Adam Rockoff's GOING TO PIECES is over 200 pages of slasher movie heaven!
There hasn't been much published on the slasher film (certainly not when compared to other subgenres of the horror film); of course, it isn't too difficult to figure out why. The slasher film has long been the black sheep of the horror genre, loathed by politicians (both left and right) and religious groups; blamed for societies ills by all and sundry and universally vilified by genre snobs as the one thing that killed horror cinema stone dead from the mid-80's. Most film critics loathe the subgenre (and always have - just compare the kind of reviews films like HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME or MY BLOODY VALENTINE were getting back in the early 80's to the kind of blanket apathy and tired condemnation of today's slasher movies, they're pretty much the same. These days the reviews are even more bloated with clichés than even the films their stale acid bon-bons are aimed at), and film historians have all but ignored it.
This isn't to say that the slasher movie hasn't caused some blood and gore to be spilt on to the printed page in its time. Unfortunately, though, as Rockoff points out, other works have either flat out condemned the subgenre (Kim Newman's NIGHTMARE MOVIES), been of only passing interest due to their broad nature (William Schoell's STAY OUT OF THE SHOWER: 25 YEARS OF SHOCKER FILMS BEGINNING WITH PSYCHO) or have been often impenetrably academic, although occasionally fascinating to fans of the subgenre, (Vera Dika's GAMES OF TERROR: HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH AND THE FILMS OF THE STALKER GENRE or Carol Clover's MEN, WOMEN AND CHAIN SAWS: GENDER IN THE MODERN HORROR FILM). So then, it is so refreshing to read an in-depth look at the subgenre by someone who isn't carrying any 'baggage' or looking to prove a particular hypothesis. GOING TO PIECES is a look at the slasher film through the eyes of a self-described fan of the subgenre.
However, this book is far removed from most fan writing. It's a professional, witty and informative piece of film criticism, but from someone - who, like most of you reading this - knows the thrill and the heartache of spotting a long forgotten, but much coveted, slasher movie 'classic' in the bottom row of a closing down Mom 'n' Pop store; whose childhood wasn't haunted by Dracula, Frankenstein et al but by Michael, Jason and Freddy; who knows what a deliciously guilty secret a love for the vicarious thrills 'n' spills of the slasher movie can be; and has endured the sideways glances of the uninitiated for the unguarded enthusiasm over the latest 'lost' classic making its way onto DVD.
GOING TO PIECES is a fascinating read. A mixture of memoirs (Rockoff's reminiscing about the golden age of the subgenre) and analysis (in one chapter he asks exactly 'what is the slasher film?', answering this question with examinations of the subgenre's key elements: the killer, weapons of choice, special effects and 'the dawn of Savini', the setting, the ubiquitous past event, the final girl, 'eyes of the killer' the subjective point of view and, obviously, the controversies which have followed the subgenre relentlessly).
Rockoff cites John Carpenter's seminal HALLOWEEN as the catalyst for the modern slasher movie and understandably devotes a whole chapter to it. However, he doesn't ignore the 'pre-history' of the slasher film and discusses the formative influences on the subgenre, including everything from the 'The Theater of the Grand Guignol' to the films of William Castle, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Bob Clark's wonderful BLACK CHRISTMAS - my only criticism here would be that, besides honourable mentions of the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, there is little mention of the legion of gialli so popular in the early-mid 1970's (which were, arguably, greatly influential on the growth of the subgenre in the US, where films like Sergio Martino's TORSO did a roaring trade at the drive-in); a mention of the 70's British slasher films of Pete Walker would have been nice, too.
As fascinating as it is (and obviously necessary for a book with a remit such as this) it wasn't the chapter on HALLOWEEN that I was eagerly looking forward to (surely, Carpenter's film has received more column inches than all other slasher films put together, I shouldn't wonder), rather the following five chapters - with delicious chapter headings like, "Deadly Prank Calls, Driller Killers' and an Angry Young Woman" - are rich with details, anecdotes, interviews and gossip from all those films which burst forth with the force of arterial spray in the wake of Michael Myers debut. Rockoff himself says that he wasn't trying to produce an exhaustive list of films (surely a near impossible task - we all know that no matter how many times we think we have it nailed another one will come popping up from the vaults), rather he takes some of the best known of the late 70's / early 80's slasher flicks - everything from WHEN A STRANGER CALLS to TERROR TRAIN; FRIDAY THE 13TH to HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (and many more) - and gives them the kind of in-depth treatment you won't find anywhere else on the printed page. Surnames like Carpenter, Cunningham, Lustig, Yablans, Spottiswoode and Sholder will be well known to fans of early 80's slasherdom, and Rockoff has certainly put in the hours to contact and persuade these and other genre luminaries to recall their time in our favourite disreputable subgenre. You can thrill as Armand Mastroianni recalls how he and superstar to be, Tom Hanks, would sit down and try and come up for a title for what would become HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE; take time to wonder what coulda been as we discover that Paul Lynch originally pitched an idea to Irwin Yablans about a psychotic MD, called DON'T SEE THE DOCTOR, in an effort to make (along with countless others) the HALLOWEEN 'beater', in the early 80's slasher movie gold-rush, before eventually making PROM NIGHT; chuckle as producer John Dunning recalls that not all the retribution happened on screen: the crew of MY BLOODY VALENTINE took revenge on one of the lead actors after he inadvertently run over a electrician working on the picture! Fabulous stuff, indeed, I mean, what other book could you find almost three pages dedicated to Herb Freed's trashtastic GRADUATION DAY?
Of course, the golden age couldn't last forever and Rockoff details its descent into straight-to-video hell and sequel overload (as well as pointing out rogue highpoints like Wes Craven's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET). He also bring the whole shebang up to date with a look at the resurgence of the subgenre brought about by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's timely semi-slasher satire, SCREAM, which opened the floodgates once more, albeit in a considerably smaller way than HALLOWEEN had 18 years previously.
Adam Rockoff's GOING TO PIECES is highly recommended; it is the
slasher movie book, and as such should have pride of place on the bookshelf
of every horror fan. A thoughtful, provocative, unbiased and thoroughly entertaining
romp through the subgenre that just won't stay dead.