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Killing to rule
A UK region 2 DVD review of GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM by Slarek
 

I have a couple of things in common with the makers of Going to Pieces, a lively and affectionate look at that most maligned of horror sub-genres, the Slasher Movie. For a start, I share their unbridled enthusiasm for the film that started it all, John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween, and like them I've seen a great many of the similarly themed works that sprang up in its wake. It's not that I was a huge fan of this emerging sub-genre – I, like many others, just kept hoping I would encounter another film that was as good as the one from which the trend exploded. In these early days of sub-standard copycat cheapies, I never got one. What I got was a formula. It went something like this:

Take one group of teenagers who are out for a good time. It helps if they're horny and stupid, then they'll say things like "let's have a party in that old abandoned mine" and be too busy shagging to spot the danger signs. Add to the mix one deranged killer, preferably masked and/or deformed. Plant both parties in the same location and watch as the killer picks off the teenagers one by one in varied and ideally bizarre ways. If you have sex you die, if you stay pure you'll probably live and outsmart the monster. Oh yes, and make sure you save your biggest surprise for the end when everyone (except those who've seen a slasher film before) thinks it's all over. Shove in the cinema and bake for about 90 minutes.

A few followed Carpenter's lead and tried to play it for tension, but it soon became clear that audiences were identifying more with the killers than their victims. Hardly surprising, really, as low budgets and bandwagon-jumping meant that few of the filmmakers were that interested in searching for the next Jamie Lee Curtis. Girls started to get roles because they were prepared to get their tits out and be covered in blood, guys because they'd spent some time in the gym. Irritating at best, obnoxious at worst, they seemed almost designed for an audience to enjoy seeing torn asunder.

And yet, as with any horror sub-genre, these films have an inexplicably endearing appeal. At least they do now. With recycled horror presently in the hands of studios and pumped up with budgets that allow for all sorts of CG silliness, I actually miss the sometimes inventive do-it-yourself cheapness of the early slasher films. It's such nostalgia that Going to Pieces very effectively taps into and trades on, and this helps give it an appeal beyond cult fandom. Indeed, its lively, rock 'n' roll handling may well sink a hook into younger horror fans who missed out on the genre's first wave.

Based on the book by Adam Rockoff and driven by a blend of interview, archive material and film extracts, Going to Pieces follows a linear timeline from Halloween and Friday the 13th through the flood of 80s stalk-and-slash cheapies to the revivals kicked off by Wes Craven with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. Genre writers are interviewed alongside actors and filmmakers, who take us through the making and release of some of the genre's most notorious works. The formulaic nature of the genre is not just acknowledged but openly celebrated, as is the unabashed enjoyment of gratuitous on-screen violence. The critical reaction against the films is represented by a stern condemnation from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, which we are encouraged to disagree with. The problem is that they actually do make a couple of valid points that deserve a more considered response than "no it isn't," or the convention fan whose pearl of wisdom is "I think there was violence in society before horror movies and there's gonna be violence in society after horror movies." No shit, Ms. Sherlock. Mind you, when it gets to the controversy surrounding the murderous Santa in Silent Night, Deadly Night, I found myself groaning at the family values protestors and firmly aligning myself with the dark side.

The early 80s quality plunge and the socio-political context in which the films were able to thrive are discussed, and there are plenty of valid and thoughtful observations on the genre's qualities and the passion of its fans. Enlightening and entertaining, the backbone of the film is its sometimes excellent interview material, with contributors such as John Carpenter, Sean S. Cunningham, Bob Clark, Paul Lynch, Betsy Palmer (who played Mrs. Voorhees in Friday the 13th), Rob Zombie, the super-smart Wes Craven, the always engaging Tom Savini, and a whole load more. Collectively this proves so informative and so cheerfully enthusiastic for its subject that I find myself genuinely tempted to dress up and run off to a horror convention and to hunt out and re-evaluate even the films I was initially pissed off by. It also handily reminded me that the bad slasher movie overload I suffered in the early eighties has, over the course of the genre's history, been balanced by a number of very worthy films that have rightly taken their place in the horror hall of fame.

It may have its omissions and skim over some areas, but there were clearly problems with rights for some of the desired clips and there's only so much ground you can cover in 88 minutes. For the most part, though, Going to Pieces is a comprehensive, well researched and thoroughly entertaining guide to a sub-genre that's had peaks and troughs, but stubbornly refuses to die.

sound and vision

Framed 1.77:1 and anamorphically enhanced, the picture quality varies a little from interview to interview, depending on the lighting and location and the recording medium, but at its best this is a fine transfer with very good contrast, colour and detail, especially considering it appears to have been converted from an NTSC original. The quality of film extracts is far more variable, but the filmmakers were at the mercy of what they were supplied with or had access to here.

The Dolby 2.0 stereo track is a little uneven, largely due to a surprising variance in interview sound recording quality, which can be alternately clear, fluffy and even a little tinny. The mix does not always balance the music and dialogue as well as it might, but for the most part it's clear enough.

extra features

Commentary with producers Rachel Belofsky, Rudy Scalese and editor Michael Bohusz
One of those commentaries in which the filmmakers are initially slapping each other on the back with such frequency and gusto that I'm amazed none of them sustained severe spinal injury or lost a lung. If you get weary listening to people talking about how much they love this shot, sequence, person or whatever then you're likely to find yourself reaching for an axe after the first fifteen minutes. But this does settle down a bit and we do get some insight into the featured films and the problems the filmmakers had putting the documentary together, not least the issue of clearing the rights on film extracts and the varying responses they had to their requests, from the unnamed blonde actress who wanted too much for her Nightmare on Elm Street clips to the ever-helpful Tom Savini, who cheerfully supplied the team with his own behind-the-scenes footage of his work on Friday 13th The Final Chapter.

Extended Interviews
A welcome and sometimes delightful collection of interview material not used in the film: John Dunning (4:58) entertainingly talks about the making of My Bloody Valentine; Paul Lynch (3:00) amusingly explains the conception of Prom Night; Bob Clark (5:35) talks about Black Christmas and sets the record straight on its influence on Halloween; Fred Walton (6:01) outlines the development of When a Stranger Calls; and Stan Winston (2:52) briefly discusses Friday the 13th Part III. Best of all is Joseph Stefano (10:10), who compellingly recalls working with Hitchcock on Psycho.

There are three multiple choice genre quizzes. All three are rather fun, though strangely I did better on Seasoned Gorehound Challenge and the True or False Quiz than on Burgeoning Gorehound Challenge.

The Trailer (1:19) is a very nifty and well assembled sell.

summary

Made by true genre fans and targeted primarily at their brethren, Going to Pieces is enjoyable and enlightening enough to reach a wider audience, although potential viewers be warned – the violence in the chosen film extracts is spectacularly nasty stuff and definitely NOT for the faint hearted or easily offended.

Metrodome have delivered a decent DVD here, a good transfer backed up by some excellent additional interviews, three fun quizzes and a commentary that is genuinely interesting when it isn't annoying. Dedicated horror fans should consider it an essential purchase – the rest of you might want to consider your gore tolerance level before proceeding.

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

USA 2006
88 mins
producers
Rachel Belofsky
Rudy Scalese

DVD details
region 2
video
1.77:1
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
languages
English
subtitles
English for the hearing impaired
extras
Filmmakers' commentary
Extended interviews
Genre quizzes
Trailer
distributor
Metrodome
release date
25 June 2007
review posted
22 June 2007

See all of Slarek's reviews