The 2018 Slasher Franchise Project – In The Beginning

I’ve officially kicked off this year’s attempt at tackling The Great Slasher Franchise Project. Feel free to read the whole post, but if you don’t here’s the gist. For the second year in a row, I’m watching a whole mess of slasher franchises in the order they were released. Since I watched most of the biggies last year, this one is filled with a wide range of films ranging in release from 1974 all the way up to last year. To see the full list, check out the Google Docs spreadsheet I made and click on the 2018 tab at the bottom.

I got the ball rolling and started with what will mostly likely remain the best film of the bunch, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974. To my surprise, I’ve never written about this film specifically here on UM. That stems from the fact that I don’t actually watch it that often and also don’t know what I might add to the conversation when it comes to one of the most loved and effective horror films of all time.

Here are some quick thoughts about the film. Marilyn Burns put it all out on the field with this gut-wrenching performance. Franklin might be the most unlikable character in film history. I wonder if the film would hit for a younger audience with some of its more arch characters. I remembered the suffocating chainsaw sounds in the last third of the film, but was impressed with that additions when she met the old man. It’s interesting that there are no living females in this family. Jim Siedow’s turn as Old Man from kindly helper to bat-shit bonkers is chilling. With all due respect to Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface, Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker might be the scariest/craziest character in the film. Why doesn’t the truck driver haul ass out of there?

As it happens, I then jumped six years until 1980 where I encountered Paul Lynch’s Prom Night starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen a few years before he fully dove into the wonderful world of slapstick. This is another film that I’ve never written about her on the site before, but only because I saw it for the first time a few years before starting UM. I actually remember renting a really bad VHS copy with my buddy Rickey when we were roommates, but not much else about the film.

It turns out that, even when I’ve got a clean-looking version to watch on Amazon Video, it’s still a bit of a hard film to follow. This one’s about a group of kids playing a super creepy game where one of them’s a killer that tragically ends when a young girl falls out the window of an abandoned building. We then jump ahead to these kids in high school getting ready for the prom and falling prey to a masked killer. There are a few shots that clearly state which teen was which kid, but I was muddled on how JLC’s character fit in.

Having just watched TCM, I thought it was interesting that the kids’ “kill” chant takes on a similar feel as Leatherface’s chainsaw, wherein both felt anxious and suffocating. There’s also a motif of going out of windows that both films share, though with different results. Of course, the two films that Prom Night gets compared to the most are Carrie and Halloween. I feel like the former comparisons simply stem from the longstanding difficulties of being in high school, while the latter is actually used to throw people off the scent of what’s really going on as there’s an escaped killer on the loose who might be the one responsible for the current swath of killings even if that wouldn’t make much sense given the prank phone calls and year book pictures being cut out and taped up in lockers. 

While not my favorite slasher, I do consider this one to be a solid entry in the genre. The escaped killer stuff felt tacked-on, but then again, one of the few memories I had of the film actually revolved around the killer’s identity. I also think it did a nice job of understanding the tropes of the still relatively young genre and playing with them, while also delivering on what fans wanted. 

My travels then took me to 1982 where I became reacquainted with Amy Holden Jones’ Slumber Party Massacre. I actually wrote about this one a whopping 8 years ago when the DVD box set came out and had a lot of the same thoughts then as I did this time around (I guess I’m getting consistent in my old age).

The plot here’s pretty basic. A madman by the name of Russ Thorn just broke out and has decided to go on a rampage that coincides with a group of high school girls sleeping over at a friends’ house together. Calamity ensues.

A lot of the “problems” with this film — too many fake-outs in the the first third, the gonzo killer, the nods to other movies and the seemingly endless failed attempts to take out the killer — stem from the fact that it was actually written as a parody, but shot like a straight-ahead horror film. I had to remind myself of that when I would get a little bored here and there.

Actually, the more I think about it, the fact that Thorn — a guy who dresses not unlike Michael Myers and uses a power tool like Leatherface, but doesn’t bother with a mask — is just going nuts on whoever he can find is pretty enjoyable. When you think about it, he could have been caught at any moment. Unlike Myers, he’s not calculating. He’s not wearing a mask on Halloween, he’s just running around a school knocking off whoever he can get his hands on. He also shares Myers’ flair for the dramatic at times and you even get to watch him set up for a surprise kill which is something I can’t remember seeing in another slasher flick. Upon further reflection, his chaotic nature makes him even scarier, but I had to think on it a bit.

That brings us to the our November 1983 release, and one of my all-time favorite bug-nutty movies: Sleepaway Camp. Yes, I’ve waxed rhapsodic on this one already, but did have a few more thoughts on this Robert Hiltzik-helmed project.

If you’re not familiar, Sleepaway Camp revolves around a young girl named Angela who lived through the death of her father and sibling during a childhood boating accident. She moved in with her aunt and cousin and now, years later, the awkward young woman accompanies her cuz to a summer camp chockablock full of absolute scumbags who start getting killed in horrible, but still deserving ways.

What really struck me this time around is just how terrible the women in this film are treated, for the most part, both by lecherous or greedy men as well as other females. I’m sure I noticed those bits and pieces before, but this time they turned into a tapestry exemplifying all of the crap women have to deal with in the world and it bummed me out. I’d imagine this one’s trigger warning central and should probably be avoided. Still, I find it so odd and boasting a surprisingly deep context thanks to a few scenes here and there, that I like coming back to every few years or so.

Finally I moved to November of 1984 Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I wrote about here. Fun fact: I wound up taking possession of the Wizard library copy of the first two films in this series. Well, maybe that’s only fun for me.

Anyway, this time around, I found this one difficult to watch. Billy goes through so much terrible shit that you want to be on his side, but once he snaps, there’s very little defending him as he starts killing indiscriminately. At that point, I realized that, instead of trying to present a sympathetic character, this film and director Charles E Sellier, Jr. seem more interested in presenting a holiday-themed blueprint for creating a madman. That’s not generally the kind of film I’m interested in watching, but I will probably keep coming back to this film for the toy store scenes along. Where else can you see Mickey Mouse, the Smurfs, Star Wars characters and two wildly out of place and super creepy inflatable purple Easter bunnies all in one film?

With the first five films of the project in the bag, I’m not sure I’ve found any mind-blowing coincidences or connections. All of these films are about mentally unbalanced people preying on young people or said young people developing their own murderous tendencies. They all seem to lack parental oversight, forcing the young people to fend for themselves. All five also kicked off franchises that had healthy enough lives throughout the decade to keep them going and even lead to remakes in three out of five cases. We’re still fairly early on in the genre and will jump ahead to the latter half of the decade with the next batch which kicks off with our first sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Now I just need to get my hands on a copy! And it’ll only get more wild from there.

The Great Chronological Slasher Franchise Project

Incredible art by Chris Labrenz

Last year I found myself in a strange place heading into the Halloween season, which for me usually starts sometime in September. In years past, I’d written posts about various movies and franchises for the dearly departed Topless Robot/Robot’s Voice site. I loved poring over these films, taking notes and then figuring out the best way to present them to an audience.

Oh do go on

What To Do About My Basketball Fandom

It’s June 29, 2018 and I find myself at a crossroads in my basketball fandom. I fully admit to being a bandwagon fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ve come to sports in a variety of non-traditional ways over the years, but there has always been some kind of emotional reason for the teams I’ve chose to follow and root for. I get that this isn’t usually the kind of thing you read here, so feel free to move along. If not, though, hit that jump!

Continue reading What To Do About My Basketball Fandom

The Best Of Last Week: Gethard, Dragonball, Cap & More!

The Chris Gethard Show

While mainlining Search Party a month or so back, I saw a LOT of ads for The Chris Gethard Show on Tru TV. I knew a bit of the history behind Gethard’s NYC public access show and this latest attempt to bring it to the masses, but hadn’t seen it. First I checked out the Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas episode which was hilarious and now I’m going back and watching everything I can on Hulu. His self-deprecating humor, audience inclusion and clear history with many of his guests mixes together to make a perfect cocktail for my tastes. The show also has its own mythology and characters, which I’m excited to dig into a little bit.

The Go! Team

While watching a recent episode of The Chris Gethard Show I saw just a few moments of The Go! Team performing. I dug the grooves and put them on my mental “to check out” list. A few weeks back, my wife and I took a trip to Baltimore where I found the biggest record story I’ve ever seen, Sound Garden and got a copy of The Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike. Since then I’ve also listened to Rolling Backouts and The Scene Between on Amazon Music and have become a big fan of this band. They’ve got this great sound that reminds me of The Budos Band or El Michels Affair, but with less of a retro tinge. These records are my new go-tos for writing or working.

It

Last week I finally got around to finishing something related to Stephen King’s It! I’ve never watched the 90s adaptation and only got about a hundred pages into the novel about 10 years ago. So, without comparing the Andy Muschietti film from last year to anything else, I really enjoyed the movie! The kids felt real and familiar, Pennywise was terrifying and there were some incredible horror set pieces like the bathroom and garage scenes, not to mention the whole ending. I was fully on board and am down to see what happens to the older versions in the second film. Oh, also, while I would have loved the kids-against-craziness vibe as a child myself, I did find it tough to watch some of the bad things happen to children as an old person with kids myself.

Dragonball

A few weeks back, I started going through all of Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball volumes. My library has these great 3-in-1 volumes that I’ve been able to plow through. I’m most of the way the way through the third one and have absolutely fallen in love with the character of Goku. He’s just so pure and innocent, but also always ready to defend his friends and do the right thing. Having only seen episodes of DBZ before, I’ve been surprised by the more humorous tone, but very much enjoy it. There are definitely problematic elements like the super-pervy Turtle Master and just about every female character being one-note, but for me the good outweighs the bad (at least so far).

Captain America

I’ve been working on a secret freelance project for a bit now that’s lead to a near total re-watch of the Marvel films. I’ve realized that I like most of them even more than I remembered, but have to say that Chris Evans’ Captain America really shines through. They made some interesting changes to the character’s origin like making him a PR spectacle before a soldier and making the Red Skull the impetus for the Super Soldier program, but overall they really capture the goodness of the character in the script which Evans brings to life on the screen. The first film is so fun and great and I’m glad they made it a period piece. Then you’ve got Winter Soldier and Civil War which both go down pretty dark paths, but I appreciate why and how they got there. Plus those are just darn compelling films that take great advantage of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. A few more quick thoughts: he’s excellent in the fight scenes, his relationship with Peggy Carter a tragic one! I love his friendship with Bucky.

The Great Hannibal Lecter Deep Dive

Do you ever get really excited about a deep dive, go full-boat into it and then wash out? Well, that’s kind of what happened last year when I found myself minorly obsessed with Hannibal Lecter and his exploits throughout television, film and, of course, the written word. I started watching the series, which made me read the books, while still watching the show (a very unique and interesting experience) and then the movies, but I petered out after seeing my third take on the Red Dragon story. But, I still wanted to get these thoughts out there, so here’s most of the original post I started sometime last spring.

For years, I’d been hearing great things about NBC’s three season-long series Hannibal based on Thomas Harris’ character made most famous in The Silence Of The Lambs. It ran from 2013-2015 with Mads Mikkleson starring as the title character and Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, a pure empath who FBI Behavioral Sciences head Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) brought back in from his teaching gig in an effort to help catch a serial killer. I decided to dive right into the series thanks to its presence on Amazon Prime Video and now have a new favorite show! Continue reading The Great Hannibal Lecter Deep Dive

Halloween Scene: Tremors (1990)

This past Halloween season I took advantage of a few different sales and ended the year with a stack of brand new movies to go through. One I couldn’t help but buy was a DVD four pack of Slither, Sssssss, Tremors and Tremors 2. It was under $10 and I already knew I liked the first and third flicks, so I rolled the dice. In an effort to go through said stack, I popped this disc in and gave Tremors another view.

Continue reading Halloween Scene: Tremors (1990)

Trade Post: Nightwing, Kill Or Be Killed & Mother Panic

Even though this week’s Trade Pile isn’t quite as robust as others, I still wanted to get a few thoughts down on three books that I read this week that I thought were pretty darn spiffy. One set an established character out on his own in a way that really worked for me while the other two featured brand new characters, one set in an equally new world an one rooted in a far more familiar one!

Continue reading Trade Post: Nightwing, Kill Or Be Killed & Mother Panic