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Going To Pieces:
The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Movie (2006)
Director: Jeff McQueen

review by Jonathan McCalmont

Based on an identically titled book by Adam Rockoff, that charts the progress of the first wave of slasher movies between 1978 and 1985, Going To Pieces attempts to cover similar ground, but also to chronicle the evolution of the genre from the 1990s' postmodern juvenilia to the uncomplicated torture-porn of Hostel or the Saw trilogy that are successful today. However, despite being able to pick the minds of some of the most notable horror directors - ...and Rob Zombie - this documentary shies away from any critical analysis, resulting in what feels like directionless cheerleading rather than a proper documentary.

The film begins, logically enough, with the birth of the slasher genre in Hitchcock's Psycho and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom. From there we move to the late 1970s and the birth of the biggest slasher franchises such as Friday The 13th, and Halloween (1978). From there it's a hop, skip and jump to the avalanche of 'holiday' themed slashers from early 1980s, such as My Bloody Valentine (1981), and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). At this point, the documentary stops its relentless listing of titles and considers the critical reaction to the genre, showing clips of Roger Ebert proclaiming slashers misogynistic and the predictable, 'concerned parents' who tried to get Silent Night, Deadly Night banned because it featured Father Christmas chopping people up with an axe. Tired and struggling with what the documentary calls, somewhat patronisingly, "the women's movement," the genre moved on to the less naturalistic and increasingly panto A Nightmare On Elm Street series before joining up with the postmodern slashers typified by Scream (1996), and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Interestingly, the documentary concludes by looking at Hostel and the Saw films and concludes that the slasher genre is due another spell out of fashion but remains optimistic for the future as there'll always be teenagers who love this kind of stuff.

If that summary feels a lot like a disconnected list of films then that's because that is what this documentary boils down to. This is not surprising as Adam Rockoff, the writer of the book this documentary is based on, is also the writer of this documentary, which feels a lot like an encyclopaedia of slasher films with a few anecdotes and interviews thrown in and, going by the reviews I have read, that is exactly what the original book was.

If you're expecting any analysis whatsoever then this is not the documentary for you. Rockoff sticks to the journalistically convenient but historically dubious idea that slasher films were huge in the 1970s then went away and then came back. In truth, slasher films never stopped being made; they just stopped appealing to mainstream America. In fact, one of the reasons for the re-emergence of horror as a mainstream commercial genre in the 1990s was the success of horror in Asian countries. But you'll get no mention of foreign films here... in fact, you won't get much of a mention of anything aside from the big franchises and a few largely forgotten cult drive-in movies such as The Burning (1981), and My Bloody Valentine. However, to give the illusion of completeness, the documentary will frequently feature footage of important films such as I Spit On Your Grave, or Last House On The Left, but will then say nothing about them. British viewers might also feel slighted, as despite a lot of these films playing an integral role in the whole 'video-nasties' moral panic of the 1980s you'll find no mention of it here.

What is most frustrating about this documentary is that it happily swallows the idea that pre-1990s' slasher films were sexist and goes on to suggest that they're just a bit of fun. Indeed, the only note of pessimism in the film's talk of the future is in the idea that "everything's been done." This is all clearly nonsense.

What the documentary steadfastly refuses to touch upon is the long tradition of social commentary that exists in the slasher films. Indeed, despite mentioning in passing I Spit On Your Grave and the claims of sexism, Rockoff refuses to delve into the idea that I Spit On Your Grave was actually a film all about female empowerment. The same is true of The Last House On The Left's sly commentary about middle America's fear of the 1960s' counterculture and the brutal tactics used to repress it, nor is there any mention of the political edge of films such as The Hills Have Eyes. Adam Rockoff displays what SF author M. John Harrison referred to as the "clomping foot of nerdism." By this I mean that Rockoff clearly has an encyclopaedic knowledge of what slasher films got made, but his interest in the genre seems to be that of the train-spotter rather than the film critic or the film historian, hence the complete refusal to look at any of the more profound sociological forces at work in the evolution of the slasher genre.

Despite managing to secure interviews with some interesting figures in the history of American horror, Going To Pieces fails to offer any sustained analysis or insight into the slasher genre. Instead it is content showing footage from different films and trotting out received opinion about how sexist slasher films used to be before, without any trace of irony, praising the likes of Eli Roth's Hostel, one of the most profoundly misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic films of recent times. All this footage and so little analysis makes for a documentary that is depressingly lightweight and that feels more like the kind of advertorial documentary you find running on 'Sky movies' between films. At nearly �20 it is also absurdly overpriced given that the extras don't stretch any further than a poorly designed quiz or two intended to test your knowledge of the films discussed in the documentary.

Compared to other recent documentaries about films such as Stuart Samuels' Midnight Movies (2005), Going To Pieces feels desperately shallow. If this were on TV you'd think it was disappointing, on DVD and compared to the standards shown by feature-length documentaries, it is a joke.
Going To Pieces

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