I began wondering, in blog terms, about so-called "slasher movies" in my post The real Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I came to something of a conclusion there.
Currently, I'm writing something in that ilk, which has me pondering it further, dissatisfied with the rather snarky conclusion I came to in that post.
The trouble arises, as it often does with terms for various exploitation genres and sub-genres, in that the name itself originates as a pejorative, which has by many fans, rabid and casual, been taken as a badge of pride, or simply, as the case is today, as simply a given. So, if we're to take it as a genre or sub-genre, and while acknowledging that a majority, or even a vast majority, are pretty low on the quality scale, we must have a definition that goes beyond the issue of quality.
The movie Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film sets Halloween as the arrival of the final template for the formula, but then it also neglects to even make a passing reference to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Black Christmas, when discussing the build-up.
Frankly, it seems the starting place is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Not that I'm prepared to define it, in itself, as a "slasher" story, although I'm not prepared to eliminate that possibility either.
The British and European movies that are clearly important parts of developing what would become the formula - notably Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve, in fact the entire giallo genre - seem to draw consciously from that formula. Many commentaries, especially among the British, make specific note of it. Even later formula movies such as Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp continue the mystery/twist format, showing their fairly direct path out of that formula.
So, are we left with a very basic "person or persons commits mass murder on a group of people through different means, preferably including a blade weapon"? That would retroactively include a wide spectrum of stories, from Christie's novel and its many adaptations to Peeping Tom. Or is it merely the formula? The one that began with Halloween, or some time in that neighborhood.
I'm left with little for answers. I wouldn't consider myself a fan of this genre, by any stretch, and yet searching the aisles of the video store, I find few that I haven't seen at some point, for my own ability to view the genre with fresh eyes.
My friend Jo just sent me this article, Why 'Torture Porn' Is the Hottest (and Most Hated) Thing in Hollywood by Claude Brodesser-Akner, and it's also worth noting Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn by David Edelstein. "Torture Porn" is the new "Slasher Movie". Since "Slasher Movie" has been taken on semi-genre stature, "Torture Porn" is added to the lexicon, a related formula, although one that seems to focus more on putting men in harm's way than the earlier one had.
And already the fan's of the genre, as well as many casual observers and viewer, are taking on the pejorative term as a simply a label. In neither case am I prepared to vigorously defend the merits of the whole, as such, but then I'm not prepared to vigorously defend many popular entertainment trends in this modern era.
I'm even less inclined, however, to casually dismiss any either.
I'm more simply curious where each exists as something I can explain better than "I know it when I see it." This isn't necessarily a problem in itself, except that seems quickly to become "I know it when I see its marketing campaign." I'm not sure that's a completely barren line of analysis, but it certainly presents nothing beyond a doorway to analysis... and I can't say I've gotten significantly further with with all the thinking I've done on the matter.