What's going on with the great slasher movie franchises?

Ben Bussey
UK Movies Writer
1978’s ‘Halloween’ (credit: Anchor Bay)

Fans of old school slasher movies have had plenty of news to sit up and take note of this past week, with news of the long-delayed ‘Friday the 13th’ reboot finally getting axed altogether, and the surprising announcement of a new director/writer team on the latest revival of ‘Halloween.’

Seems an opportune moment, then, to take stock of where all the enduring slasher franchises of the 1970s and 80s stand at this point in 2017. Many of them have been dormant for some time, but – as we all know – it’s just when you think they’re finally dead that they suddenly spring back up to catch you unawares.

So by all means, crack open a beer, light a joint, get in bed with someone you’re not married to, and read on…

2003’s remake of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (credit: New Line Cinema)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

It’s the big daddy which arguably started it all for the slash-happy horror movies that have come since. While Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ is an acknowledged classic (almost certainly the single greatest horror film ever made, in this writer’s estimation), its sequels have always been divisive; personally I love Hooper’s more comedic 1986 follow-up ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,’ but 1990’s ‘Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3’ is pretty weak, whilst 1994’s ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation’ is really only notable for the fact that lead actors Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellwegger would like to pretend it never happened.

For better or worse 2003’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ remake from Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes set the tone for much of the horror that has followed in the years since, with near-constant remakes becoming the norm. However, 2006 prequel ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning’ didn’t have nearly the same impact, nor did Lionsgate’s 2013 soft reboot ‘Texas Chainsaw 3D.’

It shouldn’t be long before we hear that dreaded buzz again, as another prequel, ‘Leatherface,’ is on its way. Directed by acclaimed French duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (‘Inside,’ ‘Livid,’ ‘Among the Living’), the film will centre on the iconic killer of the title in his youth, showing us how it all began. It was shot in 2015 and at the time of writing still doesn’t have a release date, which might not bode well, but let’s hope for the best.

2007’s ‘Halloween’ remake (credit: Dimension Films)

Halloween

While ‘Chainsaw’ laid the groundwork, it was of course John Carpenter’s 1978 ‘Halloween’ that really blew the doors wide open on the slasher movie format, spawning countless imitators as well as nine follow-up films, including the 2007 reboot and its 2009 sequel from rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie.

Though commercially successful, Zombie’s take on the classic slasher series proved hugely divisive, which perhaps explains why the rights-holders Dimension Films and producer Malek Akkad rather less quick on the draw with a further film. Director/writer teams Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer (‘My Bloody Valentine 3D,’ ‘Drive Angry’) and Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (the ‘Saw’ sequels, ‘The Collector’) were briefly attached, only for their takes to be rejected.

However, things got hot on ‘Halloween’ in 2016 when producer Jason Blum, head of horror hit-makers Blumhouse (production company behind ‘Paranormal Activity,’ ‘Insidious,’ ‘The Purge’ and more), came on board the franchise, bringing no less than John Carpenter himself back as an executive producer. Directors Adam Wingard (‘The Guest,’ ‘Blair Witch’) and Mike Flanagan (‘Oculus,’ ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’) were said to have been in contention for the job, but this week saw the surprise announcement that director David Gordon Green and writer Danny McBride, who previously collaborated on the (hugely underrated!) 2011 sword and sorcery spoof ‘Your Highness,’ have been hired to make the movie.

Given the duo’s high profile comedy history (Green also directed ‘Pineapple Express’), they might seem unlikely candidates for the job, but it should be noted Green is a long-outspoken horror fan who for many years planned to direct a remake of Dario Argento’s ‘Suspiria.’ Green has instead produced this remake for director Luca Guadagnino, expected later this year, with cast including Chloe Moretz, Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson.

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‘Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, as seen in 2003’s ‘Freddy Vs Jason’ (credit: New Line Cinema)

Friday the 13th

1980’s ‘Friday the 13th’ may have been one of the more bald-faced ‘Halloween’ cash-ins, but the ensuing franchise wound up even bigger, seeing the fabled Jason Voorhees go from the poor drowned child of a deranged summer camp worker, to an indestructible, machete-wielding menace in a hockey mask.

We’ve had a grand total of 12 ‘Friday the 13th’ movies thus far, including 2003’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ crossover ‘Freddy Vs Jason,’ and the 2009 reboot, again from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes. However, despite the commercial success of those last two movies, the past eight years have seen Platinum Dunes and studio Paramount struggle to get a sequel off the ground; which seems ironic, given Paramount were literally churning them out on an annual basis in the 80s.

Director David Bruckner (‘V/H/S’) was attached for a time, and at one point a found footage approach was being considered until fan outcry put paid to that idea. Subsequently it was said the project was planned as a prequel of sorts, and when director Breck Eisner (‘The Crazies,’ ‘The Last Witch Hunter’) came on board in 2016 it seemed the film was finally getting somewhere. Alas, Paramount finally pulled the plug this week.

It’s thought that the commercial disappointment of Paramount’s recently released horror reboot ‘Rings’ contributed to this decision; however, it’s also been reported by Bloody Disgusting that the studio’s option to the franchise expires in the near future, with the rights reverting to Warner Bros. The question is, when Warners get the rights back, will they have plans to take us back to Camp Crystal Lake?

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in 1988’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’ (credit: New Line Cinema)

A Nightmare on Elm Street

The late Wes Craven’s 1984 classic proved to be one of the most influential horror movies of its decade, giving the slasher format a massive boost with its hugely creative set-up, introducing a new kind of horror icon in Robert Englund’s grizzled dream killer Freddy Krueger, and launching New Line Cinema as major Hollywood players (the mini-studio, since bought by Warner Bros, has long been nicknamed ‘The House That Freddy Built’). Six further ‘Nightmare’ movies followed, ending with Craven’s 1994 meta-sequel ‘New Nightmare,’ before Englund returned one last time in 2003’s ‘Freddy Vs Jason.’

Following the commercial success of Platinum Dunes’ ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Friday the 13th,’ a ‘Nightmare’ reboot was inevitable; this arrived in 2010, with Jackie Earl Haley taking over from Englund as Freddy, and an early turn from future ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Rooney Mara. However, while a reasonable hit, the remake was widely (and quite rightly) despised by critics and fans, and director Samuel Bayer hasn’t made another feature since.

It was reported in summer 2015 that New Line had plans for a further reboot, with writer David Leslie Johnson (‘Orphan’) hired to script the next Nightmare, but very little has been heard on the subject since. Still, fans can look forward to seeing Robert Englund don the Freddy make-up one more time, just not under quite the circumstances one might hope for…

Doug Bradley as Pinhead in 1992’s ‘Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth’ (credit: Dimension Films)

Hellraiser

It’s highly debatable as to whether or not the 1987 directorial debut of novelist-turned-filmmaker Clive Barker really counts as a slasher film or not, but there’s no question that it launched one of the last great horror icons of the era in Pinhead, the demonic sadomasochist played to understated perfection by Doug Bradley.

Though a comparatively minor character in the original, Pinhead came to centre stage in 1988’s ‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’ and 1992’s ‘Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.’ However, after 1996’s troubled fourth film ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline,’ the series went direct-to-video; the subsequent five sequels have strayed ever farther from Barker’s original vision, with Pinhead little more than a cameo in most of them.

While a reboot was long mooted – filmmakers Pascal Laugier (‘Martyrs’), Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, and Patrick Lussier were all attached at different points – no new take on the property managed to take flight. Instead, the series has remained in DTV hell, figuratively and literally. Doug Bradley bowed out as Pinhead in 2005’s ‘Hellraiser: Hellworld’ (a film otherwise notable for giving Henry Cavill an early role), later declining to star in 2011’s ‘Hellraiser: Revelations,’ a hastily assembled found footage movie widely believed to have been made for the sole reason of renewing Dimension Films’ option on the series.

A tenth film, ‘Hellraiser: Judgement,’ is expected to be released later this year; Bradley again declined to return, the actor stating that he was offended to have been asked to sign an extraordinarily strict non-disclosure agreement before even being allowed to read the script.

Chucky in 1990’s ‘Child’s Play 2’ (credit: Universal)

Child’s Play

Along with ‘Hellraiser,’ the ‘Child’s Play’ series is just about the only major horror series to have come out of the 1980s which hasn’t been rebooted yet. In fact, the misadventures of killer doll Chucky are unique among all these franchises, in that the series has remained in the hands of the same creative team for the duration.

Series creator Don Mancini has written every film in the series, as well as directing the last two entries, 2005’s ‘Seed of Chucky’ and 2013’s ‘Curse of Chucky,’ the latter having sadly been the first of the series to go straight to DVD – despite being one of the strongest entries.

Mancini is back in the director’s chair for ‘Cult of Chucky,’ in production in Bulgaria at the time of writing. This seventh film brings back series stalwarts Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly, along with ‘Curse’ final girl Fiona Dourif and original ‘Child’s Play’ actor Alex Vincent as the now grown-up Andy. It looks sure to be quite the fan-pleaser, and is expected to be released before the end of 2017. (Read more on the Child’s Play series here.)

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