Seven years ago, back when the B-Movie Catechism was a wee little blog just getting started, one of the first movies we ever reviewed was Student Bodies, still one of the best slasher parodies ever as far as we’re concerned. Now, for that piece we concentrated on laying to rest Professor Tony Williams’ notion that slasher movies represented revenge fantasies for the Reagan era religious right. But Williams is hardly the only one to have come up with a theory regarding slashers. One popular hypothesis revolves around the preponderance of scenes such as this one…
Have I mentioned how much I love this movie?
Obviously, what Student Bodies is parodying here is the ubiquitous scene in which the action is shown from the killer’s point of view. Back in 1980, Siskel and Ebert aired a special episode of their show entitled Women In Danger which dealt primarily with slasher movies and what America’s favorite critics perceived as those movies lousy attitudes towards the fairer sex. One thing they considered particularly egregious was all those shots from the killer's perspective which they believed appealed to the baser instincts of male viewers by placing them in the killer’s shoes.
However, Carol J. Clover, in her essay which appeared in the book Horror, the Film Reader, thinks such an idea is only partially valid. She writes…
“Much is made of the use of the I-camera to represent the killer's point of view. In these passages—they are usually few and brief, but powerful—we see through his eyes and (on the sound track) hear his breathing and heartbeat. His and our vision is partly obscured by bushes or window blinds in the foreground. By such means we are forced, the argument goes, to identify with the killer. In fact, however, the relation between camera point of view and the processes of viewer identiﬁcation are poorly understood; the fact that Steven Spielberg can stage an attack from the shark's point of view (underwater, rushing upward toward the swimmers flailing legs) or Hitchcock an attack in The Birds from the birds’-eye perspective (from the sky, as they gather to swoop down on the streets of Bodega Bay) would seem to suggest either that the viewers identiﬁcatory powers are unbelievably elastic or that point-of-view shots can sometimes be pro forma. But let us for the moment accept the equation point of view = identiﬁcation. We are linked in this way with the killer in the early part of the film, usually before we have seen him directly and before we have come to know the Final Girl in any detail. Our closeness to him wanes as our closeness to the Final Girl waxes—a shift underwritten by story line as well as camera position. By the end, point of view is hers: we are in the closet with her. watching with her eyes the knife blade stab through the door; in the room with her as the killer breaks through the window and grabs at her; in the car with her as the killer stabs through the convertible top. and so on. With her we become, if not the killer of the killer, then the agent of his expulsion from the narrative vision. If, during the film's course, we shifted our sympathies back and forth and dealt them out to other characters along the way, we belong in the end to the Final Girl; there is no alternative. When Stretch eviscerates Chop Top at the end of Texas Chain Saw ll, she is literally the only character left alive on either side.”
Basically, Clover believes most slashers actually do start by putting us in the killer’s place, but by the end has transitioned our sympathies over to the victim who ultimately overcomes evil.
Oddly enough, something similar happens during the gospel reading on Palm Sunday. In many parishes, the extra long selection detailing the last week in the life of Christ includes parts where the congregation in the pews recites the words of the crowds at Jesus’ trial. We are put in the place of those who demanded the death of Jesus, calling out “Crucify him!” and declaring that his blood will be on our hands and the hands of our children. It’s theater in a way, but it’s effective. By making the crowd’s point of view ours, the reading accentuates that it was our sins that put Jesus on the cross.
And yet, by the end of the reading, for various reasons, the attention of everyone in the narrative, from the Magdalene to the the chief priests and the Pharisees, has turned to Jesus and his foretold resurrection. Although we started in the shoe’s of the killers, in the end we inevitably come to the risen Christ who will triumph over all death. There is no alternative.