Thursday, December 24, 2015

Page 131: Slasher under the Car

The “Slasher under the Car” rumor-scare claims that criminals will lie in wait beneath a woman’s car at the shopping mall. When their intended victim returns, the criminal uses a razor or tire-iron on the shopper’s Achilles tendon, immobilizing her in order to facilitate robbery or rape. The story is more popular during the Christmas season, when stealing gift purchases is the motive. Sometimes (but not always), the slashing is connected to gang initiation rituals. Brunvand traces the origins of the “Slasher under the Car” legend to the 1950s at the Northland Shopping Mall in suburban Detroit. It began circulating nationally after 1984, and peaked in 1992.

A panel from “The Slasher Under the Car,” a one-page serial art version of this urban legend from Robert Loren Fleming, Jan Harold Brunvand, and Robert F. Boyd, The Big Book of Urban Legends: Adapted from the Works of Jan Harold Brunvand (New York: Paradox Press, 1994), 18. Art by comic book veteran Dærick Gröss, who has worked with Marvel, DC, Image, Malibu, etc., and adaptations of Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned.
Best and Hutchinson (1996) have identified a host of urban legends in which gang initiations purportedly involve committing some horrible crime. These include the well-known “Slasher under the Car,” along with the equally common “Lights Out” (in which a gang initiation involves driving at night with the headlights off and killing the first motorist to helpfully flash their lights), and the far more obscure legends of “The Castrated Boy” and “The Cheek Slasher.” These stories tell us more about how society as a whole perceives—and perceives a threat from—gangs rather than about how gangs actually operate. These perceptions and fears may also tap into a more general fear of initiations and secret societies.

In addition, such urban legends are serve to make sense of otherwise senseless acts of violence. Why did this crime happen? Because the initiation required it.

According to Brunvand (2001), a variant of the "Slasher under the Car" legend began circulating in 1999, with the slasher hiding beneath cars at gas stations. Which brings us to our scene in The Billionth Monkey. For me, the most fun part about writing this book was re-imagining these urban legends into fantastic, larger-than-life, Hollywood-blockbuster versions. The description of the Slasher on page 132 as “the biggest Mexican they had ever seen” is a quote from the opening scene of the movie Desperado (1995):

My comment about the Slasher making the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs (page 132) references the Star Wars cantina scene, as does the conclusion where Belanger flips a coin to the attendant and says “Sorry about the mess.”

For Further Reading

Joel Best and Mary M. Hutchinson, “The gang initiation rite as a motif in contemporary crime discourse,” Justice Quarterly 1996, 13(3): 383–404.

Jan Brunvand, “The Slasher under the Car” in Encyclopedia of Urban Legends (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001), 388–9.

Barbara Mikkelson, ”The Unkindest Cut,” Snopes, March 29, 2011.

Eleanor Wachs, “The Mutilated Shopper at the Mall: A Legend of Urban Violence.” In Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith (eds.), A Nest of Vipers: Perspectives on Contemporary Legend V (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990), 143–60.


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