The other day I was listening to two guys talking about how great a slasher The Burning is. Now I love The Burning as much as the next horror fan but is it actually “great”? It has an ace killer in the disfigured Cropsy and of course Tom Savini’s magnificent gory deaths but it also has some terrible dialogue and useless acting, surely important factors in any movie you want to consider a great?
Or perhaps not.
Maybe the slasher lives by other rules, where acting and script are secondary to other factors will make or break what can be considered good.
These rules then, and they are not hard and fast so much as slippery and loose, can be seen as:
– a bunch of youths, preferably teens, although often portrayed by actors in their twenties, or in the odd case by actors in their forties.
– a killer, preferably masked or at the very least in a large hat, or if that doesn’t work then off screen til the last ten minutes of the film.
– good kills. These don’t necessarily have to be gory kills as Halloween, the daddy of all slashers that all must bow before, has some great murders with nary a drop of blood spilt. However if your slasher is not going to be made with some of the greatest tension and suspense ever put to celluloid then please make up for it with some outrageously gross deaths.
– an isolated location that is at least a little bit interesting and can add to the story.
– nudity. During the heyday of the slasher it was assumed that most of the audience was made up of horny teenage boys so it fell to the woman to spend a not insignificant amount of time with, if you’ll pardon the expression, their baps out. The aforementioned The Burning had one poor victim walking around complete naked as Cropsy had stolen her clothes before killing her. Why did he steal her clothes? He only wanted to kill her not check her out before hand. Maybe he did, or maybe the Weinstein’s (who made the film) did, what do I know.
– a long period of time where the youths have no idea there even is a killer until their numbers have dwindled to about two. This gives them plenty of time to concentrate on the above nudity.
– a gnarly old dude. He will tell them they are all doomed or acts like a pervert by ogling up all the girls, preferably in the shower. This gives the audience a very weak red herring that no one would fall for.
– someone with a big bad of weed. They will smoke far too much of it themselves and will be killed alone, probably under the delusion that they are just imagining an axe falling down towards their skull. It serves them right for being so tight with their puff.
– fat people, nerds and those stuck in a wheelchair. They do not get some kind of sympathy pass. In face they are often the first to die as if being different or handicapped is a reason enough for them to be dispatched horribly.
– the final girl. I don’t need to go into this again as we’ve all heard about it, but needless to say she almost always abstains from drinking, smoking or fucking and she’s a girl because otherwise film critics look for homoerotic undertones.
Of course we are way, way past the slasher’s heyday. Hell, we’re even way past the ironic and knowing resurgence, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t the get the odd filmmaker giving it their best shot every now and then. Anthony DiBlasi has already proven himself with last year’s Last Shift (my favourite horror of 2015) so it was exciting to see him tackle the genre. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like he was giving his best shot or much of an effort at all.
I suspect this is because if you look at the rules above at no point do I talk about interesting character development, but good god do we have a lot here. The plot involves a bunch of old school mates meeting up after ten years at one of their gang’s Californian hilltop pad. There they are killed one by one in ways relating to the comments in their year book. Throughout this we get a lot of characters coming to terms with their pasts, rekindling old relationships and apologising for old ones. Even when they all realise there is a killer on the loose they find plenty of time to stop and chat and cry and confess and oh my god will you just shut up and die already!
You might think I’m hypocritical: if you look through my old reviews you will find pages and pages of me ranting about the importance of characters you care about and I’m guessing that’s what they tried to do here. But there is a limit to how much character work you need in a slasher. Something like Spring is not about the gore and death but it is about to people getting to know each other, it’s vital to the plot – no! It IS the plot! The plot in a slasher is a maniac killing people, not how much one character hates/loves another. The upshot of this is that the first half of Most Likely To Die is a drag and I struggled to get through it to be honest. It’s worth persevering though for a few good moments.
Let’s do that rule check list though, just for shits and giggles.
– a bunch of youths in their twenties. All present and correct although they are all too pretty and bland to be acceptable as real human beings, apart from Perez Hilton who is very loud and ridiculous is better than you think and at least adds a bit of colour to this bland bunch. The acting was mostly okay, damned sight better than most of the Friday the 13th films but then no one has anything interesting to say and they said a lot so it was a blessed relief when they finally started being offed.
– the killer. His mask was actually pretty good, a pape mache recreation of a scratched out face in the year book with “DIE” written on his forehead. His graduation gown was maybe a bit too fluorescent blue for me but at least his mortar board was razor sharp. Which leads to…
– good kills. Things started off poorly with everyone being massacred off screen, including a tragic Jake Busey. However as we got into the back end of the film things picked up with two great murders, if murder can ever be seen as great. Both involve the mortar board hat, the first a good face butt followed by a graphic and splattery throat tear. The second one expands on that as a woman has her neck torn open by the hat and then the killer uses the sharp edge to scrape her head off, much to the horror of her friends. If only the rest of the film had this kind of dynamism.
– An isolated location. Look I know if must be cheaper to make a film in a producer’s fancy home but this an extremely dull place to set a slasher in. When the most interesting room is the electrics outhouse you know something has gone with your location choice.
– nudity. There’s a smidgen of flesh but this rule is only for teenage male audiences in the eighties to make cat calls and wolf whistles at the screen to impress their mates so this all seems a bit pointless now.
– time for the cast to be oblivious to their mending doom. Even when they find out they are doomed they still act like nothing is happening half of the time. This makes things very, very slow.
– the old dude is played here by the ancient Jake Busey (45!) who is in two scenes, one where he’s a bit creepy to the final girl and another where he spy’s on another woman getting naked before he is strangled to death in a deeply unsatisfying manner. Poor Jake Busey, I think people are still annoyed with him for playing that see-through fiddle in Starship Troopers.
– someone smoking too much weed. Well I don’t remember that happening, maybe it was me smoking the weed.
– fat people or general outsiders. Nope, just the bland gang here.
– the final girl. Yeah she was there, she talked a lot, no one cared.
Maybe that was the problem with Most Likely To Die: too much taking that no one cared about. It’s a shame that Anthony DiBlasi’s latest effort feels so lethargic, especially after Cassadaga and the sublime Last Shift. There’s still a few highlights here and there but mostly it’s all a bit of a slog.
The rules of the slasher maybe silly and should certainly be mixed up a bit if you’re going to add anything new to this most basic of genres. However if the twist is, at expense of the horror, excessive development of the boring victims then you’re going to end up with a boring film.