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May 03, 2010

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Dave Umbricht

Let's not forget "Black Christmas". Was it just me or was SCTV's Andrea Martin kind of attractive in it?

Dave

@dumbricht on twitter

Chuck Stephens

This is an unfortunate lapse in taste, GK: "...that fairly risible 1957 Michael Landon film..."

But to construe your distaste for Herman Cohen's films as a dismissal on Carlos Clarens part is just wrong. If you'd continued reading down the page from which you quoted, you'd find Clarens pronouncing TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN "inspiredly absurd", and including himself among the "sophisticated audience" who very much *got* (and continue to get) Cohen; he even goes so far as to quote the film's funniest line!

(I post this as a longtime fan of the present triumvirate -- Glenn Kenny, Carlos Clarens, Herman Cohen -- and I'm not trying to start a fight, honest!!)

bill

This was an interesting article, Glenn. My problem is that the automatic association of horror with teenagers is very tiresome to me. Not that this is your fault, or anything, and I realize why it has come to pass, and even if I didn't you just told me why in the article, but, well, anyway. I'm just grousing.

Plus, who am I to talk? I've been watching a LOT more of this stuff than I used to. I've even thought about picking up some of the ELM STREET sequels I've never seen. And I don't even like the original. Or LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Or much of THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Or anything else Craven has ever done or had his name associated with.

What was the first "slasher" movie, anyway? Or what would be considered the ur-slasher film? Something from Italy, probably? It's my understanding that BLOOD AND BLACK LACE was the first real giallo film, but I have my doubts that Sean S. Cunningham ever saw that, but what do I know?

In any event, I think it's absolutely beyond doubt that in American film, the slasher film as we know it -- I'm not counting TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE for some reason, just because it somehow seems apart from everything else in the genre at the time, a thing unto itself -- BLACK FRIDAY is the crowning achievement. Better than HALLOWEEN, even.

bemo

"What was the first "slasher" movie, anyway? Or what would be considered the ur-slasher film? Something from Italy, probably?"

The mighty Bava, maybe? (aside: Glenn, have you ever written anything substantial about him, incidentally? I know of your formalist admiration but am blanking on if there is something more substantial you've produced)

otherbill

If memory serves (it frequently doesn't), Bava's TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE is often cited as the first "slasher" or "body count" movie. Large chunks of it are ripped off fairly wholesale in the first FRIDAY film (13th not Ice Cube/Chris Tucker). It even got rereleased in the US as LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT II.

@bill- NIGHTMARES 3, 4, and 5 provide some goofy mid-80s fun. They're basically there to set up grand guignol set pieces for Freddy, who's now the hero of the series in a lot of ways. 2 and 6 are god-awful and profitably avoided unless you're bound and determined to "enjoy" a Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold cameo. NEW NIGHTMARE is intermittently interesting and successful. It does include a great moment I'll not spoil that- had they ended the film right there- would have turned the entire series into a sort of cinematic moebius strip. So there's that.

Stephen Whitty

@otherbill and bill, too -- "Twitch of the Death Nerve" is influential, true, but yes, I'd agree that the "giallo" genre goes back even further to "Blood and Black Lace," a Bava film of style and sadism from '64. And, of course, it's got Cameron Mitchell too, which is always pretty incredible.

The line from Bava (whom, I'd suggest, was always a brilliant cinemtographer but average storyteller) to Argento is pretty easy to draw. The line from movies like "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" and "Suspiria" to "Last House on the Left" and "I Spit On Your Grave" is a lot more fragmented...

Paul Johnson

I've got to put in a word defending 'I was a Teenage Werewolf' as well, which is genuinely inventive and witty, and an entirely different beast from 'I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.' (The latter really is a piece of junk, though I still love it.) Gene Fowler directed 'Werewolf,' and every film I've seen by him is at least interesting - especially 'I Married a Monster from Outer Space.' He was an editor for both Fritz Lang and Sam Fuller, and his work plays like a crazy amalgam of both of their styles (but not as good, I'll admit). His movies are moody, stylish, sensationalistic,funny, and extremely well paced. He directed Charles Bronson in two films in the late 50s - 'Gang War' and 'Showdown at Boot Hill' that did much to define his acting persona. The former in particular plays like the '58 version of 'Death Wish' (and is much superior). 'I Was a Teenage Werewolf' is a smarter than it or Michael Landon looks, and the balance between ham fisted satire (I'm thinking of the great, silly, smutty scene where the film intercuts between a girl doing gymnastics in her tights and a desperate Michael Landon letting his hormones get the best of him) and sweet sincerity is the kind of thing many more ambitious movies bungle.

bill

@ bemo and Stephen - Well, I did mention Bava, and even BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, though not as any sort of definitive answer. I've heard the film described as the first giallo, but not as the first giallo AND the first slasher film, so I wondered if maybe the genre stretches back even further.

"whom, I'd suggest, was always a brilliant cinemtographer but average storyteller"

I'm glad you said it, Stephen, because that's my impression as well. I really enjoy some of his work, though, with "Twitch of the Death Nerve/Bay of Blood" topping the heap, if only for that ending.

@otherbill - What you say about those particular ELM STREET sequels is something I've been hearing a lot lately, and I'll no doubt eventually crumble. The idea behind NEW NIGHTMARE always intrigued me, but I've tried watching it twice, and damn if that thing doesn't seem like amateur hour, at least in the first 20 or 30 minutes. I've just never been able to hang with it, because the acting and filmmaking, and the style, and everything, is no better than the first ELM STREET, a movie which I really dislike. And if everything looks and feel precisely the same in NEW NIGHTMARE, then the post-modern game just feels like a half-baked idea with no visual boost to separate it.

Glenn Kenny

@ Chuck, and Paul J.: Yes, it was ill-advised of my to not have split the difference at least between risible and witty/knowing with regard to "Teenage Werewolf." All the more unforgivable as I'm not just an admirer of the director but of his dad, author of the immortal "Minutes of the Last Meeting." That's the problem with writing these think/historical survey pieces: shorthand. Ah well. Now I wanna look at the damn thing again.

As for the Bava/first slasher film debate, well, it's interesting. I suppose strictly speaking that the first "body count" thriller would have to have been "And Then There Were None," when you think about it! But it's "Twitch of the Death Nerve," or maybe more specifically, its American ad campaign, that most overtly influence "Friday the 13th." From Michael Weldon's invaluable Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: "['Twitch'] includes '13 periods of intense shock' (a.k.a. gore murders) and when originally released theater patrons were warned 'face to face' about the content."

Fuzzy Bastard

@ otherbill: I admit to a real fondness for (the terribly written, terribly directed) NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, purely for its grimy early-80s color (anyone know what film stock produced that wonderfully filthy palette?).

I was struck by the invocation of BLAIR WITCH as a teen horror film---I'd never considered it as such because it isn't a slasher (and there's so few victims), but like all the best in the genre, it's very much about generational conflict (the camcorder generation vs. stare-at-the-corner fundamentalist parenting). And like the original HALLOWEEN, much of its greatness is a product of its willingness to just hang out with its protagonists long before anything scary starts happening.

Stephen Whitty

@fuzzybastard, et alia

Speaking of a "willingness to just hang out with its protagonists long before anything scary starts happening" -- which I agree, is an important thing that many new horrors, including the new "Nightmare," aren't willing to do -- I'm wondering what folks thought of the recent "House of the Devil," a modern but very retro babysitter horror?

Struck me as almost sort of the greatest-`70s-horror-film-not-actually-made-in-the-`70s I'd seen, from the title typography to Mary Woronov. (Hell, first time I ever even liked Greta Gerwig.) But now THAT was a movie which really took the wait-for-it --- no, no wait-for-it -- kind of pacing about as far as you could.

Jason M.

Glenn - Not to be THAT guy (OK, screw it, I'm totally being that guy), but it's Kiyoshi Kurosawa, not Kiroshi. And yes, it's a real shame that more teen-horror films aren't directed by him, but hey, I'll take what I can get.

Nit-picks about spelling aside, it's a great article about an interesting genre that I'll admit I too often disregard out of hand these days, often for reasons similar to what bill mentioned above. The automatic association of teens and horror simply gets tiresome after awhile.

And as an aside, Glenn, you clean up real nice. You should keep it up every now and then.

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