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Simplicity: The Key to Reviving Slasher Franchises?

slasher icons

When it comes to the re-animation of the big slasher franchises, a pattern has recently begun to develop. New Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween films have been on-again, off-again more times than I can count, and it seems that the studios who own those properties just can’t seem to figure out what to do with the beloved villains who call them home. Back in their heydays, those franchises were often expanded upon with new sequels on an annual basis, so why is it now taking so long to bring the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers back to the big screen?

It’s been six years since Freddy Krueger last invaded teenage dreams, seven since Jason Voorhees last stalked Crystal Lake, and also seven since Michael Myers picked up a kitchen knife, and at the time of writing this post, there are no set-in-stone plans to bring back those money-making franchises anytime soon. When it comes to Friday the 13th and Halloween, planned reboots were put on the backburner just last year for various behind the scenes reasons, and it’s certainly not the first time that indefinite setbacks have plagued the world of slasher franchise revivals.

(Leatherface, for whatever reason, is having no trouble revving up that chainsaw on a regular basis, as a prequel to the original is headed our way this year – just three years after Chainsaw 3D.)

Thinking back on the aforementioned franchises, there’s a common thread that ties all (okay, most) of their best installments together – and maybe, just maybe, therein lies the key to reviving them proper in the years to come.

That key, you ask? It’s simple. No really. Simplicity is probably the key.

Let’s start with Halloween. The best installments – aside from Halloween 3, since it’s a big ole exception to almost every rule imaginable (and I love it for that) – are undoubtedly the first two, which centered primarily on the masked maniac stalking and slashing youngsters. From Halloween 4 onward, the franchise became muddled by the unfortunate desire to connect the faceless “shape” to his victims – and really, we can blame Halloween 2 for starting that trend – and then almost entirely ruined by a reality TV twist that represented the series at its shark-jumping worst.

Things didn’t get much better, at least in the eyes of many, when Rob Zombie added a backstory (Halloween) and all sorts of wacky, distracting shit (Halloween 2) to the proceedings.

As for Halloween H20, which took a “return to form” approach to the series after all that Thorn cult nonsense, it’s one of the best installments since Carpenter departed the franchise. Go figure.

Simplicity, for the Halloween franchise, was the key to its early success, and the very same can be said for Friday the 13th, which hit the peak of its quality with early installments that simply put kids out in the woods and let Jason (and his mom) stick sharp things into their well-toned bodies. In the fourth sequel, Jason wasn’t even Jason, and then he eventually learned how to swap bodies and even traveled to outer space. Something was undeniably lost when the series, well, it tried way too hard to change things up.

Similarly, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise took a turn for the worse when Freddy killing teenagers in their nightmares was no longer its sole focus (the burnt-faced demon invaded the dreams of an unborn child in the fifth installment, I must remind you), and Texas Chainsaw Massacre officially (and in some ways, admirably) wore out its welcome when the Illuminati got involved in Leatherface’s business. Say what?!

And how about Child’s Play? Late-in-the-game sequels Bride and Seed of Chucky gave the killer doll a wife and a son, and though I’m aware that those films have rabid fan followings, they totally killed my own interest in the series. My faith in the franchise wasn’t restored until Don Mancini went back to the basics with Curse of Chucky in 2013, which was simple, low-budget, and wonderful.


As far as slasher franchise remakes are concerned, the only ones that really worked for me in recent years were Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, both of which shed all the desperate, convoluted, and otherwise messy nonsense found in the original franchise sequels and got back to the good old fashioned, teen-killing basics. And really, when going to see movies featuring hulking bad guys like Leatherface and Jason Voorhees, isn’t your primary interest seeing them pick up deadly weapons and use them on attractive young people?

Mind you, I understand why each of these franchises tried to spice things up back in the day, as you can’t simply do the same thing over and over and expect to continue making a killing at the box office, but at this point, I think enough time has passed that audiences just want to be reminded why they fell in love with watching people get slaughtered by their favorite villains in the first place. It’s something that Nick Antosca and David Bruckner seemed to understand with their proposed ’80s-set reboot of the Friday the 13th franchise, though Paramount unfortunately pulled the plug and has gone back to the drawing board.

So is the problem here that studios are over-thinking things? Are they trying too hard to inject new life into our favorite horror icons when they should probably just be letting them loose to do what they do best? I don’t claim to have the answers to these questions – if I did, I’d probably be wearing a suit right now and making millions of dollars – but what I do know is that simplicity worked for all of those franchises in the past. And I can’t think of a reason why that wouldn’t be the case today.

Give Jason a machete. Put him in the woods with horny teenagers. Count your money.

Nothing about slasher movies is rocket science.

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.
  • John Squires

    To clarify something that may be misinterpreted…

    When I say “simple” I don’t mean “no new ideas!” Dream Warriors is a great example of a movie that kept the core idea of the franchise simple – teens being killed in their dreams by Freddy – but had a whole lot of creative fun with it.

    New Nightmare, on the other hand, was anything but simple, though it totally worked. But as a general guideline, and in particular when it comes to the Friday and Halloween franchises, I believe that a simple set-up is the best way to go.

    If you think I’m wrong, I’d love to hear your opinion. So sound off!

  • Brian Rosenthal

    Just look at The Force Awakens. Prime example. Sequels in general don’t need to reinvent the wheel… they just need to remind people what they loved about the wheel in the first place.

  • Graham

    This is bang on. Even looking at the success of pseudo-slasher It Follows. The plot was about as simple as you can get and it was all the better for it. I particularly agree with what you said about audiences being ready to be reminded why they love these franchises in the first place. It’s been years since we saw a big name slasher with a simple premise and solid execution. We’re definitely ready for that again.