Judge Daniel MacDonald warns you crazy teens not to fool around in that old cabin by the Indian burial mound. Eeeeeeevil things happen there.
Every Evil. Every Nightmare. Together in One Film.
Since adolescence, I've been a fan of slasher films. Nearly every weekend I would rent one or two titles, watching them with friends or by myself in the basement (which I'm surprised didn't trouble my parents more than it did). The thrill for me wasn't the scares—a cursory familiarity with the genre prevents much from surprising an attentive viewer—but rather the sheer energy of the filmmaking. Mostly low budget productions made by filmmakers looking to move toward more "legitimate fare," slasher films are all sheer inventiveness and bravado, making up in creativity what they lack in financial means. And so it was with great interest and high hopes that I approached Going To Pieces; for the most part, I wasn't disappointed.
The film chronicles the slasher genre from Hitchcock's Psycho and John Carpenter's masterpiece of gruesome entertainment, Halloween, to recent horror fare—not necessarily slasher pictures—like Saw and Hostel. It's not a definitive or all-encompassing review of the genre, but it's not trying to be either. Instead, it hits the main landmark pictures that guided the way slasher movies were financed, produced, marketed, and accepted (or not) by audiences. So that's sure to be the first sticking point for more discerning audiences who already know more about slasher history than the movie chooses to present, as there are certainly films that have gone unmentioned here for whatever reason that some hold as superior to the pictures touched upon; on the included audio commentary, the filmmakers acknowledge some important entries that couldn't be included for rights or financial reasons. But for the casual slasher fan who wants to revisit scenes from some of their favorite pictures in the genre, there's plenty of enjoyable material packed into a scant 88 minutes.
After a title crawl reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the movie offers a brief history of violence as human entertainment. While the gladiator arenas are well known in today's public consciousness, we don't hear much about the Theatre du Grand-Guignol, a live event where patrons would attend to watch horrific killings (fictional, of course) be carried out on stage. I would have appreciated some additional time spent here, perhaps with some comments by historians and their ilk detached from the film industry to give deeper context, and maybe reveal a thing or two more about why this type of picture is so consistently popular.
This segues into detailed and fascinating stories told about Halloween, Friday The 13th, and Prom Night. Those who have checked out the bonus materials on Paramount's excellent collection Friday The 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan may already be familiar with director Sean S. Cunningham's amusing tale of how Friday The 13th came to be, but a longer version is can be found in Going To Pieces. Also, Betsy Palmer's detailed recounting of Mrs. Voorhees' backstory is not to be missed. Mostly, though, the documentary is making the point that these three movies, and their respective box office success, opened the floodgates for a wave of imitators, using the slasher template to make derivatives fast and cheap (especially in Canada).
Going To Pieces uses interviews with horror icons like Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street), John Carpenter (The Thing), Rob Zombie (The Devil's Rejects), Tom Savini (From Dusk Till Dawn), and Stan Winston (Jurassic Park), intercut with short clips from a wide range of pictures like Terror Train and My Bloody Valentine, to recount the evolution of the movies' familiar formula as audiences became increasingly desensitized. They touch on the influence of Italian horror pictures, the importance of a familiar setting, the rules of the game, and the critical lambasting the genre took from its very inception. It's all enjoyable and the fast pace allows the picture to cover a lot of material in a short period of time, but I couldn't help feeling that the proceedings were a bit rushed—more time could have been taken to pursue the various sub-topics with increased intensity. This is especially a problem when the film addresses claims (made by Siskel and Ebert, among others) that slasher movies are a misogynistic lashing out by men frustrated by the women's movement. The issue is used as a launching point to explore (and mock) the parental outcry surrounding Silent Night, Deadly Night. Perhaps some interview material with a feminist scholar, a film historian, and more detached academic sources would have elevated the discussion; this topic alone could have an entire documentary made around it.
As is often the case with documentaries, the movie's picture and sound can only be as good as the source material, which clearly ranges from bad VHS to good 35 mm film. But the interviews and other original footage appear to be solid digital video, and the presentation is 16:9 anamorphic, while the sound is clear two channel stereo, so it's about as good as you can expect.
We get about 25 minutes of additional scenes, including more with Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, of particular interest because it was his last interview before his death. Also included is a trivia game with three skill levels—true or false, novice, or intermediate—that will likely hold your interest for a few minutes, anyway, and the message from Adam Rockoff, author of the book on which the picture is based, is an interesting read. But the most substantial feature is the audio commentary with producers Rachel Belofsky and Rudy Scalese, and editor Michael Bohusz. They offer a chatty, constant conversation, often commenting on what's happening on screen but adding to it as well, discussing the way sequences are edited to maximize the amount of footage paid for and so on. It's a decent commentary and worth a listen for anyone who enjoyed the film and its subject matter.
Overall, the movie's biggest failing it its one-sidedness. While subtitled as, "The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film," this is a film made by fans, for fans, and very little is said or presented that could be called critical of the genre. Because of this, the film has limited value as a documentary, with its tone bordering on propaganda at times. But for people who enjoy a good horror movie, and want to learn about a few they might not have heard about, this is a recommended rental or purchase.
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