Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Preview: Birth of The Slasher

Oh, the slasher flick. In this particular brand of film, where a serial killer slays a sequence of victims, the audience themselves are also brought along for the ride. The cameras act as our own eyes and ears, and in effect we get to witness the crimes in a form of deadly voyeurism. Kinda twisted, huh? Yeah, and I love it. You can keep your typical splatterhouse horror movies, because slasher films are the ones dearest to my heart.

You see, the slasher film is is the very subgenre of horror that introduced me to the cinema of terror. At a very young age (four or five, I think) I watched John Carpenter's Halloween late one night on TV. Yes, I was mesmerized. But I'll also freely admit that the experience was intensely traumatic, and to this day I can feel my pulse quicken ever so slightly at the sight of that white Michael Myers mask. As my childhood progressed in the 80s, a cornucopia of pop culture horror slashers paraded on screens: Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, and even Chucky invaded multiplexes and terrorized audiences. By the early to mid 1990s, slashers were played out through overuse and self-parody. But after the Scream movies reawakened the slasher genre in 1996, it was like greeting an old friend.

Sure it scared the bejeebus out of me as a kid, but now I get to appreciate them as exercises in film-making excellence (granted, in some... not all). If one has an eye trained to ignore all the blood, they can learn the importance of editing and particularly sound. Such high caliber is usually found in the best horror films, because they are the most effective tools by the director to play the audience like a harp.

As a treat this week, The Paramount is presenting the fathers of this genre we now all know so well. It is time to explore the roots of the slasher film, as directed by two British masters of cinema: Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes) in 1960.

Over fifty years after its original release, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is one of those films that not only was a landmark movie but a pop culture phenomenon. The movie has always been one of my favorites, and I could revisit it endless times. There's a evil giddiness that rises in me every time I see it, and every twist, turn and stabbing never get old. Don't be scared, I'm not a bloodthirsty viewer; I simply marvel at Hitchcock's craftsmanship. I doubt anything could ever recapture the amazement from the first time I saw Psycho, but then again nothing can probably ever ruin my enjoyment of the film. Well, almost nothing.

Regardless if one has seen the film or not, it's hard to imagine anyone not knowing the major twists to the story. Out of respect for those who know nothing about of the shocks and thrills in Psycho, I will refrain from spoilers. Perhaps it's best if I let the director himself sell you. Mr. Hitchcock himself, ever the showman, guides you through this unorthodox trailer for the film. It's a strange tone for this clip, which somehow is a hybrid of hotel tour and CSI investigation.

To this day, one of the more remarkable elements of Psycho is the manipulation of the audience and the shifting allegiances as the situations change. One minute, we're shocked by a character's act, and the next we're quietly rooting for them to get away with it. Alarming in its actions and flawless in its execution, Alfred always keeps us on our toes.

The influence of the movie goes way beyond people's showering habits. Hitchcocks slight-of-hand techniques are now practically standard on all thrillers, and every slasher film since aims to shock and awe like the original Psycho.

Peeping Tom, also released in 1960, also helped kick open the door for modern horror slasher films. Directed by the legendary British director Michael Powell (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes), also deals with a serial killer but raises the perverse factor up a few notches. It's the story of a murderer who slays his victims and films their deaths in an attempt to make a magnum opus of snuff. There's enough complex psychological themes and sexuality in it to make Freud's head spin, and it takes the voyeuristic tendencies of the slasher film to perverse heights.

Like Psycho, this film was considered shocking in its presentation. Unlike Psycho, however, Peeping Tom pushed buttons and challenged boundaries that audiences weren't quite ready for. Reviled by many when first released, it developed a cut following over the years and has since been reappraised as a masterpiece of horror. Considering the disturbing imagery we see in cinemas today (and even more so in the news), it's safe to say that Peeping Tom was way ahead of its time.

The influence of Peeping Tom and Psycho runs deep over the past few decades. It's hard to imagine the horror franchises of the 80s, dramas like Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, or even subpar movies like 8mm without these initial pioneers. Most recently, Scream 4 (released just a few months ago) borrows heavily from the premise of Peeping Tom and even references it directly in that way that only the Scream movies can.

Historians and sociologists can always turn to the 1960s as an era of cultural transformation, but not all change are like those seen in episodes of "Mad Men." Even the arts were breaking through barriers and exploring new frontiers. As these two films show, film was evolving on both sides of the Atlantic, and even horror movies can surprise us and cut through conventions... like a knife through flesh.

It's just a figure of speech, I swear.

Showtimes for the films:

Saturday, Aug 6th
4:00 8:45
Sunday, Aug 7th

Peeping Tom
Saturday, Aug 6th
Sunday, Aug 7th
2:00 6:25

Final Notes about the screening

Bloody Mary & Peeping Tom Collins Drink Specials All Day!
Psycho Shower Photo Booth before 8:45 pm screening by Annie Ray

Double Features:
"When two movies are grouped together under the same thematic heading, one ticket is good for both features when viewed back-to-back on the same day." (cha-ching!)

"Hassle-free downtown parking available for $6 at the One American Center for all summer films! Since you’re also supporting the theatre when you buy parking, they're giving you a free small soda each time you park there for a film. Buy online with your film tix and print out your confirmation e-mail or buy directly from the garage attendant (cash only). Attendant will have your soda ticket as well."

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