

 

The many fake-outs seemed forced and overdone. (I realize now they were supposed to be that way.)

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Slumber Party was more of a satirical parody, rather than straight parody or straight satire. Perhaps that is why I was not the only one to misread the intentions of the director.

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I had heard a little about the movie before watching it, and frankly I expected something a little different. Brigid Cherry said that “several final girls” assisted in killing the killer (24). So I expected these girls to be a bit smarter than the average slasher victim. I expected the girl that was tough enough to judo flip her massive boyfriend would have been able to land a well placed kick in the groin as the killer stood in front of her with his legs spread apart. Zinoman mentioned that “an entire genre called ‘rape-revenge’ movies told stories of empowered women fighting back” (196). I kept waiting for these women to stand up and whomp on this guy, but every time someone did  fight back, they would stupidly put down their weapon in the next frame. Even his death seemed more of an accident than a woman taking charge. I’m sure this was part of that satire part that I just don’t get.

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In 1985  Jack Sholder directed the sequel to Wes Craven’s ground breaking horror classic. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge takes a different approach to the world of NM2 killFreddy Kruger. In the first movie there are obvious dream sequences intermixed with what seems to be reality until the two become blurred. NM2 gloveIn Freddy’s Revenge there are few obvious dream sequences. In fact, the movie seems to be more about possession than nightmares, except that being possessed by Freddy Kruger and forced to do his killing for him would certainly be a living nightmare.

Discounting the traumatic endings, in the first movie NM2 kissFreddy is defeated by taking away the energy of fear causing him to fizz out. In the second movie Jesse is freed from Freddy’s possession by love (not sex, but accepting love).

According to Cherry, “horror film narratives are often centered around the places where boundaries break down” (118), and “Anything (bodily wastes, blood, etc.) that crosses the boundaries of the body becomes non-self” (116). This crossing of boundaries is part of the abject placing both movies square in the middle of Abject Central.

NM2 handBoth films play with the audience’s sense of what is real and what isn’t. For the second movie, the first scene that brought this idea to my mind was when Jesse was in science class and the teacher was droning on about how and why the body produces waste. Besides the many times that Freddy’s knife fingers penetrate his victims’ bodies releasing their blood, when the glove melds into him and the knives instead protrude from his very fingers it creates abjection. But the best example is when the “non-self” (Freddy) breaks out of Jesse’s chest crossing several boundaries all at once.

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Wes Craven’s 1984 classic  A Nightmare on Elm Street starts out in the midst of a full force nightmare and, in my opinion, never leaves it. The story is set up like sleeping is dangerous and the characters attempt to stay awake to stay alive. Often times it is hard to sort out if the characters are awake or not, but there is evidence that the entire story is all a dream (or nightmare) from beginning to end, and no one ever wakes up.

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AN carOn the first day, after the beginning nightmare, there are a group of young girls in white dresses playing jump rope and singing a rhyme about Freddie; “One, two, Freddie’s coming for you…” There is also a strange mist in the air. This same group of girls and mist are also seen in the ending scene where the car is possessed by Freddie and all the dead characters are back. The sing song voices and misty appearance presents an obvious dream-like quality. The fact that the older kids are on their way to school, but the younger children have time to play jump rope, indicates that things are out of place, a common element in dreams. The idea that the little girls would be out playing in white dresses is also out of place in reality.

AN roofAnother hint that the whole thing is a dream are the inconsistencies as to when Kruger is visible and when he is not. When the first girl is killed by an unseen force while her boyfriend watches, it seems to set up the rule that if someone is dreaming that person can see Kruger but people watching what is happening who are awake can not. When Nancy is saved by her alarm, it sets up the rule that if someone wakes up while fighting Kruger that person is safe.AN drag Later both of these rules are broken.  When Nancy sees her friend dragged down the school hallway (obviously a dream) she can not see Kruger doing the dragging, and when the sheet is tied around the neck of the boy in jail, no one but the audience is there to watch, he does not see Freddie, and when he wakes up it does not go away. All of these things seem to indicate that he is in someone else’s dream.AN hangingZinoman points out that the darker tones of the New Horror movement reflects the fears and problems that youth face (75). The ambiguity of the dream world in Nightmare seems to correspond with the paranoia that Zinoman addresses. Craven’s own rejection of his religious upbringing (72) added to the cultural rejection of authority creating a piece of work that says, You can’t trust anyone or anything, even your own eyes.AN bars

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So, you already know that I am a big John Carpenter fan, and that Halloween was the first of his films that I ever saw. That viewing, 36 years ago, left a lasting impression on me. I remember leaving the theatre with my friends, and how we all laughed nervously because one of them had a babysitting job that night. The show was just plain creepy and the monster still creeps me out to this day. I went to a haunted house a few yearshalloweenblu12-1 ago and they had a Michael Myers wandering around outside. Even though I knew the boy who was wearing the costume, I wouldn’t let him get near me. The plain jumpsuit, masked face and silent mannerisms were too well copied.

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H. P. Lovecraft is reported as saying,Halloween-23halloween distance “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (Zinoman 62). Carpenter captures the fear of the unknown with his faceless, emotionless, blank creature. He could be anyone under there. And even more, he could be anywhere.halloween out the door

halloweenmichael1978According to Zinoman, “the toughest challenge of every monster movie is making the appearance of the creature live up to expectations” (113). This is what he refers to as “The Monster Problem.” Dan O’Bannon, one of the writers of the Alien series of movies as well as The Return of the Living Dead and Total Recall, among others, agreed with Carpenter that the scariest parts are in the waiting. By creating an empty, blank creature Carpenter solved this “Monster Problem” (Zinoman 183). Even though we halloween Loomis_saves_Lauriesee the monster lurking in the background, we only actually see his face twice, once when he is a little boy and once for a brief moment right before he is shot by Dr. Loomis. For the majority of the movie he is little more than a ghost, a product of a wild imagination, a boogey man. And as little Tommy Doyle says, “You can’t kill the boogey man,” but watch out because he can kill you.

 

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Bob Clark‘s Black Christmas seems to purposely rebel against, if not all, at least some of the standard conventions of the slasher movie genre. Carol Clover presents the components of a slasher movie as “killer, locale, weapons, victims, and shock effects” (26).

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In Black Christmas we never find out who the Killer is or why he is killing. We see him observe the house and climb the trellis into the attic through the use of the I-camera, but other than his hands and a single eye, we never see the killer. We know little about him except that he is stuck in some past indiscretion, “Agnes it’s Billy. Don’t tell what we did Agnes.” I guess he could fall under Clover’s description of a monster “whose only role is that of killer” (30).

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Although the killer hangs out in the attic and in facts kills one of his victims in the attic and the final girl ends up in the basement, most of the killings themselves do not take place in a “terrible place” (30). They take place in the relatively safe local of home and in at least two cases, in the victims own room.

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The killer in this film seems to take no thought in weapon, but, except for the cop, instead uses a weapon of convenience. The first victim is smothered by the plastic dry cleaner wrapping he is hiding behind in the closet. The second by a hook on a chin that happens to be hanging in the attic. The third by a glass unicorn displayed on a self above the bed. He does keep in line with Clover’s “pretechnological” definition (31).

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The victims in this film are older than most. College girls and since they drink freely most likely in their early twenties. Also the first victim is not sexually active or engaging in any immoral activity. In fact, Barb labels her a virgin.

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The final girl is usually obvious from the beginning of the movie, but in this case I was sure that Barb would be the final girl in the beginning of the movie. She fit the description better than the others. Although most of the girls have adrogenous names, (Barb, Jess, Phyl) Barb is presented with a definite masculine feel. In the first scene she spends most of the time with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. Her hair is pulled up and she is wearing a man’s shirt. She is the one who stands up to the pervert on the phone, but in fact, Barb turns out to be more like her name, a annoyance to everyone including the police. The true final girl is not only not virginal, she is pregnant and planning an abortion. She is also very feminine.BC Jess

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Okay, so I have another confession to make. Believe it or not, before this week I had also never seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, any of them. Unlike Psycho, I had no real desire to see what I thought would be a bloody gore-fest. I was wrong. As Jason Zinoman points out, Tobe Hooper went to great lengths not to show too much. TCM girl on hookHe called the MPAA to find out just what he could get away with and still keep his rating. “The result is a movie that is actually far less bloody than its reputation” (Zinoman 142). TCM on hookTalking about the scene where Teri McMinn as Pam is placed on a meat hook, Zinoman says, “It’s a credit to the direction that fans think they see more than they do” (140).

TCM maskAccording to Carol Clover, Hooper’s Massacre was the transition film between what she calls the first phase (1960-1974) and the second phase (1974-1986) of the cinematic formula known as the slasher film (26). the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-girl-crawl-escapeReading about Clover’s components of the genre and especially her description of the Final Girl,  Sally Hardesty, played by Marilyn Burns reminded me of what Dr. Hannibal Lecter called “fledgling attempts.” She is as Clover says, “abject terror personified” (35), but she is not “watchful to the point of paranoia” (39). In fact it is her brother that calls the alarm saying, “we ought to get help.” But as Clover points out, the Final Girl is an evolution, a “piecemeal absorption of functions previously represented in males” (62).

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thetexaschainsawmassacre197403Sally, near the beginning of this evolution, does not fit the complete definition of the Final Girl. She is the only one in her party to survive the night of terror and live to be rescued (Clover 35). TCM running with truck driverHowever, she does not seem more boyish or sexually reluctant than her friend Pam (40). Although her clothing is more conservative than Pam’s, it is not masculine.

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I don’t think Sally shows more courage or levelheadedness (36), instead she just seems luckier in her escape from the misfit family of crazed degenerates.

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