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Blood, Babes, and Boogeymen: Stalking the First Slasher Film

“I like women, especially beautiful ones. If they have a good face and figure, I would much prefer to watch them being murdered than an ugly girl or a man.”
– Dario Argento

“The police are always off track with this shit! If they’d watch Prom Night, they’d save time! There’s a formula to it. A very simple formula!”
– Randy (Scream)

“Who’s there?”
– Almost every victim in a slasher film

A Brief Note to the Reader

Although I have made every effort as to not deliberately spoil the films discussed, it was still unavoidable in some cases. The vast majority of films referenced are those which reside in the realm of “popular” horror – that is, those films which almost every horror fan has undoubtedly seen. However, if you are a newcomer to the genre and looking to avoid any plot reveals, I urge you to tread lightly.

That said, I hope you enjoy. The original intention of this article was simply to collect my thoughts and answer a much-debated question. To my surprise, what I imagined to be a brief, 500-word article quickly unraveled into what you see before you.

I hope that I was able to provide a clear and logical presentation of my thoughts on the matter, and as always, I welcome your thoughts and input.

Stalking the First Slasher Film

As any horror fan knows, there are certain topics which are, simply put, irreconcilable. One only has to propose a question like “what is the scariest horror film ever made?” to see a group of passionate horror connoisseurs lock horns in an endless debate. Of course, questions like this are, at their essence, a simple matter of taste and personal preference. It’s why the horror genre is so

A shocking still from BLACK CHRISTMAS; often regarded as the first slasher ever made.

A shocking still from BLACK CHRISTMAS; often regarded as the first slasher ever made.

expansive and plays host to so many subgenres: zombies, creature features, demonic possession, hauntings, etc. Therein lies the challenge of the horror storyteller: to find the common elements that terrify all of us; that which resonates deep within our psyche and creates an unshakeable feeling of pure horror.

There are questions pertaining to the horror genre that have been raised which, by all accounts, should be answerable, but still find themselves shrouded in the veil of debate. It is one such question that I have chosen to tackle as the topic of this article:

What is the first slasher film ever made?

The slasher film is near and dear to my heart, and this topic is one that I’ve been meaning to address for a long time now. I too am guilty of debating it with other genre buffs, and though I enjoy hearing other theories, I thought it was time to lay down my own thoughts in writing. Before we begin, know that I make no pretense; admittedly there are people who are far greater experts in the slasher film subgenre. And if they have not been able to determine with absolute certainty which film bears the rightful honour of being the first, what hope do I have? Still, bear with me as I travel through the annals of horror history in hopes of unearthing the answer to an age-old question.

The horror film, like everything else, is the product of evolution. I think we can all agree that the slasher film did not simply arrive, but came into being after a slow process of development. Herein lies the problem: where do we draw the finish line of the development process and say “This is where the slasher film emerged in its pure form”? Of course, in order to do this we must know what we’re looking for. A definition of the slasher film is unarguably essential.

What is a slasher? What separates it from the other brands of horror film? We know it to see it, so it shouldn’t be beyond us to properly label it. Let’s begin then by stating some of the accepted characteristics of the slasher movie:

The slasher film adheres to (with only slight variation) a formula:

1. The killer is male (though very rarely exceptions can occur).
1a. Their motive for killing generally stems from a childhood trauma or incident.
1b. They are often indestructible (especially when masked) and inescapable.
1c. Their weapons are typically sharp tools and objects, such as knives, axes, chainsaws, and scythes. This is perhaps one of the most important criteria for a slasher film. Any other method of death must be the exception to the rule, and not the norm.
1d. The killer often takes the role of the anti-hero, punishing the promiscuous and morally lax, or in many cases, returning to wreak vengeance on those who unjustly wronged them.
1e. Although we never see it, the killer takes great pains to carefully hide the bodies of his victims, often orchestrating elaborate reveals.
1f. The killer is always the voyeur, spending the majority of the film watching and stalking.
1g. The killer possesses the ability to further isolate the victims through sabotage, be it by cutting the phone line, puncturing their car tires, etc.
1h. At the end of the film the killer, thought to be defeated, proves himself to be alive, thus preparing the way for a follow-up film.
2. The protagonist (henceforth called the “Final Girl”) is primarily female (though notable exceptions can occur, such as in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, et al.)
2a. The Final Girl is generally aware of the situation, and acts with a common sense lacked by the supporting characters.
2b. She/he is a virgin (although later deviations occurred, the essence of the Final Girl is intended to be pure).
2c. At the climax of the film, the Final Girl discovers the bodies of all her friends (thus earning her name) and is forced to directly confront the monster.
3. The victims are often attractive young-adults, typically in either high-school or college.
3a. There is always at least one promiscuous couple who engage in sexual activities. After the act is complete, the couple typically separates (the most common situation involving the woman leaving to shower) thereby giving the killer a way to destroy them individually.
3b. Often the attitude of the character determines whether they will live. A bully is likely to die, regardless of any additionally immoral behaviour. This also solidifies the monster as the anti-hero, standing up for the weak – albeit unintentionally.
4. There is often an “expert” on the killer who spends the duration of the film hunting them, or providing advice on how to stop them (ex: Sam Loomis in HALLOWEEN, Sister Mary Helena in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS). When needed, they are able to shed light on the monster’s origin and expand the character’s mythology.
5. There are scenes of excessive nudity.
5a. Breasts and blood are two staples of the slasher film. The most common is to feature a woman showering/changing – that is, to show her concerned with her aesthetic presentation, exposed and vulnerable, under the assumption that she is alone.
5b. It should be noted that, as an exception to the rule, nudity does not equal death: the Final Girl herself can be shown naked (ex: Nancy bathing in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET)
6. The use of illegal drugs is punishable by death.
7. The setting/location plays a vital role.
7a. The killer often strikes only on a particular day, be it a recognized calendar event (HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, CHRISTMAS, APRIL FOOL’S DAY, VALENTINE’S DAY, etc) or a day/anniversary that is personal to the killer (ex: the traumatic day responsible for creating him).
7b. Favourite locations for slasher films include: campgrounds, schools (including dorms, college campuses, and highschools), friendly all-American neighbourhoods/towns, and isolated farmhouses.
8. The audience is frequently put in the killer’s point of view, often times also incorporating the heavy sound of the killer’s breathing.

There are, of course, exceptions to the formula (the formula just defined could be expanded further to address the role of law officials, parents, etc), often intentionally altered for the purpose of adding an element of unpredictability to the mix. However, the exceptions to the rule are not important to this article. For them to be deliberate exceptions inherently means that they follow the first slasher film, and are thereby not worthy of our consideration at this time.

In HER BODY, HIMSELF: GENDER IN THE SLASHER FILM, Carol J. Clover opens the first chapter with the statement:

“At the bottom of the horror heap lies the slasher (or splatter or shocker or stalker) film: the immensely generative story of a psychokiller who slashes to death a string of mostly female victims, one by one, until he is subdued or killed, usually by the one girl who has survived.”

While she has no doubt hit the nail on the head in generalizing the plot of the slasher, my problem falls in her undiscerning amalgamation of the slasher and the splatter film, which I feel are two very separate beasts.

The splatter film, whose lineage can be traced back to the early days of the French Grand Guignol theatre, concerns itself more with the ability to shock; mutilation, torture, and the graphic dissection

A graphic cover to H. G. Lewis' exploitative splatter classic: THE GORE GORE GIRLS.

A graphic cover to H. G. Lewis’ exploitative splatter classic: THE GORE GORE GIRLS.

of the human body are presented throughout its blood-soaked celluloid. Though it may contain elements of the slasher – point of view shots, a final girl, etc – these are incidental. The true slasher is less savage in nature; the kills can be gruesome, but it is the buildup – the methodical stalking – that sets it apart. The killer of a slasher film is fully within his element as the voyeur, watching in the shadows and choosing how much of his presence to reveal to his victim. Indeed, the slasher movie killer is a master of suspense, playing a lethal game of cat and mouse before delivering the final cut.

The same as only the most discerning wine-tasters can differentiate blindly between vintages, the average horror viewer will most likely not see a difference between some slashers and splatters. Take, for example, Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1972 bloodfest THE GORE GORE GIRLS. The film features ample nudity, killer’s point of view perspectives, a strong female lead, and even a detective sworn to hunt the killer. Yet it should by no means be considered a slasher. What it lacks is almost as abundant as what it shares: there is no build-up to the murders; the killings are savage and exploitative, often featuring additional, excessive post-mortem mutilation; the victims are not the traditional young people associated with the slasher subgenre, but are instead middle-aged and often unattractive; the kills are prolonged, beyond repulsive, and are not performed with knives, axes, or sharp tools; and the list goes on. Additionally, at the time of its release in 1972 the slasher formula was not yet defined (but more on that later).

Some may argue that a careful consideration of foreign horror must factor into our search. It has been well established that Mario Bava’s 1971 picture A BAY OF BLOOD (also released as TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE) was perhaps more than simply a source of inspiration for the later 1981 American slasher FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2; some of its death scenes were recreated shot-for-shot.

The Italian giallo, a movement which encompassed both literature as well as film, began as early as 1929. The term – which is Italian for yellow – referred to the trademark cover colour of the crime/mystery themed paperback novels. These books served as the precursors for the films which evolved to have their own unique style and subject matter; as we will see, the Italian gialli proved to be a very strong influence for the slasher.

The first recognized giallo film, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, emerged in 1963 and was directed by Mario Bava. Though it lacked the elements generally associated with the genre, his follow up film, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) featured the popular black-gloved killer archetype.

For Europeans, the term giallo can be used to describe any number of films belonging to the horror/thriller genre. However, we would be making a categorical error were we to simply dismiss

A terrorizing still from Dario Argento's TENEBRE.

A terrorizing still from Dario Argento’s TENEBRE.

all slashers as gialli. The giallo has itself developed to include a set of defining characteristics, which include a permeating theme of madness, obsession, or murder; a black-gloved killer who conceals his identity well; the frequent use of the red herring as a plot device; highly stylized visuals which utilize brilliant primary colours; and elaborate, often sadistic murder sequences.

It is clear that the slasher paradigm responsible for the “golden era” of slashers (approximately 1978-1984) stemmed from both North American as well as European influences. On one side low-budget American filmmakers (influenced by the French Grand Guinol and spearheaded by filmmakers like H. G. Lewis ) were producing exploitative guts-and-gore pictures; on the other hand, Mario Bava and his protégé Dario Argento were pushing the boundaries of violent cinema in the Italian giallo.

It was necessary to first establish where the slasher film originated from, in order to distinguish it from what came before. But where does this leave us in our search to discover the first true slasher? Truthfully, we are close to pinpointing it.

In 1974, a young Canadian filmmaker followed up his zombie-themed cult-hit CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1973) with a low-budget picture about a psychopath who terrorizes a group of young sorority women during their holiday break. At the time of its release, audiences were shocked by the obscenity and raw violence that permeated from each terrifying frame; featuring Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey, the film was none other than BLACK CHRISTMAS.

BLACK CHRISTMAS is of vital importance because it is widely regarded to be the first true slasher film ever created. At first glance, it seems valid enough; the age group, the location, the point of view shots, the cat-and-mouse stalking… but is it enough? Are we able to draw the definitive line and declare it to be the official starting point of the slasher subgenre?

Let’s first examine the killer and see if he remains consistent with our earlier list of “monster” characteristics. The identity of the killer in BLACK CHRISTMAS is never revealed – the audience is granted a single scene which displays only his eye, peering through a crack in the door. There is no explanation for his homicidal spree and no backstory given to his character; even his name remains debatable. At the beginning of the film he simply infiltrates the sorority and begins to prey on the young women. We are led to believe there is nothing especially supernatural about him, although none of the girls have the chance to fight him and prove otherwise. They are subject to his sporadic and lethal attacks; he reveals himself only through the profane prank calls he makes, leaving the viewer to imagine what his physical appearance looks like.

His first victim is a shy, morally righteous girl on the verge of leaving the sorority for the holiday break. In claiming her life at the onset of the film, it is shown that the killer acts indiscriminately, destroying the just and unjust alike. Additionally, his method of murdering victims does not utilize the characteristic “sharp object” as demonstrated by the typical slasher film; of the seven deaths in BLACK CHRISTMAS, only one involves a knife.

The Final Girl of the film (Olivia Hussey) is also a slasher-film oddity. Although in no way promiscuous on-screen (there is in fact, no nudity to speak of in the film) she is most definitely not the virginal character one expects from a Final Girl – she is not only pregnant, but seeking an abortion.

Although BLACK CHRISTMAS demonstrates several of the characteristics found in the American slasher film, it is also lacking a great deal of them. BLACK CHRISTMAS is not the first full-fledged slasher, but sits just at the cusp. It is very accurate to say that had BLACK CHRISTMAS never come into existence, the first true slasher would also not exist in the way we know it, and therefore we owe a great deal of gratitude to Bob Clark and his terrifying holiday nightmare.

In 1978 a budding young filmmaker named John Carpenter was approached to direct a movie, having previously had a good deal of success with an offbeat, controversial action film titled

A rare behind-the-scenes shot on the set of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN.

A rare behind-the-scenes shot on the set of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Irwyn Yablans, the producer, explained the intention of the film: to portray evil incarnate as it maliciously sought out and destroyed young-woman babysitters. Set on the most sinister night of the year, the film was, of course, HALLOWEEN.

Once again I must stress, to the average moviegoer there probably isn’t a great deal of difference between HALLOWEEN, BLACK CHRISTMAS, or even THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE for that matter. Yet as horror fans we possess the ability to discern such differences, thereby categorizing films properly. All one has to do is re-read our earlier list of slasher film characteristics and you will see that HALLOWEEN meets all criteria.

It is all the more relevant in that it was the first film to portray a character like Michael Myers – physically impressive, masked, and unstoppable. Although characters like Leatherface from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE had been created prior, their character treatment was still as mortal men capable of being stopped, and not pseudo-supernatural entities. The unrelenting (and unsettling) force of Michael Myers hearkened back to WESTWORLD (1973), a sci-fi picture in which a murder-bent machine was seemingly undefeatable.

Before HALLOWEEN, all of the pieces were there… they just had yet to be assembled in the right order. John Carpenter was able to gather up the fragments and, for the first time, create a fully finished masterpiece. HALLOWEEN not only popularized the slasher genre thus paving the way for countless sequels and imitators, but it also cemented the formula that the golden era of slashers would be built upon.

Today’s horror films have become an indistinguishable pastiche. They are the culmination of everything that has come before; the borders of subgenres have been broken down, making it occasionally impossible to accurately label a film. However, more often than not, mainstream horror films still operate according to the basic formula laid out in HALLOWEEN. The bad men will always die, the floozies will always die (often naked), and 99.9% of the time the Final Girl will resist temptation and vanquish the evil before the end credits role.

HALLOWEEN is, in every way, responsible for inspiring an era of horror. Its influence is still – and will forever – be felt in horror cinema.


Room 237

Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Documentary featuring archive footage from THE SHINING and various interviews
Media Reviewed: Screening
Rating: skullskullskullskull

How much symbolism is buried in a film? And how much is this the director’s intention? Do we, as theorists, fans, fanatics, etc., choose to see certain symbols, a thrill of excitement running through us when we think we’ve cracked a film’s code? The new film, Room 237, might be the ultimate example of this type of fanboy private investigation.

Its title referring to the forbidden hotel room in Stanley Kubrick’s massively popular film The Shining, Room 237 is a new documentary that lays out several theories as to what mysteries and meanings the perfectionist director hid within each shot of his1980 horror classic. The documentary’s director, Rodney Ascher, is aided by several obsessives who all speak defiantly about their own views of what they think Kubrick was attempting to say with the film. From crackpot ideas to rather convincing bits of proof, Room 237 is pretty much a feast for the mind for anyone who considers her or himself a film buff or puzzle lover. Happily, I am both.

The setup for the documentary is pretty straightforward. We are introduced to this panel of theorists, each arguing a major theme or communicating a devout interest in the film’s symbolism. Smartly, Ascher chooses not to show any “talking heads” throughout Room 237. He knows the audience is here for one thing, and it’s to watch The Shining through a new set of eyes. Any glimpse of what these people look like is unneeded and takes away from the Kubrick study period we all signed up for. Ascher also matches visual cues from other Kubrick films to specific lines in the various voiceovers as a sort of narrative motivator and way to add his own attempts at symbolism. At times they can feel a bit on the nose and uneven, but he also knows that any fan of the mysteries of The Shining is at least a devotee to another Kubrick work; glimpses of 2001: A Space Odyssey or A Clockwork Orange aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The music is also a bit distracting at times, the volume threatening to overwhelm the theorists, but the synth-like builds it contains, along with the blue interspersed titles, add an almost cult-like devotion to the source film that really plays home the idea that this documentary was created by a fan at heart.

So does the dissolve from one shot where there is a large pile of suitcases in the background to another shot where, in their place, stands a group of people, mean Kubrick was symbolizing the extermination of the Jews in World War II, the victims’ luggage strewn aside as they were shipped to the concentration camps by the Nazis? Or how about the famous blood gushing from the elevator’s closed doors, actually coming from the Native Americans buried deep beneath the Overlook Hotel, the closure of the doors representing our present need to repress the atrocities committed by our ancestors who massacred the First Nations people hundreds of years ago? Or does Danny’s space rocket sweater and Wendy’s inability to talk to Jack about his work both refer to Stanley Kubrick’s own secretive participation in the filming of the first moon landing? Room 237 never chooses one theory over another, but it does a marvelous job at giving each one a shot, examining The Shining frame by frame (and with the use of an incredible digital map of the Overlook). I have only seen The Shining twice, but more than anything, Room 237 has stirred up a great appreciation and awe for a director who was meticulous, artistic and detailed enough in his craft to create a mystery that will have many of us pondering, without a definitive answer, for a long time to come.



Evil Dead (2013)

I’m an extremely open horror fan. I will watch anything and everything and I will never look away from the screen… unless I fall asleep, which is probably a bad sign as it means that what is happening in my head is far more entertaining. I will sit through the remakes and the reboots, but I try to do so with an open mind. The fact of the matter is that we are not living in the 70’s/80’s anymore. Every new generation of filmmaker contains fans of the films that came before them, if they weren’t fans they wouldn’t be attempting to make movies for a living (You don’t voluntarily live a life of unstable uncertainty unless you love the shit out of it – ask any drug addict!) My point is that times change. Society is different, the technology is different and we are different. You can try and make a film as spot on to the original as you can but it will never be close enough.

It’s easy to blame it on the writing/directing/producing/acting, but the real fault lies in the evolution of filmmaking as a whole. Maybe it’s due to a production value that is far too advanced to capture the gritty quality of the original, no matter how many post production filters are used; maybe it’s not the actor’s abilities, but rather the simple fact that they are too well known in an industry that is over-saturated with on screen talent; it could be the use of CG FX vs the old school practical effects that used to get us excited no matter how fake or ridiculous it looked; or maybe it’s the fact that certain films seem factory made, stripping us of our sense of nostalgia. We are no longer experiencing history in the making, we are sitting on a conveyor belt looking at the same product pass us by over and over, blending in with no discernible quality to set them apart from the rest. Years later when asked if you remember a scene in one of these films, will you? I already don’t. The remakes of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all looked the same, felt the same, and I couldn’t tell you damn thing that happened in anyone of them. I admit this as someone who was curious and excited upon their release, paid money to see them, and didn’t totally hate any of them.

Is it common for two queens to reign over the same territory? No. So why do we have so many "Scream Queens?" THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HIGLANDER! Or in this case, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Is it common for two queens to reign over the same territory? No. So why do we have so many “Scream Queens?” THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HIGLANDER! Or in this case, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Horror fans know who Marilyn Burns is, but the average Joe would refer to her as “the chick from Texas Chainsaw”. So hypothetically, if TCM had nothing else going for it, at least it would have a stand out factor like that. Unfortunately we don’t create and destroy careers as easily in modern times (unless the actor is willing to do it themselves in front of cameras). We don’t give unknowns a chance anymore because hiring a well-known actor is better for business, but is it really better for the film? Are we adding an important title to that star’s ever growing list of credits, or burying it under a pile of films that actor will always be better known for?

When it comes to remakes the fans of the original are always gonna be pissed over one thing or another; but like I said, this is a different time, and that means a different audience. The new generation of movie goers just reaching the cusp of the R rated market is a new ball game. These barely legal adults may not have had the pleasure of experiencing the original films the way we did. They also grew up in a time where sex, violence and coarse language have become the norm in prime time television. They will receive it differently, and remember it as we remembered the originals. There are also movie goers such as myself who will attend with an open mind, regardless of our dedication to the original, and just take in the enjoyment of the audience experience (might as well before we get old and start complaining that it’s too bright and too loud). I may not hate the films, but I can recognize a flawed and a failed attempt. Regardless, who am I to say that a film is bad if it has given at least one human a single shred of enjoyment.

The films we are now remaking originated in a time where that generation’s filmmakers were remaking the classics. Do you think they were well received? No horror film has really ever been well received outside the horror community until more recent times (with the exception of The Exorcist). The only differences lie in the fact that before everyone complained that it was all too much, and now we’re complaining that it’s just not enough. We’ve gone above and beyond what our horror forefathers had ever hoped we could achieve. We can show what we want and how we want to anyone that is willing to sit in front of that screen. So maybe we can all just shut up and be thankful that we have come into a time when genre films can top the box offices alongside the big boys.

Oh right, Evil Dead…



There was no shortage of blood in this film. The beauty of it shooting off the chainsaw in rapid-fire pellets was an image that made the entire experience worth it to me. No it’s not the same. People will say it took itself too seriously, but guess what, so did the original. The camp wasn’t intentional and wasn’t embraced until the second film. On the other side of the spectrum you will have people saying it didn’t take itself seriously enough. That’s just bullshit. I liked this remake. If you’re going to do one, this is the way to do it. It wasn’t a total disappointment and it got people talking. Not all remakes blend together into an unrecognizable mush; certainly Dawn of the Dead and The Hills Have Eyes have earned their horror acclaim, and I think Evil Dead displayed the right attitude to secure its place in the same graduating class. The shots were fantastic, the atmosphere was bang on and the possessions were disturbing. There were times I laughed when I wasn’t supposed to, but come on, it’s because I was having fun. When the girlfriend says “We need to get her to the hospital”, my response was “You’ve had two lines in this film, we don’t take orders from you!”. The only thing that bothered me is a common mistake any film could make: it showed a scene in the preview that wasn’t included in the film. The one totally creepy draw-in was demon Mia lifting the floorboard and saying a rhyme direct to camera. Where the eff was that in the movie?! Otherwise, I liked it. So deal.


Hemlock Grove

Netflix sure has come a long way over the years; in March of 2013, it was estimated that over 33 million people currently subscribe to their service. As video stores seemingly fall by the wayside, the popularity and reign of Netflix only continues to rise. Given their power position, It’s really no surprise that projects began developing with the intention of being Netflix exclusive.

Enter: Hemlock Grove; a thirteen episode series made specifically for Netflix. When the initial trailer began to surface, I’ll admit I had no idea what to expect. On the surface it appeared to be another “Anytown U.S.A. has a dark secret” type of stories — but what caught my attention was a name: Eli Roth. The man responsible for bringing us such graphic delicacies as HOSTEL and (my personal favourite) CABIN FEVER. In addition to serving as executive producer, Roth also acted as director of the premiere episode. If a guy with such a solid track record was attaching his name to the project, how could it be bad? At the very least we could surely expect disgusting, cringe-worthy traditional effects… couldn’t we?

The basic premise of Hemlock Grove is simple enough: when a series of brutal murders begin, it becomes a race to discover the culprit before he (or it) continues their spree of destruction. From the very beginning we’re tossed into the simply bizarre universe of Hemlock Grove; a town so weird and dysfunctional that the savage murders almost seem to pale in comparison. There’s a girl convinced she was impregnated by an angel; a boy with a blood-fetish who has seemingly mastered the old Jedi mindtrick; his giant, blue-glowing, eye-deformed medical experiment of a sister; their sadistic, manipulative, and sex-starved creature of a mother… and the list goes on, and on, and on.

I kid you not: everything in Hemlock Grove is a mystery to which there is never an answer; it is a perpetual “…” that leaves you hanging until the series reaches its end, still leaving you strung up and waiting for a proper resolution. And to make it worse, the entire time the writers treat you as if you already know why everything is happening. I understand it was influenced heavily by Twin Peaks — of that there’s no doubt — but even Twin Peaks was easier and more satisfying to follow! At least the absurd was expected, and even served a purpose in the story.

Writing and story aside, I did thoroughly enjoy the cast. Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron… the performances were all well done. The up-and-coming Freya Tingley handled some tense, mature scenes brilliantly, and Kaniehtiio Horn was particularly effective in her possession scenes. If the material they had been given was as good as their acting I would no doubt be writing a very different review.

But let’s talk effects, because again, with Eli Roth’s name front and centre we’re surely expecting an emphasis on practical, old-school guts and grue. Did it deliver? Yes and no. At the very heart of it, this is a werewolf story. No matter what else happens in a werewolf story, the most important scene is the transformation, and over the years special effects gurus (like Rick Baker) have elevated these scenes to an art. I don’t think we were necessarily expecting Hemlock Grove to top the beauty of, say, An American Werewolf in London… but I also don’t think we were expecting to see the majority of it achieved through CGI. Where the concept succeeded, the execution failed.

No matter how much I wanted to like the show, I just couldn’t get into it. And that’s disappointing to me since I legitimately dig Eli Roth and everything he’s attached his name to.

When all is said and done, the series suffered from a bad story and an under-developed script more than anything else. On the plus side, if you ever lay awake at night and wondered what would happen if they blended True Blood, Twilight, and Twin Peaks together? At least now you have your answer:

Welcome to Hemlock Grove.


Night of the Living Dead Live

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra!”

In 1968 a young filmmaker named George Romero made a low-budget picture that explored a single premise: what would happen if the dead returned to life? His film painted a bleak, realistic, and unflattering portrait of humanity, and was responsible for not only launching his career, but also elevating him to the legendary status he possesses today: the grandfather of the zombie genre.

The influence of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is undeniable; it shaped our modern understanding of the undead, and can be seen throughout the last forty-five years of cinema. And while filmmakers and artists have subtly paid homage to the master of horror in their own small ways, truly there can be no better compliment than to transform and adapt a beloved story into a new and exciting medium: in the case of NotLD, to lift it from celluloid and to place it on stage.

On a beautiful May evening, myself and co-editor Ali had the opportunity to visit the Theatre Passe Muraille in downtown Toronto to see a production of Night of the Living Dead Live. It’s difficult to walk into a re-enactment of a classic and beloved film without wondering “will they really be able to pull this off?” but my mind was set at ease when I opened the programme and saw that it had been written and directed by Christopher Bond, the brilliant mind who brought us Evil Dead: The Musical. Mr. Bond has proven in his previous endeavours that he is a horror fan through and through, and one that can also remain respectful and true to the original source material.

Upon entering the modest-sized theatre the viewer is immediately thrown back in time; retro, black-and-white parody ads are projected onto the stage while mock-vintage radio broadcasts play overtop, setting the tone and preparing you to enter Pittsburgh, 1968. The dim, open stage displays the living room of the infamous farmhouse — the set beautifully constructed and painted in subtle shades of black and white. Before we knew it, the room darkened, and the show began…

…and what a show it was! Divided into two acts, the first presents a faithful and well-adapted version of the original film. The performances were wonderful, and truly the work of talented and charismatic actors. Sound and lighting cues were particularly effective in recreating key moments from the film; the production overall was incredibly cinematic, no doubt influenced by the fact that Christopher Bond is also an accomplished screenwriter (A Little Bit Zombie). The second act deviated, and presented a barrage of hypothetical scenarios in an effort to discover what the group should have done in order to successfully survive the night; its tongue-in-cheek approach, coupled with fantastic comedic timing and smart writing led to a wonderful (and extremely memorable) production. The finale itself is worth going for!

When Mr. Romero himself calls it “terrific!”, who are we to argue? Don’t miss your chance to catch Night of the Living Dead Live during its Toronto run. You’ll never forgive yourself for missing a show this good.

Night of the Living Dead is directed and co-written by Christopher Bond, and features the talent of: Darryl Hinds, Mike “Nug” Nahrgang, Dale Boyer, Trevor Martin, Gwynne Phillips, and Andrew Fleming. It runs April 26th to May 19th.

Find tickets and showtimes here:


American Mary (2012)

Written & Directed by: Jen & Sylvia Soska (Dead Hooker in a Trunk)
Produced by: Twisted Twins Productions
Starring: Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs. Jason)

This film is, by far, one of the more truly creative and impressive films to be classified as horror in the last few years. It is difficult to come across a new film and walk away from it without saying “been there done that”, but let me assure you, you have not been here, and you have not done this.

I am at a loss for how to describe this film without giving it away, but one word comes to mind: unique. This film is about passion, finding your true self and expressing it un-apologetically; of course there is also violence and gore, rage and revenge, and everything required to be categorized in the horror section; but it is much more than a just horror film. The Soska sisters have said that they wanted to make a film that is undefinable, and I believe they have done just that. It is beautiful to watch, perfectly executed, and very well paced — and being a low budget independent production, that is extremely difficult to achieve. It truly is an empowering film.

The humor, ambition, dedication, emptiness, loss, violence, sarcasm and passion for her craft that Katharine Isabelle displays is something we can all relate to. It’s human nature. They’ve allowed us to feel connected to the character rather than making her inaccessible; masked and banned to the shadows. I was particularly taken by the performances of Tristan Risk and Twan Holiday. Many people see the culture this film explores as bizarre and in some ways terrifying, but within it are truly beautiful human beings, and Tristan and Twan nailed it!

I have definitely written this review with my serious face on, so let me assure you that in addition to being a powerful work of art, this film is also just fucking awesome.

As someone who refers to Audition as the perfect date movie, I have to agree with the Soska sisters that American Mary is definitely a romantic comedy. I look forward to what Twisted Twins have in store for us in the future, and hope they continue in their efforts to re-define the term “chick flick”.


World War Z

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
Directed by: Marc Forster

I will warn you up front: this review may contain bile, vitriol and extreme sarcasm. Proceed without your panties in a twist.

I don’t know how it could have gone so wrong. Anyone, anyone with any filmmaking sensibility should have been able to craft a beautiful, scary, touching film out of Max Brooks’ 2006 novel. It seemed so obvious to me; a faux documentary, almost Ken Burns style with flashbacks to the significant events as related by the survivors. The full title World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War conjures up images of Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan with undead hordes shambling around. Instead we were given a gutless, bloodless, utterly soulless hack job of a pastiche zombie movie that makes you wonder how anyone signed off on it in the first place. The plot alone makes the Resident Evil video game series seem linear and straight forward.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a superhero formerly employed by the UN in a somewhat undefined yet highly influential position, who has entered early retirement, John Matrix-style, to spend more time with his wife and two daughters. On a family road trip, the zombie apocalypse breaks out and destroys much of the world in a matter of (what seems to be) hours. After stealing a motorhome and looting a grocery store, Gerry and kin are airlifted to safety aboard an aircraft carrier. In exchange for his family’s uninterrupted asylum on the ship, Gerry must accompany a virologist on a mission to find patient zero and hopefully a cure for the zombie plague. Spoiler alert: the virologist shoots himself in the face within moments of encountering his first zombies, leaving Super Gerry to complete his task alone.

I say Super Gerry because Brad Pitt is a seemingly unstoppable force in this movie (again a nod to Commando), surviving numerous zombie attacks, explosions and a plane crash that leaves him impaled on a piece of shrapnel. He is practically a force of nature as everywhere he goes, he leaves behind in ruins. His act of illogical, reckless and utterly foolish self sacrifice at the end leads me to believe that we are to perceive Gerry Lane as some sort of messiah. And he would have to be, against this particular zombie plague.

The zombies are almost directly lifted from 28 Days Later’s rage-infected runners, seemingly amped up way beyond any normal human capacity. Once bitten, victims turn bitey in twelve seconds and run screaming directly towards fresh meat, smashing through windows and doors as though they were mild inconveniences. The zombies are referred to as such (in several languages) and though we are told they are the walking dead, we never actually see someone die prior to turning. The change is so rapid that the victim simply twitches and screams for a moment or two and then pursues its next meal. If they are away from stimulus for a period, they become “dormant” and stagger around a bit like most zombies but a poorly timed footstep or squeaky door and they come running. And here we come to the worst part of the whole ordeal.

The CG super zombies used in any scene involving more than a handful of biters were amateurish at best, completely unnatural looking and (I think) even improperly scaled in some of the long shots. The scenes of millions of scrambling super zombies scaling walls and buildings might have been somewhat effective if they hadn’t resembled video game graphics from eight years ago. This all might have been forgivable if more than a drop or two of blood had been spilled on camera. With all the biting, shooting, stabbing and limb-severing, the most blood we see is on Gerry’s forehead after surviving the aforementioned plane crash.

The usual conceit in zombie movies is that humans are their own worst enemies in times of crisis but that normal people can rise to the occasion and pull through. World War Z gives us the complete opposite, that an attractive, nearly impervious, highly resourceful super hero can save all of humanity as long as he has cell phone access to the UN. Please, if you haven’t already, don’t give this steaming turd of a film any of your money, it will only encourage a sequel. Just put on Dawn of the Dead and hope that this is the final bullet in the brain stem of the zombie craze.


MANBORG: The Saga Continues…In Print!

That’s right! Not only is Manborg starring in his own sweet ass comic book, but The Blood Theatre editor, Matthew T., was the illustrator for issue #1! Read the official press release below!

MANBORG_ISSUE1Cult filmmaker Steven Kostanski is excited to announce that the characters he created with Jeremy Gillespie for the ASTRON-6 produced film MANBORG will be continuing their exploits in between the stapled newsprint pages of a full-colour illustrated comic-book adventure due for release at the Toronto FanExpo this August.

Based on the cult hit film MANBORG, which hit DVD and VOD last Spring with Anchorbay
Entertainment in Canada and Dark Sky Films in the USA, the first issue kicks off a two-part story arch in the tradition of newsprint movie comics of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The story picks up during the events of the feature film, expanding the scope of the original film and introducing fans to brand new characters and mythologies, including the true fate Manborg’s brother!

While the story was conceived by MANBORG creator Steven Kostanski, who is also overseeing every aspect of the development of the comic, this time around MANBORG producer Peter Kuplowsky and indie filmmaker Justin Decloux are penning the antics of Justice, Mina, #1 Man and titular Manborg as they continue to battle Count Draculon and his army of Killborgs.

As for the art, Kostanski’s memorable and iconic sci-fi/horror universe will be reproduced panel by Manborgpanel by illustrator and graphic designer Matthew Therrien (, with colours provided by Shira Haberman ( Matthew Therrien’s work might be familiar to MANBORG fans, as he is responsible for a fantastic illustrated poster tribute to the film. 

In an effort to more faithfully parody and emulate newsprint pulp comics, the issue will also include a one page faux-comic- advertisement (in the tradition of Marvel’s one-page Hostess comic- ads) based on Steven Kostanksi’s award-winning short-film BIO-COP, as well as a letters column where fans will receive relationship advice from Manborg’s love-struck antagonist: The Baron. Fans can email their queries to and have a chance to appear in future installments of the column.

Teaser Image from MANBORG: No Manborg Left Behind

Teaser Image from MANBORG: No Manborg Left Behind

Issue #1 of MANBORG, entitled NO MANBORG LEFT BEHIND, will first become available for fans at the Toronto Fan Expo (Aug. 22nd – 25th) at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Raven Banner
Entertainment, Rue Morgue and Anchorbay Entertainment booths, each one a proud supporter and sponsor of the comic. A digital release of the comic is also planned to follow the initial print run, and details will be announced via MANBORG’s Facebook Fan page and Twitter account

Check out Matthew’s Fan Page and follow him on Twitter!

Also Check out Bearly Tails, a series of offbeat comics from Shira Haberman.