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My second day at Sitges was the day of the slasher movie. Besides watching the Irish comedy/slasher, Stitches, and a blood-soaked documentary on the evolution of the genre, I once again contemplated the Maniac remake, which I found inspired and well-made, but also kinda repulsive. Apparently the audience at the festival screening wasn't quite so phased -- word from the screening was that every single torturous, fetishistic scalping was met with whoops and cheers.

I talked to numerous audience members who were dispirited and sometimes angry about the reaction, and I can empathize. Regardless of whether you think the images in the film are defensible, the idea of actually cheering for them is only a step or two removed from cheering for a rape scene. Which is not cool. In general, the audiences at Sitges have put a smile on my face -- the festival hosts some of the most receptive, enthusiastic crowds I've ever shared a theater with, and I imagine this atmosphere had a lot to do with the response. But yeah, had I seen Maniac in that environment, I probably would have written a much more hangdog review.


stitches_deadguyandclown.jpgThis Irish gore-fest, on the other hand, practically begs for audience cheers. Since the film deals with a clown who comes back from the dead to take revenge on teenagers who more-or-less heckled him to death ten years ago at a birthday party, we're in different tonal territory here.
The plot itself is nowhere near as fun as it sounds on paper, and most of the film's humor attempts fall flat, with tired jokes involving fat kids and pot brownies and the like. There's not much in the way of atmosphere or style either, though one murder scene that takes place while an entire party of kids drunkenly dances to (I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight made me chuckle.

That said, once the blood starts flowing, director Conor MacMahon, keeps it moving at a steady pace. Every murder is ridiculous, inventive and extremely messy -- and yes, the clown makes a balloon animal out of someone's intestines. Best of all, almost all of the gore effects are practical, even the most absurd ones, which is incredibly refreshing and much more nauseating than the cartoon-looking CGI violence that keeps popping up in horror comedies these days. Even though I wished that MacMahon put even half of the effort he put into the murder scenes into everything else, there's no denying that it's a perfect movie for a rambunctious midnight crowd.

Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever

SLICEANDDICEPOSTER.jpgIronically, just hours after again contemplating Maniac and the implications of its over-sexed violence, I watched a documentary that reminded me just how much I fucking love slasher movies, and so the battle with my conscience ended up a draw. Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever is pretty much exactly what its title suggests -- an affectionate, bloody tribute to one of the most despised and enduring sub-genres of horror, complete with a lengthy Corey Feldman interview.  

Calum Waddel and Naomi Holwill's documentary traces the evolution of the slasher film, starting with Psycho and working its way forward to films like Scream and Hatchet. While the film covers all the familiar genre tropes (the final girl etc.), our hosts for the journey are not a bunch of academics, but directors themselves, from Tobe Hooper to John Carl Buechler (Friday the 13th Part 7).

The interviews are a bit of a mixed bag, with the subjects sometimes speaking more like they are addressing an audience who is new to the genre rather than its die-hard fans. Fortunately, the film itself is so spry and fast-paced, with a treasure-trove of footage from splatter movies both known and unknown, that it never drags. And there are some fantastic interview moments too, especially Child's Play director Tom Holland musing that he killed Chucky in every way possible at the end of the first film specifically so that no one could possibly make a sequel. He also mentions his surprise that people even found the movie scary, as he was approaching it as a comedy.

It's also fascinating to listen to the directors' sometimes disparate takes on the genre. When the subject of women comes up, one director asserts the final girl cliche is feminist and empowering while another reflects that "maybe all men are a little misogynistic by nature." Some directors hail the Saw movies as being the next evolution in the genre, while others lament that the sense of fun has been lost in the genre and pine for a return to the light-hearted spirit of the 80's.

Beyond the interviews, the film plays very well as simply an anthology of slasher movies. Those like me who grew up with all-night VHS marathons will be fondly reminded of the best and goriest scenes in their favorite films, and, unless they've done a lot of homework, will discover some new titles to seek out as well. Obviously those with only a passing interest in the genre need not apply, but for people who are as familiar with the name Tommy Jarvis as they are Norman Bates, Slice and Dice is essential viewing.

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