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

Celebrating the slasher-film phenomenon that overwhelmed and nearly choked out the entire horror genre in the 1980s like so much cinematic kudzu may seem kind of silly, but such are the wages of nostalgia; ergo, here is Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, a filmed spin-off of the 2002 historical overview by author Adam Rockoff. Though a more critical assessment of this subgenre would be welcome and potentially interesting, the aim of this documentary is to provide a highlight reel of the best kills from the most memorable slasher movies that, along with equally overabundant sex comedies, corrupted the sensibilities of many an impressionable youth during the Reagan era. Since this production is without a credited director (hardly a surprise given the movie's overriding insipidness), authorship must be ascribed to the producing tandem of Rachel Belofsky and Rudy Scalese, who at least have the sense to interview the granddaddy of the slasher flick, John Carpenter, and, most importantly, the special effects artist without whom the subgenre would've never flourished, Tom Savini. Though Carpenter certainly deserves his share of credit and blame for essentially laying down the rules to which all subsequent knockoffs rigidly adhered, the slasher film would've also been a somewhat classier subgenre had it appropriated his emphasis of atmosphere over gore. That's where Savini comes in; already the go-to guru of gore given his literally ripping-good makeup f/x work on Dawn of the Dead, Savini turned Sean Cunningham's Friday the 13th into his own blood-soaked playground where he devised some of cinema's most memorable kills, which delighted sensation-seeking horror fans and appalled the nation's critics, many of whom were troubled by the violence as it was gleefully inflicted on women (dishonestly preferring to downplay the fact that men were subject to the same wanton, if rather cartoonish brutality). Savini, who saw plenty of real-life carnage up close as a combat cameraman in Vietnam, is a fascinating figure, and the producers wisely give him plenty of face time, which yields a few interesting insights for fans of this kind of thing (e.g. he cites Joseph Zito's awful The Prowler as featuring his best splatter f/x). Though Belofsky's and Scalese's reliance on flash-edits and other stylistic nonsense mar the proceedings, the documentary is mostly watchable so long as they stick with the perfunctory combination of gruesome clips and worthwhile comments from the folks who gave the subgenre life and, rightly or wrongly, sustained it. Unfortunately, they let Jeff Katz, a development executive at New Line, run off at the mouth far too often, an annoyance that is compounded by the inexplicable choice to shoot him walking down a dark alley somewhere in Hollywood (it might even be the alley from the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, but good luck trying to make that ID the way the interview is frantically filmed). Katz may brim with enthusiasm for the subject, but he's all over the place whenever he tries to place a specific movie in any kind of rational perspective (he actually sounds serious when he accuses Neil Jordan of ripping off his twist for The Crying Game from Sleepaway Camp's unforgettable final reveal). There's a very interesting documentary to be made about the impact, both positive and pernicious, of the slasher film on the horror genre, but this isn't it. ThinkFilm presents Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film in a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras include a feature-length commentary from Belofsky, Scalese, and editor Michael Bohusz, a horror trivia game, a message from author Adam Rockoff and a trailer gallery. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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