Sunday, October 30, 2011

Horror Fest 6 Day Three: 80s Slasher Wrap-Up

 You know, I had planned on using 80s Slasher Day to prove something of a point - that for the most part, the slasher formula was interchangeable after Black Christmas and Halloween set the template and Friday the 13th locked it into place. The truth is that most slasher movies are, in fact, basically the same movie: the variations are location, the killer's gimmick, and the way people die. That's really it - from My Bloody Valentine to Graduation Day to Maniac Cop, there are only minor variations on the plot. Maniac Cop may deviate the farthest because it's more of a police procedural than a "kids go to _____ and get killed," but the kills are pure slasher.

 So it came as a large surprise that the first two movies we watched weren't slasher movies at all. The second one might have fallen near that tree if it were in the slightest bit comprehensible, but to be honest incomprehensible is the nicest way I can describe that experience.

 Let's do a brief breakdown:

 Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers - I should have known the moment I saw Fred Olen Ray's name on this movie that we weren't really in for a slasher film. Admittedly, I threw it in knowing that it didn't necessarily have that reputation, but I wasn't expecting a soft boiled detective film laced with bad jokes. The gratudity I knew was coming (and it's delivered in spades), and the kind of extreme violence (I mean, it is about chainsaws, and the title is in no way misleading), but the dumb jokes and horrible shot composition don't help. Sure, it was fun to see Gunnar Hansen (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead) on-screen together, but Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is just awful.

 A Night to Dismember - With a title like that, we had to be in luck, right? Um... well, I can't lie to you. I have no idea what happened in this movie. It's like a surrealist's fever dream retelling of a slasher film. There's something to do with the Kent family, who are killed off during the course of the film, and a detective who narrates the entire movie, but beyond that your guess is as good as mine. The music doesn't match the mood of the film, dialogue often seems to be looped or half-used from the time or filming. The shots don't make sense, there's not a trace of continuity, and the editing doesn't help either. The film seems to jump from one thought to another, but presented visually. Nothing makes sense. Neil suggested that director Doris Wishman and writer Judy Kudner had attempted to make a movie, not finished, and decided to patch together what they had. Doctor Tom declared that "I very rarely will call a movie 'unwatchable' but that A Night to Dismember is most definitely unwatchable." I can't disagree.

 Visiting Hours - I'll give Visiting Hours this; it's a an prototype for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in the way that it sticks with the killer as he's not killing. It's also, unfortunately, trying to be a slasher movie at the same time, but one that goes looooooong stretches between murder set-pieces. I still find it plodding, but will concede that it's unique for its time and properly sleazy with Michael Ironside as the killer.

 April Fool's Day - Finally, a slasher movie that mostly adheres to slasher principles. I understand why people at the time felt cheated by the "twist" of April Fool's Day, because it is a conscious decision to play with the tropes of slasher films and audience expectations, but that's why I like it. Yes, it is a dirty trick at the end of the movie, and it's not exactly a blood-soaked experience in the way that The Burning or Happy Birthday to Me are, but I admire the willingness to totally misdirect viewers about what they're seeing (or think they're seeing) up until the very end.

 The Boogens - Okay, so it's stretching the "slasher" concept to include a movie about killer turtle monsters, but the way the suspense scenes are structured, and the way the kills take place from a first-person-perspective share plenty of real estate with the Friday the 13th's of the world. That happens mostly because if you saw one of the Boogens you'd probably be laughing too hard take the story seriously, but in terms of crafting tension with some all right slaying, The Boogens works.

 Unfortunately, we didn't have time to dive into Intruder, 976-EVIL, or Don't Go In the House, so I can't speak to whether they match my thesis or not. I suppose my thesis is either cracked or mostly irrelevant based on what we did see today. Oh well, there's always Horror Fest 7...

 This closes out Horror Fest 6 coverage. Thanks to everyone who joined in on the mayhem this year. See you next July for The Raleigh Summerfest Massacre: The Next Generation!

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