by Danny Stout
“Slasher” films are dubious at best in LDS circles, and outright rejected at worst. Opponents struggle to find redeeming value in violence-as-entertainment, while fans talk of high-tension thrills and chills, or the fun of “freaking out.” Three new movies, Hush, The Green Room, and the TV dramatic series, Slasher, are challenging the kitch-based ultra violent genre that’s kept us screaming, and, in some cases laughing, for decades. The brand-new works retain spurious elements of past slashers (e.g., story begins with youth trauma, followed by revenge, typically with metal weapons by the wounded protagonist that usually wears a hockey mask or other creepy costume), yet the recent works have depth, finer craftsmanship, and moral commentary. Filmmakers increasingly discard the pejorative “slasher” in favor of the euphemistic “psychological thriller” or “psychological horror film.”
Something like the slasher has been around for centuries. Peasants attending London’s Elizabethan Theater demanded murder from Shakespeare who delivered it in high doses, Hamlet being an example. Actors in a play bereft of death scenes were bombarded by rotten vegetables by a deliriously discontented audience. Today, “scary” movies function similarly to their fifteenth century progenitors of the stage. Religionists struggle to sort out the moral questions. That is, not all violence is as easily denounced as that in the brutal The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). War movie Saving Private Ryan has a 30-minute scene of non-stop death, but is praised as a moral work. The Passion of Christ while lauded as a religious film, had bloodshed throughout as Mel Gibson strove for historical accuracy. Nevertheless, the “Slasher” pushes the limits of taste and morality.
The new films are more like Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho; they’re more morality tales than traditional slashers designed merely to exploit audience catharsis and adrenaline rushes. The shower scene murder was unprecedented, but the overall allegory is about conscience, repentance, and circumstances beyond one’s control. The Green Room, Hush, and Slasher while violent, have redeeming value beyond the traditional gore fests such as Halloween (1978), and Friday the 13th (1980). The three recent films are gory, but thoughtful; there’s fewer graphic scenes, emphasizing other dramatic elements, particularly character development and substantive plots, elevating moral themes.
In Hush, Maddie, a deaf writer played by Kate Siegel has an intruder hovering outside her remote cabin. His weapons include a machete and crossbow. Reading his lips, she decodes his message: “I’m not coming in until you want to die.” Murder is kept to a minimum because, thematically, the wonder of mind and spirit in outfoxing an overpowering foe is the gestalt. Conceding my reductionist take, the film deals with problem-solving in the wake of intense fear. While few of us will receive a visit from a deranged killer with a crossbow tonight, all have anxieties at various levels. In an impossible situation, Maddie finds a way to pause, think, and perhaps engage a higher power in discovering that fear, not the intruder, is the real threat.
The Green Room (i.e., chamber for performers before and after their acts) takes us into the punk rock culture, as the band, “The Ain’t Rights” reluctantly agree to play for neo-Nazi skinheads in a club outside Portland, Oregon. Opening their set with a song mocking Skinheads is the first mistake. Second, they witness a murder, and are locked in the Green Room; a roller coaster of rabid realism takes off. Like Hush, the violence is graphic, but not like Wes Craven‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or Clive Barker‘s Hellraiser (1987).
Band members Sam, Pat, Tiger, and Reece give us a tour of punk life; the film takes on an ethnographic feel. Viewing it through an anthropological lens, the viewer is enlightened about the utility of punk community and its often misunderstood youth culture. Rituals such as “gobbing” (i.e., spitting at the band in appreciation) will intrigue uninformed audience members. How a functional subculture blends with a dysfunctional one such as the Skinheads is equally informative. Again, the violence, although salient, takes a backseat to the film’s engrossing setting.
Of the three, Slasher is truest to the genre in terms of frequency of meat cleaver deaths. Such is partly attributed to it being a dramatic series, and thus a longer story line. It also exceeds the sexuality quotient for LDS tastes. Nevertheless, Slasher is a whodunit focusing on who is killing as much as how. It works as mystery suspense in a traditional sense. Produced by the Canadian network Super Channel, Katie McGrath plays a newly wed returning to Waturbury, Ontario to uncover the story of her parents’ murder. It was the “Executioner,” following the List of The Seven Deadly Sins much like the movie, Seven. The tension builds gradually through the eight episodes with believable twists and surprises. It is a slasher – mystery hybrid.
Vacillating scenes from close-ups to distant shots of the town evoke the Hitchcock technique of giving the viewer time to ponder. Campy elements reminiscent of older slashers add humor with lines like: “I’m beginning to think that moving back to Waterbury was a bad idea.” And “The hard work is going to be the death of you.” Slasher ostensibly is a commendable old fashioned mystery main course with a side order of gore.
Popularity of these films among LDS moviegoers is difficult to predict, but one thing is clear: The slasher genre is changing, and it will be increasingly difficult to assess as demonstrated by the films discussed. Moral values and assumptions of these works are not easily assessed. Whether one is better or worse having seen them cannot ne answered here, but all three have provoked mostly substantive discussion it seems.