The Lucky 13: Week Thirteen: Slashers
by Brutal As Hell Staff
Intro by Marc Patterson – Managing Editor
As the saying goes – all good things have to come to an end. That being said I think it’s only fitting that we wrap up this summer long series with a look at the red headed stepchild of horror. The most popular of all sub-genres and the one that gets pissed on the most. They are the films that folks love to hate and hate to love, but love them we do. They are the gateway drug to the horror genre. They are guilty pleasures and the epitome of low-brow cinema. They are known simply as “slashers”.
This week we have an pretty incredible line-up because just when you think that folks are going to head straight to the “classics” and pull out a good old Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Black Christmas, you’re blindsided by the fact that the slashers we love the most are the sequels that no one would have predicted, or the obscure bit of low budget cinema that’s been overlooked and collecting dust in the library rental aisle. If this series proved one thing, it proved that what makes a film classic within any particular sub-genre does not make it a favorite. Favorite films have something deeper. They’ve managed to resonate with the viewer on a personal level, and are films that defy criticism, because you can’t criticize taste and personal preference.
As a side note, if B Sol and I had worked this whole damn series a bit better, we would have realized that yesterday was Friday the 13th and with today being the 13th (and final) installment of the Lucky 13, AND having it focus on slashers we really squandered a good opportunity. But you know what? Fuck it. Enough with the self-deprecating flogging and on with the show. So without further delay or dickering, here are our favorite slashers…
We start things off this week with an awesome video compilation put together for us by Bryce Holland. It features an array of slasher films, and quite a few from this week’s line-up:
Prudence J. Figgypudding on Happy Hell Night
Not to be confused with 1981’s similarly titled “Hell Night”, this Johnny-Kill-Lately of the slasher genre reared its ugly head rather late in the game, debuting in 1992. It was largely ignored and just as quickly forgotten by horror fans who had become weary of the increasingly stale fare that had been offered since the birth of the genre in the late 70s. Most unfairly was this lost slasher neglected, overlooked, even sneered upon! True, it is driven primarily by the promiscuity of its superficial cast and their reckless failure to accept the deadly consequences of premarital relations, but there are several key elements present which lift this otherwise formulaic vehicle well above the quagmire created by its forerunners.
The presence of Darren McGavin in any film automatically makes said film watchable. The added bonus of his scenes being accompanied by overwrought, outdated montages and shameless scene chewing are akin to having your buttercream fudge cake topped with marzipan pigs. Yet another gold star in this film’s favor is its title: not content to merely chronicle the misadventures of booze-soaked frat hazings gone horribly wrong, Happy Hell Night offers up an actual demon from the deepest pits of Hell in the form of Zachary Malius, an anemic, reptilian man with a penchant for Jesuit cassocks and tropicamide dilation fluid. His one-liners may not be amongst the most original quips ever to grace a script, but his physical presence is truly unnerving.
For those of you who remain unconvinced as to the merits of viewing this lost slice of celluloid, rest assured that breasts are exposed aplenty and the supply of arterial spray is quite generous. Happy viewing!
Marc Patterson on Bloody Murder 2
I’ll be the first to admit that Bloody Murder 2 is an odd selection as a favorite slasher. After all, there are so many tremendous slasher films to choose from old and new. But personally I have a great affinity for summer camp slashers. Slasher films are light horror and personally should be just as campy as they are scary. Honestly, I hardly think they should be scary at all. For me a good slasher is hokey, features some awesome gore, and is liberal in nudity and sex. Nothing sums these parts up better than using a summer camp as a setting. It’s literally the perfect analogy.
Bloody Murder 2 does absolutely nothing innovative within the sub-genre. It directly ripped off the entire premise for the Friday the 13th series, except in doing so it created a film that was oddly unique. Without positioning itself as a “take me seriously” type film it opens itself up completely to the idea that a slasher can do anything it wants to. And Bloody Murder does just that.
One thing to be clear of going into the film is that yes, this is a sequel. But I have to note that the original film is hardly worth seeking out. It wasn’t that good, and it’s not that easy to find either. I don’t believe it even got a DVD release, but is still available on VHS. Bloody Murder 2 is perfectly capable of being a standalone film and works well as such.
To the point of why it’s so fun? First, the cast are all good looking. So much so, that they even went without the quintessential nerd. We’re going to watch some kids get killed and they’re going to look good going out. Secondly they got Tiffany Shepis to star in the film. Yeah, ‘nuff said there. This bombshell of horror cinema spends half her on-screen time with t-shirts that say stuff like “Hottie” or “I Love Me”. The other half she spends buck nekkid. On first viewing you might actually think the film features a lot of nudity. It doesn’t. It just features Shepis nude on at least four separate occasions. No complaints from the sleaze department. Topping all this off are not one, but two shower scenes and murder galore.
Speaking of the gore, this is part of what makes the film so fun. Moorehouse is a sadistic killer. He’s not the cliché killer that gets right to the point. He has a dark sense of humor that seeps into his kills. As an example, the first kill is one of the best: Moorehouse hacks off the legs of his victim one by one with a machete, so that his victim literally can’t run away. As his victim is trying to crawl off, Moorehouse toys with him by tossing one of his severed legs in front of the guy so that he’s literally crawling towards his leg. It’s sickening and hilarious at the same time. Once Moorehouse gets bored he finds a large rock and bashes the poor sap’s skull in. Listen… Jason never had this sadistic finesse. Sure, he had his moments, and did some pretty nasty things on screen, but Moorehouse exhibits a sick sense of humor that’s enjoyable to watch play out.
Bloody Murder is a brainless, cheap summer camp rip-off that works. It’s a forgotten gem of horror, and not easy to find, but one worth seeking out.
Ben Bussey on Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
Simplicity. That’s what I think of when I think of slasher movies. They are simplicity itself. Take the fat carcass of the horror genre, bring it to the boil, then simmer it down until every last ounce of excess moisture has been burned off, and voila: the resulting sludgy residue is the slasher genre. Not the most flattering analogy, to be sure. But let there be no mistake here, I love slashers. I love their crudity, their lack of precision and fine-tuning. I love that they follow a pattern so basic that you know exactly what you’re getting before you even take your seat. As it has been remarked before, there are definite correlations between slasher movies and fast food; there’s that same cookie-cutter production line mindset at work. But again, I don’t mean that as an insult. Because now and then, I love me some junk. Don’t we all? Aren’t even those blessed with the most refined palate ever so often happy to settle – or, indeed, downright eager – for a fat, greasy burger?
And when I think slashers, I think Friday the 13th. Sure, Black Christmas and Halloween did it first, but only with the Friday the 13th franchise did the slashers really take off in that fast food chain style. They’re unabashed juvenile thrillseeker movies, and as such have played a significant role in drawing a lot of fans to the genre.
But here’s the funny thing about Jason Lives. It’s easily the least sleazy entry in this rather sleazy series of films. The young ensemble of victims-in-waiting are conspicuous by their good behaviour; there’s no drinking, toking, or back-stabbing going on. Yes, the obligatory sinful couple get laid in the back of (as y’all Americans call ’em) an RV – but even then both parties keep their tops on. Yes, it’s the only Friday the 13th movie to score a big fat zero on the boobage scale. And as far as the gore goes, it’s pretty tame too. Yes, Jason impales, decapitates, dismembers, and punches a guy’s heart out, but all these moments are fleeting, with excess splatter kept to a minimum.
So why, then, is this movie – so sparse on the qualities by which we tend to define the slasher film – somehow my favourite slasher movie of all time? Once more, the answer is simple. It’s fun. Fun with a capital F-U-ck me that was fun. (Poor attempt at a pun, I know. What can I say, I’m on a deadline.)
The fact that this was the first Friday the 13th movie I ever saw may be a part of it; ditto the fact that I came to it with very low expectations. After all, what series reaches its sixth installment without pissing away everything it ever had of value? But there’s the real trick here: the Friday the 13th series never had much of value in the first place. The original was a hatchet job mainly riffing on Halloween, its commercial success little more than a happy accident. The rapid succession of sequels did not water down the source material, the way the Halloween and Nightmare sequels did; rather, they forged the distinct personality that we now associate with Friday the 13th. Part 2 brought Jason, Part 3 brought his hockey mask, and Jason Lives slipped the last piece of the puzzle into place by finally doing away with any pretense of realism and turning the talented Mr. Voorhees into one of the living dead. Gone is the pseudo-grittiness of the earlier films in favour of Scooby-Doo theatrics: spooky graveyards, long shadows, thunder and lightning. And as far as I’m concerned, the series was all the better for it.
I know I’ve said nothing here about the plot and characters, but that’s the beauty of it: there’s absolutely no reason to. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen a single other Friday the 13th movie; you’ll get what’s going on. Slashers, for me, are pure comfort cinema: movies to kick back with at those times when you don’t want to be intellectually challenged in the least. And within this laziest, most formulaic of subgenres, Jason Lives is the one I find myself revisiting the most. It doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel, it just wants to take the viewer for a good ride. To continue the vehicular metaphors, it remains road-worthy to this day, far better than many others built around the same time, and I for one still love to take it out of the garage for a spin every once in a while. Jason Lives: never likely to show up on a respectable list of genre classics, but as far as I’m concerned, 80s horror doesn’t come much better.
Britt Hayes on Sleepaway Camp
Many a great slasher film has taken place in a summer camp in the woods, but Sleepaway Camp goes where other summer camp slashers wouldn’t dare. After Angela’s family (her father and his boyfriend) dies in a boating accident, she goes to live with Aunt Martha – a bizarre woman with terrible fashion sense, even for the 80s. Bat-shit bananas Martha sends Angela and cousin Ricky off to Camp Arawak for the summer, and almost immediately upon their arrival, people are turning up violently – and strangely – murdered. But who is responsible?
It’s not as if any of these people will be missed. It seems the most vile, reprehensible, annoying, and immoral characters are getting offed, as with any good slasher. The motive of most serial killers in slasher films seems to be to eliminate the immoral. The basis for these killers is rooted in traditional male serial killer stereotypes – those that have great maternal issues, primarily; this isn’t to say that slasher films are necessarily thoughtful or deep, but the killer is still based on psychological reality to some degree.
But Sleepaway Camp isn’t your typical slasher film in the least. It dances with convention and then throws it out the window. From the inclusion of Angela’s gay father to her kooky Aunt Martha, on to a near-molestation at camp and the obvious clue-in that either Angela or Ricky are responsible for the murders, Sleepaway Camp toys with viewer expectations and comfort. Moreover, director Robert Hiltzik pushes boundaries, disturbingly so in the final minutes when he delivers one of the most shocking endings in horror (and cinema) history. I can’t tell you the ending – you have to experience it for yourself. This isn’t something you can simply describe to someone. It must be witnessed to be believed and appreciated.
Some of my favorite horror films are the obscure or overlooked films of the 80s, and while Sleepaway Camp isn’t too obscure (it definitely has a cult following), it is assuredly overlooked.
Dustin Hall on Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Behind the Mask takes place in a version of our world where mass murderers, the likes of slasher movie fame, exist. Freddy, Jason, Myers: all of them were real and their deeds legendary. The cast of the movie is a young crew of documentary film-makers who follow Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), a young man with aspirations of becoming the next great serial murderer. Laden with jokes, jabs, and reverence towards the slasher classics of the 70s and 80s, Behind the Mask does well building up the chuckles with its faux documentary style, abandoning it in the third act for a more ‘regular’ movie approach when shit starts to get serious.
The film’s style isn’t new to any of us anymore, returning to popularity with the 1992 film Man Bites Dog, documentary horror has become pretty commonplace. Like MBD, Behind the Mask tests the moral objectivity of its cast by watching as their subject sets his traps, and forces them to question if they can really film another human being be killed without trying to intervene.
The movie really works (unlike other movies of this genre like, say, Diary of the Dead) because of 2 major factors. First, the humor is fantastic as a film crew, seemingly grounded in our ‘real’ world, try to capture the impossible antics of a serial killer on film. How do they keep popping up behind a fleeing damsel when they only seem to walk everywhere? How do they keep coming back to life after they are seemingly killed? They watch in bemused terror as Leslie himself plants all of the deus ex machina clichés of a slasher flick around his intended victim, goading them to come looking for him. Adding to the fun is Leslie’s mentor, a retired mass murderer living in quiet suburbia with his wife, giving tips on how best to trap his victims.
Secondly, Leslie himself is a wonderfully written and performed character. Behind the Mask wouldn’t work nearly as well if we didn’t like Leslie, and his foil, film student Taylor (Angela Goethals), so well. He’s a fun, charming guy with a lot of wit, and passionate devotion to his work. We follow him and root for him, as though we were following any average Joe looking for a new job. The film reaches an emotional pique when Leslie, on the verge of realizing his life’s dream, breaks down in tears of joy coupled with anxiety. For a moment, we forget that his life’s dream happens to be the murder of a house full of High School kids. Once he begins his frightening task, the character changes entirely, becoming cold, cruel, methodical. It’s a frightening transformation that was expertly brought to life on the screen.
All of this and, hell, a guest appearance by Robert Englund to boot! It’s not one that will be easily enjoyed by those who aren’t well versed in horror… but then, if you’re here reading this, I doubt that’s an issue. It’s a smart, funny, and worthwhile piece of independent horror cinema.
Annie Riordan on Hell Night
Hell Night. Four college pledges blahblahblah virgin, dork, jerk and slut blahblahblah spend a night in haunted Garth Manor blahblahblah sex drugs blahblahblah cast killed off one by one, the end. Even by 1981 standards, this was tired fare. And yet, lost as it was in the deluge of late 70s/early 80s slasher films, there was something about Hell Night that made it stand out. Even now, some twenty years after having seen it for the first time, I cannot say exactly what it is that makes it one of my all-time favorite Psycho Kills Stupid Kids vehicles. Is it the vibrant carnival colors, similar to an Argento palette? Is it the shocking-for-its-time full frontal decapitation scene? Is it Linda Blair’s ample bosom, jiggling madly within her tight bodice?
It’s all of these things and more. Oh sure, the story doesn’t make a whole helluva lotta sense and the characters are about as likable as…well, as real life binge drinking college kids are, truth be told. But picture if you will: a Coyote/Road Runner cartoon superimposed over John Carpenter’s Halloween. That’s what watching Hell Night is like. It’s quirky, it’s loony, it’s like drunken sex with the entire contents of a clown car in the center ring of Ringling Bros. Circus. From the jaw-dropping sight of Suki Goodwin (who inexplicably never made another movie) dancing around in red satin underthings, to an unforgettable scene involving an area rug and a pitchfork, Hell Night is way more fun than an actual frat house hazing…and, quite frankly, far less dangerous.
Bryce Holland on John Carpenter’s Halloween
The Final Note from Marc:
Thanks again for making this series a fantastic one. We’ve gotten some great feedback over the course of the summer. Make sure to get your heiny on over to The Vault of Horror, who have been our collaborators in this series over the summer. They’ve got some great picks lined up for you there, and insiders scoop: We’re already tossing around ideas for a second go around. Details on that to come soon enough. In the meantime, thanks for reading!