Ed. note- This is the first documentary included in the Opening the Vaults series. I wish it had lived up to its potential.- P.F.
While watching the documentary GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM, I had to resist comparing it with THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE. That documentary was an ambitious piece which linked several seminal horror movies to the social concerns of their day. GOING TO PIECES has a much narrower focus, as it discusses exactly what its title states. AMERICAN NIGHTMARE is the better doc, but GOING TO PIECES does a solid job providing exactly what one should expect of it. It should easily gain the love of the legions of slasher fans, but won’t gain any converts.
Based on a book by Adam Rockoff, the documentary takes a look at the beginnings of the slasher flick, and follows its history right up through the more recent torture porn films that were in vogue when the doc was made. Rockoff pulls together an impressive list of people to interview; John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Greg Nicotero are just a few of the topline names that discuss the subgenre. But Rockoff plunges deeper, and gets plenty of lesser known producers and directors, of such films as GRADUATION DAY and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, to talk. This lends the doc a certain authenticity and breadth. Following a chronology that begins in 1960 with PSYCHO and the woefully underappreciated PEEPING TOM, the film quickly shifts to a discussion of HALLOWEEN as the film that established most of the slasher conventions. It then moves on to FRIDAY THE 13th, and how that film upped the gore content, thus changing slasher flicks forever. It progresses through the glut of movie maniacs that followed in FRIDAY’s wake.
It’s interesting to see just how the makers of the subgenre view these films, but the biggest flaw is that they’re not saying anything you wouldn’t expect. They defend the violence, the role of women as both victims and survivors, the maniacs themselves. But of course they do. It would have been more interesting to bring outsiders to the conversation, as AMERICAN NIGHTMARE did. Instead, any view from the outside focuses on the virulent backlash to the movies. In one infamous clip, the late, often closed minded Gene Siskel attacks the entire cycle, going so far as to intimate that its films are depraved and dangerous. There’s also a segment that touches on the campaign of mothers that successfully ousted SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT from theatres. It’s a sad display of just how mindless and vicious people can be, and ironic that they may be more numb than the maniacs presented in these movies.
But wouldn’t it have been interesting if the doc had interviewed my friend and DE contributor Nicole Fiss, about how she encourages her son to share in her love of horror flicks? Or sat down with Roger Ebert and asked him about why his reviewing partner and sometimes Ebert himself were so down on the genre? These types of interviews would have had provided a greater depth for GOING TO PIECES, instead of allowing it to be an “Us vs. Them” debate. The approach they took is a little lazy, and I would have been far more appreciative of the doc if its makers hadn’t gone on the safer route they chose.
One thing the doc does right is its use of location. How great is it to have Harry Manfredini discussing his famous “ki ki ma ma” theme on a boat in the middle of a lake? Sean Cunningham does his interview in front of a rustic cabin, and Carpenter strolls through a graveyard, ultimately ending up in front of a boulder that bears his surname. These locations connect the doc to the films, and they’re a wonderful touch.
I usually don’t mention special features when I review anymore, but this one has a grand amount of them; their inclusion on the DVD enhances the doc. There are six bonus interviews, including one with the late Bob Clark, who some argue beat Carpenter to creating the slasher flick with BLACK CHRISTMAS. I gather these were cut for length, as they’d fit perfectly in with the rest. There’s also a slasher trivia game, with both a novice and advanced level. Even with a profound knowledge of the horror genre, both levels were tougher than I’d expected. Then, there’s the commentary. I’m a big fan of these in general. The good ones offer all sorts of background to a film. This one, however, isn’t so productive. It probably would’ve been interesting had Rockoff done the discussion, but instead I get a conversation between the film’s two producers and its editor. It’s a lost opportunity, and one you can skip and not miss much.
Ultimately, GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM preaches to the converted. It’s not going to convince anyone who dislikes slasher films that these flicks have any merit; and it’s telling fans of the subgenre what I’m sure they already know. It’s not bad for the purpose it serves, but it could have been so much more. Any documentary should have an argument that challenges its audience. If only the makers of this doc had been so ambitious.