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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Slasher Reboots & How To Do Them

Edited by Robert Beach 

Recently, it was announced that New Line would be producing a new remake of Nightmare on Elm Street. Hot on the heals of this announcement came the news that CW was developing a Friday the 13th TV show, most likely in attempt to capitalize on the success of similar horror shows like Bates Motel, Hannibal, and Scream. 

These two announcements represent the latest in the long, rough cycle of slasher film reboots that started in 2003 when Platinum Dunes first resurrected the Texas Chainsaw Massacre film series.  Speaking of which, that series is getting its 5th reboot attempt next year with Leatherface, another prequel intended to explore the character’s origins. 

Slasher Films' Place Today

As I said, none of this is actually that new. Hollywood spent the last decade reworking and revisiting every slasher film with even a modicum of value despite the slasher niche gaining less and less purchase in the horror genre. These days slasher films come off as decidedly passé. It's supplanted from their former throne by ghost and haunted house films, and the reboot cycle really hasn’t helped.  

What gets me about this is given modern entertainment media’s emphasis on shared universes, long form-continuity, fidelity as quality, and genre fusion over segregation, Slasher films should be at the top of their game. It’s not even like remakes & reboots are guaranteed to be awful anymore; there have been plenty of big reboot hits like Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Godzilla. It’s not even like the idea of a shared horror universe is that preposterous, Universal is working on developing one with their classic monster line-up right now. 

Even though Slasher films carry less weight these days, and most of the reboots/remakes have been terrible, I think there’s still merit to revisiting these old franchises. The biggest reason all the modern Slasher film revivals have fallen flat is because they’ve been little more than just retreads of the originals. All hinges on the hopes to cater to people who grew up hearing about the films but have never actually seen them for themselves. As such, here’s how I think Hollywood should go about rebooting its collection of once profitable Slasher films.  


This may well prove a moot discussion depending on how CW’s Friday the 13th TV show turns out, but I think the best way to progress with Jason Voorhees is to double down on setting the films in his reality. One of the most frustrating things about the plethora of installments in the Jason franchise is they had very little world building despite the continuity through line of explaining Jason’s various resurrections. 

The only film that really had this was Friday the 13th Part 2, which featured a great opening sequence of a new crop of camper councilors retelling the story of the first film. It’s an eerie introduction that emphasizes the idea of Jason as more of an urban legend than a definable man. I’d love to see the series go more in this direction. 

Blow up the ubiquity and uncut nature of Jason as a killer to the point that he’s a tangible part of the national consciousness on the level of Big Foot crossed with John Wayne Gacy. What works so well about this is that it’s full of natural directions to take a story that allows it to keep Jason’s specter hovering over the proceedings without needing to emphasis his actual involvement. 

Stuff like copycat killers, finding Jason reality shows, and even the town of Crystal Lake becoming a Jason-centric tourist trap in the vein of Salem, Massachusetts or Willow Creek would all lend themselves very well to the series. I especially think that Friday the 13th would be the franchise most well suited to a found footage installment. Jason’s brutish and quick nature as a killer is more well suited to the jump scares of a found footage film than Michael Meyer’s eerie super stalker routine or Leatherface’s descent into barbarism. 

Using a hunt for Jason type set-up as a story to build a found footage film around would be a pretty solid first step. Alternatively, Friday the 13th is one of the few franchises in the pack that actually could benefit from a prequel. It’s never been fully explained what happened to Mrs. Voorhees after the death of her son, or how many other scores of councilors she brutally murdered before the events of the first film. Given Friday the 13th was initially conceived of as an inverse Pyscho, it’d make sense to give the film the Bates Motel treatment. This goes double for the fact that the series has never really explained how Jason survived drowning in the first film.  



Of the four key slasher franchises, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has proven one of the most unwieldy franchises to continue. The first film is a highly regarded classic, but after that, the sequels have ranged from divisive to mediocre to terrible. It’s gotten to the point that nearly every film after the first just ignores all continuity and starts things over; the sole exception being the 2006 prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. The biggest problem that’s plagued the series outside of the first 2 installments seems to be a genuine misunderstanding of what made the first film so terrifying. 

The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre film worked because it was very much a critic of its moment in time: a delve into the deep end of insanity and horror that is humanity stripped down to a point of absolute regression and anarchy. The first film worked because it was a commentary on the culture of demanding no rules or restrictions from society. The issue is that more and more the sequels ended up just being gory movies about back-wood rednecks; the antagonists became vacuumed sealed and separate from the rest of the world. Suddenly, the emphasis is on characters dropped into a world that’s so cartoonish and stereotypical it couldn’t be reflective of anything.  

I do think Texas Chainsaw Massacre could find its way back to the themes and unnerving nature of the original. Firstly, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is better served as a period story grounded in the visual tropes and washed-out aesthetic of the ‘70s rather than the modern day.  Secondly, I think you could make a very good story out of the police investigation of the events of the first film. 

The dynamic of following an investigator tasked with getting into the mind of a killer on the run would be a great way to force the audience more into Leatherface and his family’s point of view. The trick here is to avoid explaining how Leatherface got to be the way he is, simply forcing us to see the world the way he does. It could stand as a great exploration of the relationship between hunter and prey as one becomes the other, similar to Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. 

The best thing about this approach is that it could be spun out to a more anthology-type series of films with a different emphasis. The idea of the Leatherface mask being an almost cursed object that ends up passed from individual to individual, followed by a slow burn of them giving way to their most vile and animalistic impulses could be a very affecting series of stories in the vein of The Shining or Straw Dogs. At the very least, it’d be a good way to get the franchise out of the backwoods and back into the darkness of people’s hearts and minds. 


The Halloween franchise is so visual diverse and engaging it’s criminal how little has been done with it. Halloween is such an amazing stew pot of creator visions and visual flourishes even the lesser installments like Curse of Michael Myers and the Rob Zombie remakes have something to offer. At the heart of this is John Carpenter’s brilliantly realized boogeyman of Michael Myers as a horrific melting pot of real-world serial killer artifice, the origins of Halloween, kitschy Americana, and local legend. 

If Jason Voorhees represents regional urban legends elevated to a plasticized tourist trap mythos, Michael Myers is the purest representation of the dark, secret history that lurks behind the facade of wholesomeness that is the American small town ideal. The best way to continue Michael’s story would be as an inverse of the Jason pitch I mentioned earlier. The specter of Michael’s killings should still loom large over the town of Haddonfield; the difference is that it’s not something the town is proud of. This is part of the importance of Michael’s killing as a confirmed event, and an event grounded in the streets of Haddonfield rather than the back roads of Camp Blood. 

The memories of Michael’s massacre should be carved into the very landscape of the town, abandoned houses, and avoided intersections marking his path of terror. Grounding a new film or series in the broken world of Haddonfield as a failed Anytown, USA would be a great jumping off point to dive into deeper themes about the nature of life in the fly-over states as more and more of America’s opportunities migrate away from them. Re-imagining the central setting as a crippled, failing community chugging its way towards a slow death through corporate products, framing Meyer’s psycho killer as a living metaphor for the way the town’s past inevitably guts its future, would be a great way to go. 

Alternatively I do think there’s room in the Halloween stomping ground for a prequel film.  Specifically, I’d like to see a prequel set at the Smith’s Grove Medical Facility where Michael was held prior to the events of the first film. It’d be an engaging chance to see Michael in a different setting, for you could easily add more killers into the mix through the setting of the insane asylum.  Additionally, it’d be a good way to refocus the film on the relationship between Michael and Loomis; that’s always been the heart of the series. Obviously, it’d be difficult to contrive a reason for Michael to be wearing his trademark mask in the film, though I think that could actually add to the ethos.  

In the original, Michael only grabs the white mask at random once he reaches Haddonfield, though we know from his killings as a child that masks are important to him. It’d be really engaging to see a Halloween film grounded in a more psychological look at Michael that doesn’t feel the need to explain his motivations. It’d be easy enough to keep Michael’s motives for killing unknown while still zeroing in on his twisted compulsion to constantly use a mask as a form of identity. It’d also be a good way to keep a lot of the actually well done mask iconography from Rob Zombie’s remakes. 

Finally, I’d love to see a Halloween that tried to bridge the gap between the Thorn trilogy and Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. Season of the Witch is still the best film in the series and a big part of that is the freaky fascination with the sacrificial and ritualistic origins of Halloween. The Thorn trilogy of later sequels tried to tie into this same theme with disastrous results, yet I still think there’s a way to blend these elements. The trick would be in how Michael should relate to the Halloween traditions. Rather than having him as the one doing the sacrificing like in Curse of Michael Myers, where he was framed as a pseudo victim of an evil cult, Michael should be the force that people are sacrificed to. 

This is goes back to the small town secret affectations I mentioned earlier. Here, it’d be more predicated on conspiracies rather than social cancer. Michael could work as a lurking threat that encroaches on Haddonfield every Halloween night, and the only way to pacify him is for the town elders to sacrifice their sons and daughters to him. They wouldn’t necessarily kill their kids themselves, more they’d just ensure that a group of teens end up in Michael’s killing fields every year. Think of it similar to Cabin in the Woods’ commentary on how the older generations feed the young to their demons in order to protract their own existence. Additionally, you’d have a built in explanation for why calling the cops wouldn’t work if they were in on things from the start.


Nightmare on Elm Street is the most difficult Slasher film to reboot because of how important Robert Englund’s performance as Freddy was to making the film work. The best way around this would honestly be to just drop Freddy from the proceedings altogether. I know that might sounds like heresy, but the bottom line here is that we’ve had 9 films and a TV show’s worth of Freddy Krueger. It’s worth considering we’ve explored every possible interpretation of this character. We’ve seen him as joking psycho, a clowning horror mascot, and a brutal force of supernatural horror; there’s no more meat on the Freddy Krueger bone.

I do think there’s room to expand on the concept of what Freddy is and how he came to be. Unlike all the other series in this list, Nightmare on Elm Street always worked well when it dove into the melting pot of genre fusion, specifically horror and dark fantasy. Taking a new installment of the series deeper in that direction would be a great way to revitalize the series and avoid having to recast Freddy. Instead, the angle could be that Freddy was just the latest iteration of a sentient nightmare that’s existed for centuries. That way, you could still include aspects of the Elm Street mythos and open the door for a different take on a dream killer. 

It’d be supremely easy to transpose ideas like Freddy’s containing the souls of his victims within himself or the icon of his claw hand to a new killer with a different personality and methodology free from Englund’s original performance. It would also open things up for a broader world of horror within the realm of humanity’s nightmares. The idea that there’s always been this freaky, malevolent force haunting humanity’s dreams through the centuries would be a good way to expand the franchise. It would also maintainthe continuity and mythological elements that are worth preserving.  

The key to taking this approach would be in finding solid actors to fill the villain role and also making sure the new killers stay on harmony with key aspects of Freddy’s original persona. The thing to remember about Freddy is that being a child murderer is only half of his identity; the other major point about Freddy is that he’s part of society’s great neglected under class. The iconography of Nightmare on Elm Street explicitly emphasizes Freddy’s nightmare world as an industrial boiler room, the anathema of comforting affluent suburbia. 

Additionally, Wes Craven has stated he actually based Freddy on a homeless person who stalked his home when he was a kid. Freddy’s underlying persona is that of someone ejected from society by reasons of mental illness and poverty driven to brutal murder. That’s why he, like Jason Voorhees, served as a monster you could root for despite his violent insanity. Both creatures are thoroughly evil, but that’s because they’re what the world made them. All the killings are just society’s sins coming home to roost. Even without Freddy as the killer, the underlying theme of a Nightmare film needs to be the affluent of society finally getting the world they deserve. 

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