Jim Harper’s LEGACY OF BLOOD bills itself as the comprehensive guide to slasher movies, so it has a lot to live up to. Luckily, it succeeds much more than it falls down.
The book is split into four main, distinct sections: Section I examines the history of the slasher movie. The author acknowledges that HALLOWEEN (1978) wasn’t the first slasher movie (namechecking PSYCHO and Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE), but he doesn’t really dig back into the past as far as, perhaps, I would have liked (back to the Grand Guginol and the old creaky flicks from the 30’s like THE OLD DARK HOUSE). It would have been nice if the giallo had been covered in more depth, but it’s completely understandable that the author decides to leave that for another day – as it’s easily a project in itself. However, admittedly, HALLOWEEN was the genesis of the slasher movie as we know it today so it makes sense to use it as the springboard for the rest of the book. The book takes a digested look at how the subgenre became box office king during its golden age in the early 80’s, to its decline later in that decade, to its rebirth of the 90's.
Section II covers all of the conventions of the genre, the hero/heroine (the oft-discussed final-girl), the killer, location, and parents and authority figures.
Section III is the main section of the book – with lots of capsule reviews (and many interesting b/w illustrations). Jim Harper is a fan of the slasher movie (although he’s realistic enough to know that the subgenre – despite its recent renaissance of sorts – is still almost universally loathed by many horror fans, let alone mainstream critics). Naturally, I didn’t agree with all of his opinions, but for the main part the reviews are short, snappy, witty and well balanced – he memorably says of THE LAST SLUMBER PARTY (1987), “I wouldn’t let the director hold the camcorder at a local garden party, let alone make a movie”. Along with all the usual suspects (FRIDAY, HALLOWEEN and NOES series’) there are some nice obscure surprises, like the little seen TV movie DEADLY LESSONS (1983) and BLOOD FRENZY (1987). Of course, HYSTERIA LIVES! favourites such as MY BLOODY VALENTINE, BLACK CHRISTMAS, THE BURNING and more are covered. It’s also good to see that slasher movies from abroad, such as Korea’s HORROR GAME MOVIE (2001) and Germany’s FLASHBACK (2000) are included. However, there are some curious omissions, such as VISITING HOURS (and more?).
Section IV has a short list of the films that were banned in the UK as the ‘video nasties’, some of those secret pre-fame Hollywood stars secret slasher shame, a very short section on International slashers and Seasonal slashers.
In conclusion, Jim Harper’s LEGACY OF BLOOD is a populist history of the horror movie – not to denigrate it in any way, many other books have tended to veer towards the academic but this book packs lots of informed and incisive writing into an easy to read, relatively short tome (192 pages).
Overall, if you are a fan of slasher films (and if you’re not, what are you doing here!), then this book more than deserves a place on your bookshelf.