It’s a great time to be a horror fan. Chucky, the latest installment in the Child’s Play franchise, recently wrapped its first season while the fifth entry in the Scream film series releases in theaters in less than a week. Despite everything inflicted on us in the last year, 2021 was the year of the horror movie. The genre saw the release of highly anticipated films, from Candyman to the continuation of the Myers saga in Halloween Kills. Even streaming platforms participated in what The Geeky Waffle’s Bri and I called the renaissance of horror, with Netflix releasing the trilogy of Fear Street movies (adapted from the book series by R. L. Stine) and Amazon revisiting I Know What You Did Last Summer with their television re-imagining.
I was riding high from the adrenaline of all the recent entries in horror when I decided to check out Slasher, a Canadian anthology horror series created by Aaron Martin. The premise is simple enough; each season centers around a masked killer with an unknown motive stalking and murdering their victims. The concept of a slasher film stretched out over eight to ten episodes is nothing new (look at Chucky). Ari Schlossberg pulled it off with the 2009 series Harper’s Island, which aired for 13 episodes on CBS and is a series I love and rewatch often. Harper’s Island toed the line with the level of blood and violence depicted onscreen, but it comes nowhere close to the gory, unhinged insanity of Slasher, which is a worthy addition to the pantheon of slasher horror.
This review contains spoilers for the first season of Slasher, so consider this your official spoiler warning.
Be sure your sin will find you out.
Sarah Bennet and her journalist husband Dylan return to Waterbury, Canada where her parents were murdered on Halloween 1988–the night of Sarah’s birth– by Tom Winston. The couple bought Sarah’s childhood home where Winston carried out his brutal acts at a reduced price from landlord Robin Turner. It’s a chance for Sarah to face her past and learn about her parents who were so cruelly ripped from her the night of her birth. She wastes no time in confronting the imprisoned Tom Winston, who was dubbed the Executioner thanks to the medieval costume and priest cassock he wore while killing her parents.
Despite her claims that her parents are strangers, she’s traumatized by the circumstances of her birth and unable to fill the void that’s haunted her entire life. Her grandmother painted a seemingly perfect picture of her parents’ lives, but Sarah has questions only Winston can answer.
Following a suggestion from Winston during their initial meeting, Sarah searches the house and discovers illicit sex tapes her parents recorded and hid, leading to her uncovering many dark secrets about their past which ties them to several people in this seemingly perfect town. Sarah just wants to move on with her life and put the past behind her, but the truth about her parents and the long legacy of buried sins re-emergings from the shadows in the form of a second Executioner.
The Executioner is a terrifying figure, a hulking, twisted, empty man who preys on the small and seemingly idyllic town of Waterbury. His kills are brutal and designed to inflict the most pain and fear on his victims, whose dark secrets have reemerged with a vengeance. The Executioner is a reaction to their sins, a merciless force of pure evil and retribution. Now Sarah’s in his crosshairs, and she must work with Winston to uncover the identity of the new killer as the bodies pile up around her.
Slasher: The Executioner doesn’t reinvent the mold when it comes to slasher horror; rather, it embraces and pays tribute to the works that came before. The opening scene pays direct homage to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), as the pumpkin is an exact duplicate of the beginning credits of Halloween 1978.
The references aren’t a problem, although sometimes they feel a bit much—the entire plotline of Sarah questioning Winston and discovering clues about the new Executioner plays out almost too similarly to Silence of the Lambs. Slasher: The Executioner has enough to say and new material to bring to the table, but it stills plays out as standard slasher-movie fare, albeit with extra gore.
Sarah is a likable protagonist, and I appreciated the series’ attempts to develop her character outside of the nightmare she finds herself in. She owns a new art gallery in town and enjoys painting. She also forms a close friendship with landlord Robin and his husband. She’s supportive of her husband Dylan’s journalistic career and ambitions, and most importantly, she’s tried to shape a life for herself undefined by the tragedy that marked her entrance into the world.
Most of the characters in the story are fairly standard, with the standouts being Robin and Sarah’s grandmother Brenda. Robin is a good friend to Sarah but soon finds himself in too deep following the Executioner’s brutal murder of his husband which leads to the discovery of his husband’s financial ruin. Some of Robin’s early dialogue seems to fall into the cliche category of the gay, bitchy, best friend but he became an endearing character as the season continued and the actor would go on to play several different complex queer characters in later seasons.
Meanwhile, Brenda also returns to Woodbury after learning about the recent murders and tries to convince Sarah to leave town with her. Smart move. Unfortunately, sins from Brenda’s past mean her visit to Woodbury ends in tragedy, and the nature of her misdeeds shows how complex and dark people are. None of us are as good as we think we are or pretend to be; the only difference is we don’t have a terrifying masked killer stalking us and murdering our friends—hopefully. That’s the thing about this series and cast of characters—no one is who they pretend to be when we first meet them.
The secrets and lies should be compelling, and most of the time they are. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters outside Sarah, Robin, and Brenda aren’t that interesting and when episodes focus on them, it feels like a major distraction. The show features plenty of peripheral characters who are included to add to the whodunit atmosphere and the kill count for the Executioner, nothing more. This is the case with many slasher films, but it does make certain parts of the show feel like it’s dragging on.
Slasher films typically take place over an hour and a half. A slasher film stretched out over eight, 50-minute episodes can stall a little in the middle of the story, and Slasher: The Executioner falls victim to this. It’s a shame because the rest of the series and each consecutive season are some of the most spectacular and underrated horror I’ve ever seen. The first season feels a little rough and uneven, but it’s a mostly entertaining and disturbing exploration of human nature. I highly recommend checking out this series and stay tuned as I review each of the four seasons of Slasher. I love this franchise and I’m excited to see what’s in store for the show’s future.
Final Thoughts and Musings
In addition to utilizing many of the same cast in each season (à la American Horror Story), the entire series takes place in the same universe with many references to future and previous seasons. In Season 1, Sarah and another character originally met at Camp Motega, which is featured heavily in Season 2.
I really like Katie McGrath (Merlin, Supergirl). I think she makes an excellent Final Girl.
The best kill of the season has to go to poor, angry Verna McBride, a nosy and awful neighbor whose dismemberment was the biblical punishment for wrath. The Executioner’s killing of Sarah’s parents was incredibly gruseome and disturbing. Many of the deaths this season feel relatively tame compared to what’s coming in future seasons, but there’s still enough gore to please any gore fiend.
The now-defunct network Chiller aired the first season of Slasher, which is its first and only foray into original scripted content. Netflix acquired the rights to the second and third season, while the fourth season was moved to Shudder.
Cast and Crew
Slasher is created by Aaron Martin. It stars Katie McGrath (Sarah Bennett), Brandon Jay McLaren (Dylan Bennett), Christopher Jacot (Robin Turner), Patrick Garrow (Tom Winston), Steve Byers (Cam Henry), Dean McDermott (Ian Vaughn), and Wendy Crewson (Brenda Merritt).
Music: Shawn Pierce. Cinematography: Nick Haight. Production companies: Shaftesbury Films, Super Channel, TVA Group. Original network: Super Channel, Chiller.