Adam Rockoff, Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986 (McFarland & Company, 2002)
Kent Byron Armstrong, Slasher Films: An International Filmography, 1960 through 2001 (McFarland & Company, 2003)

Slasher films are like Rodney Dangerfield -- they get no respect. Even many of those who purport to appreciate the horror genre (I'm talking to you, Kim Newman) find no place in their hearts for this "slice and dice" subgenre, alternatively known as the "stalk and slash" or "splatter" film. In general, though, some synonym of "slash" is used in the moniker, and for good reason. With very few exceptions, the preferred weapon of the typically maniacal killer is some sharp metal implement -- usually a knife, although anything handy (pitchfork, screwdriver, crossbow) will do in a pinch.

Adam Rockoff is one of the few who will actually admit to admiration of the slasher film. His Going to Pieces is likely the first truly in depth exploration of the history, influences, and subtext of the genre. Going to Pieces is by turns informative and funny and Rockoff's appreciation is apparent on every page. In the introduction, he gives the reader a taste of his history with slasher films -- a reminiscence with which anyone (particularly males, I must presume) who attained adolescence during the rise of video will immediately identify.

Rockoff discusses the influences of the slasher film (Grand Guignol, Herschell Gordon Lewis); the so-called "pre-slashers" (Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre); the trailblazers (Black Christmas, Halloween, makeup artist Tom Savini); the rise and subsequent downfall due to a glut of awful sequels (anything after "Part 2," with few exceptions), rip-offs, and semi-parodies; and the resurgence in the 1990s when Scream and its ilk fed on the ironic self-awareness of the new breed of moviegoer for whom film and video are all but interchangeable. Along the way, he goes behind the scenes through quotes from John Carpenter, William Lustig, Sean Cunningham, and others giving real insight into the often grueling moviemaking process.

He approaches his subject chronologically, interlacing films of the same period in order to give a sense of history, and even the most wretched and obscure films (Don't Go in the Woods, for example) are touched upon. Throughout its densely informative 200 pages, Going to Pieces is exceedingly well-written and edited, with each paragraph and chapter flowing naturally into the next. The book is also copiously supplied with end notes that expand upon -- often humorously -- the current subject. A full bibliography is listed, offering the fan plenty more reading material, and the book has a comprehensive index for cross referencing. My only complaint is that the subtitle does not give a full picture of the book's contents. Though it is true that the rise and fall of the slasher took place over the 1978-1986 period, Rockoff brings the reader up to date with releases from the new century.

For a full summary of the movies covered in Going to Pieces, one need go no further than another McFarland book, Kent Byron Armstrong's Slasher Films: An International Filmography, 1960-2001. Armstrong's book is long on summary (including the identity of the killer and other spoilers) and short on critique (often a brief paragraph), but it offers a necessary service for those who are looking for information on that video on the horror shelf they've never heard of, and that the average video review publication is not likely to cover.

Armstrong is selective regarding which films are included. For example, he agrees with Rockoff that, despite its prequels and sequels, Halloween III is definitely not a candidate. Some omissions are questionable (although the absence of the Nightmare on Elm Street series is explained), but his introduction invites readers to send him suggestions for the next edition.

Separately, these books are fine additions to any slasher film aficionado's library. Together, however, they are a powerhouse that anyone from the novice to the jaded fan will find to be immensely useful reference tools for picking from the dregs that remain when searching at the last minute for that perfect autumn night viewing experience.


[Craig Clarke]

Going to Pieces and Slasher Films are both available from the McFarland & Company Web site