Collins’ Crypt: No Country For Old Boogeymen

BC has long hoped for new Jason and Michael adventures... but he's ready to move on.

For years, I've always taken the same approach when it comes to remakes and reboots of my generations big horror icons: I'm all for it. To me, and certainly others, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and all of their less commercially successful brethren are to us what Dracula, Wolfman, and the Monster were to our parents or grandparents' generation - the nightmare makers who informed so much of our love (or dislike!) of horror films. And just as those classic monsters have all been revived time and time again, I believed the '80s heroes deserved to be introduced to newer generations, and given a chance to sit at the big table as if Jack Pierce had designed their appearances as well. Even after Rob Zombie's Halloween and the even worse Nightmare on Elm Street remake, it was a position I kept taking whenever it came up - but now I'm starting to have second thoughts.

If all had gone to plan, a new Friday the 13th film would be in theaters next week, and a Halloween update (another reboot) would be finished filming and well into post-production - I might have even watched the trailer eleven thousand times by now. But neither of those worked out; the people calling the shots on Friday the 13th Part 2 can't seem to ever pull the trigger on one of the seemingly countless number of scripts they've considered over the past seven years, and financial and rights issues have caused an indefinite delay on the next Halloween, which is now in the middle of its longest hiatus in its history (Jason's got another two years to match his own hibernation record). As for Freddy, I'm not sure what's going on - every now and then there's a very vague rumor about movement, but given how universally hated the 2010 film was (even Platinum Dunes' Brad Fuller has dismissed it), not to mention the recent passing of the character's creator, I think they're wisely letting Freddy sleep it off for a long time. When all memories of the remake's "hamster in a hat" Freddy have been vanquished (and Wes Craven's passing a distant enough memory to avoid a new remake feeling (too) ghoulish) maybe we'll see a new Nightmare, but I wouldn't hold my breath. 

As for their '80s cohorts (and since someone will undoubtedly ask about a series that doesn't fit - I'm talking about the boogeymen theatrical franchise characters - not Jaws, not Predator, not the goddamn Dentist, etc.), it's a little more promising, at least on the books. There's another rights-extension throwaway Hellraiser on the way, though if you're genuinely excited for it I would like you to consider having your optimism checked by a mental health professional, as it's clearly reached a level more commonly known as "delusion". Don Mancini has hinted that a 7th Child's Play is in the works, not a big surprise considering the last one was well-received (and Universal isn't one to let its properties languish), and there's an actual Leatherface movie - from real directors - coming along soon. But as for the three big guns, things aren't looking too good, and as each year passes they become less and less relevant - horror fans at large don't seem much interested in slasher fare these days, still preferring ghosts and zombies while shrugging off guys in masks (the ratings for Chiller's Slasher series certainly don't suggest any real demand for this sort of thing).

Again, this bothered me for a long time, but now I'm starting to wonder if this crowd, or at least most of them, should just be permanently retired. It feels blasphemous for me to say, but there's a key element I've overlooked in the past that made me realize the error in my previous logic - the bulk of those Universal monsters were based on literary properties. Dracula, Frankenstein, and Invisible Man were born on the page, not the screen, and The Mummy is in kind of a grey area - the script for the 1932 film was inspired by an Arthur Conan Doyle short story as well as the legend of Alessandro Cagliostro. Of that '30s/'40s crew, only The Wolfman was a wholly original creation (and was the latest to the party*), a big difference from the '80s/'90s guys I mentioned above. All of them were created specifically for movies with the exception of Pinhead, who barely appeared in The Hellbound Heart novella and wasn't even called "Pinhead", making his literary ties rather slim.  

I bring that up because this makes a fundamental difference between the two groups, generally speaking. When someone makes a new Dracula film, it's not likely to be a "remake" of any particular movie, least of all one starring Bela Lugosi. I suppose it could be interesting to see modern reproductions that Van Sant Psycho the old films (meaning, use their original scripts), but if anyone considered Dracula Untold, Dracula 2000, or even the 1979 Dracula by John Badham to be "remakes" they were incorrect. Apart from the character names and maybe the occasional (intentional) nod to one of the others, these were all doing their own thing - and making changes to an original text that was written before feature films even existed. When you're using a book to start you can defend a lot of changes by saying "that wouldn't work on film!" (unless one of the millions of other Dracula adaptations had filmed it and it turned out just fine, of course), and on the other hand you can always pull a "We're going back to the source material!" defense after a few years of radical reinventions. I mean, so many Dracula movies use the "Dracula finds the reincarnation of his true love" plot that it's easy to forget it wasn't part of the original story; it was made up for a movie (I forget which one now) and it's been stuck since. If someone wanted to film Stoker's novel to the letter with all the luxuries a Hollywood production could afford and the technologies we have today, it could be kind of exciting - no one's really done it on a studio scale in decades.

Contrast that with Friday the 13th. This is a weird series in that the first movie doesn't even feature the character most associated with the title - Jason Voorhees. He didn't get the hockey mask until halfway through the third movie, and there was no way in hell Platinum Dunes was going to "remake" the film and give up the easy marketing/merchandising potential of the new guy in a newly designed mask. But they were still beholden to the original story, so their film - which I mostly liked - had a strange structure, with a recap of the first film (i.e. the mother killing everyone before being offed herself) and then a quick remake of parts 2 and 3 (baghead Jason!) before finally kicking off its main narrative at the 25 minute mark or something. One could argue that they didn't need to bother with any of that stuff because it's a new story and a new character, technically, but there's a sense of history they felt they needed to honor before making their changes - and that history began with another movie. Using a 120-year-old novel as a launching point is a lot different than using a 30-year-old movie, as it turns out. 

This also left the movie feeling oddly anachronistic, as they were trying to recreate the feeling of those '80s films but falling into many of the traps of modern horror (seasoned actors, a sense of ironic detachment), to the point that even the brief discussion of a GPS was jarring, because it spoiled the illusion they were trying to recreate. Basically, it felt like they couldn't decide whether to embrace its period roots or completely modernize it, ending up somewhere in the middle - which made the movie occasionally hard to really get into - whenever you'd settle into one style, something from the other would intrude. Rob Zombie's Halloween suffered from the same problem - even if it wasn't all that good, his first half was mostly of his own design, using John Carpenter's film as an outline as he dove into things that the 1978 film only hinted at (Myers in the institution, for example). But then once Michael escaped, Zombie began aping Carpenter almost scene for scene, which made his character changes (asshole Loomis, a giant Michael, etc.) harder to reconcile or accept, as they made their way through scenarios that were not organic to their new incarnations. Zombie also blundered by retaining the Michael/Laurie relationship Carpenter himself regrets making in the first place - why not right the wrongs? And why spend so much time more or less doing your own thing only to fall back on what had been done (perfectly) 30 years earlier? 

Well, because that's all they had to go on. Using a book as the source for a film gives you plenty of material to draw from (and leave out), but a movie doesn't really have that much in comparison. Plus, when you adapt a book, you can change anything and use the "Well that's a book and this is a movie" excuse (even if it doesn't really make sense), but if you're remaking a movie, you can't use that excuse for your changes - and those things have to be justified. Long story short, it's harder to free these characters from the shackles imposed by their cinematic origins - there's not as much license for such drastic interpretations unless the movies weren't really beloved to begin with. The Silent Night, Deadly Night, Sorority Row, and Prom Night remakes bare very little resemblance to their originals beyond the setting (Christmas, a sorority house, and duh), but how many people are really going to get angry about that? Pull that sort of thing with Nightmare On Elm Street though, and you'll never hear the end of it - even from people who wouldn't want to see it anyway. It's kind of a no-win situation. Change too much, and you're bastardizing a beloved story, but if you change too little you'll have everyone wondering what the point is (cough, Psycho, cough). And sequelizing them at this point is just as difficult, as the remakes and reboots have made them all into such a mess that it's often a challenge to even decide where to start from. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton were about to make a movie that was originally announced as a (3D) sequel to Rob Zombie's Halloween II and over time became a sequel to Carpenter's original (and also a reinterpretation of the 1981 Halloween II, as it used some of that film's characters but in a different context). I'm a die-hard Halloween fiend and even I found it kind of confusing - what chance does a casual fan have of knowing what story they're seeing being continued?  

The movies aren't even old enough to justify being remade for the modernizing angle alone. Sure, they all have the dated outfits and some of the heroes' problems could be solved by cell phones (love to hear the "I can't get a signal!" excuse in suburban Haddonfield or Springwood), but there's nothing about an escaped mental patient killing teenagers that can be drastically changed by moving the calendar up 30-40 years, the way Frankenstein can (a story based around advancements in medicine using then state-of-the-art technology). The Dracula and Frankenstein novels would cost more money to adapt as period pieces than as modern day tales, so it's a win-win situation to do the latter, giving them a fresh spin while saving money on costumes and torches. Bernard Rose's terrific Frankenstein is a perfect example of such a case - it was not a mega-budget film, but the modern touches were all inspired and made the movie far more memorable than another DeNiro/Branagh Frankenstein kinda thing would be anyway. And their literary background means audiences can put up with more versions in a shorter period of time; Rose's film came along not long after I, Frankenstein, which was a pretty terrible movie but was, if nothing else, nothing like any Frankenstein movie I can recall. So we had two wildly different Frankenstein films produced within a year of each other - do you honestly think that there could be two Jason Voorhees films in that amount of time that offered the same kind of variety?

To me, there is more value in trying TV shows for these properties than attempting new sequels that confuse the dwindling fanbase. Television is a different medium than movies, just as movies are different from books - so there's a lot more leeway to wipe the slate clean and do something totally out there without everyone scratching their heads. Scream has done a decent enough job so far, honoring the concept of the movies without actually imposing on them in any way - it's not even the same universe, as far as I can tell, and so it succeeds or fails on its own terms, without the history of four other films informing its every decision. An attempt at a Friday the 13th series was recently killed by the CW, and I hope it can find life elsewhere - if they took a Bates Motel-esque approach (using the core idea but going out of its way to establish that it's not tied to any of the movies) it could have been a lot of fun, I think. And for Halloween they'd be wise to borrow a page from the Scream show and just do a slasher concept but with a completely different set of characters and zero connection to Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, etc. That series was never intended to be about those people anyway - perhaps on TV Carpenter's original vision can finally be realized.

Obviously, if the series' respective owners get their shit together and make a new movie, I'll be buying a ticket on opening night - it's just who I am. This isn't a "I never want to see another movie!" post, but more of a "I am done complaining about their endless development" (my Twitter followers should be happy, if nothing else). If they never make another movie, fine, and if they do, that's also fine - it's just no longer something I will concern myself with, because I realize there's very little hope that I get what I want out of them anyway. Even though the wait for new movies has been lengthy, I think even more time needs to pass before there's a genuine creative reason to bring them back (and no, not in a Vs. movie) - the world hasn't changed enough for new adventures to really contrast with the old ones. So until we all have flying cars and cell phones built into our brains, I say we let those guys stay out of our multiplexes - let's start working on creating new monsters for this generation instead of repeated attempts to make them love the guys that belonged to ours. 

* The Creature from The Black Lagoon is often grouped in with these guys, but I think that's like putting Jigsaw with Jason and Freddy - by the time Black Lagoon came out, the others were about to be revived (by Hammer). And his only crossover with the others was in an Abbott & Costello TV special - the others all got to appear in feature films. Nope, at best he's a cousin to that band of brothers.

(Note - header image of the Myers masks from user "makeupmonster" on the Official Halloween Message Board)