First of all, how on earth did I ever miss "Sleepaway Camp"? I mean, not only did I not see this particular slasher film, I do not remember hearing anything about it let alone the fact that it is clearly an antecedent to "The Crying Game." I am not even sure if I have even heard of that particular film before, although titles like "Sleepaway Camp," "Slumber Party Massacre," and others tend to meld together in your mind over the years. But after watching "Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film," I am going to have to track that puppy down, and I imagine other fans of this horror genre will also see a title or two that they have missed along the way that they will want to track down as well after watching this 2006 documentary.
The documentary is based on Adam Rockoff's book, "Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978 to 1986," and while that particular time frame is not explicitly mentioned in the film version it explains why it essentially begins with "Halloween" and ends with "April Fool's Day." At the start we go back to the birth of the Grand Guignol theatre and how a pair of 1960s films, Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom" and Alfred Hitchock's "Psycho" laid the foundation for the slasher film. But there is no effort to connect the dots until John Carpenter's "Halloween" bursts on the scene 18 years later and it was not until I saw the book's title that I felt better about this gap. The same thing applies at the end, when the rebirth of the genre with "Silence of the Lambs" giving horror a new sense of legitimacy in the movies and the success of "Scream" quickly turning to the extremely violent but commercially successful films like "Hostel," "Saw," and "Wolf's Creek." Again, there the link is not established from the past to the present either, which is why the true scope of this documentary is all about the glory days of the slasher films (the name just does not make sense in describing the current crop of ultra-horror films).
The fun here are the clips of memorable moments from these films, with attention being paid to not only obvious biggies like "Friday the 13th" but also one of my personal favorites in "My Bloody Valentine," the controversial "Silent Night Deadly Night," and pretty much anything they could get a clip from to show, which is not everything, but most of the movies that come to mind for this genre and several that do not. In terms of the talking heads you will find that in addition to big name directors like Carpenter and Wes Craven there are also lesser names such as Amy Holden-Jones ("Slumber Party Massacre") and current hot shots like Rob Zombie (I recognize more of the movies than I did the directors). Makeup and special effects guru Tom Savini shows up a lot as a talking head and actress Betsy Palmer relishes her notoriety as Mrs. Vorhees, but one of my favorites ended up being Jeff Katz, the director of development at New Line Cinema, who talks about these films while walking through an alley somewhere (I thought for sure he was Rockoff). Memories trump analysis, but there is a nice argument made for how Jamie Leigh Curtis was pivotal to the success of "Halloween" that jump started the genre, a look at how the slasher flick formula developed and then ossified, and the strange way in which the promotion of the tongue-in-cheek "April Fool's Day" put the genre into hibernation for a decade.
Overall, "Going to Pieces" is not a comprehensive documentary on the subject and I have no doubt fans will find a lot more information in Rockoff's book. But the book does not have the movie clips that this documentary can offer and the net result is more than a nostalgic walk down memory lane (Remember when Michael Myers was the first villain to keep getting up? Remember the last time you saw a horror film where that did NOT happen?). Just have one of your favorite slasher flicks from this period on hand to watch afterwards, because "Going to Pieces" is just going to whet your appetite and it will take a while to get your hands on the films covered here that you have never seen. For extras on the DVD there are some more interviews with the likes of Stan Winston and a trailer for the documentary. Adam Rockoff includes a "message," but you have to read it. There are a pair of Slasher film trivia games, regular and advanced, that should prove rather challenging (You should already know "How many couselors and campers did Jason kill in 'Friday the 13th'," but can you handle it when they ask the same question about his mom?).