Slasher films have ridden a looping, twisting roller coaster of notoriety over the last 30 years. They’ve gone from being the toast of the town with their highly profitable grosses and hypnotic power over audiences to volcanically loathed for their unoriginality and social irresponsibility. “Going to Pieces” expands on Adam Rockoff’s 2002 book to visually explore the history of the genre, including new interviews with some of horror’s greatest artists and forgotten footage of the genre in its throat-slitting prime.
“Pieces” starts off rather erratically, establishing the infamous pictures that played a hand in getting hardcore gore and unforgettable violence up on the screen (“Psycho,” “Peeping Tom,” “Last House on the Left”), but immediately sprints past the details to get to the granddaddy of them all: “Halloween.” Using John Carpenter’s classic as a starter pistol for all bloodshed to follow, “Pieces” hits a splendid stride by being informative about the films discussed and also providing the fun of memory and hilarity with clips of some of the lesser genre offerings.
What delighted me about “Pieces” were the conversations held about movies such as “Prom Night,” “Happy Birthday to Me,” and “My Bloody Valentine.” These are not films discussed often or given proper DVD supplementary attention, and while only minutes are spared to converse about these features, it’s fantastic to see the creators finally get a chance to defend their pictures, along with placing their films in the proper context of the era. Most of the documentary is devoted to lasting powerhouses such as “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” yet “Pieces” finds insight in making time to spotlight the smaller films that fleshed out both the greed and filmmaking ingenuity of the 1980s.
“Pieces” doesn’t have much running time to do anything more than dip a toe into the extensive history of the genre; it’s disappointing to see the doc rush through ideas on gore and marketing just so the filmmakers have enough time to make room for the already well documented “Scream” boom in the mid 1990s. Tangents following the debacle surrounding the “Silent Night, Deadly Night” release, or Siskel and Ebert’s war against misogyny in slasher entertainment, appear to have enough meat on their bones to pad out an entire film. These sections are breezed through to provide a wider net of the genre, sometimes blocking the natural movement of the documentary storytelling.
The interviews in “Pieces” trot out the usual suspects (John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tom Savini, Sean Cunningham, Greg Nicotero, Rob Zombie), and to give these talking heads a little more personality, director Jeff McQueen keeps his camera moving while requesting some to stroll through a “spooky” location as they explain their history with slasher films. It’s a potentially cheesy idea, but successful in its attempt to keep the film from getting slogged down in details. Still, it’s hard not to giggle when McQueen captures John Carpenter strolling around a graveyard to give his interview.
The last act of the documentary is devoted to “Scream” and its copycats, leading up to 2006, where “Saw” and “Hostel” are presented as examples of how the genre has slingshot back into another golden age, much to my dismay. I can’t argue the massive box office receipts, but I could spend another 1000 words on the lack of quality of some of the more popular titles.
The summation of the doc is interesting: successful cinematic innovation breeds insatiable greed. “Pieces” touches upon the cyclical nature of horror films and the thirst to capitalize on a trend. So, if you’re like me, and are considerably discouraged for what passes for thrills these days, don’t fear. Hollywood producers have already begun beating the same scary ideas into the ground. See you in 2011.
Since horror films are traditionally overlooked from a historical perspective, “Going to Pieces” is a terrific encapsulation of the era and the product. It’s a lean encyclopedia, but for fans, it touches upon some titles and celebrities that have been long forgotten.
“Going to Pieces” airs Friday, October 13th, on the Starz cable network.Rating: B+