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Interview

Peter Normanton p2

The art of maintaining tension and mystery in slasher movies...

READERSVOICE.COM: In some comments on movies you mention how the tension had been maintained till the end, like in Just Before Dawn. Some did it with increasing body counts, others with lighting, like Frightmare, and foreboding references, like to slaugherhouses in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Others with isolation of the characters. like Friday the 13th, and claustrophobia. What are your favorite ways writers of slasher movies keep the tension?

PETER NORMANTON: Following my first encounter with Black Christmas many years ago I became fascinated by a director’s ability to interject the roving point of view camera. It can be used to such great effect, often claustrophobic effect. In those moments you know something is going to happen, something that will inevitably put a chill along your spine.
To this day I am a sucker for the misleading red herring, used to such magnificent effect in the Italian gialli. The Scandinavians have become the new masters of this approach in their wave of crime thrillers. As you say, isolation, claustrophobia and lighting are all essential elements in maintaining a sense of tension as is an impenetrable silence as the shadows fall, or as the unsuspecting victim enters a darkened house. While a brooding silence will keep you on the edge, there’s nothing like an atmospheric score, Bernard Herrmann’s screeching violins, Goblin’s soundtracks for Dario Argento and John Carpenter’s minimalist synthesised scores immediately spring to mind.

RV: What ways do writers of slasher films maintain mystery till the last moment, which you said of Urban Legend?

PN: They should keep you guessing to the last with plenty of red herrings thrown into the mix. The film should be carefully paced, never becoming too slow, but then again as it mounts it shouldn’t run out of steam. I can remember leaving the Godfather III with my wife feeling so let down. We both felt it was at least an hour too long, something had gone tragically wrong with the tempo, and my wife is a huge fan of the first two films. Both the script writer and director should use everything at their disposal to give their audience a nasty surprise, if not a sense of fulfilment as the film races to its denouement. I am also a great believer in leaving as much as possible to the audience’s imagination, John Carpenter’s Halloween being the obvious example.

RV: A lot of slasher movies have a twist at the end, and what makes a good twist at the end in your view?

PN: The twist should be the last thing or the last person that you would expect, yet adheres to the film’s premise. When I was putting the book together I was amazed as to how many takes there were on this kind of finale; that’s coming from someone who has spent a lifetime with horror comics and horror fiction.

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