Sunday, March 3, 2013

Guest Post: The 10 Best Slashers in a Post-Scream World

Tyler Grimes is the author of the horror plays Meat (read at Fresh Blood September 2012) and 5D. This is his first Guest Post for La Petite Blog - hopefully, his first of many. -KP

On December 20, 1996 (when I was a lad of 6 summers) murder occurred in the horror cinema. With the release of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s fast-talking, blood-spilling, eye-winking, Jamie-Kennedy-featuring Scream came the unofficial death of the “slasher film.” 

Craven, fresh off story credits in a long stint of increasingly absurd and inaccessible Nightmare on Elm Street sequels found Williamson’s script, which meticulously deconstructed the very genre Craven had made a name for himself in, and it was a match made in the underworld.  It followed high school student and local celebrity Sidney Prescott, as a costumed killer dubbed “Ghostface” begins to butcher his way through the Woodsboro High School yearbook, eventually setting his sights on Sidney. After famously killing off the film’s biggest star in the opening scene, Craven and Williamson let audiences know they were in for something they had never experienced before.

Only we weren’t. The true success of Scream is that we see nothing we haven’t seen before while seeing everything we’ve never seen before. The film works a lot like a puppet show. You can focus on the marionettes or you can follow the strings and focus on the person manipulating the puppets.  Borrowing from a formula first played around with in 1991’s There’s Nothing Out There, Williamson’s script poked fun at the tropes that had dominated the slasher genre since it first came into being with Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. We have an innocent leading lady (Neve Campbell), an aloof boyfriend (Skeet Ulrich), a cutthroat reporter (the incredible Courtney Cox), bumbling detective (played brilliantly by David Arquette), an iconic killer, a great whodunit mystery, and other stereotypes that dominated the genre since it became mass-produced in the 70’s. 

What separates Scream from the rest of the bunch is the character Randy (Jamie Kennedy), a know-it-all movie geek that epitomized 90’s culture. Randy is a big reason this movie works, because as the movie progresses he’s pointing out what would happen "if this were a horror film". This is also borrowed from There’s Nothing Out There, only done much better here. (Plus, Matthew Lillard in the last 20 minutes of the movie is sensational. Find me a more reckless performance that lands that well this side of a Nic Cage movie and I’ll give you $5!) Randy, and the film’s ability to be self aware, occasionally brings Scream into laugh territory, and to call the movie a horror comedy is not entirely too far off. Scream is steeped in Williamson’s genuine love for slasher films but like the Wizard of Oz, when the curtain is up and the man revealed, it’s hard to ever go back to the way things were. Such was the case with the slasher genre following Scream.

Randy explains the until-then-unwritten rules of horror cinema.
How do you make a scary movie when audiences now know all the secrets (Scream pulled in $173 million at the box office)? It was difficult and no slasher film will ever truly stand on its own in the post-Scream era, but this blog post will attempt to highlight 10 of my favorite slasher films to come out of the Hollywood machine since 1996.

 This is a list “slasher” films, so while movies like The Descent, Let the Right One In, The Strangers, and Cabin in the Woods are incredible 21st century horror films, they will not be included in this list, as I don’t classify them as “slashers.” For more thoughts on the specifics of what the “slasher” film is, allow me to be the worst student in the world and send you to Wikipedia which actually has some wonderfully comprehensive thoughts on the subgenre.

Here they are in no particular order:

Let’s start right away with Kevin Williamson’s follow-up to Scream, a loose adaptation of Lois Duncan’s novel. There’s no discussion of the rules of horror movies, or winking at the camera here, just teens getting killed for trying to cover up their past sins. Williamson gives us some fun dialogue along with some terrific 90’s casting. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. remind us they will always be the only 90’s couple that mattered (even though they don't play a couple in this film). Ryan Phillippe is delightfully O.T.T. and Jennifer Love Hewitt is incredibly watchable as the fragile leading lady with great potential to kick ass. The killer has a pretty great look and his use of a meat hook is probably the most inspired part of the film. There is also a great kill involving Johnny Galecki (an early suspect) trying to be a tough guy before getting the first hook of the film right to the neck. Its sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is iconic in its own right for its hilariously bad title, script, use of Freddie Prinze Jr., and costume department (Jack Black in dreads? Hysterical). Avoid I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer at all costs.

One of the best slasher films in the post-Scream era is its first sequel, Scream 2. Despite a pretty mundane final showdown (which, given what the film says about sequels, perhaps this was intentional), Scream 2 does a lovely job of furthering Sidney Prescott’s story. Now at college, Sidney has moved on from the Woodsboro Massacre enough to have a new boyfriend (goofy Jerry O’Connell), and has begun to study acting. Randy goes to the same college as Sidney and still pines for her from afar. There is a great scene in Randy’s film class where Joshua Jackson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and others discus how sequels are, by definition, inferior to the original. The scene dares audiences to think less of this movie, but as the movie progresses this becomes increasingly difficult. There is a great kill involving Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as the most tragic/epic moment of the series involving Randy and a van and a Ghostface and a knife. Arquette and Cox are the true stars of this movie though as their chemistry basically carries the second act of the script on its back. Somehow, Williamson managed to show us that no matter how high you lift the curtain, there are always new secrets to discover.

Of the films on this list this might be the best, as I believe it does the most inspired job of playing with the “slasher” genre. A terrific teen cast with shout-outs to past slasher film icons (Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, and Brad Dourif), an icon killer, great mythology, and easily the most awesome whodunit in a horror movie of the last 20 years, Urban Legend is an incredibly fun time. Alicia Witt (who, based on extensive research involving no substantial evidence, went missing before resurfacing for seasons 4 and 5 of Friday Night Lights) is a student at Pendleton University (aka generic-ville USA) where she has the snarkiest friends that side of the millennium. Charlie Conway, I mean Pacey Witter, I mean Joshua Jackson is the blonde frat boy douche bag we were told only existed in the 90’s. Michael Rosenbaum has hair and isn’t trying to find kryptonite in this movie, while Tara Reid and Jared Leto provide all the sex appeal 90’s wardrobes allowed. The real standout is Rebecca Gayheart whose hair is unrivaled and whose eyes rival the fabled deadlights of Stephen King lore. We follow Alicia Witt as various students at the university are killed in the style of the urban legends we all grow up with. The kills are suspenseful, despite one chase scene involving Tara Reid that drags on for what seems like hours. What makes this movie work so well is the whodunit reveal. The red herrings placed throughout are thoroughly convincing, but when the audience finds out that they are wrong, the truth is so much more satisfying than anything we could have hoped for. Anthony Anderson dies in the first sequel and Kate “I’m Jealous of My Sister’s Success” Mara stars in the second sequel (which is surprisingly decent, though it’s not really a “slasher” film).

Sometimes, 3D works best when it’s solely a gimmick. This remake is non-stop, nonsensical, fun where every moment caters to the audience and horror fans. A big part of me loves that this kind of movie can get a wide release and make as much money as this movie made. Pick-axes “fly” out of the screen, and blood “splatters” on audience members. It’s a perfect throwback to what I’m told cinema was like in the 50’s and 60’s, and I love that the movie never tries to be more than this. It also has Tom Atkins, and this is the most important reason why I included this film on this list. Tom Atkins is the man, hands down, the greatest living American male horror icon. The epitome of blue-collar masculinity, MBV3D is the only slasher movie to include the legend this century. He is incredibly goofy and fun to watch…he carries around a fricken shotgun and works for the police. This is the perfect goober-fest of a movie.

This movie is more of a precursor to Cabin in the Woods than it is a successor to Scream, but its meta style is too hard to ignore in this kind of conversation. Tucker (Steve the Pirate aka Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are trying to just have a nice vacation in the woods. They are harassed by some preppy college kids and inadvertently Tucker and Dale start killing the college kids one accident after another. Tudyk and Labine are unbelievably watchable as the titular characters and the deaths become increasingly more violent and hysterical as the movie progresses. The best part is that Tucker and Dale, as they find the bodies, think someone is after them. This film allows you to imagine a scenario where Jason Voorhees was just having people run into his machete and not the other way around. This is on Netflix Instant View and if you haven’t seen it yet, grab a six-pack and a friend (real or imaginary) pop it on.

Friday The 13th (Remake)

I debated for longer than I care to admit about whether or not to include this or Adam Green’s Hatchet. While I think these are equal entries in the “slasher” genre, Hatchet simply doesn’t have the opening scene that the Friday the 13th remake has or Aaron Yoo (and the Hatchet series only gets Danielle Harris for the sequels). A group of teen/20-somethings find themselves on the old grounds for Camp Crystal Lake. They’re there for a weekend of camping and pot smoking. What they find is that camp is still very much in session for Jason Voorhees (played with Kane Hodder like enthusiasm by Derek Mears). Jason is fast and strong in this movie, which makes for some really fun kills. Some time later, a different group of teens show up to visit their buddy’s cabin. Jared Padalecki is running around looking for his sister who was with the first group that Jason attacked. More plot stuff happens but it’s not super worth mentioning because where this film excels is in its third act. The kills are quick, and tight with some amazing secondary character moments. I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority when it comes to those who enjoyed this, but give it a second chance. There are some really great things happening and director Marcus Nispel almost makes us forget his terrible Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.

This one comes the closest to cheating, as it’s neither an outright “slasher” film nor horror film. It’s more of a traditional psychological thriller. I include it here because of the way the deaths play out, the quality of the performances, and the reveal of the whodunit. This movie has John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Ray Liotta, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall, Jake Busey, and John C. McGinley. Total powerhouse cast and everyone is at their O.T.T. best. The movie takes place on a rainy night where a group of strangers get stranded at a motel. Through cut scenes we are made to believe that what we are seeing happened in the past and that the killer was eventually caught. When we see the man responsible we are surprised to that he is not someone we have seen at the motel. Throughout the rainy night at the motel we find out strange things about the characters, such as the fact that they all share the same birthday and are named after states. The kills are pretty scary, and the reveals near the end of what is really going on make this one of my favorite movies on this list. It’s also on Netflix Instant View, so check it out.

Haute Tension (aka High Tension)

France has put out a large number of high quality horror films in the 21st Century and the trend essentially started with this bloody thrill ride. Marie and Alexia are taking a quiet vacation when a Gandolfini-breathing killer invades their home. Clocking in at a quick 91 minutes, Alexandre Aja’s film doesn’t stay quiet for long. As the film progresses, Marie’s battle with the killer leaves the home and becomes a psychological battle for the ages. The reveal of the killer’s identity is shocking but believable, and it’s what keeps this movie from being some sort of senseless bloodbath. Aja would go on to direct The Hills Have Eyes remake as well as the mega good time Piranha 3D. Up next he’s working with Daniel Radcliffe on Joe Hill’s Horns (which I am super pumped about).

What do you do in a post-Scream world where everyone is looking for a new and hip killer to off some teens? Let death be the killer. Slack-mouthed teen-throb Devon Sawa and his classmates are heading to Paris for a school trip, and before the plane takes off he sees the terrible crash that’s about to happen. He obviously freaks out and a few of the more attractive classmates on the plane follow him off. The crash happens and then one by one death hunts down the people Sawa got off the plane with him. Ali Larter is the true star of this movie, as the quiet love interest for Sawa. She easily steals any scene she’s in (which isn’t too hard considering the “actors” she shares time with). We get the privilege of watching Stifler, I mean Seann William Scott on the losing end of the most brutal kill of the movie. There is also an excellent Tony Todd cameo. The wildly imaginative deaths are what make this movie work so well. The tension that builds with each kill is inarguable. Final Destination 2 is worth a viewing for some great kills and more Ali Larter. Final Destination 3 as well as The Final Destination are both garbage. However Final Destination 5 is a wonderful nugget hidden in what the movie studio thought was trash. It also has a terrific ending that will make fans of the series really happy despite the terrible acting.

Detention is the Scream of the 2010’s. The kids are more caffeinated, the kills are more gruesome, and the editing is so frenzied, it’s often difficult to figure out what’s entirely happening. Joesph Kahn (of Torque infamy) directs Josh Hutcherson and his classmates as a killer known as Cinderhella starts to kill of the student body. Kahn shows us strings similar to the ones Williamson showed us 15 years previously, but the generation being represented couldn’t feel more different. Texting, the Internet, social media, all our 21st century amenities influence and reshape Scream into the hyper-caffeinated film that is Detention. These influences manifest themselves in such oddities as the inclusion of time travel and Dane Cook.  There really is nothing like this movie out there and I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s an interesting experiment that doesn’t entirely work, and Josh Hutcherson’s neon-infused performance will easily make you forget how terrible The Hunger Games movie was.

These are just some of the strong “slasher” films to come out in the post-Scream era. For the most part, the “slasher” disappeared as the early 2000’s brought on two very different kinds of horror films. We got a slew of bland PG-13 “psychological” horror Japanese remakes, as well as a ton of bland hyper violent torture films/remakes. But if the above films have taught us anything, it’s that the “slasher” can still be a place for fun and experimentation. We will always enjoy seeing over-sexed, over-privileged, teenagers getting butchered if it means we get an interesting killer. 

What are some of your favorite “slasher” films? Do they follow the Scream formula? Did I just make a total ass of myself? Please comment below and join the conversation. I’m always dying to get new horror recommendations, and I’d love to know what you are watching. Find me on Twitter @RIPGRIMEY, read some of my plays and stories on, and go support La Petite Morgue and live horror here in New York.

Seacrest out!
-Tyler Grimes

1 comment:

  1. Interesting list, but c'mon...

    Detention? I thought this was one of the worst thing I've ever seen...

    Identity is GREAT, but it's far from a slasher movie.

    The Friday the 13th remake, in my honest opinion, is better than the originals, but I would choose any day Hatched insted.

    I don't know if you've already watched, but check out "Venom"! Great slasher direct by the same guy who did "...last summer"!