A good friend recently presented me with a copy of THE SLASHER MOVIE BOOK. While I have seen some of the key, classic slashers, HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, for example, my favorite horror film monsters lean more toward the Dracula/Frankenstein/Wolfman end of the spectrum rather than the Freddy Krueger/Jason end. I have tended to avoid most of the gore-fest films which took the cinema by storm in the final quarter of the 20th century. But as a devoted horror film fan, I thought I should read the book and take the opportunity to educate myself on a part of the genre unfamiliar to me.
I enjoyed THE SLASHER MOVIE BOOK immensely!
J. A. Kerswell has compiled a first-rate overview of the slasher horror genre (or “subgenre” as he puts it), which I think will appeal to the slasher aficionado and the novice alike. On two hundred brightly colored pages, the history of bloody, gory movies is laid out. The roots of the slasher movie extend back to France’s Grand Guignol Theater, notorious for its horror plays featuring torture, violence, and bloody special effects. The theater thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As the terrors of World War II doomed the Grand Guignol, cinema picked up the bloody baton of horror and carried it forward into the second half of the 20th Century. The “Bloody Beginnings” chapter expertly connects the dots between French and British theater, early American horror films, the writings of Agatha Christie, and Hitchcock’s PSYCHO in describing influences on classic slashers. To me, this is the strongest chapter in the book.
The sections detailing German krimi (thriller) and Italian giallo (yellow) films are excellent, also. The author reviews some of the key films of the two subgenres and describes their influence on horror films that followed. Films such as BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and FELLOWSHIP OF THE FROG are highlighted. Kerswell’s discussion of the influence of British writer Edgar Wallace’s books on the German cinema is a revelation to me. The co-creator of KING KONG played quite a big role in the history of crime thriller/slasher films! A separate essay discusses the work of seminal giallo director Dario Argento, who is an inspiration to many in the slasher field. Director of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Argento’s work contains “beautifully staged set pieces, fetish[izes] graphic violence, and clever misdirection.” Another sidebar focuses on how the music of Ennio Morricone contributed to the gialli--great background information on the Italian films. The book’s international perspective is also carried through with sections on slasher movies--good and bad—from Sweden, Japan, Australia, and other countries. Many of the illustrations are Mexican lobby cards and posters. The British ban on “video nasties” is explained. Slasher films are universal!
A standard figure in the modern horror film is “The Final Girl,” the likeable young woman who, usually eschewing the partying and promiscuity of her friends, is smart and resourceful enough to survive and battle the villain to the end of the film. What Bela Lugosi was to Dracula portrayals, Jamie Lee Curtis is to “The Final Girl” role. Her Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN set the standard for all such characters that followed. As this character plays such an integral part in the slasher genre, the one-page sidebar could have been expanded to an entire chapter. Especially so, since some of the final girls (and one or two final boys) mentioned in later chapters are not pictured.
The Halloween-orange pages of the “Golden Age of the Slasher” chapter bring to life the classics of the genre from 1978 to 1984. Here can be found stories of the films which set the standard for gory film effects for decades to follow. HALLOWEEN, TOURIST TRAP, FRIDAY THE 13TH, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, THE BURNING and more all haunt these pages. I had forgotten just how many of these films have been made! Credit is given to the special effects wizards behind the bloody effects, as well as the actors, writers, and directors who brought the terrors to the screen. Kerswell’s obvious love of the genre comes through in his writing, but he maintains his objectivity and perspective. He is unafraid to warn the reader which films are not worth watching.
In discussing the post-golden age period of gore—“video hell”, the book falls into something of a disappointing pattern of movie title followed by brief description followed by box office receipts. A few pages felt like reading a list of releases without much analysis. However, redemption follows in the form of a discussion of slashers’ influence on mainstream movies, as well as a strong conclusion. The book is rounded out by short reviews of ten of the most influential slasher films, a list of prominent actors who got their start in the genre, some box office statistics, and a glossary. The index only lists movie titles, which limits the book’s usefulness as a reference work, but the work succeeds greatly as an introduction to the genre.
Despite the minor flaws mentioned above, I highly recommend THE SLASHER MOVIE BOOK to both the knowledgeable and the novice gore-fest fan. It is lavishly illustrated, well-written, informative, and entertaining. I thank the friend who gave me this book, exposing me to a whole new world of the horror movie!
The book is published by Chicago Review Press and the list price is $24.95. For more information, see Mr. Kerswell’s web site, Hysteria Lives .