Couple of weeks ago I spoke of the TV reimagining of Wes Craven’s horror film series, Scream. Since then, I’ve binged on another similar show on Netflix, a Canadian production simply known as Slasher. But between the Executioner and Ghostface, who’s butchery reigns supreme?
Scream, as I spoke in another article, is a reimagining of the film series, set in the town of Lakewood decades after the murderous rampage of one Brandon James who ascended from mass murderer to infamous local legend.
Now, in our era, a killer donning the same mask spreads fear with a new rampage, this one targeting those closest to Emma Duval, claiming to do so to correct sins of the past, to reveal the truth behind the Brandon James events. During the second season, a different murderer takes over, continuing the goal of the culprit from the previous season but now targeting not only Emma but her friend Audrey.
Slasher has a similar premise of an infamous killer returning decades later, with the only difference that the original Executioner, named such for the black vestments and hood he wears, is imprisoned but very much alive. His worst crime, the most gruesome murder under his belt is that of a young couple, the husband stabbed repeatedly with a machete and the wife not only stabbed through the neck but her unborn child cut out of her womb.
Now, that same child returns to town—portrayed by Katie McGrath, who as well as playing Lena Luthor on Supergirl, also has a place in my heart as Morgana on Merlin—to the house where the murders happened even and it takes only a little while before new murders happen, targeting not just those close to her but every “sinner” in town, each victim matching a Biblical Sin and its classic punishment.
So how to compare these two horror TV series? Let’s look at them on three angles: Presentation, Killer and Characters.
On the presentation they couldn’t be more different. Slasher is another example of nitty-gritty violent TV. It’s cinematography focuses on shadows and darkness, on making nights and the dark feel claustrophobic, to make you suspect every shadow. It’s almost bereft of music, to further push that sense of vulnerable solitude and even the intro sequence is more akin to American Horror Story’s own credits, a random collection of images dealing with the episode and the season and jumbled noises as a melody. It’s also very graphically violent, showing you the murders in all their gory glory.
Scream on the other hand is a lot more stylised and subtle in its presentation. Where Slasher depends and abuses darkness and solitude, Scream uses bright days and colours and at night uses plenty of illumination and its shadows. There’s a contrast between the safe and mundane world of our characters, their high-school setting, at a first glance bright and cheery, but with things hidden in its shadows. Secrets, conspiracies and death are at every corner, even if it’s a well-lit one. It uses music in abundance, from the wonderful violin theme song that becomes an anthem to the killer and their victims, to the different songs that play in the background for character-focused scenes, especially the romantic ones. These moments lull you into a suspicious degree of comfort, priming you for the next surprise. As for the kills, most happen off-screen, leaving you to imagine what happened, though a few disembowelments happen on camera.
Between the two, I much prefer Scream’s approach. Though Slasher has great use of darkness and solitude, its gritty approach left me tired, as there is not enough normality to help you come down from the shock of the latest murder. It keeps piling on to the point where the shock value simply vanishes.
When it comes to the characters, both series are about hidden sins and secrets, but where in Scream these are things of the past rearing their head, most of the victims are actually innocent, they are simply victims of a deranged killer. In Slasher, with its deadly themes motif, every character has something to hide or is despicable in a certain way, to the point where you’re not really rooting for any of them. The Killer himself, as a character, is devoid of personality in Slasher, driven by a need to punish the guilty but it’s a cruel zealot. There also is very little time developing most of the characters, as they’re due to die off one after another, leaving the killer and its victims as two-dimensional, without any depth. They are merely victims.
Scream takes the time to build the characters, and even those bumped off have moments of personal development and even relationships, so when they do die, it’s a bigger shock. As for the Killer, they’re deliciously evil, taking pleasure in tormenting victims with phone calls, using the numbers and emails of dead friends and modern social media and related technology to create havoc in their lives. There’s more to the killer than just killing, there’s a degree of mastermind in it and a lot of personality.
Scream’s characters are also generally genre savvy. They know dark places are bad to go to on your own when a killer is on the loose. They know “splitting the party” is bad and they’re aware of the rules of Slasher films. In Slasher, no one has even a lick of common sense, going out on their own and exploring alone and even denying the existence of the murderer, when all evidence points to them being exceedingly wrong. They’re idiots really. It detracts from the killer, as an entity, when the characters do much of the work for him.
Now, while the killers are just characters, when it comes to the Slasher genre, the killer as an entity comprised of motive and method is a valid point of comparison, analysis and critique. After all, for every Freddy Krueger there’s a random dude with a gas mask and a pickaxe. Killers in the Slasher genre drive the plot as much as the survivors, perhaps even more as they are the force behind the conflict.
The Executioner from Slasher is a religious zealot, claiming everyone in town is a sinner and going for what seems as finite number of victims, each corresponding to a deadly sin using variations of the biblical punishments to kill its subjects. As a whole, I found the Executioner a by the numbers killer. After all, there are too many villains using the punishment of sinners and the 7 deadly sins for a motive. I do give the killer props for using the biblical punishments, but other than that he’s too plain. Then again, I prefer Slasher killers with a lot more personality.
As for motives, they are extremely basic. As I said, zealot with a hint of deranged. I will give it another prop for being a biblical killer targeting a gay couple and not for their sexuality but for their past decisions, some of which are downright evil.
The Scream killer has much more of a flair for the theatrical, staging bodies, playing with the victims and even more, with the friends of the victims. At certain moments, the killer makes the next potential victim the object of a game, letting others pursue clues and giving them the illusion that they may win the day. The murder is all part of a sick game, deadly serious but with every scheme meant to crush the victims’ spirit.
The Executioner is by far the crueller villain when it comes to inflicting pain before death, going so far as to leave a victim to be eating alive by vermin, but the Scream killer is all about the emotional distress and psychological trauma of both the victims and the survivors.
On a last note is the Mystery. Which of the shows has a better mystery on the identity of the killer? For Slasher, I had only one suspect for the murderer, and it proved correct, as the killer lacks subtlety and the writers give too many openings for you to pin the tail on the sociopathic donkey. For Scream, there are always two or three characters to suspect, and it plays with their secrets in a way that leaves you wondering. While Slasher uses dark secrets for victimisation, Scream uses them for misdirection, which is ever more interesting.
I think it’s fairly clear that I prefer Scream over Slasher on all counts. Slasher simply falls into that tendency of super grim television I’ve grown weary of, where the first episode has not only a gruesome killing but an obligatory gratuitous sex scene, like a checklist and in doing so fall into all the common pitfalls, the worst being predictability. What’s your take on it? Do you have a preference?