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posted: 6/14/2012 10:00 AM

Slasher movies have their day in new book

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  • The poster art from "Halloween," one of many maniac movies included in J.A. Kerswell's "The Slasher Movie Book."

    The poster art from "Halloween," one of many maniac movies included in J.A. Kerswell's "The Slasher Movie Book."

  • The poster art from "Happy Birthday To Me," one of many maniac movies included in J.A. Kerswell's "The Slasher Movie Book."

    The poster art from "Happy Birthday To Me," one of many maniac movies included in J.A. Kerswell's "The Slasher Movie Book."

  • Lola (Greta Gerwig) converses with her pal (Hamish Linklater) in the non-rom com feature "Lola Versus."

    Lola (Greta Gerwig) converses with her pal (Hamish Linklater) in the non-rom com feature "Lola Versus."

  • Video: "Lola Versus" trailer


Mad slashers unite!

In 1989, I named Sean Cunningham's original horror fest "Friday the 13th" as the most influential motion picture of its decade.

Now, 23 years later, Chicago Review Press has published the ultimate maniac movie book from writer J.A. Kerswell, who became hooked on the crimson genre at the age of 12 when he saw "Halloween II." It was the 1982 sequel to John Carpenter's "Halloween," which Kerswell correctly credits as the beginning of "The Golden Age of Slashers" (1978-1984).

"The Slasher Movie Book" is the bible for horror fans craving carnal carvings in the cinema. The book, previously published in the United Kingdom, contains a treasure trove of iconic 1980s movie posters, but also tells the historical and international origins of the genre.

I reached Kerswell in Bristol for a four-question interview:

Q.Why don't mad slasher movies inspire fans to go out and kill people, as many watchdog groups used to (and still) think they can?

A."By rights, I should be a drooling maniac with a finger itching for a machete given all the slashers I've seen. In reality, I'm a vegan who will pick up snails from a pavement to move them out of harm's way. Most of the slasher movie fans I know are incredibly well-adjusted people. It's those fans of romantic comedies you have to watch out for.

"I jest, but the presumption that people who watch violent movies will go and act out that violence is just knee-jerk hysteria. First, it was the Penny Dreadfuls that were going to corrupt society. Then horror comics of the 1950s and so on. The reality is that most people can separate fantasy from reality. Why don't they worry about audiences at boxing matches taking jabs at passers-by after the bout?

"Slasher movies are especially an easy target and provide a useful smoke screen to hide society's more culpable ills. In reality, most violence is borne of social and economic inequality, bigotry and intolerance -- not some guy in a hockey mask bumping off horny teenagers in hot pants."

Q.What are your top five greatest all-time slasher films?

A. "If we're talking about what I see as the slasher movie's Golden Age, then John Carpenter's 'Halloween' is still a king among madmen. Artful, scary and beautifully well-shot, although 'Friday the 13th' was met with outrage on its release, it is still an effective and now deliciously campy thriller, and a hefty dose of nostalgia makes it endlessly watchable.

"The Canadian-lensed 'My Bloody Valentine' (1981) is seriously underrated with likable characters and moments of slasher perfection. Also from 1981 was 'Happy Birthday to Me,' an unlikely slasher from the director of the original 'Cape Fear.' Whilst it annoys some, I adore its ability to revel in its absurdities, right down to that ludicrous mask-ripping finale.

"'The House on Sorority Row' (1983) may be a left-field choice, but has just the right balance of scares, cheese and likable cast."

Q. What was the best thing about writing this book?

A. "Being able to burst the myth that 'Halloween' was created in some kind of cultural vacuum. At their most basic, slasher movies are a game of cat and mouse, and that dynamic has driven horror movies and thrillers from the dawn of cinema. Also, even the Grand Guignol theater of Paris celebrated the fascination with the visceral that the slasher movie exploited to such successful and controversial effect nearly a hundred years later.

"I enjoyed tracing the birth of the slasher movie through the 'Old Dark House chillers of the 1930s, through Hitchcock's 'Psycho' to the German krimi and Italian giallo thrillers of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these Euro-shockers played U.S. screens and along with the melting pot that was American Grindhouse and low-budget showmanship helped shape and give birth to the subgenre many love -- and just as many loathe -- today."

Q. Have you had any negative criticism of the book?

A. "The reaction to the book has been overwhelmingly positive. The vitriol against the slasher has mellowed over the years. I know that you weren't too keen on them back in the day either, Dann! I'd be interested in knowing if the distance of time has mellowed your take on them."

No. But thanks for asking.

Go to to locate a copy of "The Slasher Movie Book."

Film critic's notebook

• Marcus Theatres' annual "Kids Dream Summer Film Series" starts up Tuesday with the fact-based "Dolphin Tale" at theaters in Elgin, Addison, Gurnee and other Chicagoland locations.

The movies -- all rated G or PG -- will be shown at 10 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through Aug. 16. Admission costs a measly $2. Go to for information.

• Cinemark's Classic Film Series continues at 2 and 7 p.m. every Wednesday at local Cinemark theaters through July 25. The features have been digitally restored from the Warner Bros. vault. Next up, the 1967 anti-establishment classic "Cool Hand Luke" starring the late Paul Newman in Hollywood's greatest egg-eating contest. Go to for details.

• Comics Eddie Pepitone and Patton Oswalt will appear in person for the world premiere of "The Bitter Buddha" at 8 p.m. Friday, June 15, as part of the TBS Just for Laughs Chicago comedy festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Go to for tickets and schedules.

• Those wacky guys Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are bringing their New York "Found Footage Festival" to Chicago's Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., for one show at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 16. Tickets cost $12 at A video for the show is at

Reel Life mini-review:

"Lola Versus"

Daryl Wein's indie girlie tale "Lola Versus" offers up the year's best movie ending so far -- then botches it by adding an extra, dumbed-down ending with a voice-over narrator telling us what it all means. Gee, thanks.

The good ending shows 29-year-old New Yorker Lola (mumblecore mainstay Greta Gerwig) walking down a city sidewalk when her heel catches and she tumbles to the pavement.

Not a single guy stops to help her up. Lola is on her own now, She is learning how to function in the world without a man to assist, define or lead her through life.

"Lola Versus" hasn't scored well on the score board (a miserly 41 percent like factor). But I have specialized knowledge some critics don't: two twentysomething daughters.

Even though the details are different, "Lola Versus" taps into the angst, expectations, disappointments, hopes and coping mechanisms of its target audience with cross-hairs accuracy.

Lola has a great job, perfect guy and a strange best friend in Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones). Prepping for her wedding, Lola comes home to see her petrified fiance (Joel Kinnaman) on the couch and we already know: He wants out.

"Lola Versus" is about what comes after Prince Charming proposes. The constant second-guessing your moves and your self-worth. Your former hippie dad and mom (Bill Pullman and Debra Winger) getting involved in your life. Your socially inappropriate best pal not shutting up.

Life is a mess that doesn't follow sitcom rules. It doesn't have to make sense and everyone's journey back is fraught with diversions and bad decisions.

The elements that some viewers might consider weaknesses in "Lola Versus" are the ones I think give it power.

Gerwig, usually an acquired taste, breezes through setups that could have been trite and pretentious. Her low-key performance melds well with the insightful script (from Wein and Lister-Jones) to capture a video portrait of a modern woman on the rebound from life's speed bump.

"Lola Versus" opens at the Century Centre and River East in Chicago and the Evanston Century 12. Rated R for language, drug use and sexual situations. 89 minutes ...

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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