Going To Pieces Review
Country : USA
Running Time: 88 minutes
The slasher film boon of the late 1970's through the following decade is examined and chronicled in depth, with entertaining commentary and appearances by filmmakers and performers from classic slasher fare....
Book by Adam Rockoff. With appearances by John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Sean S. Cunningham, Betsy Palmer, Tony Timpone, Harry Manfredini, Lilyan Chauvin, Felissa Rose and Amy Holden Jones.
Going To Pieces: The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Film stands to be the definitive documentary piece of the subgenre of horror that reared its head at some point in the seventies, peaked during the early eighties and seemed diminished in the latter part of that decade, but came back with a vengeance in more recent days. Based upon the book by Adam Rockoff, this film is a remarkable achievement in terms of gathering source materials and featuring major players in candid interview footage. In short, it's a must-see for both the casual fan and the seasoned afficionado alike.
Granted, there are lots of segments with directors, producers, actors or whoever pontificating about the cultural significance of the slasher film. In many instances, they come off hopelessly corny. None is more true than in the opening section, wherein such genre luminaries as John Carpenter and Wes Craven attribute the standard textbook "reptilian brain" theory to the appeal of people seeing films depicting gory murders. Thankfully, we also have input from people like Amy Holden Jones (director of Slumber Party Massacre) who offer more insightful commentary into the fascination with Grand Guignol and its present day appeal. And then there's the ever-sweet Betsy Palmer (Friday The 13th's "Mrs. Voorhees") who looks past the explicicity and into the aesthetic, even proclaiming without irony, "It's an art form." Even more entertaining is a brief take with composer Harry Manfredini, who lets us in on how he came up with the chilling "ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma" sound effect for the 13th movies.
The documentary runs a wealthy gamut over the phenomenum begun by John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and clutch-popped into overdrive with Sean Cunningham's Friday The 13th (1980), plus all the derivatives which came during and after. Happy Birthday To Me, The Burning, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler and Maniac remain some of the high points. And it's no accident that the special make-up effects are credited to one Tom Savini in several of the above named. Savini himself is allotted a generous portion of interview time. The film neglects to mention his accomplishments (creature effects, stuntwork and occasional acting) beyond designing murder pieces, though.
It would have been egregiously remiss of the makers not to include mention of the 80's-period controversy regarding the slasher phenomenon. Although often framed in predictably cheap "Carter era" or "Reagan era" oversimplifications, the cultural objection to the genre never reached a more unintentionally hilarious flashpoint than Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel using their syndicated review program (ca. 1981) to proclaim the slasher film a reactionary bulwark against the women's rights movement. I'm not joking. They actually said that. And in an unbroken segment from the original broadcast, Going To Pieces leaves the volley of pompous and laughable vitriol intact. But as a product of its time, I guess it held some salience back then. Today, I'm still trying to figure out what it was. But Siskel and Ebert's piss party notwithstanding, the debate finally managed to break out of syndication and into mainstream discourse with certain controversial 1984 Christmas release.
An otherwise forgettable picture, Silent Night, Deadly Night is the story of a disturbed young man named Billy who first witnessed his family murdered by a Santa impersonator, then endured hardship in a Catholic orphanage managed by an abusive nun. These factors shape him, as an adult, into a killer who wears a Santa Claus suit. The film boasted a heavily-rotated commercial campaign which energized a few American moms to start a campaign against it. And snowball the campaign did. Next thing you knew, local cineplexes with the temerity to exhibit the film were picketed. The distributor blinked, and the ads were discontinued, while the film itself was pulled from some theatres. And in the melee, the point of the movie was rather muddled. Angry parents, concerned that images of a marauding Santa would wreck the holiday for their young ones, had won out. Even the aged but articulate Lilyan Chauvin, who played the bitchy nun in the movie, appears briefly to make a rather bizarre statement; if the ads had de-emphasized the Santa Claus element in favor of showcasing her character peppering little Billy's ass with a belt, perhaps Silent Night, Deadly Night might have found a socially acceptable niche as a cautionary tale against child abuse. Ummm, okay.
By the time the Nightmare On Elm Street craze is mentioned as re-energizing the form in the mid-80's, the documentary is perilously close to the end. Despite the dream bogeyman's immediate stardom, the slasher went into a hibernation of sorts, reawakened by the occasional Michael Myers follow-up or something similar. Poor returns for both Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger in the early nineties seemed to signal death to the slasher. But just a few years later, Wes Craven's Scream--plus its two sequels--and a new generation of copycat chop-em-ups like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend elevated the slasher into blockbuster territory. It was unprecedented, and a further heightening of the phenomenom was the presence of the internet, which put fans in touch with not only other fans but also filmmakers within the unusually close genre that is horror.
That last paragraph was loaded, timeline-wise, wasn't it? It was planned that way, because that's how Going To Pieces: The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Film plays out. With a rather rushed pace, it seems to end with the minor slump of the late eighties, only to use its last several minutes to telegraph the form's far-more profitable resurgence in the nineties and beyond. Rob Zombie even pops up a few times to sagely comment on the state of horror. Going To Pieces clearly has its sights set on the seventies and eighties as the slasher's heyday. That's great and fine. And it's deserved, even. But there's a Part II to this, one that picks up where it left off, waiting to be made. I'm sure of it.
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Review by Petch Lucas, for Pitofhorror.com