Bloodbath & beyond

Posted on 19 Oct 2009 at 6:11pm
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

‘Slasher’ goes for the throat

BLOOD LETTERS
SLASHER, presented by Kitchen Dog Theater,
The MAC, 3620 McKinney Ave.
Through Dec. 12.

……………………………



CUE SPLATTER | A film crew (from left, Chris Hury, Leah Spillman, Martha Harms and Drew Wall) try to film a horror movie without being killed in real life in ‘Slasher.’

Leave it to Kitchen Dog, those great contrarians of Dallas theater, to usher in the holidays with a play called Slasher. There’s a long-standing tradition of holiday-themed splatter films, from Halloween through Silent Night, Deadly Night and even Black Christmas, so why not celebrate the season with some stage blood and dark comedy?

Not that there’s anything Christmasy about Allison Moore’s script, a feminist screed against the exploitation of women … or it is? The play never full tips its hand about who the true villain is. It might be Marc Hunter (Chris Hury), the pretension Hollywood director come to Austin to film his blood-soaked baby. Marc’s leading lady has pulled out along with most of his financing, so he taps local Hooters waitress Sheena (Martha Harms) to be his "last girl" — the chick who survives to (or almost to) the end.

Or it might be Sheena’s mom, Frances (Lisa Hassler), who will have none of it. Frances, a radicalized hypochondriac who rants from her wheelchair and pops pills like a Pez dispenser, finds slasher films disgusting and exploitive of women, and will stop at nothing — literally, nothing — to prevent her daughter from appearing in it.

Like Kitchen Dog’s Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes earlier this year, Slasher is very much concerned with the inner workings and moral implications of the decisions Tinseltown makes in the name of show business: References to Eli Roth and Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, and a set (by Clare Floyd Devries) that recreates a scary funhouse (a standard since Carnival of Souls), give authenticity but also gets a little too Inside Baseball on us. Can’t anyone just do a thing anymore? Does everything have to have quotation marks around it?

Which is not to say Slasher isn’t, nonetheless, enjoyable. Director Tina Parker creates a cinematic quality with quick, disorienting light cues and rapid scene changes, as if Slasher is itself a movie. She even elicits an especially effective if over-the-top performance from Hassler, the freakiest mom since Piper Laurie candle-lit Sissy Spacek into psychosis. Whether she’s fetishizes power tools or snorting up pulverized drugs from the table, she throws herself headlong into a crazy part with comic brio. (Following Sick a few seasons back, Hassler does risk becoming Kitchen Dog’s go-to girl for creepy middle-aged parents, but why not when she’s so damn good at it?)

Drew Wall’s fist-bumping film geeks steals some focus from Harms and Hury, though both are engaging and convincing in their own right.

The downside is that Moore cleaves closely to the clichés of the horror genre — the fake-out ending, the over-worked music (cleverly culled from motifs from movies like Psycho), the hambone acting and jiggly breasts. All are here for good reason, but clichés still. Spoofs run the risk of being as silly as their sources, and the far-fetched coincidence at the heart of the plot feels labored. It’s enough to make you homicidal.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 20, 2009.

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