Slasher is Macabre Mystery Fun
by Kristin Battestella
The eight episode 2016 Canadian cum Netflix anthology series Slasher provides potboiler mysteries and atmospheric scares in this debut season called The Executioner featuring Katie McGrath as Sarah Bennett, the baby survivor of a 1988 Halloween double murder who's return to town has inspired a new killer to don the original Executioner mantle.
Cowboy costumes and masked visitors lead to machete stabbings, pools of blood, gutted pregnancy bellies, and sirens to open “An Eye for an Eye” before contemporary drives, newspaper headlines, and nasty locals a flutter. Punk kids on the street and taunts from one dressed as the killer escalate to violent beatings and bodies in the woods. The original culprit is locked away, but tense prison chats raise more questions than answers on this copycat. Hidden basement cameras and video tapes featuring some surprising saucy intertwine our ensemble of friends and foes then and now amid fresh victims, serrated blades, and gory reveals. Despite some necking in the woods, “Digging Your Grave With Your Teeth” proves a killer on the loose is no joking matter thanks to cryptic notes and bloody fingers in the mail. Moving in montages and art gallery fix ups try for a fresh start, but homes where people were chopped up in the master bedroom aren't exactly hot on the market. Police ignore biblical clues, and ill advised party invitations begat power outages, back alley traps, and knife attacks. Many are on edge but others seem too cool in spite of mystery coordinates in the woods, overgrown caves, bones, and forensics. Voiceover flashbacks recount which husbands were caught on those homemade tapes, but newspaper scoops, gossiping neighbors, and jail cell religion aren't enough for police. Arguments show how haunted one and all still are by these crimes, and red light hospital emergencies only lead to more bleeding eyes, foaming mouths, and body contortions. Seemingly important characters don't stick around long on Slasher, and 1968 cruising, nostalgic tunes, and bridge disasters open “Like as Fire Eateth Up and Burneth Wood” while funerals and press conferences add to present guilt, arguments over absolution, and rat poison. The Executioner is still out there as bad business decisions come to light and bar room make outs turn sour. Subtle nods to Halloween's in the closet finale and When a Stranger Calls cranks layer the weird art gallery visitors and lackluster police protection. We don't know what the killer wants, but every victim has a past that's caught up to them thanks to highway scares, desperate confessions, and effective horrors as townsfolk point fingers at who's to blame or should be next. Stranded in the woods attacks and fatal dockside debts repaid are well filmed as this quaint town's interwoven secrets provide both red herrings and suspects begging for mercy.
Cremation, camouflage, and hunting scopes in “As Water is Corrupted Unless It Moves” seemingly reveals the murderer before more gunshots, traps in the forest, snakes, and search dogs. Friends debate the Old Testament over drinks, questioning the Seven Deadly Sins patterns and testing suspects with a process of elimination. Who is smart and dangerous enough to do such violence or is there more than one, a brains behind the brawn? Past mistakes, missing teenagers, and re-opened cases help pinpoint the next victim, but prayers for forgiveness only equate more deaths on Slasher. Strolls through the meadow in “Ill-Gotten Gains” stumble upon decomposing bodies as more family ties come to light and news reports question if the Executioner is a vigilante cleaning up a town where everyone seems to be hiding something. Jealousy, lust, and sloth become motives for crime, and on camera call outs lead to notes from the killer and twisted interviews. He only kills those who deserve to die – his victims are not innocent and the on air scoops toy with the truth. The body count rises, and repentance comes too late for sinners thanks to greed, hot oil vats, and chopping bodies into seven pieces. Upsetting abductions and assaults set off “The One Who Sows His Own Flesh” as basement revelations, knives, and escapes bring new accusations close to home. Reporters angle for a book deal while drug overdoses, prison fights, and prostitutes complicate the inconsistencies as former scandals and current cases collide with gunshots and fiery retributions. “In the Pride of His Face” revisits the revelations behind the 1988 Halloween stabbings, and big decisions need to be made between a divided marriage and career pride – the final, cardinal sin. Lists of who's next and suspicious websites lead to standoffs, seizures, and lumber saws despite unlikely father figures and flirtations. Kinky flashbacks establish the backward righteousness and twisted sense of justice among killers with self-sacrificing gore. Fake outs in broad daylight would suggest the crimes are over, but tokens from the killer lead to an interesting aftermath. Slasher doesn't just end with the last kill but shows how this town still can't quite move on in “Soon Your Own Eyes Will See.” Their darkness brought this murderer to light thanks to Halloween tears, regrets, and confrontations. Slasher's most chilling crime is done silently – a disturbing act answering when one asks for truth and forgiveness. Obsessions and one final piece of evidence tie the slicing and dicing retribution together as all Slasher's secrets come full circle.
Katie McGrath's (Merlin) likable child survivor Sarah Bennett just wants to put the past behind her, but the truth about her swinging parents doesn't help ease the shocks lingering from their murder. Sarah doubts if this move home was the right decision and she tries to paint again, but the unraveling juicy history keeps her on edge. She's suspicious of everyone and wonders if the murders have begun again because she tried to kill herself in the past. Is she a target of this new Executioner or an object of his obsession? Nasty neighbors blame her for willing out their shady – Sarah learns how to blackmail and snoop where she shouldn't. The cops don't like her Nancy Drew interference either, but she know the toll these lies have cost her and her loved ones. Sarah wants revenge, and rather than running away, she chooses to take matters into her own hands. Brandon Jay McLaren (Graceland) as Sarah's husband Dylan likewise hopes settling here is the right choice, however his job at the local newspaper quickly conflicts with his wife being part of the story. He respects whatever Sarah wants to do, but his publisher Mayko Nguyen (ReGenesis) wants him to hobnob with national reporters coming to cover the murders. These television interviews turn into competitions on how far one is willing to go for the big headlines, and Dylan enjoys being on camera. He says he can work with the police in sharing this story or tell the murders his own way, and leveraging death to advance compromises his integrity – as does interference from Sarah's sassy grandmother Wendy Crewson (Saving Hope). She dislikes Dylan and wants to protect Sarah, but she has a history of her own full of regrets, lies, and guilt. Of course, a murderer's insights are best for catching this new copycat, and Patrick Garrow's (Killjoys) original killer Tom Winston says he can be Sarah's catharsis. He tells her the truth – if only because Tom still thinks his actions are righteous and bringing sinners like her parents closer to light. Although her visits to him are at times repetitive with an as needed philosophical nugget or some leaving things cryptic cat and mouse for the sake of it, this isn't a hammy villain. Tom has some multi-dimensional demons and creepy obsessions, helping Sarah think like a killer yet wanting a a lock of her hair in exchange for a newspaper exclusive. It's pleasing that Slasher also has some gay representation, but our sassy, snobbish couple enjoys it when people get confused by one of them having a gender neutral name. While Christopher Jacot's (Eureka) realtor Robin talks about paint and potpourri, his husband has video sex behind his back before showering Robin with gifts. Our gay BFF helps Sarah snoop on the interconnected community history, and Slasher stereotypically uses the shady business transactions, hefty price tags, and fatal drug use as its gluttony and hedonism sins. Steve Byers (The Man in the High Castle) as policeman Cam Henry comforts Sarah and offers his support despite his own marital problems. However, he too warns her about looking into things best left undisturbed – including the naughty proclivities of his minister father. Likewise Dean McDermott as (Due South) Chief Vaughn belittles Cam and admits he doesn't care if the Bennetts think he stinks at his job, but he has disturbing secrets, too.
Blood, Halloween scares, and shocking slices add atmosphere to the sleepy neighborhood of Slasher. Real houses with vintage brick and woodwork should be quaint and safe – everyone walks from place to place, but bloody limbs, gory bedrooms, hidden cameras, and saucy VHS tapes accent the murderous real estate history. Fireworks build fear as frenetic editing reveals sinister amputations, tied up victims, and screams contrasting the smooth tracking and on location camerawork. Distorted voice effects for the killer set off this askew sense of righteousness while every snapping twig or stumble in the woods makes nature seem suspect alongside snakes, medieval hoods, and creepy taxidermy. Although tablets, Skype, convenient CCTV footage, and smart phones used as flashlights, recorders, and microphones keep the audience at a somewhat technical arms length; red lighting, spooky silhouettes, and shadows in the background frame create suspense. The occasional herky jerky scares and warped distortions are unnecessary, but there's no in your face boo shock when the killer walks unseen behind the victim. The audience sees and fears for the intended, and that innate is chilling enough. Water filming and violence are well done as are more creative deaths fulfilling biblical punishments, yet Slasher doesn't waste time with anything overly flashy or artsy. Despite the disturbing subject matters, there aren't many scandalous visuals or outrageous gore for the sake of it extremes. One should, however, avoid eating at the local fast food place lest one finds an ear, and instead of Google, these Canadian protagonists must use the fictitious “Colossal” in their abstract rural town. The cell phone will ring loudly to make one and all jump if need be, too – or vibrate gently when a message is to be missed. One poor cop is always strangled or knocked unconscious when on stakeout duty, but others joke about it onscreen. We notice these winks, but Slasher plays upon those horror movie cliches rather than falling prey to today's typical genre styles thanks to creator Aaron Martin (Degrassi: The Next Generation) and director Craig David Wallace's (Todd and the Book of Pure Evil) focus on one cohesive whodunit. Episodes and plots aren't constrained by toppers per act or commercial break hooks the way American network television relies on the old “same Bat time, same Bat channel” returns.
While there's time for a resolution – so often horror ends without giving us any authorities or what happens next response – Slasher may not have a lot of repeat value once you figure out who the killer is. I had suspicions, dismissed them, suspected again, and was right all along. Like others in the increasingly popular seasonal or speculative anthology format, it might be easy to call Slasher an American Horror Story knockoff. However, the shorter episode order here keeps Slasher a more taught, multi-layered mystery without toiling or fantastical tangents dragging on for those aforementioned stay tuned frights. Slasher has chilling scares, choice gore, and creative kills accenting intriguing, shout at the TV mysteries perfect for an event night marathon with macabre friends.