The slasher formula was designed for the time restraints of a motion picture–and not for a particularly long one, either. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Black Christmas and most of their ilk all barely clock in at ninety minutes each. 100 minutes is rare, two hours is almost unheard of. For this reason alone, a slasher should never work on television.
We were all skeptical when the Scream TV series was announced. How could you possibly do that specific format on the small screen? It was even more shocking when other shows followed in its wake. After Scream came Slasher, and after Slasher came Dead of Summer. Against all odds, it’s actually becoming a bit of a trend, one that seems not to be going away any time soon.
One of the most consistent themes among slashers is that they generally play out over the course of a single evening. They’re about an isolated group of kids in a single location being picked off one-by-one throughout the night, until one survivor manages to make it out alive at daybreak. Again, all of this is at odds with the formula of a TV series.
The smartest thing that first episode does is address—in typical Scream fashion—why a slasher shouldn’t work on television. It effectively sets up a mission statement that, if you care about these characters, you’ll care a lot more when they die.
Part of the fun of the Scream movies is that everyone is hiding something and everybody is a suspect. There are a lot of mysterious looks between characters meant to make you think anyone could be the killer at virtually any point in time. But in the show we actually get to take the time to explore what they’re hiding from each other, even when they’re not the killer. Everyone has secrets. And, for a TV show to work, it has to drag every single one of them into the light.
With Slasher, I went in with even lower expectations than with Scream. I expected absolutely nothing from that show, let alone a great cast and at times more emotionally resonant—and certainly more adult—drama. While the concept is completely derived from Se7en, I think there’s a whole lot about Slasher that makes it worth watching. The killer was a very early guess for me, but there’s a twist a few episodes before that, one that completely eclipses the identity of the murderer.
Somehow, these shows are working and, even more miraculously, they’re good. But this really shouldn’t come as much of a shock, because the slasher formula that we’re seeing on television right now is actually something we’ve been enjoying for a long time. It just took a while to develop it to this particular point.
Take the basic structure; a core group of characters are being targeted by a killer, their secrets are coming to light, the tension builds until the killer is revealed in a shocking twist at the end of the season before a final fight that results in the killer’s death. That describes not only the first seasons of Scream and Slasher but the first of Dexter and even True Blood, also.
This is a formula that’s existed on TV for a long time and now that it’s happened, I’m glad slashers have taken this direction. In general, as a fan of the sub-genre, I’m just happy to see it continue. At the moment, we’re not seeing any slashers on the big screen. There are no new ones being created and the major icons have slowed down in their old age and are certainly taking their time coming back.
Whatever the reason for this new TV slasher renaissance, I’m happy for it. I’m happy that it exists. I did not expect shows like Scream, Slasher and Dead of Summer to work at all, and I’m usually someone who goes in pretty excited about things. Now that I’ve seen them for myself, I get what they’re doing and I’m all in for more.
I want more shows like this and I want more seasons of all the ones we’re getting. Whether they should have worked or not, most of the great slashers became franchises. They weren’t designed to continue on, but they did it anyway. They became ongoing stories over time.
If we’re getting them on TV instead of on film, that’s fine by me. I’m just happy something has come along to fill the slasher void we were living in just a few years ago.
Some fans might not want to tune into a weekly series instead of a single movie. But what’s the harm? Yes, it’s a bubble that could burst at any moment, just like virtually everything we enjoy.
But the way I see it, the more slashers we can get, the better. Especially if they’re turning out well. Sometimes too much of a good thing can still be a good thing.