Memorial Day draws near, and that means just one thing around these parts: the Summer of Blood, Antagony & Ecstasy’s annual three-month celebration of the slasher film, perhaps the most consistently awful of all subgenres in the history of cinema, though one that tells us much about the culture and mores of the time in which it was made. Or so I like to pretend at times. Other times, I just use the reviews as an excuse to make bad jokes.
This will be the fifth edition of the series, and we’ve covered a lot of ground in that span. In 2007, it was a consideration of the two most iconic slasher franchises, one – Friday the 13th – that finds the genre at its most unapologetically formulaic, the other – A Nightmare on Elm Street – that arguably tried harder than any mainstream slasher series to do consistently new and creative things (whether it was always successful… there’s the rub).
Having thus knocked out the two biggest slasher franchises, it only made sense in the 2008 sequel to focus on the third and fourth: Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which also provided a bit more history and context than the previous year’s entry did; while Friday and Nightmare are both unabashedly children of the ’80s, Halloween and TCM not only offered a chance to study the roots of the genre in the 1970s, but by dint of their far more arrhythmic release patterns, they provided a much starker view of how horror filmmaking and the cinema in general changed from decade to decade, all the way up to the ’00s.
History and context continued to reign in Summer of Blood, Part 3, as in 2009 we turned to the earliest proto-slashers, the Italian gialli, from its earliest days to the last rattle of the form in anything like its classic phase; then jumped ahead to Scream and the robust new wave of meta-horror it introduced in 1996, typifying the pop-culture obsessions of its time period every bit as much as Friday the 13th and its sequels did theirs. And then, just for fun, it was off to Sleepaway Camp just as a frivolous little outro.
By 2010, I was getting a little slashered-out, so I decided to focus instead one of the most legendary side-effects of the initial slasher boom: Great Britain’s infamous Video Nasties list, 72 movies so unspeakably foul that even to glance at the cover would doom your children to a life of Satanism and murder. Quite a banquet of films from three decades and a host of various horror subgenres to select from; and with movies ranging from the absurdly silly and inoffensive to the unconscionably grim and wicked, it was the exact kick in the pants the series needed, much as any moribund franchise needs to figure out around that point how to continue to keep people awake, be it killing off the main character, rebooting continuity, or introducing a whole bunch of new characters.
So here it is, Chapter V, and I really had no idea at all what to do for the longest damn time. At some point, this series is going to devolve into nothing but an arbitrary, random collection of slasher films that I throw together just for the hell of it – the Summer of Blood Takes Manhattan years, let’s call them – but for now, I want to keep up with something like a theme.
After a lot of false attempts, I finally decided to give things another shake-up: this year, instead of slasher movies, the Summer of Blood is going to be all about the films getting made in between the slashers; a look at how other kinds of horror were or weren’t shaped by the dominant mode of horror filmmaking from 1980 to 1989, and then again from 1996 to 2002ish.
(“Were or weren’t” isn’t just a rhetorical flourish; I honestly have no idea of what I’m getting myself into. At 1 of 15, I’ve never seen so few of the movies I’m about to review heading into the summer).
There’s a little bit of fantasy, a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of body horror; all in all, a nice mix of styles, and if the film’s reputations are anything to go by, a hell of a range of quality, from one of the best-regarded horror pictures of the ’70s to some of the most indifferently-received sequels of the ’90s.
5/28 – Phantasm (1979)
6/4 – Phantasm II (1988)
6/11 – Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)
6/18 – Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)
6/25 – Child’s Play (1988)
7/2 – Child’s Play 2 (1990)
7/9 – Child’s Play 3 (1991) [The only film that I have previously seen]
7/16 – Bride of Chucky (1998)
7/23 – Seed of Chucky (2004)
7/30 – Interlude: Chopping Mall (1986)
8/6 – Hellraiser (1987)
8/13 – Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
8/20 – Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
8/27 – Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)*
9/3 – Postlude: Basket Case (1982)