FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Nov 2, 2005

Dust Off Your Notebooks, Part 1

Way back in July, when I was but a wee lass, I began a series of posts you could call Slashers 101, intended to be a little primer on what it takes to make a slasher a "slasher" and not...umm...something else.

Part One deals mainly with the killer. What makes Jason Voorhees a slasher maniac while the dude from Cobra- the guy who uses a knife, the guy who Cobra takes down!- is just a run-of-the-mill crazy guy? PS- I loves me some Cobra.

Part Two is about the weapons employed by said killers.

I got that far, and then I got crazy busy with other stuff and I disappeared into the ether for a while.But now seems like as good a time as any to pick it up again, eh? All right then...

Next up is the slasher hallmark that can either turn you on or turn your stomach: gore, or to use a more general term, special effects. Most folks tend to cite Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Feast(1963) as the flick that started the trend towards the disgusting in on-screen horror. The art of makeup and effects had advanced from the days of neck bolts on the monster in Frankenstein (1931) to the realistic portrayal of dismemberment in Lewis's extravagoreza (I just made that word up). The boundaries were beginning to be expanded to discover just how far one could go with movie violence- why stop at a simple spot of blood on the shirt when you can actually see the blade entering the chest?

For bringing explicit gore to the slasher film, the world has one man to thank- Tom Savini. While his effects work was already garnering attention (such as Dawn of the Dead in 1978), it was Savini's work in 1980's Friday the 13th that changed the face of the slasher. Just two years earlier, in Halloween, John Carpenter gave the industry one of the earliest slashers, and there's barely a drop of blood to be seen. But from the moment hitchhiker Annie's throat is cut to the decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees (and those clutching hands!), there's not much you don't see in Friday the 13th as the counselors of Camp Crystal Lake are slaughtered one by one. Again, it's the intimacy of the killing that's remarkable. At times, it's still difficult to figure out just how Savini works his magic- I'm thinking particularly of the scene that finds Kevin Bacon smoking a post-coital joint in bed. As he lies there, an arrow head comes up from under the bed through his throat- and damn if it doesn't still look 100% real to this day. There's no cutaway. There's no computer graphics. There's just amazing- if bloody- makeup effects.

Sure, there are other names in the special effects canon: Rick Baker (whose efforts in 1981's An American Werewolf in London garnered him the first Oscar awarded for Best Makeup), Stan Winston (Terminator, Wrong Turn), Rob Bottin (John Carpenter's The Thing)...all geniuses in their own right. The realm of the slasher, however, is ruled by Savini. There's too many memorable moments to list comprehensively, but when I think back to scenes like Jason's unmasked face sliding down the machete at the end of Friday the 13th Part 4, well, I can't help but wonder where Savini's Oscar is. Love the gore or hate it, you can't help but shake your head in wonder...or nausea.

There are certainly slasher films that are virtually, if not completely, gore-free, as I noted earlier with the mention of Halloween. For MY dollar, these can be the scariest, most effective examples of the genre. Subtlety can go a long, long way. Without a doubt, however, on-screen blood-n-guts are a staple for the slasher. Just ask Jason Voorhees.


Mike Imboden said...

I think one of, if not THE, best use of "non-gore" would be in "Psycho". Yeah, it's not a slasher movie, at least not after you subtract the shower scene, but stab for stab, Hitchcock really showed us Janet Leigh getting stabbed to death without showing us Janet Leigh getting stabbed to death better than any other on-screen death.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. 'Psycho' is definitely, no pun intended, a watershed film. It's importance in the development of the slasher subgenre is self-evident.

Des said...

I would also agree with the Psycho and Halloween references (they were #s 2 and 1 on my countdown!) to be scarier as gore-free films but no one decapitates someone like Savini!

Stacie Ponder said...

I usually think gore is fun, if it doesn't cross the line into exploitation, and yeah- no one beats Savini! The films that actually scare me, though, and I enjoy on a deeper level, are the ones with the least amount if blood, like Halloween and Psycho.

It's amazing how a well-made film can fool the audience into thinking they see more than they actually do- like the shower scene, as well as Silence of the Lambs and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They're surprisingly unexplicit.

And why do I feel more comfortable watching someone get ripped up and eaten by zombies than I do getting stabbed?

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way - no one tops Savini! Oh, wouldn't it be glorious if he opened his make-up kit one more time . . . ?

As for feeling more comfortable watching someone succumbing to zombies versus a stabbing, I, too, cringe a bit when the more realistic voilence graces the screen. Is it because I can detach a bit, viewing zombies and other beasties as "fantasy" (albeit, DARK fantasy) but the scene in which poor Franklin gets his in 'Texas Chainsaw...' is painted with a much more realistic (and red) paint brush . . . ?

Stacie Ponder said...

Think you guys have nailed it. You're so smart!