Slasher S5 E1/2: The Slaughterhouse/The Painful Truth

by thethreepennyguignol

Friends, it is once again time to take a Slash.

I’m so excited to be back and writing about another season of Slasher; I had a great time covering the last series, Flesh & Blood (and here are those recaps should you wish to indulge yourself in them), and I’ve been so looking forward to the newest offering from Cana-gore’s premiere horror show ever since.

This new season, subtitled Ripper, was one that I was instantly sold on as a premise – not just because I accidentally got a history degree a few years ago (long story), but because it’s a Jack the Ripper-inspired season. Now, Jack the Ripper himself, I’m bored to tears by; if I never see one more damn book or museum or article dedicated to hand-wringing over who he might have been and whether he really did flee to America or not, it’ll be too soon (the exception to this rule, of course, is Hallie Rubenhold’s fantastic book The Five, chronicling the lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper, which I can’t recommend enough). But what I do find fascinating is the industry of Ripper-ology, and what it says about the people involved with it. The study of the Ripper, the myth-making around him and his crimes, that’s one thing, but what drives people to do make those myths and to indulge those obsessions? That’s something I can get behind.

Which is, to an extent, what these first couple of episodes seem to be about. In 19th-century Toronto, after a member of the upper crust finds himself hoisted on his own – well, let’s call it a petard, for the sake of decency – memories of an apparent Ripper copycat killing from over a decade earlier are brought to light again, as detective Kenneth Rijkers (Gabriel Darku) turns his attention to the bizarre case. It’s interesting to see something set almost contemporaneously to the Ripper murders actually exploring some of the fandom that had already sprung up around them at the time, and I’m interested to see how this aspect of the plot develops – we’ve got a whole lot of people wrapped up in the apparent copycat killing from twelve years ago, and I’m intrigued to find out where they all lie in terms of this obsession. Jack the Ripper as a cultural force and influence is a concept I find really fascinating, and there’s enough parallels to modern true crime fandom and media to make it feel up-to-date, too.

More than that, though, this opening two-parter is just a masterclass on how to balance tone. Slasher, as a series, has always been the master at bringing together disparate and sometimes even contradictory tones. It never takes itself too seriously, but it’s never too winky-winky at the audience either; even amongst the absurdity, there are serious aspects approached with a serious tone that are given time to breathe in a satisfying and rewarding way. This is an opening that dives into the abuse of sex workers and their exploitation even by people who claim to protect them, right alongside a theatre major in shimmer eyeshadow pretending to saw a woman in half and then bring her back to life in front of a live audience. It’s an episode that both has someone getting speared up the arse, and then has the nerve to bring up the concept of a “false bottom” as part of their plot a few minutes later. It’s grotesque violence, it’s social commentary, it’s just the right amount of sly without ever feeling like it’s getting smugly knowing. The writers and directors might be aware this is all a bit daft, but the characters take this world on with utter seriousness, and that makes for a perfect balance in my eyes.

And we’ve got a juicy cast of characters this season – really, this is the first outing since season one where we haven’t had a someone limited setting (with the cabin in season two, the apartment block in season three, and the island in season four) where most of the action takes place, and these episodes do a good job filling Toronto out with people, life, and history. It’s always fun to see in these initial episodes what everyone’s coming back to do – I was really happy, especially, to see the return of Steve Byers, who we haven’t seen since season one where he played the villain, and I love the fact that the writers took one look at this man and typecast him as Devout to Something in a Way That’s Probably Compensating For Something. Jo Vannicola is also a welcome return for me, and her thematically-accurate death of being fed into a printing press was a suitably memorable end for the series regular. Series newbie Eric McCormack is also obviously having a grand old time playing against type as a fabulously nasty rich bitch, and I’m sure the show will exploit his delightful sneer to the nth degree.

Honestly, though, if I’m talking about people I’m most excited to see back, it’s Sabrina Grdevich and Paula Brancati. Grdevich’s turn last season is probably my favourite thing that the show’s ever done – her centrepiece episode is a thing of utter soap opera batshittery, and I will love it forever – and Brancati’s best run in the show (for my money) is her villainous role in season three, so you can imagine my utter joy at seeing them getting to chew up the scenery as a pair of evil half-sisters for the innocent Sadie Laflamme-Snow. There isn’t an inch of subtlety in these roles yet, but I don’t want there to be. If Paula Brancati doesn’t get to do a full monologue from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane by this season’s end, it’s a missed (though not anachronistic) opportunity. There is something about the vileness of a society lady that really brings out the best in Brancati and Grdevich, and their gaslight-gatekeep-girlboss-garotte behaviour is already one of the standouts of this season. Will they come to a hideous end? Yes. Will they deserve it? Probably. Will I sleep with a picture of them both under my pillow till then? Most certainly.

It’s so good to be back in Slasher-land, as horrible as it is, because it’s one of the few anthology horrors out there that has really nailed it’s tone and takes on the genre. Going into it’s fifth season, it feels utterly confident, and it’s a joy to watch. I can’t wait to get into the rest of this season with you, and I hope you’ll join me on another horrible deep-dive into another season of Slasher!

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(header image via TV, Eh)