Thursday, June 12, 2008

Review: Going To Pieces-The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986

At a price point of $40 McFarland is keeping up appearances as a publisher of fine quality hardbound books, but can you judge a book by its cover? Well, in this case, I say 'yes'.

Mcfarland has been releasing genre fare for a few years now to split reviews, mostly due to price versus content, or lack thereof. The quality of the tangible book is never in question when regarding McFarland, their books will last generations! Sturdy is the word. And in the case of "Going To Pieces", the content is as sturdy as the spine.

As the title suggests, GTP is a study of the "slasher" film from 1978-1986, which, if you ask most fans, comprises the first two cycles and is considered the genres golden age. At only 214 pages to cover eight years, that's about 26 pages per year, if you take into account the index and such. Plenty of room to roam! Smartly enough, Adam Rockoff begins his study with a thesis that poses a question: "What is a slasher film?". Ah, you know you are in for more than just reviews and simple synopsis. This is a scholarly work. And that is why GTP is a success. Rockoff approaches the genre in an honest light all the while maintaining what very few authors of books on this subject do; respect for the genre. Asking this question of himself not only prepares you the reader for an understanding of the text from the authors point of view but, more importantly, involves you in the intellectual process of appreciation without 'taking sides'. This was a brilliant bit by Rockoff because the reader is forced to reinvest into what they thought they already held, which is a personal understanding, a philosophy really, of the genre. To put it another way, we are forced to question ourselves along with Rockoff.

Having set the table with an outline and understanding of the conventions of the slasher, Rockoff begins to explore the shadowy recesses of the stalk-n-kill film, the ancestors of the genre. Grand Guignol of the Victorian age through to Psycho and Peeping Tom, on past The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas, ending on a often overlooked contributor, the beloved and internationally influential Giallo! To people new to the slasher this foundation which Rockoff sets his work will prove not only exciting but invaluable for your own private viewing research.

The book really starts to spin its wheels in the third chapter: Halloween, The Night He Came Home. Halloween might not be the grandaddy of the slasher, that honor would go to Psycho, but it is probably more responsible for the birth of the slash-film into its own genre than any other film. The book continues on through the '80s spotlighting trends and phenomena of the genre such as the "last girl", special effects, the sequel as an institution, the subjective point of view, and the "holiday" platform.

GTP ends with a chapter on the resurgence of the slasher, notably the international box office juggernaut Scream, its sequels, and the hip-talking-teen slasher. This gives the reader pause. What I took away from GTP is that the slasher is a cyclical genre that most prominently appears in times of political strife. Just like Michael Myers it never dies, only suffers minor setbacks to which it hibernates, grows strong, and reappears with a vengeance.

This a must have book for any fan of "The Slasher". The price is worth the read (Amazon has it at $30) as I find myself going back every once and again for a little factual research. Here's hoping Adam Rockoff writes on the subject again.

*Of note is a documentary inspired by this book of the same name.
Buy Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film
Buy Going to Pieces DVD

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