The golden age of slasher movies is over. Or so we’re told. Search your brain–what was the last truly great slasher you saw? How old is it?
I’ve got a lot of love for Scream 4, for simultaneously reinvigorating a stale franchise while also capturing everything that’s great about modern horror. After that, I don’t know. Detention is good fun, as are Adam Green’s Hatchet movies. But there’s nothing in there that’s exactly life-changing. It’s been a long time since a slasher really gripped our collective imagination, let alone scared us to any considerable degree.
Horror has been given a new lease of life on television, to varying degrees of success. Where Hannibal (mostly) soared, with grit and gore, Bates Motel stumbled to find its place (it’s still, through some miracle, being broadcast). A show brave enough to entitle itself Slasher immediately sets off alarm bells. Calling a TV programme Slasher is like calling it Horror. Genre fanatics are going to be cautious right off the bat, because no attempt has been made to trick them into watching.
Happily, and in spite of some dodgy (read: non-existent) production values, Chiller’s Slasher is a slasher through and through. With a terrifying villain–whose eyes are visible through his mask, which is very rare and super-creepy–known as The Executioner, a quiet seaside town loaded with secrets ripe for the picking and a heroic Final Girl with ties to everyone and everything in that same town, this is Slasher Movies 101, done right.
The premise of the show was originally criticised for being too close to David Fincher’s still-shocking 90s hit Se7en. The Executioner does punish people in a similar way to John Doe, and for similar reasons, but the mood of Slasher is completely different. It’s rough, gory and often nail-bitingly tense, but missing is Se7en‘s purposefully over-dark cinematography (critic Devin Faraci memorably described the movie’s colour pallette as “piss-coloured”) and non-stop nihilism.
Slasher lays itself bare right from the outset, with a thrilling, late-eighties set prologue that cleverly evokes Carpenter’s seminal Halloween without plagiarising it. A gory, shocking and very memorable double murder sets the scene perfectly for what’s to come, introducing us to our soon-to-be Final Girl, Sarah, the town in which the story is set, Waterbury, and our first Executioner, Tom Winston, whose infamous murders the present-day killer seeks to invoke.
Cleverly, the show utilises an ostensibly weird central relationship between Sarah (Jurassic World‘s Katie Mc Grath) and the man who killed her parents, long-time convict Tom (Poltergeist 2015’s Patrick Garrow), who may be the key to unlocking everything. Their jail-set interactions are a bit Hannibal/Clarice-esque, but a major twist (slightly obvious, but still welcome) midway through the season gives them weight and the performances are consistently strong from both parties.
In spite of looking like it was shot in Canada (which it was), Slasher is loaded with great acting, the characters of the fictional town fleshed out to the extent that we actually care who goes next–and feel like it could be anyone, at any time. The body count is suspiciously low for the first few episodes, before things start to devolve into a full-on bloodbath, leading to some of the most gruesome and inventive murders this side of, well, Scream.
Speaking of which, although MTV’s re-imagining of Craven’s classic series has been (wrongly) heralded in some parts, it has none of the punchiness, the intelligence or the grit of Slasher. Craven’s blueprint should’ve made for ease of reference, but the creators behind that show stumbled in a way that Aaron Martin (hitherto known mostly for Degrassi: The Next Generation) does not by creating his own, mostly original template.
It may not feel like a slasher for every minute of screen-time–the show definitely hits some dodgy murder mystery and soap opera notes–but, for the most part, Slasher lives up to its title. The mystery element is strong, the violence and scares come hard and fast and the suspects line up effectively over the course of the season.
Seasoned horror fans will probably guess who the killer is before the big reveal, but that doesn’t rob it of too much shock value–and subsequent events, in a strong finale episode, hit just as hard with the killer’s identity known. Perhaps most crucially, the killer doesn’t immediately turn into a raving lunatic immediately afterwards, either, as is annoyingly so often the case.
For the most part, Slasher achieves in eight episodes what most movies struggle to do in ninety minutes, which shouldn’t really be too surprising. But, given the failure of shows like Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story and Scream Queens to create any semblance of a consistently scary mood, it’s a wonder Slasher works as well as it does. AHS struggles because of trying to be too dark and shocking, while Scream Queens went the over-the-top comedy route, to fun but unmemorable effect.
Maybe this show is different because it isn’t trying to do anything more complicated than be scary and run an intriguing mystery, consistently, for a relatively short season. After all, the best slashers–Halloween, Scream, Friday The 13th – keep it simple. Perhaps, given room to breathe over a full-length season there would’ve been a dud episode or two (as it stands, although every installment isn’t perfect, there isn’t one I’d skip). It might all fall apart the second time around, when the anthology format kicks into high gear in the same way AHS did.
Whatever happens, Slasher season one is well worth a watch. And, given how consistently frightening, shocking and enthralling it is, you’ll probably blow through all eight episodes in one binge-watch.
Catch the first season of Slasher on Netflix from May 17th, 2016