Collins’ Crypt: Is The Slasher Revival Finally Happening?
Over the years, I've written a number of articles about the sorry state of the slasher genre, and whenever a rare sign of life came along (such as MTV's Scream series) I would do my best to champion it in the hopes that it could get the ball rolling for similar fare. So far, nothing has stuck, but recently I am starting to get confident that we might be seeing the turning of the tide. In the past week, we've not only had a new slasher series hitting our virtual shelves (a second season of Chiller's simply named Slasher, now a Netflix exclusive) and the long-awaited physical release of the still popular Friday the 13th game, but - at long last - a hit slasher movie in our multiplexes! Blumhouse's slasher/Groundhog Day hybrid Happy Death Day took advantage of the Friday the 13th "holiday" (an October one to boot) and scored a massive $26m opening on a sub $5m budget. Even if it struggles against its competition over the next couple weeks, that already makes it the highest grossing original slasher film in nearly twenty years - something that's bound to impress execs at a few other studios.
The fact that Happy Death Day has been well received by critics (at 65%, its "Fresh" Rotten Tomatoes score puts it in very select company among slasher films) and audiences is just icing on the cake. Sequels and remakes within the big franchises can be counted on to turn a profit even with abysmal reviews and tepid audience reactions (let's not forget, even the much-hated Nightmare on Elm Street remake scared up over $60m), but the originals in this sub-genre haven't fared well over the past two decades. Even Wes Craven's name couldn't entice the masses to check out My Soul To Take, and most others couldn't even manage to secure a wide release. But thanks to the reliable Blumhouse brand, the star-free (and PG-13, often a death curse for this sub-genre) Happy Death Day not only scored a big weekend, but even topped the openings of Scream 4 and Texas Chainsaw 3D, which is spectacular. The thinking always seems to be that remakes and sequels are what keeps masked killers off the unemployment line, but when something like this outperforms the big guns, it can only be a sign that audiences want *new* masked boogeymen slicing up our attractive 20-somethings.
But that doesn't mean the old guys should be put out to pasture. Horrible matchmaking and endless glitches haven't really hurt the Friday the 13th game all that much, as the game is still quite popular on all three platforms (PC, XB1, and PS4) and the developers continue to add new content to it in order to satisfy the hungry fanbase. Studio and rights issues tomfoolery have sidelined the film series for the time being, but it's obvious people still want to see their favorite hockey masked psycho stomping around Crystal Lake and hacking up counselors, so I wouldn't call time of death on the franchise as a whole anytime soon. If and when all the tangled rights issues (there's currently a lawsuit brewing, on top of the usual Paramount/WB/Platinum Dunes pot-splitting that has been the primary reason for the endless delays) can be settled I'm sure we will see him on the big screen again, and as long as they don't break the bank on its budget - and there's no reason they should - it will be a nice payday for whoever foots the bill. Speaking of Jason, Kane Hodder is also back in the newest Hatchet film (titled Victor Crowley), which is currently being traveled around the country in a roadshow format that ensures a full crowd of fans - the ideal way to watch these kinds of films.
And of course, we will be finally getting a new Halloween film next year, after a nine year hiatus (the longest in the series by far) since Rob Zombie's Halloween II. With no one ever seeming to agree on where the series should go from there, Malek Akkad finally dropped all developing projects and went back to basics, taking the series to Blumhouse and letting them work their magic, now that Michael Myers was finally free from Dimension's grasp. Blumhouse wasted little time getting us excited for the film, first announcing that John Carpenter would be involved as a producer and possibly even composing the music, and then dropping an even bigger bombshell: Jamie Lee Curtis would be returning as well. This of course caused some confusion since Laurie Strode was killed in 2002's Halloween: Resurrection, but as any astute fan of this series knows, retconning is hardly a new thing, as the existing ten films house two branching timelines after the first Halloween II*, a pair of remakes, plus a spinoff (H3) where characters are able to watch the original Halloween. In layman's terms, it's a damn mess, and while I may be a bit apprehensive about writing off so many entries that I quite like (not to mention so many great Donald Pleasence performances), the decision to ignore all of the other sequels and make a direct sequel to the original set forty years later will probably be a good one in the long run. A while back I wrote about how I could no longer get excited about these films, but the fact that Carpenter and Curtis are returning is something I never could have seen coming, so I think I have a pretty fair defense for changing my mind.
Even the small-screen stuff is chugging along. MTV will offer a third season of Scream next year, one that will not only take the anthology route and introduce all new characters, but apparently will bring back the classic Ghostface mask as opposed to the "Brandon James" one that has been used in the previous two seasons. Whether this means it takes place in the same universe as the film series, or merely in the "real world" where the killer is paying homage to the popular Scream films is not yet known, but I don't think it really matters - that mask is just as iconic to horror fans as Michael or Jason's, and that alone will probably help generate excitement for the new season whether it has any other ties to Sidney Prescott and co. or not. And as mentioned we already have the surprise return of Slasher, the first season of which started off well but kind of stumbled in the back half - hopefully the new season learned from the first's mistakes and gets it right. They certainly fixed the location - this time we get a summer camp murder and a snowy climate (when the characters return to the scene of the crime five years later), and they've also overhauled the cast. Some of the actors return but as new characters (a gambit that works fine for American Horror Story), and with Netflix behind it it's likely to get another go-around as they rarely cancel anything after a single season.
Long story short, it's the first time since 2009 (all remakes - but good ones! Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, the underrated Sorority Row...) that I've felt like I was having my slasher itch scratched, and I don't think it's merely a case of coincidental timing. It's no secret that horror tends to thrive in times when our country is in turmoil, and such times tend to yield vast numbers of two distinct kinds of fright fare. One would be the allegorical type - early Romero, Cronenberg, and Craven films all had something to say while making sure audiences got their scare moments. The other would be the more escapist fare, and there is nothing more escapist than a straight up slasher film. Carpenter has frequently dismissed the idea that Halloween was trying to say something about safe sex (as the virginal Laurie was the only one to survive), and even the people who suggested otherwise couldn't even stretch far enough to find a potential message in most of the films that ripped it off over the next few years; if anyone has a theory about what Final Exam was REALLY trying to say, I'd love to hear it.
And there's something we have now that we didn't in previous slasher waves, at least not to the extent that we do now: social media. If you use Twitter or Facebook, you cannot escape the real world for more than a few minutes, which makes escapist fare all the more enticing. Think about it: have you ever thought so much about what the President is doing on a daily (hourly?) basis as you have in this past year? I'm sure we will be seeing plenty of Trumpified zombie films over the next few years, not to mention ones like The Purge sequels that don't even bother with metaphor and put their political messaging front and center. Not that a slasher *can't* have some sort of underlying commentary, but most are pretty much "what you see is what you get" affairs, and that's fine. I was exhausted and rattled after a trying weekend when I saw Happy Death Day, and it totally charmed me and kept my mind off my problems for the better part of two hours - that's exactly the kind of horror fare we could use (it helps when the leads are as charming as Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard, both of whom should be big stars in the very near future).
Of course, there will always be people saying that these sort of films are what gives the horror genre a bad name, and there is (sadly) a grain of truth to that - but it's only because there are so many terrible ones made by people with no affinity for what they're doing. The makers of Happy Death Day clearly love the tropes and cliches of the "dead teenager" movie, but that doesn't mean they settled for lowest common denominator trash - the movie actually has a very positive message about how it's never too late to turn your life around, and even manages to make us like and care about a bunch of sorority girls. Yes, due to the fact that we're there to see people get killed the slasher film is "low-rent" (or whatever you want to call it) by design, but that's precisely why it has endured, not unlike the fact that we keep getting new flavors of Oreos despite the fact that healthier options are located right next to them on the shelf. Simple pleasures are needed now more than ever, and even if I ignored my obvious affinity for the sub-genre, I think the slasher film is the perfect option for studios right now. Not only are they cheap (gotta offset the losses of all those underperforming tentpoles - looking at you, Warner and Fox), but when done with the right care they can be a lot of fun - and as Happy proved, it's possible to make them PG-13 and still satisfy hardcore slasher fans (i.e. old jerks like me) with the right ingredients. Keep 'em coming!
*Skipping past the unrelated Halloween III, parts 4-6 continued that story. However H20 (and in turn Resurrection) was written as if 4-6 never happened, and if you disagree, please explain why Laurie would keep her son John but not her daughter Jamie, as the characters were both born in 1981 and thus would likely be twins.