Monday, May 2, 2016

Slasher Review: A Fun, Fresh Horror Anthology [Contributor: Melanie]

Chiller is the network you turn to when AMC’s October Halloween marathon just doesn’t seem long enough (and you’ve seen enough of Jason X to last a lifetime). Its programing appeals to all sorts of strange and horrifying tastes, from playing various mainstream and B-level horror films to daytime programming of Twilight Zone-esque TV shows from the 90s. They branched out with their own network original films, which have been respectably reviewed, especially considering what they are. But Slasher is Chiller’s first foray into original content, and it was much better than it had any right to be.

Slasher is, if the name didn’t give away, an anthology series. But don’t let Ryan Murphy’s monopoly on horror TV anthologies (which I spent all fall painfully recapping for you all) scare you away, because this show had a lot of intelligence and care. The first season follows Sarah Bennet (Katie McGrath), the prodigal daughter returned to her hometown of Waterbury (in what I can only assume is rural Canada). She moves into her parents’ former house, the site of their grisly murders the night of her birth (because why wouldn’t a white person in a horror series do that?). While she and her husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren) acclimate to the town, a series of copycat killings begins to unfold with someone donning the garb of the man who killed her parents: someone nicknamed "The Executioner." Sarah becomes obsessed with solving the murders and employs the help of Tom Winston (Patrick Garrow), her parents’ imprisoned murderer, to help unravel the mystery of this dangerously zealous killer.

Sounds like fun right? It is. The show isn’t exactly original in concept, but it’s certainly fresh, combining the sins-of-the-parents hanging over our hero’s head as in Scream, the disturbingly parental mentorship of a former killer and unsettlingly invested investigator as in Silence of the Lambs, and the intricate town drama of Twin Peaks. All this rolls together in a wildly entertaining little series that works far more than it doesn’t and leaves you excited for more.

Horror itself is quite possibly the most trope-laden genre you’ll find. And that’s extra concentrated for its subgenre, the slasher. The exploitation of meta-horror as a way to unpack the cultural significance of these running motifs as been done before (did I mention Scream yet? I should do it again) and Murphy’s parody piece borders on a Scary Movie spin-off that didn’t do much to help us appreciate what horror has to offer and why. But writer Aaron Martin manages to disguise an interpersonal drama series as a bloody thriller.

Martin shrugs off the time-honored use of teenagers in favor of 20-somethings and up. And the taboo actions of premarital sex, drugs, and alcohol get a mature level-up with the killer’s complicated modus operandi: enacting fitting punishments for committing one the seven deadly sins (because somebody paid attention during his research paper on Dante’s Divine Comedy). The interlacing relationships between members of the town are well thought out and given more room to breathe than revelations at a drunken teenage party over games of "never-have-I-ever." And there are more scenes of serious dialogue than there is blood spatter.

McGrath plays a more memorable Final Girl than we’ve seen in a while. Ripe with an disquieting curiosity and some believable inner torment, she’s gains a take-no-$&#! attitude reminiscent of Scream 4 Sidney (are we sure I didn’t mention Scream yet?). Patrick Garrow is a surprisingly deep character whose past Scarlet Letter-level offenses as a young priest end in mental tragedy. And The Executioner himself is a break from the silent killer motif, though he does take some heavy nods from Halloween’s The Shape (a.k.a. Michael Myers). And the rest of the cast that surrounds the events are dedicated to the character work and seedy history the narrative portrays.

Films like The Exorcist, The Conjuring, It Follows, The Haunting (the original one), and others proved to their respective generations that horror can be deep, characters can truly want things, and deaths can be about more than just shock value. Slasher isn’t quite at the level of horror greats, but it’s certainly far from the middle when it comes to horror TV with scares that originate in the human psyche, making them all the more terrifying.

You can check out the entire first season of Slasher on iTunes, Amazon, and through On Demand.


Post a Comment