I haven't seen them all, but one thing I have appreciated about Chiller's original movies that I've seen is that they don't seem designed around traditional act breaks and cliffhanger moments the way many Syfy films are. On Syfy, the monster (usually a shark) has to kill someone before every commercial break, or else (the execs assume) the audience will get bored and change the channel. Chiller's films haven't followed that template - they're happy to start the ads when a rather uneventful scene ends, and as a result the films come across as, if not masterpieces, worthy additions to the genre, instead of a blight upon it like Octoshark Weremonster Attack 2 or whatever the hell Syfy is airing this week.
This sort of thinking has been applied to the network's first scripted series, simply titled Slasher, which follows Scream and Scream Queens (and, going further back, Harper's Island) in an attempt to find a way to make the traditional slasher movie template work as a season-long TV series. Based on the pilot, they're certainly on the right track, as it caters to the expectations one will have for such fare (namely: it has a body count, one that's actually a bit higher than I expected) while also filling in the expected beats of a TV show. A slasher movie is 90 minutes - this will be around six hours when all is said and done, so it certainly needs a more complicated plot and far more full-blown characters than your average Friday the 13th movie would offer*. It's a balance that the Scream TV show struggled with at times, and one that Slasher can hopefully continue to maintain over all eight of its planned episodes.
The pilot opens on Halloween night, with a pregnant woman urging her husband to go to a party without her. The doorbell rings and he assumes it's his friend, albeit wearing a feature-hiding executioner's costume instead of the one he was expecting. After some awkward exchanges, the doorbell rings again, and it's his actual friend - so who's that he just let into the house?!? Well it's called Slasher, so you can probably figure that part out if you haven't already. The Executioner offs the husband but lets the friend go, setting his sights on the pregnant mom. We're spared the sight of him killing her, but the aftermath is plenty disturbing - the cops arrive to find her dead, her stomach cut open... and The Executioner (now unmasked) sitting calmly in a chair, rocking the unceremoniously delivered newborn.
Thirty years later, that now adult who never knew her parents (or proper umbilical cord removal) is returning to the town in order to move into their house (which has been given to them for free, which would entice me as well). Her name is Sarah (played by Katie McGrath, best known as the lady who we argued about all summer) and she's accompanied by her husband (Brandon Jay McLaren), who takes a job at the local paper. She also brought along a boatload of uneasiness about the situation, something that doesn't subside when someone dressed as the same killer starts picking people off - and who intriguingly doesn't seem to be interested in killing her just yet, opting to let her go when he has her dead to rights. Who could it be? The old neighbor lady who harbors a grudge against her entire family due to her husband having an affair with Sarah's mother? The newspaper editor who is selling more copies with such a hot story? We know for sure who it's NOT: Tom Winston, the guy who killed her parents. He's got a good alibi - he's locked up nearby and has no visitors or access to the internet (so he couldn't be the puppet master to the guy doing the grunt work, in other words). But he's willing to chat with Sarah, Hannibal and Clarice-style, to get inside her head and also help (?) her figure out who is behind these new killings.
With all due respect, that's hardly the most original plot on its own - any number of slashers (hell, horror movies in general), have focused on a protagonist who was returning to their hometown and confronting a long buried tragedy, and even some of the details are lifted from famous horror films. They really should have tried to come up with something different than "the heroine's mom was the town tramp", since that was the exact scenario in Scream (though there's a slight twist to it in that the dad was aware and even a participant in her shenanigans, filming them for some as-yet-unknown purpose), and as if the Hannibal Lecter-ness of the Winston scenes wasn't enough, he hints that the killer has some fixation on what the Bible considers sins - shades of Seven. It's not a crippling flaw - the slasher sub-genre is almost entirely built on the liberal copying of one another - but for a TV show in an era of far too many TV shows, they could have taken inspiration from more unusual sources (if any at all) to really hook casual viewers in.
Luckily for them, I'm no casual viewer, and as my pleas for new slasher films fall on deaf ears I take solace in the fact that I can get my fix on TV. I mean, Scream Queens just ended a few weeks ago, and that started right around when Scream the TV show wrapped up for the year - maybe by next year I can have a mini slasher film every week! And unlike those two, this takes itself pretty seriously - Sarah's realtors are a gay couple (Christopher Jacot and Mark Ghanime) who usually offer some dry responses to the action around them, but otherwise the show is surprisingly humor-free, and I appreciated that. The mystery and characters seem to be of more concern to creator Aaron Martin than creating memes and hashtags, which is fine by me. Not every show needs to be a trending topic on Twitter - sometimes it's nice to just sit down and enjoy a story for what it is. The kills are also surprisingly vicious, with one victim relieved of her hands and feet after her encounter. This isn't some mindless Voorheesian murderer taking out anyone in his path - his victims are connected, carefully chosen, and if his means of killing them is any indication he REALLY hates them for whatever it is they did to piss him off.
Or her. It really could be anyone at this point, and there's a benefit to a long-form slasher film that no single movie can really offer - by taking place over several weeks, the killer's whereabouts are always a mystery. Any number of whodunit slashers have canceled out victims just by showing them elsewhere during a kill scene (Scream 2 really bungled this one when Sarah Michelle Gellar got offed), but that's not happening here so far. Since he or she pretty much only shows up when they're about to cross off a potential suspect for good, the premiere ends without a single disqualified candidate besides the ones that have already been killed, and (obviously) Sarah herself. There's a bit that almost seems like it was added late to give the episode another kill, where Sarah and her husband encounter some punks, followed by The Executioner killing one after he takes off on his own, and even that doesn't cancel out the husband, as on second viewing I noticed there's a brief time jump that would have allowed him to get away and put on his costume. Even better, no one's ACTING like the killer - I love whodunits but I loathe when everyone acts shady for no real reason (the Scream TV show was VERY guilty of this), and this has mostly avoided that while still establishing a variety of potential motives (maybe the realtors want the house! Maybe the town priest is really tired of sinners! Etc.). We also get obligatory subplots, like a missing girl, and a late reveal that the nice guy town cop is cheating on his wife with a prostitute - it's all the sort of stuff a regular slasher movie wouldn't have time for. Whether or not it will flavor a solid story or merely overstuff it is yet to be seen. All I know is, they earned enough goodwill to come back for more. See you next week!
*That said, it'd be pretty hilarious - if ultimately exhausting - if they did exactly that. Just have fifty horny teens instead of the usual six or eight and let Jason go on a six-hour spree!
This post is sponsored by Chiller. The new original series Slasher airs at 9pm ET on Friday, March 4 on ChillerTV.