Friday, January 6, 2017

Genre Run-Through: Slashers, Part I

So, it’s now time to work through the genre here and find some of the different styles, and we’ll start with one of the oldest and most important efforts here in the slasher film. It’s one of the more popular efforts having tons of features produced every year and many of Horror’s most beloved titles find themselves aligned with the subgenre in some manner.

But, the genre itself it rife with controversy with many battles being waged by fans. What constitutes a slasher? What was the best slasher film? Who directed the most? What was the first slasher?

While there’s certainly time to answer all these and much more within the pages of the blog, two of those are certainly capable of being answered right now. Let’s take a look at what constitutes a slasher and what was the first one.

What is a slasher?

There are many different interpretations of what constitutes a slasher film, as there’s seemingly enough different answers as there are films in the genre. Either clearing things up somewhat, or perhaps murking up the waters even further, here’s my own personal three-part definition on the subject:

A slasher film consists of a human/humanoid being(s) who embark(s) on a killing spree killing more than two people over the course of the film using any weapon other than a projectile or explosive device.

Now, I really hope that definition helps out somewhat, and there’s some logic behind the reasoning. So, let’s take each of the different elements and explore them.

A human/humanoid being(s)

This statement here allows for several different possibilities. Obviously, the human part of this is a no-brainer, as imparting any other figure into that role turns it into another genre altogether, but I feel it’s the other part that offers up some confusion in the matter. Ignoring for a moment the idea that ordinary human killers are sometimes made into supernaturally powerful beings, this is more about straight-up supernatural figures that partake in full-on humanistic tendencies. In terms of comparison sake, think of villains like Freddy Krueger, the Djinn from the Wishmaster films or the titular Candyman saga, who are decidedly human in appearance but yet are clearly capable of far more supernatural feats and abilities that are beyond the realms of the common person. Still, though, it’s almost impossible to argue that these films are anything but slasher films so they are included in this study.

Embarking on a killing spree killing more than two people over the course of the film

For here, it’s pretty much a component that’s really required for something to be called a slasher film. It’s a genre of film predicated on simply killing people, so that requires a body count to occur throughout here, and frankly, two deaths that are directly tied to the killer’s actions against others is the bare minimum that I will call a slasher. Anything lower doesn’t really seem like it would be a slasher film at all, it’s probably something else entirely than a slasher film. After all, if you can’t kill anybody you’re not a slasher film villain, and that needs to be taken into account.

Using any weapon other than a projectile or explosive device

The last part of the definition here is another important aspect to detail, as the villain at the heart of this one needs to be able to get up close and personal with his intended victims. Picking people off with the use of weaponry like guns or rifles that mean he can stay at a safe distance with the chance for taking multiple opportunities to get his attempted kill doesn’t strike as a slasher, as that becomes a gunman instead. Now, it’s entirely possible for the killer to use a gun for a kill or two, but it can’t be the main weapon used and it’s not even close to a contest if the villain uses explosives or bombs which are incredibly rare but does come up enough. Inevitably, that means the weaponry utilized must be those that work at close-range, from knives (and other similar tools like swords, machetes, etc), blunt objects, axes or chainsaws, as well as poles, pieces of metal or even their bare hands if that works if he has nothing else around to impale/stab/slice at the victim. It all comes down to the items used in order to be a slasher, which is what we’re going for here.

So, there you have it, my own personal definition of a slasher film. There may be other elements that you use for your own personal classification, but I really just bore this one down into it’s most basic and straightforward points necessary to be called such a film. Indeed, other elements may find themselves involved quite frequently in the genre but none of them really mean much of anything to me, it’s all about the ones I’ve set out in this post.

The other thing to take into account with this is the fact that there’s always room to move within the confines of the genre. It’s entirely possible that there are elements of a slasher film that show up in more than just that genre, as there are several rather famous films that are based on the exploits of the genre in order to make themselves work. The most famous example is undoubtedly Predator, with the entire second-half being a series of extended stalking scenes with a humanoid killer picks off people one-by-one with weapons other than a projectile or explosive device and is incredibly effective at this set-up, oftentimes topping the truer slashers being made at the time. Moreover, Pumpkinhead is very similar about a monster running amok killing people one-by-one which is quite effectively a slasher-esque setup while each of the sequels takes that even further into containing slasher-film elements. It’s a rather fine connection to make, but working these familiar and incredibly effective suspense set-ups into other films in order to help enhance their atmosphere quite nicely by taking those slasher elements along for greater impact without really falling in line with the genre as a whole.

So, one more element should be brought up here that should be brought up in the midst of this post. Having the main description be so simple is undoubtedly bound to ruffle the feathers of some out there due to forgoing select tropes of certain films that are expected to be a part of the genre. By making it seem to be excluding the routine nature of the anniversary-set background, the wearing of a mask or the failure to identify the killer until the end as they’re chasing the last person alive in a one-on-one battle, all of which would be expected features to be found in a slasher film, in my initial write-up I do expect that some might be put off by that glaring omission. However, the simple response to that is simply the notion that slashers don’t need them to be included as slashers. Granted, many may use them but it’s not a requirement to be called a slasher as plenty of slashers used settings away from the anniversary setting (for example, Don’t Go in the Woods...Alone, Unhinged and Visiting Hours), featured no masked madman running loose (such as Humongous, April Fools Day and Home, Sweet, Home) and there’s even the odd slasher that disbanded the lone-female-vs-the-killer finale (which I should mention here but won’t spoil them for fear of letting you see the films for yourself: if you know it’s going to be someone else against the killer, I’ve ruined much of the suspense from the film itself) yet it’s very hard to imagine anyone thinking these aren’t slasher films.

Lastly, it pays to mention one more aspect here for the genre. There’s the idea that a slasher film is simply just one person running around killing people, but it’s completely unneeded. It’s entirely possible for a film to have more than one killer, even up to a whole town of people as the killer. So long as it follows the criteria set-up here there’s little that can be said about it not being a slasher film at all. We can definitely make allowances for films that feature plenty of true elements of traditional slashers that still have human killers even if there’s a couple or more involved.

So, that’s enough for now before this gets too big, and it’s a good explanation to put out so we’ll leave it here. Next time we’ll look at one of the other questions listed above for the next post.