It's Friday the 13th -- just the very day I like to dust off my hockey mask, hustle to the nearest lake, and start spearin' feckless teenagers with every sharp object my mitts can grab.
Hooray for carnage! Tonight on Starz, the made-for-TV doc Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film machetes its way through the genre.
After a basic history lesson (Grand Guignol, Psycho, Last House on the Left, etc.), Pieces turns its attentions to John Carpenter's landmark 1978 Halloween, a ridiculously huge hit that remains the slasher template (a nice touch: Carpenter's interviewed in a graveyard). Next, Sean S. Cunningham (interviewed in the woods) steps forth to discuss Friday the 13th, which borrowed from Italian master Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve (an oft-ignored fact that's acknowledged here, though the focus is squarely on American flicks) and upped the ante, gore-wise, by hiring Tom Savini to dream up creative slaughter tactics. In a segment spotlighting the great FX make-up artist, he confesses, "I do feel like an assassin sometimes." No doubt, but we love him for it.
Savini explodes his own damn head in Maniac.
Pieces swings a little bit into academia, laying out genre conventions a la Men, Women, and Chainsaws. It takes a few moments to discuss slasher style (POV shots for the killer, etc.); contextualize the films within Reagan's Cold War 1980s; argue that slasher films aren't misogynistic (no matter what the vintage Siskel and Ebert clips, stuffed with finger-wagging, might say); and admit that the glut of films -- including all those sequels -- eventually drove audiences away, at least until the Scream era ushered in a new generation of horror fans.
Scream director Wes Craven also helmed A Nightmare on Elm Street, Last House on the Left, and the original Hills Have Eyes. And Shocker. Gotta love Shocker.
Mostly, though, Pieces is concerned with trumpeting the films' financial successes, as well as illustrating the sheer amount of splattery celluloid that flooded the market in the early 1980s. For diehards, there are some nice moments mixed in with the more familiar material. Who knew that Felissa Rose, sweetheart-with-a-secret of Sleepaway Camp, was such a huge Dario Argento fan? Or that the idea for My Bloody Valentine 's deranged miner was settled upon simply because the filmmakers wanted a (somewhat) logical reason for keeping their killer behind a mask? I also quite enjoyed the segment on the controversy surrounding the ad campaign for Silent Night, Deadly Night, complete with news footage of concerned parents protesting a movie theater. Sample sign: "Santa does not slay!"
You better watch out!
A warning to all: Pieces, directed by Jeff McQueen, is hideously riddled with spoilers. Forget it if you haven't seen April Fool's Day, Friday the 13th, Happy Birthday to Me, or -- my god, how could they? -- Sleepaway Camp, which is praised as containing "one of the single greatest reveals in the history of cinema" moments before they show the freakin' thing. Fine if you want to talk about it, but to see that shot, you gotta earn it first, man.*
*Honestly, though, if you haven't seen Sleepaway Camp -- what are you doing reading this? Get your ass to the video store now. Then you can watch Pieces in peace.