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.

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