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WRITTEN REVIEW: The Slasher Movie Book

My attention was first drawn to this ghastly tomb of teenage death and debauchery when a copy was being given away by a fellow horror enthusiast, who’s blog I frequent, Freddy in Space. Now I don’t win things, ever, but I figured “what the hell, I might as well give it a shot”. So I threw my hat in the ring and wouldn’t ya know, I won! That was back in June, which happens to be my birth month, so it was kinda like getting a birthday gift from an internet friend. And let me tell you, this book was a hundred times better then the gifts I get from my prison pen pals. I never woulda’ thought the United States Postal Service would ship human. . . well, I won’t get into all that. . .

I’m always interested in reading more about film, or films in particular. How they’re made, the stories from behind the scenes and what not. I guess that’s why this book jumped out at me. I’ve seen my fair share of slasher movies, [what kind of horror blogger would I be if I hadn’t?] but my knowledge pales in comparison to author Justin Kerswell

Kerswell has been a fan of the genre since he was a boy, watching rented movies on his home Beta player. Now that he’s all grown up he has made a name from himself reviewing such films for his website, Hysteria Lives!. Having reviewed 379 films and counting, not to mention various retrospectives, Kerswell presents himself as some what of an expert in the field, and desirably so. These literary film credentials and a love for the genre have inspired him to write a book, compiling some of the best and worst slasher movies of all time, The Slasher Movie Book.

First published in 2010 and distributed in the United Kingdom under the title Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut. Chicago Review Press picked up the book for distribution in the US and it hit book shelves in June of 2012.

The Slasher Movie Book covers not only the “Golden Age” of the genre - including some of the most memorable films from between 1978 and ‘84, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Burning and others - but the decades of “Proto-Slashers” that came before it - Peeping Tom & Psycho - as well as the modern era that really took off in the 90’s - Scream & Urban Legend. These films often stuck to the traditional formulas but had become self aware, like some futuristic cyborg that was built to help mankind but has since learned to view humans as a threat and must exterminate each and everyone of us in an attempt to ensure it’s own survival. . . Wait, what the hell am I talking about? I really started to get carried away there. Must have been something I ate.

The heart of this book reflects upon the “Golden Age”. Kerswell comments on what is seemingly every slasher film that was released during that time. It’s amazing to see just how many of these movies were released in just a short time. What is even more amazing is the sheer number of films that are on my “one of these days I’ll sit down and watch this” list, let alone those that I‘ve never even heard of. If slasher movie knowledge was a skill in some roleplaying game, Kerswell would be a level 19 or 20 for sure. Now roll a die and add your modifier.

What I found most interesting was the look at what came before and after the “Golden Age”. Kerswell goes back as far as the silent era, explaining how certain story elements and plot devices became influential and were later incorporated into slasher movies. Other film styles were also influential including the Italian Giallo and German Krimi films. The later two having the most influence.

Accompanying this veritable check list of gruesome gore are wonderfully colorful movie posters, promotional materials and box cover art that play an important supporting role. There is something charming about old 80’s painted movie covers, like those found in the National Lampoon‘s Vacation series of films. It’s fun to see a similar artistic quality being used in such a macabre way.

The only negative argument that I can make about this book is that slasher films themselves are formulaic and become repetitive. Reading about so many films that are so similar to one another became tiresome. Like a slasher movie killer who dies and comes back, only to die and come back again, I felt that this book drug on toward the middle.

I would have liked a few more behind the scenes stories/examples as to how these films were made. Perhaps some tales of development hell, or some actor/director drama. I think this could have broken up the monotony a little. However, this request is a little unfair. After all, the book isn’t titled “The Slasher Movie Book, and Other Interesting Stories About How They Were Made”. So, I really can’t fault Kerswell or his book for not being anything other then what it is.

The Slasher Movie Book is just what it‘s title suggests. A remarkably detailed history on the horror sub-genre that is right for any true fan. But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself!



★ ★ ★