Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Second Coming of the Slasher

Scanning a cinema marquee these days is an exercise in déjà vu with film titles like When A Stranger Calls, Halloween, Black Christmas, and Prom Night lighting up the multiplex parking lots below their neon-lit letters. Taking the expression "what's old is new again" to the extreme, Hollywood has begun mining the slasher film vaults from the 80's with gleeful, greedy abandon. And with no end in sight - Hell Night, House on Sorority Row, Motel Hell, My Bloody Valentine (in 3-D!), The Stepfather, and the seminal Friday the 13th are all currently on track for updates - the reaction from fans is mixed.

I gave some thoughts on the business of remakes at Fear Zone this week. And it does seem to be all about the business. But, then again, it always was. We were just too enraptured with the never-ending cavalcade of indestructible villains, too engrossed (and grossed out) by the seemingly endless ways Tom Savini could kill someone onscreen, and too caught up in trying to figure out which holiday was next for slasher exploitation to take much notice. While our teenage heads were buried in the latest issue of Fangoria, savvy studio execs were busy bankrolling filmmakers who were eager to leave their own indelible mark on a winning formula.

Flash forward twenty years or so and savvy studio execs are once again bankrolling a new generation of filmmakers who grew up in the golden age of slashers and are eager to once again make their mark on what has become an iconic (and surprisingly legitimate) sub-genre of horror films. Can you blame them? We liked the films - why shouldn't a new generation be exposed?

Some thumb their nose at the watered-down PG-13 versions of "our" films; blame the conservative shift in this country that substitutes ratings and warning labels for actual parental supervision. My father used to, sit...through He Knows You're Alone, Curtains, Humongous, and myriad other R-rated low-budget fare; today, Dad Version 2.0 barely slows the BMW in front of the multiplex before depositing the tweens and teens, comfortable in the promise of third-party supervision doled out by the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board.

My friend and fellow slasher aficionado (and author of the sublime, pop culture-infused novel Demon Theory) Stephen Graham Jones shares some excellent commentary on the current state of the slasher at PopMatters. Be sure to check it out.

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