Jim Harper has written a book about the slasher genre entitled LEGACY OF BLOOD: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO SLASHER MOVIES, released in the UK in 2004. The blurb reads: The “slasher” movie is the bloodiest incarnation of the modern horror film, tainted by criticisms of misogyny, yet remaining-on and off-a box-office draw for 30 years. Combining in-depth analysis with over 200 film reviews, Legacy of Blood is the most comprehensive examination of the slasher movie and its conventions to date, from Halloween and the notorious I Spit on Your Grave, to Scream-the redefining genre hit of the ’90s-and beyond. With knowledgable guides on the subject as rare as much of the films they cover, Retro Slashers shot a few questions at the author at time of release for an insight on the genre he so obviously loves – and how the book came to being.
Retro Slashers: The obvious, how did you get into slasher films?
Jim Harper: Like many kids I got interested in horror films because they were the ones I wasn’t really supposed to watch. I used to spend ages in video stores looking at the boxes, because I wasn’t allowed to hire them out. I can still remember the taglines to most of those films!
Anyway, one of the images that really stuck in my head was a picture from the back of Friday the 13th, the shot of the canoe with one bloody arm hanging over the side. That seemed so interesting to me- I really wanted to know what had happened and what rest of the body looked like. It just seemed to open up a world of possibilities. Of course, as soon as I was able to, I watched film and the rest of the series. After that, I would seek out anything that might have blood and guts and psychopathic killers in.
Retro Slashers: What’s your professional background, and the genesis of the book?
Harper: I studied Ancient History at university, well aware that I was never going to be an academic. While at university I started writing and editing college magazines, which eventually made me think I might be able to make it as a writer. I did the usual crappy jobs whilst trying to get any kind of writing work I could find. I wrote audiobiographies for musicians, album reviews, articles here and there, anything to keep writing. In the meantime I started preparing a series of slasher movie reviews, just for myself, for fun. Eventually it occurred to me that I’d already written part of a book, so I tidied it all up and started sending it out to publishers. After much reworking it became Legacy of Blood.
Retro Slashers: Did living in the UK with all their cut versions make it difficult to cover all these movies?
Harper: It certainly didn’t help. I was determined to see the fullest version of each film if it was at all possible. Thankfully the British Board of Film Classification keeps an extensive online database, so I spent many, many hours going through their records to see if the UK version of each film had been cut. If it was, I had to try and find an uncut international version.
Thankfully, the advent of DVD saw many of these films being re-submitted to the BBFC. Many films that had been savagely cut or banned outright were now passed uncut, so I could pick up quite a few of them in British high street stores. That made it easier.
Retro Slashers: By what guidelines did you keep to cover what is a slasher, or what is related to the genre?
Harper: Well, in general I tried to make sure each film had a killer (or two where necessary) that was roughly human (rather than, say, a werewolf), an emphasis on the ‘stalking’ of the victims, and usually a hero to oppose the killer, although not all slasher movies have heroes. My own view of the slasher movie is a fairly narrow one, comparatively speaking. I’ve heard Silence of the Lambs described as a slasher, but the ‘stalking’ element is strongly reduced and the use of investigative and scientific methods to catch the killer hardly ever appears in slasher movies. The police don’t ever catch the bad guy in a slasher movie! Someone told me that Carrie was a slasher too. That’s got plenty of teenagers dying, but Carrie’s supernatural powers distance her from the usual slasher movie killers and there’s no stalking of the victims.
Retro Slashers: Are you happy with the final product?
Harper: Well, yes and no. I’m pleased with my work, but I’m also completely paranoid about it. I can think of hundreds of places where the work could have been improved. But that’s a never ending circle- it’s never as good as you want it to be, and you could still be rewriting it years from now. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere and say ‘No, that’s it, I’m done.’ There’s always going to be a little voice in your head telling you it’s not good enough.
Retro Slashers: Have you read Adam Rockoff’s Going to Pieces book? It’s the only other major book of its kind…
Harper: I have, and I thought it was very good. Rockoff approached the subject from a different angle, preferring to cover less films in greater detail, backed up by interviews and so forth. I wasn’t able to do that, so i chose to include more films in less detail. So I think our books complement each other well.
Retro Slashers: Why do you think slashers have a bad rep, when they’ve basically been the most successful horror movies of their decades?
Harper: Part of it comes down to the fact that most mainstream critics would rather cut their own foot off than admit a low-budget horror movie is any good. For the most part, slasher movies trade on two things: sex and violence. There’s no profound meaning behind it, no pretension towards ‘high art’, it’s just pure entertainment. They’re manufactured for the fans, for the masses. I think it annoys certain people that a film like Friday the 13th can be massively successful. It’s not art, it’s just entertainment, and it’s great!
Retro Slashers: What’s your absolute best and worst of the subgenre? And one you feel guilty for liking.
Harper: My absolute best? That’s a tough one, there’s so many. I never get bored of watching the first two Halloween films. They should be watched together. Great stuff.
As for the worst, I’ll go for The Last Slumber Party. It was really hard to get through to the end of that one.
The guilty pleasure has got to be Prom Night IV. It’s much better than the first one!
Retro Slashers: Slashers are best viewed on… VHS or DVD?
Harper: DVD, no question about it. No more white fuzzy lines! With a good transfer you can see every drop of blood. It’s like watching them for the first time again.
Retro Slashers: What do you think the internet is doing for these movies?
Harper: The internet has been one of the single greatest things to happen to low-budget horror. You can now easily import all your favourite slasher movies from any where in the world for great prices. People are writing about films you might never have heard of, let alone get to see. My book would have been absolutely impossible without the internet. The amount of information for horror fans that has become available in the past five-ten years is staggering.
Retro Slashers: What’s next on your plate? Anything slice-and-dice fans can look forward to?
Harper: Well, I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a book on Italian horror in the 1980s, so there should be some crossover potential there. Certainly fans of gialli and splatter movies should find something of interest in there. I’ll let you know when I have more concrete details!