Take a guess how the genre got its name...go on, take a stab at it (nyuk nyuk). You got it, kids- the weapon of choice in these movies tends to be along the lines of a knife. Anything that can be used to stab or cut is fair game: razors, pitchforks, swords, corkscrews, drills, spears, hedgeclippers, you name it. Sure there's wild departures: in the Sleepaway Camp movies, for example, Angela uses everything from a lawnmower to an outhouse to dispatch the "deserving". Sometimes a killer has his or her "signature" weapon- where would Freddy Krueger be without his razor glove? And you can't separate Leatherface from his beloved, can you? Ah, a weirdo and his chainsaw. Even when something as random as a lawnmower is used, however, there's still somehow an intimacy to the killings. The killer and victim get right up close- chances are you won't see a gun or a stick of dynamite used to get the job done.
Despite the murder throughout the films, though, as Adam Rockoff points out in Going to Pieces (mentioned yesterday), slashers tend to be far less brutal than the average action film. Whereas Sylvester Stallone can gun down, slice up, and gut countless Vietcong baddies (Rambo) to audience cheers, the relative low body count of the average slasher is met with cries of "Depravity!". So what's the difference? Well, it's pretty much the "intimacy" I was talking about. The characters who get killed aren't merely faceless thugs, but rather they're men and women we've gotten to know throughout the movie. Whether we actually like them or not is another story entirely- I mean, who wasn't glad when whiny ol' Franklin got it in Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Sometimes we identify with these characters, sometimes we care about them- and that makes it seem juuuust a little more brutal and a little more shocking when they get the axe.
Rockoff also notes the perceived phallic nature of stabbing a victim- of entering their body in a brutal and violent fashion without their permission. This metaphor is used to bolster the argument that slasher movies are not only hyperviolent, but also they're inherently sexist and demeaning to women. To paraphrase Freud, however...sometimes a knife is just a knife. The argument is also weakened when one tallies up the number of men dispatched in these movies. Even Michael Myers, who spends his time killing his "sister" over and over again, does away with a fella or a dog every now and then.
Out, out, damn Franklin!
One movie that seems to want us to believe that a drill can be much
more than just a drill is Slumber Party Massacre. In this trashy flick written and directed by women (feminist-lesbian writer Rita Mae Brown and Roger Corman editor Amy Jones, respectively), the freshly-escaped-from-the-nuthouse killer uses a 2-odd-foot drill to kill off high school girls (as well as a few unfortunate males). Slumber Party Massacre walks a very strange line, zigzagging between parody, exploitation, and social commentary. The box art/one-sheet is a photo shot from behind the killer, waist-down, with said drill dangling between his legs. As he taunts our Final Girl with his drill in the climactic showdown, he creepily mutters some date-rape speak: "C'mon...you know you want it". She responds by "castrating" an inch or two from his drill's tip. Lest you think it's all an empowering, sly parable about rape, however, the movie also smacks of the stereotypical: there's just about more boob shots in SPM than found in most slashers. Rather than strictly pandering to the male audience, maybe it's all just a big fantasy for Rita Mae Brown herself. Watch the movie and ask yourself, just how many female handymen (handywomen?) can one town have?