They used to be filmmaking's dirty little secret — something they'd sneak into the local Bijoux in the dark of night. But suddenly slasher films...

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PASADENA, Calif. — They used to be filmmaking’s dirty little secret — something they’d sneak into the local Bijoux in the dark of night.

But suddenly slasher films have gone legit. It’s no longer just pimply-faced teenage boys who are rushing to the triplex for a fright fix. Now film critics are pontificating on the subliminal meaning of scary movies, well-coiffed fans are scratching up tickets online and directors like Wes Craven suddenly find themselves the subject of doctoral dissertations.

How all that happened will be the subject of “Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film,” a feature-length documentary premiering on Starz at 9 p.m. Oct. 13.

Craven, conjurer of films like “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Hills Have Eyes” and the three “Scream” movies, says these movies have been validated because greasing the goosebumps of an audience is good business.

“It used to be the studio — even if they give you the opportunity to make a horror film — they didn’t want to be associated with it too much because it would look bad at their dinner parties if they were producing that kind of film. Now it’s much more seen as — even among money people — as a smart bet,” he says.

Part of that is because aficionados of terror tales grew up with them. “There have been enough fans becoming critics, writers and so forth that have depicted it more as some intellectually worthy [endeavor] and a form of art just like other kinds of films,” says Craven.


“Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film,” a feature-length documentary premiering at 9 p.m. Oct. 13 on Starz. It will repeat at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and 11 p.m. Oct. 31.

“Part of human expression”

Craven says our greed for gore is primeval. “It’s very specialized, but still in the tradition, I always say it goes back to ‘The Odyssey’ and the Cyclops chasing Ulysses around. It’s sort of that primal story of scary things. It’s ancient, and I think a necessary part of human expression is to talk about the possibilities of violence from human beings — one to the other. It happens all the time, so why shouldn’t there be films about it?”

From “Psycho” to “The Carnival of Souls,” audiences have found themselves spellbound by the horrific. Craven says that’s because the ramifications of violence are so fundamental.

“Death, dishonor, humiliation, dominance,” he says. “A woman is being beaten up by her husband. It doesn’t necessarily kill her, but it brings her whole world crashing down. The schoolyard bully punches you in the nose and says, ‘I’ll knock your block off if you stand in my way.’ That colors your whole schoolyard experience. And certainly if one country invades another, it’s going to cause enormous ramifications as we’re seeing right now. So it’s not like we’re making movies about violence and there’s no violence out there to be reflected.”

Craven, who was raised a fundamentalist Baptist, thinks horror films not only reflect society but reveal the nature of their viewers. “My feeling always was that horror films were kind of a mirror that you hold up to certain parts of society and people that react very negatively to it are people that are uncomfortable with what they see in the mirror.

“The most civilized countries can do the most uncivilized things, or people that appear perfectly normal can be deadly or frightening or whatever. All kids want to feel like they can overcome the worst monster. So films that show the worst monsters attacking teenagers is perfect fare because then they can sort of identify with characters that are facing the worst. ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ are the same way. Before it got politically correct, somebody was going to throw Hansel and Gretel in the oven and burn them up. And kids ate it up,” he shakes his head.

Fear is fundamental

The archetype of evil is understood early in life. “Any child, without ever falling into words, has the perception that adults can be very dangerous and not all adults are their friends and what happens if their parents aren’t there? What if their parents abandoned them? I think one of the earliest primal fears is abandonment by a parent. There have been experiments with babies where the mothers just didn’t look at them for a day [resulting in] markable behavioral changes. So they’re all just very, very basic fears based on this very disturbing propensity for human beings to be violent with each other.”

The man who unleashed Freddy Krueger on the world has always insisted on exploring the deeper meanings of life. He says he would like that to be part of his legacy. “I would hope that it would be seen as a body of work that was sympathetic toward the human race, at the same time it held up a mirror to some of its darker facets where we should take an honest look.”