J.A. Kerswell‘s The Slasher Movie Book is, quite literally, a colorful affair. In addition to the myriad posters, lobby cards, and advertisements presented in loving detail, the different sections come in assorted background colors. The rather hefty tome, out now from Chicago Review Press, is a wonderfully illustrated and compiled love letter to the slasher genre.
As with every book of this stripe, some background is required, and Kerswell traces the slasher film all the way back to the Grand Guignol in late 1800s’ Paris, then works it up through the Hitchcockian thrillers of the ’60s and ’70s. The author takes a brave tone in stating that Halloween is the first true slasher. I say “brave,” as so many other folks (myself included) tend to go with its predecessor, Black Christmas.
That’s a minor quibble, however. The Slasher Movie Book is a fun read, if bit breezy — I killed it over the course of an evening, mainly due to the fact that it’s easily 50% images. The collection of images is impressive. Kerswell shows many of the iconic posters for many of the films, but also offers up a lot of the gorier overseas imagery, especially those from Japan and Mexico (Mexico is overseas when your author is writing from a British perspective).
The only major complaint about The Slasher Movie Book? It’s too thorough — at least in terms of the quantity of films covered. I never thought that’d be a complaint, but to have cut the number of films in half, and addressed them more thoroughly, would have resulted in a much more satisfying read. When Kerswell gets in-depth (as he does when focusing on aspects such as Ennio Morricone’s music for Italian giallos), it’s a richly-nuanced bit of reading. The boom-boom-boom lists of film after film lends itself to skimming: when you see a paragraph that’s mostly italicized, you move along to the next, post-haste.
Thankfully, once the author reaches the “golden age,” things slow down. Movies are analyzed with more than a brief plot summary and generalities concerning their contributions to later, more iconic films. Many of the tent-pole films get quite a bit of ink, although it’s mainly in terms of their plot points and critical reception. Other than the box office take, the slasher films aren’t really discussed in relation to anything other than themselves. There’s a sidebar wherein Kerswell demonstrates what mainstream film took from the slasher, but that’s it. Basically, it’s a cyclical, reflexive book that — once the history is established — exists only to examine itself.
This is a great book for fans of the genre who are looking to dig a little deeper, and discover what obscurities are worth tracking down. Trashy movie aficionados and kitsch kids will dig it, as well — especially with the wild pics inside. Your average moviegoer’s going to be overwhelmed, and those looking for something a little more analytical will be slightly let down.