Nobody truly believes “Halloween Ends” is the actual end of the “Halloween” movies — the only thing that’s harder to kill than a slasher villain is a profitable series of movies about him. But it’s also not obviously clear where the franchise should go next. In fact, the slasher genre as a whole is at a bit of a standstill.
Franchises like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” spent the 1980s and ’90s building loyal fanbases by releasing a seemingly endless series of fun and gory sequels that provided annual scares while building gonzo, comic book-like mythologies for their masked killers. Then, they spent the first two decades of the 21st century squandering that goodwill with a series of remakes that attempted little more than opportunistic retreads of old story beats. These days, news of a new “Friday the 13th” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” elicits little more than groans.
It’s not like these movies were ever high art, but there was a time when they provided a consistent stream of grindhouse creativity. The people funding them might have been just as cynical as they are now, but at least you could go to the multiplex every October knowing that Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees was going to do something you had never seen them do. That wild creativity has since given way to a stream of drudgery in the form of generic, CGI-laden remakes and horrendous attempts at meta-humor.
David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” reboot trilogy likely saw the most artistry that anyone has injected into one of these franchises this century, and its success could be read as proof that there’s a market for more creativity in this niche. (The reboot trilogy has grossed nearly $310 million worldwide, even despite the last two films opening day-and-date on Peacock.) But for the slasher movie to survive another 40 years, it has to evolve. With more content than ever — and it’s not slowing down — the conditions are perfect for a quantity-based genre like the slasher movie to enjoy another renaissance. But it’s also clear that nostalgia-fueled reboots only get you so far. At a certain point, even the good ones start to wear thin.
To really return the form, the slasher genre needs a healthy dose of the wacky originality that fueled movies like “Freddy vs. Jason,” “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” and even “Jason X.” It needs a mix of original franchises that give us new killers to root against — thanks, Ti West! — and creative new takes on the series we know and love.
That goal could be expedited if filmmakers would take these four practical ideas for saving the slasher genre to heart. These tips are equally applicable to creators dreaming up new original franchises and those tasked with breathing new life into the ones we already have. If Hollywood is serious about giving slasher movie fans what they want, this would be a good place to start.
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1. Stop Erasing Your Own History
2018’s “Halloween” reboot from David Gordon Green found a convenient way to make sense of the franchise’s messy timeline and set the scene for another showdown between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode: It simply ignored all the movies that came before it and pretended to be a direct follow-up to John Carpenter’s original film. The countless sequels and ill-fated reboots (and Jamie Lee Curtis’ onscreen death) simply didn’t happen.
This year’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” reboot from director David Blue Garcia used the same plot device, acting as a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s original masterpiece. And while the Netflix movie was fun enough, it demonstrated the limitations of the strategy. That movie almost seemed to directly parody Green’s realistic take on the material (without spoiling much, it also follows a Final Girl who spends her life preparing to confront her slasher nemesis with much less impressive results), but it didn’t exactly pave the way for more movies.
Being a fan of a slasher franchise has always been inherently irrational, and there’s no sense in pretending otherwise. So many of these series are beloved because their mythology gets so needlessly convoluted. If you really look under the hood of the “Friday the 13th” franchise, there’s virtually nothing there. You’ve got a guy who’s basically invincible, who just kills everyone wherever he goes. It’s not particularly exciting until you send him to Manhattan, to outer space, to hell, and the realm of dreams (along with countless summer camps along the way, of course).
If someone tried to make a direct sequel to the original “Friday the 13th” that ignored all that lore, they’d lose so much of what makes the franchise fun. Sure, they might get a nostalgic hit out of it, but it would ultimately be a reminder that the series’ best days are behind it.
A fresher take on the material would reckon with its own nonsensical history. Force your characters to make sense of the fact that this guy has gone to space and gone to hell and you still can’t stop him!
David Gordon Green’s gambit ultimately produced a fun trilogy of rebooted “Halloween” movies — who’s really going to complain about seeing Jamie Lee Curtis play Laurie Strode three more times? — so it certainly earns a pass as a one-time exercise. But this shouldn’t be the new normal.
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2. Travel Through Time — There’s More Than Just the ’70s!
What do two of 2022’s biggest horror hits, “Prey” and “Pearl,” have in common? They both found success by taking classic horror tropes back in time.
Dan Trachtenberg’s “Prey” took the “Predator” franchise back into the 18th century and let us watch a tribe of Comanche warriors fight an alien with bows and axes. And it was freaking sweet! It wasn’t a slasher movie, but it showed that even the most dormant franchises can be revitalized by placing them in an era we haven’t seen before.
“Pearl,” Ti West’s prequel to his ’70s slasher homage “X,” went back to 1918. The Technicolor killer origin story was as much a love letter to big Old Hollywood cinema as “X” was to grindhouse movies, and the juxtaposition of the two styles was enough to impress Martin Scorsese.
There are so many historical eras that horror movies haven’t explored, and slasher franchises have a perfect opportunity to put a dent into that list. Given the extremely loose grasp on reality that they have always employed, the possibilities are quite literally endless. Send Jason Voorhees to Rome and let them try to stop him with trebuchets. Make Freddy Krueger start haunting the nightmares of Ancient Egyptians until they begin worshipping him as a divinity. Show us what Leatherface was up to when cowboys still roamed Texas. Slasher movies have had no problem taking us back to the 1970s and ’80s over and over again. It’s about time they expanded their horizons.
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3. Bring Other Genres Into the Fold
On a similar note, there’s no reason that slasher movies can’t go even further and merge with other genres altogether. To be considered a slasher movie, all you really need is a guy (or girl!) in a mask who goes around killing people until only one remains. There’s no reason those elements couldn’t be combined with tropes from other genres.
The most famous example of this is probably “Jason X,” James Isaac’s infamous “Friday the 13th in space” movie that has since been reassessed as a cult classic. That film gets too bogged down by cringe meta humor (more on that in a minute) to be considered a genuine blueprint for the future, but its best moments show that slashers and sci-fi have the potential to be a delightful combination.
And it doesn’t have to stop there! Plenty of Westerns are centered around a nameless drifter who rolls into town and starts causing trouble. Why not make one where Jason Voorhees is the drifter? Or make a World War II movie where a soldier goes rogue in the trenches and becomes a masked slasher? Gangsters, samurais, high fantasy — you name it, and the right filmmaker could probably fit a slasher into it.
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4. Remove the Phrase “Self-Aware” from Your Vocabulary
Throwing on a slasher movie that you haven’t seen could lead to two possible pleasurable outcomes: The movie could be genuinely scary (see: the original “Halloween”) or it could be comically bad (see: …well, many of them). While both experiences have their place, one thing that almost never works is trying to deliberately make a comically bad movie. And yet many of the worst slasher movies of the 21st century earned that title because their directors tried to do precisely that. From teenagers in “Jason X” making Brechtian declarations about their intentions to “smoke pot and have premarital sex” to kids in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movies making thinly veiled references to the past, recent slasher movies are filled with unfunny “jokes” that only exist to mask the film’s lack of effort to be original.
Ultimately, those jokes simply serve as a reminder that you could be watching a better movie about the exact same characters. Anyone making a new slasher movie should steer in the opposite direction and opt to tell new stories with sincerity instead of simply winking at their audiences.
There are obvious exceptions to this — “Scream” built a whole franchise out of brilliantly executed meta-humor — but we’ve gotten so much of it that it’s time for a dose of sincerity. The humor will come naturally on the occasions when you fail — and if you make enough of these, you will! But you have to let it happen on its own terms.