The List of Shame: The Sunday Night Slashers (Part One)
Men Women and Chainsaws, the Parties I Wasn’t Invited To, and the Glories of Being Excessively Intellectual
Here’s where I would like to start:
- Have you ever finished a book and realized that nothing would ever be the same? Your whole view of the world has been drastically altered, and henceforth you will be living as a different human being. I’ve heard stories of people moving to India after breaking the spine of Be Here Now. There are also millions of potentially alienated teenagers who feel that only Holden Caulfield can understand them. I originally thought that this could never happen in your thirties. However, all my suspicions have been proven untrue by finishing a copy of Carol J. Clover’s Men Women and Chainsaws.
- Here’s the part of this little essay in which I feel (by virtue of my college education) that I need to elaborate. I can’t even begin to summarize the revelations contained within Clover’s book. There are just a few key points which I would like to trumpet in this particular case. The biggest bang comes at the end of the book, in which Carol links horror movie watching to the Freudian theory of Repetition Compulsion. That is the idea that a confused person will keep repeating the same destructive behavior in hope of a better result. Carol ties this to masochism in the horror audience. They will sit through various sequels, rip offs, and (in later cases) variations on a theme in the anticipation of getting a good scare.
- Carol’s biggest issue of concern is, of course, gender. Why does a primarily male audience choose to side with a female character? (This is the “final girl,” the lone woman left standing at the end of a slasher. There is an entire blog dedicated to this idea, and so I will not encroach on someone else’s territory). The real shocker for me, though, was Carol’s analysis of possession and haunted house films. Remember the terrible thing that the little girl gets sucked into in Poltergeist? That’s a womb, and an elaborate metaphor for rebirth of the family unit. Once I thought about it, what else could it be?
- My real fascination with both Clover and the Book: Carol J. Clover is a legitimate scholar (she was for most of her career a professor of Scandinavian literature). She is not “slumming,” but making a very valid and well researched attempt to examine an undeniably trashy brand of film. You never catch her condescending to the material (there’s no trace of a Roger Ebert-like star rating.) She is simply using her intellectual talents to ask: “What the hell is this really about?” I initially started this blog with similar interests, though my aim was slightly different. I wanted to examine what movies told us about the big questions: the meaning of life and all that nonsense.
That’s all well and good, but the goal of this is decidedly two pronged.
Here’s where I would like to go, Part Two:
- Remember all those amazing sleepovers you went to as a child? You stayed up all night watching Friday the 13 and the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels? Wasn’t that the most wonderful thing ever? Well, fuck you then. I didn’t get invited to those parties, and so I have no knowledge of them. The other unfortunate event of my youth was that my Mom caught one of the Freddy movies on late night TV. She was a teacher, and she wanted to see what all her students were raving about. She let me know quite bluntly (after being disturbed by what she saw) that I would never be allowed to see a single Nightmare movie. I didn’t even get to see the original Nightmare until I was 22 years old. (You might see this as a deprived childhood. I would probably argue that my Mom made the right decision. I had enough to be afraid of as a kid without worrying about being slashed to death in a dream by a childhood molester.)
- I loaded the deck in the above bullet, and you probably know what I’m getting at. Despite being a major horror film, there’s quite a few classics (and non-classics) of the genre that yours truly has not seen. What will an educated man in his thirties make of something like Slumber Party Massacre? Keep in mind that the “Yoda” to my “Luke” is now Carol J. Clover. I won’t ape her every movement, but I will most certainly be using her book as a reference. My inclination is more towards being a judge of “good” or “bad,” but her issues of identification and gender are in the back of my mind. Here’s my chance to finally scratch a lurking cinematic itch and be a li’l Smarty Pants too.
The Accidental Birth of a Tradition (the Sunday Night Slashers)
As with most things in life, the desire to undergo this journey through horror is not a new idea. I have already been catching up on a few slashers here and there. I recently watched a different slasher film on consecutive Sunday nights. This has given birth to what I shall now (and for a bit) dub the “Sunday Night Slashers.” I don’t know if I will have the momentum (or free time) to keep this up. I have a relatively low threshold for “burning out” on just about any given activity. (My electric guitar sits in the garage covered in dust as a testament to this fact. I did stick with it long enough to play a bitchin’ c-chord, though).
I’m not going to stick exclusively to stalk and slash movies. I would like to sample as many films from different sub genres as I possibly can. The rule being that the film must be a completely “new to me” watch. People, I haven’t even seen the original Friday the 13.
Now you’ve been very patient in waiting for some movie reviews. Let me talk a bit about the two flicks I chose to start off this little movie club of one.
Slumber Party Massacre and The Burning
There’s been a ton of hubbub made of the fact that Slumber Party Massacre is one of the rare slashers written and directed by women. The author of the screenplay is the famous feminist writer Rita Mae Brown, and the director is Amy Holden Jones (who went on to quite a career as a screenwriter which included drafting Mystic Pizza). Does this mean that there is some kind of hidden agenda I should be aware of in the flick?
I would argue that Slumber Party Massacre is edged far enough towards parody. The most obvious tip off is the killer’s use of a long, phallic shaped power drill as his weapon. I just about groaned: “What could that possibly represent?” The acting is also on par with a Junior High knock off of a SNL skit. Even that seemed like an intentional choice to me as well. Brown and Jones clearly know where every bit of the formula should be located, and the plot is very cynically constructed. (Do I even need to summarize it? There’s a killer loose in the neighborhood during a sleepover, hence the title.)
What is the price of being so self aware? This is a tedious movie to sit through because the emphasis is not on jolts. There’s no suspense generated, and it’s tough not to be constantly taking snack and soda breaks. Could it be that this is not an elaborate in joke and just a badly made horror movie? The over all (lack of) “quality” feels just a bit too premeditated for that.
Clover’s points are almost all nailed on the head. The killer is emasculated when one of the girls chops off the tip of his drill. What can be made of the swimming pool he falls into at the end? As Kurt Vonnegut would say: “and so on.”
Now on to the mysteries of The Burning. The most blatant difference that we see here is the nature of the monster. He is created by one generation of summer campers only to come back and haunt the next one. This happens because of a teen age revenge prank gone awry. The caretaker that the kids intend to scare ends up nearly getting burned to death.
What is the unintentional side effect of this? The killer is oddly sympathetic, and you root for him in a half-assed fashion. You know he is going to get out of the hospital and go back to the place of his torment and near death. Sitting through typical teen age antics becomes a bit boring as you wait for his return.
The Burning does have a jolting last half hour. The teenagers are efficiently disposed of (seemingly) almost all at once. The final confrontation with the killer (in an abandoned cabin) is quite scary.
There is a point of contention I have with Carol in the analysis of this movie. She makes a big deal out of the fact that the “final girl” is a boy. She seems to have neglected the fact that the “hunky” head counselor is the one that ends up axing the bad guy. The dorky boy only managed to restrain him for a bit. Is he really the “final girl” if he can’t kill the beast? He needs to stab him with the steely knife, even if he can’t kill him. (Yes, that’s a belabored and ill planned Eagles reference.)
So That’s It
There’s a very long first entry in a series. Now what?