Welcome back! Last week we dove into the early years of the slasher genre, seeing where the craze of mad men in masks all began, before making a note of the films that have stood out within the sub-genre. This week, we continue our journey into the rise of the slasher film, focusing on the 1990’s through to now.
You came back! I’m pleased to see you weren’t scared away by the terrors that lurk in the Chamber of Horrors. I hope you’re ready for another rough ride as we take a look at the films that revived the slasher name.
As the 1980’s came to an end, a new decade bought renewed faith that classic slasher movie villains could be resurrected. However, a new breed of horror was taking over, fazing out the slasher movie craze that had flooded the previous decade.
Chucky returned in Child’s Play 2 and Child’s Play 3 in the early years. Freddy attempted a comeback with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. While Child’s Play 2 was successful, its predecessor fell flat. Freddy Krueger didn’t fair much better, turning more comical than scary.
There was a brief, shining moment for Krueger, however. In 1994, Wes Craven took control of the dream demon he created, giving audiences something new to fear. Pulling Freddy out of a dream wasn’t exactly a new concept, however this time around, Wes Craven released Freddy into the real world.
This proved to be a commercial success. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare gave audiences a darker Freddy, returning him to the monster he originally was, and also reunited Heather Langenkamp with Robert Englund and John Saxon, something that hadn’t been done since the third film.
Following Freddy’s reclaimed success, another of the big three, Michael Myers, took a run at a return with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers in 1995. Jamie Lloyd, who had carried the series since the departure of Laurie Strode, was killed off in the opening act. Donald Pleasence returned to play Dr. Sam Loomis, but even he couldn’t help save the film. Pleasence passed away before it was released to cinemas, and while Michael Myers delivered the kills we’ve come to know and love him for, the film failed.
This seemed like the end for the slasher genre. Or at least for the big three villains.
But in 1996, Wes Craven returned to the director’s chair with Scream. Scream was credited with revitalizing not only the slasher sub-genre, but the horror genre as a whole. The direct-to-video influx of horror movies ceased as audiences flocked to the cinemas to view Ghostface in all his horrific glory.
There was something about Scream that sent the horror world into a spin. The slasher movie had been revived by a veteran of the genre. The film was a huge success and based on the demand, the studio green-lit a sequel, which was released the following year.
In 1997, Scream and Scream 2 received some stiff competition with another Kevin Williamson penned screenplay. I Know What You Did Last Summer gave audiences a new take on a classic urban legend. Loosely based on the novel by Lois Duncan, the film divided audiences. You either loved it, or hated it. Ben Willis was the perfect horror movie villain as he wasn’t supernatural and his motive was purely revenge. Muse Watson portrayed the Fisherman and did so with such conviction that The Fisherman quite easily makes lists of top horror movie villains to watch out for.
I Know What You Did Last Summer followed a similar formula that Scream used, opting to use teenagers as the victims as opposed to young adults. With a hot cast, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar and Party of Five star Jennifer Love Hewitt, I Know What You Did Last Summer gained a small following, but has since risen up the ranks of cult film status among the 90’s generation.
Though not as commercially popular as Scream, it does bring the terror that 90’s horror films was known for.
There was also an influx of stand alone slashers in the 90’s that were triggered by the success of Scream, including Urban Legend (1998), Camp Blood (1999), and The Craft (1996).
Sequels were the recipe of the late 90’s. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer saw the return of Ben Willis, a.k.a The Fisherman, while Michael Myers decided that 1998 was perfect time for a family reunion. Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the Halloween franchise 20 years later as Laurie Strode in Halloween H20.
Halloween H20 lived up to what audiences remembered of Michael Myers. The ultimate boogeyman had returned and did so with a vengeance, stalking his sister to a climatic ending that left audience wondering if you really could kill the boogeyman.
Michael wasn’t the only maniac to return that year. Chucky found himself a psycho bride, Dr. Feinstone returned in a sequel to The Dentist (1996), and The Puppet Master series was given new life.
Unfortunately, the late 90’s also bought about a travesty within the slasher sub-genre. Psycho was remade, shot for shot. The remake was panned by critics and cinema goers alike. While the original film was hailed a masterpiece, the remake was laughed at and often tops the list of the worst horror movie remake of all time.
While the slasher genre had been semi-revived, it seemed that with the release of Psycho (1998), it was revived through the aid of remakes. Movies like House On Haunted Hill were given the remake treatment, but rather than following the original concept, the film became a supernatural slasher, killing as much of the cast as they could.
With the new millennium came more sequels and remakes. It seemed to keep the slasher genre alive, but nothing was really new. Scream 3, riding off the success of the first two films, fell flat, while Urban Legends: Final Cut, whilst enjoyable, also failed. Audiences demanded something new.
In 2003, the battle that horror movie fans had longed for took place. Freddy vs. Jason hit cinemas. Unfortunately, fans weren’t thrilled by the film, feeling as though Freddy vs. Jason should actually have had more screen time of the two titans battling. Replacing fan favourite, Kane Hodder as Jason, upset audiences as most of them wished to see Robert Englund vs. Kane Hodder in the battle of the slasher villains.
But it was 2006 that audiences demand for a better slasher was finally answered. Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon gave a fresh take on the traditional slasher films. Starring A Nightmare On Elm Street veteran, Robert Englund, Behind The Mask introduced a new killer, Leslie Vernon, who had high hopes of being the next Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger.
As Leslie is planning his rampage, a documentary crew begin following him around. Leslie is sweet and attentive, giving them a lot of “inside information” about how to be a serial killer. However, the movie makes a pretty amazing turn in the final third. For the big showdown the audience left behind the movie-within-a-movie scenario created by the documentary set-up and are taken right into the movie’s reality. All of a sudden Behind The Mask turns into a real slasher film.
While Behind The Mask isn’t as mainstream as some of its predecessors, it’s an absolute gem of a film. A sequel has been talked about for years, but so far nothing has come to light.
2007 saw the return of Michael Myers in a remake of the original Halloween. Directed by Rob Zombie, the film changed Michael’s entire backstory, giving him a broken home, making him older and far more deranged. The film divided fans. You either loved it or hated it.
In 2009, Rob Zombie resurrected Michael Myers once more. Halloween II was a direct sequel of his remake. Not as well received as his first attempt, most people panned the sequel and were pleased when Zombie stated he wouldn’t make another Halloween movie.
That same year, Jason Voorhees returned in a reboot of the Friday the 13th franchise. Again, the film was criticized by movie goers as being unoriginal, however it was quite enjoyable, returning Jason to the running, thinking, booby-trap setting psycho that he was at the beginning of the 1980’s.
The following year, A Nightmare On Elm Street got the remake treatment. At this point it was hard to imagine something being worse than the Psycho remake. But this Michael Bay produced monstrosity certainly took the cake. This was the first time that Robert Englund did not play Freddy Krueger. Replacing him as the famed villain proved costly with the film ranking poorly among critics and audiences alike.
While the horror genre continued to flourish with the rise of paranormal, zombie, found-footage and high suspense fueled films, the classic slasher films subsided. Relying again on remakes, the slasher sub-genre was given life by the return of several key villains. Chucky returned with Curse of Chucky in 2013. Brad Dourif returned as the voice of the foul-mouthed doll that he had voiced since conception in 1988, and by doing so, created a whole new generation of fans as well as keeping the old ones happy. Victor Crowley returned with Hatchet II and Hatchet III in quick succession while The Town That Dreaded Sundown got a face lift, bringing the Phantom back to life for a new generation.
While the slasher craze has been hit or miss, especially in modern times, there’s always room for it within the horror movie halls. In recent years, this sub-genre that was so huge in the 80’s has made a successful move to television and live-streaming networks. Scream and Scream Queens are two shows that prove there’s always a place in horror for a creep in a mask. After all, if I may quote Scream 4 (2011), “There’s something really scary about a guy with a knife who just… snaps.”