The last couple of years has seen episodic television make a play for the slasher genre, attempting to rework the foremost body count format of storytelling into something that can work on a week by week basis. The two most prominent examples of this trend are the Ryan Murphy-created Scream Queens and MTV’s small-screen reboot of Scream. A lesser known example that popped up concurrently with these two is the bluntly-named Slasher, which was made for the Chiller Network. Like its more prominent brethren, this show demonstrates the pleasures and pitfalls of trying to create weekly slice-and-dice programming.
Slasher begins with a macabre double-murder: a pregnant woman and her hubby are offed by a machete-wielding killer… but not before the baby is carved out of the mother’s stomach, surviving to be found by the cops with the killer Tom Winston (Patrick Garrow). That baby grows up to be Sarah (Katie McGrath), who returns home to inherit the family house with her aspiring journalist husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren). She wants to open an art gallery — and also learn more about her parents. Unfortunately, her arrival coincides with a masked killer who starts murdering the locals in ways related to the several deadly sins. With the help of childhood-buddy-turned-deputy Cam (Steve Byers) and the still-imprisoned Winston, Sarah tries to figure out who the killer is as the population is whittled down, episode by episode.
Slasher wears its influences on its sleeve: the survivor-turned-detective heroine is clearly modeled on Sydney from the Scream films, Sarah’s fact-finding visits to the imprisoned killer are an obvious lift from Silence Of The Lambs and the “deadly sin”-themed murders evoke Se7en. Unfortunately, Slasher doesn’t offer twists or inventive recombination of these familiar elements — instead, Aaron Martin’s scripts (he wrote all 8 episodes) simply graft them onto the equally familiar “town with a secret” genre of t.v. drama.
There’s a lot of primetime soap-style melodrama and some too-soft satire of modern journalism holding things down between the killings and cliffhangers in each episode. On a positive note, Slasher doesn’t get overtly cutesy with genre deconstruction and hardcore slasher fans will appreciate that it avoids being sarcastic as it pursues its tropes. Unfortunately, as the plotting gets loopier in the final three episodes it goes overboard with plot twists that betray both characterizations and believability within the story’s context, resulting in a kind of morbid melodrama that lapses into self-parody because it gets so ludicrous.
All episodes were directed by Craig David Wallace and his work is professional but workmanlike. He does good work with the opening shocks and cliffhangers that bookend each installment — one murder scenario involving an isolated cornfield and an IV bag is pretty effective — but he only intermittently creates the kind of spooky atmosphere the show needed. A lot of the show is filmed in an oddly naturalistic style that makes it feel more like a mainstream drama than a horror series. As for the cast, McGrath is suitably professional as the lead but held back by a characterization that requires sudden changes in mood and a vagueness of purpose.
The best work comes from the side characters: Garrow does wonders with his clichéd murderer archetype, underplaying to memorable effect, and Christopher Jacot does nice comedic and dramatic work as a realtor who becomes one Sarah’s allies when the killer affects his personal life. A big surprise is credible work by tabloid fixture Dean McDermott as a stubborn and ineffectual sheriff: he’s better known for his reality show work but he turns in a solid performance (at least until the plot starts demanding ludicrous things from him and the rest of the characters).
In short, Slasher is a middling affair at best for horror t.v. fans. It delivers a suitable amount of shocks and a surprising amount of grue for a basic-cable show but it never succeeds in taking its inspirations into adventurous and interesting territory.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory will release the full series run of Slasher as a 2 blu-ray set on July 12th. The transfers look good, doing well by the sharp digital imagery, and both 5.1 and 2.0 lossless stereo tracks are included. The 5.1 is suitably bombastic in its use of music. The one extra is a short but fun promotional video that not only pitches the show but has cast members talking about their formative experiences with the horror genre and their favorite slasher films.