Of all the horror icons born of the ‘80s, it’s pint-sized killer doll Chucky that’s still thriving. Between a new TV series in the works by the original creators and an unaffiliated reboot looming, Chucky’s lust for blood remains as strong as it was 30 years ago, when Child’s Playstabbed its way into theaters on November 9, 1988. The low budget horror feature not only won the box office upon release, but launched an enduring franchise with an impressive talent for maintaining continuity, a rarity among horror franchises. It wasn’t just the iconic Chucky that made Child’s Play such a long-lasting hit, though, but the cast of talented actors, an innovative special effects and makeup team, and an incredible roster of creative talent.
Inspired by his father’s work in advertising during the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze, Don Mancini wrote the script for Child’s Play while in college at UCLA. Only it was titled Batteries Not Included and was much more psychological in its horror as it satirized how marketing affecting children. Enter executive producer David Kirschner, who had just completed work on An American Tail for Steven Spielberg and was looking to break free from animation. After reading the book The Dollhouse Murders, he was seeking something with dolls specifically. Eventually, once Mancini’s script started to get passed around, word got out that Spielberg was already working on a film with that very title, so it was changed to Blood Buddy, and it finally found its way into Kirschner’s hands.
Blood Buddy drew a lot of inspiration from Magic, in which the doll wasn’t the actual killer but more representative of the twisted psychology of its owner. Even the large head of the doll was a nod to Fats. But there needed to be a way to become more emotionally invested in Karen and Andy Barclay’s story. This is where director Tom Holland (Fright Night) came in, making key changes that would alter the trajectory of Chucky’s story for the better. Between new screenwriter John Lafia and Holland, the killer doll transitioned from Buddy to Chucky, and became a literal killer doll thanks to voodoo. Holland also pushed up the reveal of Chucky, not keeping the action relegated to the third act.
Between the story changes and Kirschner’s drawing of the doll, based on Mancini’s detailed description in his original screenplay, the next step was to bring this doll to life. Kirschner enlisted special makeup effects artist Kevin Yagher (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) to create Chucky. Though the movie’s monster is only 2-feet tall, the creation of Chucky was an arduous task for the team. This was low budget, practical effect driven feature when animatronics was still at its infancy, causing Yagher and his team to really invent a lot of the effects as they went. If the complexities of the mechanisms involved wasn’t enough, Chucky’s appearance began to morph as the narrative progressed; he became more humanlike the longer he remained in the doll’s body.
Chucky wasn’t all animatronics and puppeteering, though the brilliant work from the makeup and effects team can’t be applauded enough, he was also brought to life by actors. Actor Ed Gale, who made his debut as Howard in Howard the Duck, delivered amazing work as Chucky’s stunt double that hasn’t gotten enough credit in the decades since the film’s release. Gale actually studied the movements of the animatronic and puppet iterations of Chucky, and emulated that in his performance for consistency. It also meant that an identical set scaled 30% larger had to be constructed to keep it proportionate.
Of course, the final component to Chucky is that of actor Brad Dourif. Holland pulled Dourif in after having worked with him on Fatal Beauty. Well, at least the opening scene that featured Chucky in his human form. After that, the doll was voiced by a female. But an abysmal test screening made clear that changes had to be made prior to release. Kirschner brought Mancini back into the fold for the editing process. 30 minutes of footage was cut to make for a much more streamlined story, but more importantly, Dourif was brought back to voice Chucky the entire way through. His voice makes Chucky.
Playing against the intense mania of Dourif’s performance was a fantastic, small cast of Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chris Sarandon, who all contributed to making Chucky believable while bringing the heart to the story. Chucky may have captured the fandom, but the pure innocence of young Andy Barclay makes for a perfect counterbalance.
Child’s Play wasn’t an easy film to make, but it was one where every facet of the filmmaking process was at their best. It’s difficult to make an inanimate object like a doll scary, but Child’s Play succeeded. Very few moments are as unnerving as the one in which Karen Barclay discovers Chucky’s batteries never left the packaging, therefore her son’s toy has been operating on its own. The strength of Chucky’s origin meant that the killer doll returned for 6 sequels, plus more on the way. It doesn’t even begin to cover what a pop culture phenomenon the horror icon has become in the decades since release. Here’s to 30 more years and new adventures with Chucky. We’re friends ‘til the end, remember?
In just under three weeks, David Gordon Green’s Halloweenhas exhilarated audiences to the tune of over $200 million in box office receipts, a milestone for this franchise and the slasher film subgenre. But even people happy with the film still find hang-ups to criticize, from Dr. Sartain’s motivations, to The Shape’s ambivalence in harming an infant in the home of a Haddonfield resident he bashed to death with a hammer, to Allyson’s jerk boyfriend Cameron (but he’s Lonnie Elam’s kid, of course he’s a jerk) getting away scot-free.
Written by Bram Stoker Award winner John Passarella, co-author of Wither, author of Wither’s Rain, Wither’s Legacy, Kindred Spirit, Shimmer, and a chain of Supernatural, Grimm, Buffy and Angel media tie-ins, the Halloween novelization is a satisfying companion piece to David Gordon Green’s feature.
I can already hear the rebuttals: But Mike, I shouldn’t have to read a book to get answers to questions or fix problems I have with a movie. No, you’re right, you shouldn’t have to. And you don’t have to. But it does help. Something I love about a movie novelization is its function to expand and enrich the narrative of a film. A movie is always subject to its post-production phase. Scenes are either dropped or reshot for a variety of reasons, be it time constraints, pacing problems… any number of issues. A novelization, however, is based on the screenplay (a particular draft or a number of drafts) and isn’t subject to any of those issues. Yes, an author has the freedom to embellish and expound upon characters, but you’ll also find scenes in there that were taken out of the finished film. We may not know what belonged to the screenwriters or what was simply an author’s take on the material unless the subsequent Blu-ray release contains deleted scenes; that being said, a novelization still gives us a broader take on the material and (possibly) the original intent of the filmmaker.
Take The Shape’s reluctance to harm that baby. While some saw this as a parallel to Michael ignoring the infants in the Haddonfield Memorial Clinic newborn ward in Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II (1981) or young Michael sparing his little sister Boo in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007), or proof the Shape does in fact have a conscience, others were confused. (And to those people who were confused, or surprised, he didn’t kill the baby, my only response is… Really?). David Gordon Green has gone on record that the infant was a late edition to the movie; the actor who was hired to play the husband of The Shape’s victim never came to set when those scenes were being shot, and Green was forced to improvise. While the finished film never gives us much information as to Michael’s current mental state or how random his behavior is, the book suggests quite a bit.
In the novelization’s opening pages, Dr. Sartain explains to true crime podcasters Aaron Joseph-Korey and Dana Haines that he disagreed with Dr Loomis’ description of Michael as pure evil. “Pure evil is not a diagnosis,” he tells them. Aaron asks Sartain if there’s any similarity between the homicidal maniac that made headlines in 1978 and the amenable patient of this institution. Sartain calls Michael “an aging, evolving animal, as we all are. And although we have worked very closely, these halls display the limitation of my analysis.” Under his care, Smith’s Grove has implemented a holistic form of therapy for Michael, and in that time, Sartain concludes that Michael’s tendency towards violence has been irrevocably erased. “We left two kitty cats in his cell overnight and they were retrieved virtually unharmed,” he says. Sartain may be convinced, but his research lacks one vital element, and it may lead him to facilitate Michael’s escape so he might study him in the wild. Michael’s decision to leave two kittens alone illustrates the randomness of his actions during his house to house murder spree later. Whether this is writer John Passarella’s addition or excised material from David Gordon Green’s first assembly, it does manage to expand on Michael’s psychology.
Scenes deleted from the theatrical cut of the film that were merely teased in marketing materials also appear in the book. One such scene has Aaron putting on Michael’s mask and scaring Dana in the shower, in a blatant parody of Hitchcock’s Psycho. (Now, if the lead up to the shower scene is done in the style of the opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween, with a POV through the mask’s eyeholes, it would also make it an homage of the opening of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse. Dammit, I wanna see those deleted scenes!) Aaron tells her: “When I wear this, there is a certain tendency or inclination that the legacy of the mask seems to inspire.” Sartain, later donning the mask — in the scene that has left just about everyone who has seen the film conflicted — would be a fitting callback to this, and would’ve made a lot more sense, if only this deleted moment had remained in the film.
Which leads us to Cameron Elam, Allyson’s disloyal boyfriend. In the film, Allyson catches Cameron fraternizing with another girl at the Exquisite Corpse Halloween high school dance. Cameron, drunk and irate, argues with Allyson, and dumps Allyson’s cell phone in a bowl of nacho cheese when he doesn’t get his way. Allyson storms off, and this is the last we see of Cameron. In the book, things play out a little differently.
In the book, Cameron chases after Allyson, still trying to make amends with her and failing miserably. By this point, the police have arrived and the dance is being cancelled and evacuated with confirmation Michael Myers is on the loose again in Haddonfield. When an officer finds Cameron and Allyson under the bleachers in the midst of their argument and this cop interrupts the lovers’ spat to usher them off school grounds, Cameron isn’t having it. Cameron and the cop scuffle, and Cameron gets arrested. That explains why Cameron never gets his moral comeuppance from The Shape: he was sleeping off his drunk in the county jail. But something tells me it’s just as well. If David Gordon Green comes back to direct the inevitable sequel, I’m fairly certain we’ll see Cameron again and he’ll get what’s coming to him. I’d expect it to be pretty brutal too, since it’s been prolonged. In the slasher film law of averages, survivors of one entry aren’t always so lucky in the next. The audience wants Cameron dead, and by God he better get it in the sequel, or heads will roll.
David Gordon Green’s Halloween is a story about the effects of PTSD on three generations of women, and their strength and ultimate perseverance against The Shape who has haunted their family, figuratively and literally, over a forty year span. The novelization allows this story to breathe. It offers so much more added depth, so much more background (on Laurie Strode, especially; it even drives home the point of that final shot in a very succinct, poignant way), it’d be a shame to spoil all of it. Just pick up a copy and enjoy.
The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” is thrown around a lot in the context of nostalgia, but in the case of the first teaser for Magic, it’s accurate. Imagine sitting around the TV with your family and having this TV spot popping up on screen. The simple but terrifying ad didn’t give away much about the actual plot, but it did instill a lot of traumatic nightmares for any young viewers that happened to catch it. The TV spot was so effective that it’s scarier than the actual film; it wasn’t the straightforward horror story the teaser indicated but much more a psychological thriller. Released 40 years ago on November 8, 1978, Magic is an underappreciated classic and one of horror’s most unnerving love stories.
Written by William Goldman (The Stepford Wives, The Princess Bride), adapted from the novel he also wrote, Magic revolves around a ventriloquist seeking to renew a relationship with his former high school sweetheart. The only problem is that his dummy is the jealous type. That ventriloquist, Corky, is played by Anthony Hopkins. Corky opens the film as an aspiring magician, but lacks the charisma of his mentor Merlin. Socially awkward, Corky chokes on stage and his subsequent outburst toward a less than enthusiastic audience has his ailing mentor warning him to develop a better stage presence and gimmick. Cut to a year later, where Corky has completely turned his show around thanks to the addition of ventriloquism in his act, with his dummy Fats. The act is so compelling that his agent Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) has lined up a great TV deal for him. But the network requires a medical exam to close the deal, and Corky runs back home to the Catskills out of fear. Corky’s fears are amplified when he renews a relationship with married woman Peggy (Ann-Margret), and Fats isn’t thrilled about it.
Unlike the ambiguity in Goldman’s source novel, the film doesn’t make any attempts to conceal the truth about Fats. Hopkins plays Corky always on the edge, always manic and nervous save for the fleeting moments of calm happiness with Peggy. Fats even looks just like Corky, and is voiced by Hopkins too. Fats is a manifestation of Corky’s id, and Corky is aware of his mental instability from the get-go.
There’s a sadness in Corky’s desire for normalcy despite knowing Fats won’t ever let him have it, but the true tragedy is the way Peggy is caught in the middle. Stuck in an unhappy marriage, it’s easy for her to be manipulated by Corky. Corky is always a means of escaping not just her marriage but her small town, making it easier to turn a blind eye to his erratic behavior. Ann-Margret has the tough job of playing the straight-man against Hopkin’s manic man losing his grip, and she pulls it off well. According to Goldman, he wrote Peggy with her in mind.
Though many names were tied to this film prior to production, from Roman Polanski to Steven Spielberg, the directorial duties ultimately fell to Richard Attenborough, the director behind Gandhi and A Bridge Too Far, but who fans will ultimately recognize as Professor John Hammond from Jurassic Park. Throw in the talents of cinematographer Victor J. Kemper (Audrey Rose, Xanadu, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) and a score by legendary composer Jerry Smith (Alien, Gremlins, Poltergeist), and Magic became an impressive film inside and out.
Magic wasn’t the first time that a ventriloquist was terrorized by his own dummy, but it’s emphasis on the psychological, Hopkins’ intense performance, and Attenborough opting for straightforward tension without a hint of camp elevated the film into something that holds up well, even if nowhere close to being as scary as the initial TV spot suggests. Moreover, Magic served as direct inspiration for Don Mancini’s original screenplay for Child’s Play, fittingly released almost a decade apart to the day. The story of Corky and Fats may not be as well known, but the influence of Magic is still strong in horror even 40 years later.
Each month in Horror Queers, Joe and Trace tackle a horror film with LGBTQ+ themes, a high camp quotient or both. For lifelong queer horror fans like us, there’s as much value in serious discussions about representation as there is in reading a ridiculously silly/fun horror film with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Just know that at no point will we be getting Babashook.
As two gay men, we have opted to use the moniker “Horror Queers” for this series of articles. It is a word that has a complicated history due to its derogatory use by bullies and hateful people, but has increasingly been adopted as a term of empowerment and a unifying term that recognizes the many complex identities that make up the LGBTIQQ community. Queer has become commonplace in academia, politics and pop culture over the past three decades. We understand and recognize that the term is still very hurtful for some people, but we believe that the more people that proudly reclaim it, the more the wounds and stigma surrounding the term are reduced. Using the word “queer” is intensely personal, but it is a decision that we are committed to. Please don’t be an asshole when using it and we’ll get along fine.
***SPOILERS for NOES 2 to follow.***
Synopsis for NOES 2: A teenage boy named Jesse (Mark Patton) is haunted in his dreams by deceased child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who is out to possess him in order to continue his reign of terror in the real world.
Queer Aspect: I mean…literally everything?
Well Trace, here we are: we are tackling what may just be the most queer horror movie ever created. We’ve been doing this series for eleven months and this has been by far the most requested movie that readers ask us to cover, so we’re doing it. I’m so excited, I can literally feel Freddy inside of me!
In all seriousness, there’s very little question that this film has a queer subtext. Some would even claim that there is no subtext; it’s actually just text. According to the film’s production, Freddy’s Revenge was never intended to be explicitly gay – at the time of the film’s release (one year after Wes Craven’s original) everyone claimed they were simply making a sequel that took the franchise in a different direction. Later, star Mark Patton claimed that he was essentially thrown under the bus when homophobic fans complained about his effeminate “scream queen” performance. Meanwhile, screenwriter David Chaskin and director Jack Sholder denied any awareness of the underlying queer themes (Chaskin has since admitted that he actually beefed up the subtext in rewrites throughout shooting). A quick Google search about the film indicates that there remains a great deal of tension between Patton and Chaskin/Sholder about how they and New Line handled the fallout after the film was released. The blame wound up significantly affecting Patton’s career and his self-identification as a gay man, though his appearances at conventions and his long-in-development documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street suggest that he’s in a better place now.
Let’s return to the film itself to consider whether its reputation is earned. Here’s a bullet list of the quote/unquote gay stuff contained within the film that fans/detractors have identified:
Patton’s overall performance
Dialogue like “He’s inside me and he wants to take me again!”, “Something is trying to get inside my body”, etc
Jesse’s high pitched screaming
Grady (Robert Rusler) pulls Jesse’s pants down and they wrestle provocatively
Mentions of an S&M club and how Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) likes pretty boys
Freddy caresses Jesse’s body in their first encounter
Jesse’s impromptu dance session, including a close up him using his butt to close a drawer
Jesse’s door sign, which reads “No Chicks”
The Probe game in Jesse’s closet
The shower death of Coach Schneider, including some light bondage with skipping ropes and a towel whipping
Jesse leaves a makeout session with Lisa (Kim Myers) to jump on a shirtless Grady in bed
Freddy literally emerging from within Jesse’s body
Grady’s short shorts
All of the literal “flaming” imagery
There’s probably some other stuff, but I got tired of mining the depths of the internet for big ol’ homo signifiers. In all honesty, it feels like the pendulum has swung so far the other way that people delight in finding something gay in every little thing about the film; Freddy’s Revenge is no longer considered a slasher film or an oddball entry in an emerging powerhouse horror franchise – it’s now simply a gay horror film. While I appreciate that there’s a canonical queer horror text, this categorization diminishes the other (often more interesting) things going on in the film.
So Trace, now that I’ve stolen all of the identifiers, what else did you pull out of Freddy’s Revenge? Are you able to watch the film without playing “spot the homo” or is that where the film’s power lies? And what do you make of the film’s historical trajectory from maligned Nightmare entry to queer icon?
*sigh* I haven’t necessarily been looking forward to covering this movie, Joe. Not because I don’t like it (I rank it above The Dream Master, Freddy Vs. Jason, The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead…in that order), but because I don’t really know what we can possibly add to the discourse on this very, very gay horror film.
Writing about Freddy’s Revenge seems so….unoriginal. Countless discussions have been made about this film. Tonsofarticles have been written about its queer (sub)text. As you mention, Patton has a full-blown documentary about the very topic that we are discussing (though it hasn’t been released yet, something that is a bit disconcerting since I donated to the Kickstarter over three years ago).
Does anyone really want to know what we have to say about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge? I don’t know. Let’s see!
Before I jump into the film’s undeniable queerness, I do want to point out one thing that has always bothered me about this film: the rules about how Freddy operates are very ill-defined. Most of the film takes place in the real world, with Chaskin & Sholder opting not to utilize a creative premise to their advantage like Craven’s original did. This makes sense, as Sholder has admitted that he doesn’t like the original very much, but it makes Freddy’s sudden ability to possess someone and use his powers in the real world a bit unrealistic. It’s no big deal, as the film never ceases to entertain, but it’s always bugged me.
Now on to the queerness!
While Jesse’s sexuality is never really in question, I’m more concerned with how the film links Krueger’s obsession with being inside/becoming him and the first film’s implication that he is a child rapist. Before readers come after me in the comments with pitchforks: yes, I’m fully aware that Freddy’s pedophilia is never explicitly stated (at least, not until the atrocity that is the 2010 remake). Wes Craven admitted that his original script described Freddy as a child molester, but the explicit reference was removed to avoid exploiting a wave of highly publicized child molestations occurring in California in 1984. So while it isn’t explicitly stated, it is heavily implied.
If we assume that Freddy is a child molester, then what does it look like when you have him possess a queer man? Linking Freddy’s urge to molest and murder children with Jesse’s queerness (or really, Freddy’s queerness – if you view him as representative of homosexuality) is a dangerous path to take, especially in 1985. This film isn’t really sympathetic to queerness, and the less said about predatory Coach Schneider the better (Sidebar: What even is that character?)
Freddy’s Revenge is a product of its time, so the fact that any queerness was injected into the proceedings is a minor miracle, but it is troubling watching it through a 2018 lens.
My reading of the film is that Freddy is representative of Jesse’s homosexuality. When Jesse is confronted with it (running into the Coach at the BDSM bar, freaking out after kissing Lisa and running into Grady’s arms), he/Freddy kills. Is the film trying to imply that homosexuality is evil, then? The ending would certainly have you think that, since it is Meryl Streep Lisa’s love for him (and/or his love for Lisa?) that exorcises Freddy from Jesse’s body. Again, the rules are ill-defined, but that seems to be the case. Does heterosexuality save the day? Or are we to believe that their friendship is what saves Jesse?
I realize I’ve taken a negative approach to the film’s stance on homosexuality, but it’s more me playing devil’s advocate. I don’t think the intention was to condemn Jesse’s queerness or queerness in general. I’m merely suggesting that it could easily be viewed that way, especially at the height of the AIDS crisis when this film was released.
What can be appreciated about Freddy’s Revenge is that it does what a sequel should do: try something different. Freddy’s modus operandi is completely different and the overall tone is much darker from the first film, while simultaneously leaning into its camp elements (i.e., the aforementioned dance scene).
The world in the film also feels rather contained. The first film did a good job of fleshing out the world around Nancy, but Freddy’s Revenge focuses so closely on Jesse and his own private world that you don’t really get a sense of the town around him. If this was intentional, it’s a brilliant way of mimicking how lonely growing up queer can be. You feel contained in your world. You feel alone. You feel like a freak. Freddy’s Revenge stands out among the pack of NOES sequels because it is a freak. It is the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. It is different. Thank god for girlfriends like Lisa; they make the loneliness bearable.
I didn’t really get to answer your questions, Joe, so I may just tackle them in my next response, but what do you think the film’s stance on homosexuality is? Is there a positive message that can come out of this film? Or does the final product make that impossible? Also: do you think the film can be excessive at times? I mean, the title card has three different fonts, for Christ’s sake.
Ugh, let us never speak of the 2010 remake again! I just rewatched it for another piece on lessons learned from Halloween 2018 and that attempt to reboot Freddy is completely insufferable.
Despite your uncertainty about bringing something new to the conversation, I think you’ve distilled a nuanced interpretation of the film. I looked at it a little differently, though I confess that I don’t have all of the finer points worked out.
I wound up seeing Freddy as a threat to Jesse’s burgeoning queerness. He is a manifestation of Jesse’s own internalized homophobia, so when sexual situations arise that might naturally encourage Jesse to consider his “unorthodox for the 80s” sexuality, Freddy pops out. Consider that in a film with very few murders, the two explicit ones both involve men that Jesse has a sexualized relationship with: predatory Coach Schneider and potential love interest Grady. I appreciate, however, that we’re essentially using the same scenes to argue for different readings; a big problem (or opportunity) with this film is that it is so open that you can argue for either side.
I do want to seize on your observation about Jesse’s isolation, though. What really stood out to me on the rewatch is the way that Jesse’s family, and in particular his father, treats him. The entire Nightmare franchise is founded on the idea that the parents of Elm Street are terrible. This began when the Elm Street parents chose to burn Freddy in an act of vigilante justice rather than care for their own kids. The original Elm Street is filled with latchkey kids: teens whose parents aren’t around to watch over them. Arguably this isn’t because they’re neglectful parents, however, it is because they’re too wrapped up in their own shit (Nancy’s father is overwhelmed with the murders and her mother can only process her role in Freddy’s murder with booze).
The Walsh parents in Freddy’s Revenge introduces a new narrative: sequel after sequel confirms that the Elm Street kids have been abandoned, dismissed or medicated into oblivion by their guardians.
Jesse’s parents establish the tropes that dictate how parents in the series are portrayed moving forward. His mother (Hope Lange) is a doormat and his father (Clu Gulager) is a belligerent, demanding dick. (In reality, the mother is barely even a character. The closest thing she and Jesse have to a legitimate moment in the film is her wry smile when she and Lisa catch Jesse dancing in his room).
Jesse’s father, however? Well we could delve deeper into some antiquated psychology about how masculinity is associated with a (queer) boy’s relationship to his father figure, but let’s just accept that Jesse’s father routinely disregards his opinions, bosses him around and relegates him to his room at the expense of making social connections with his peers (Seriously, why is Jesse’s dad so desperate for him to unpack his damned room? Who cares that much about a room that they don’t spend any time in?!)
The reason that I think that Jesse’s father is important is because he typifies the unsupportive parent of a gay child. He doesn’t know anything about his son and seemingly has no interest in rectifying that. His domineering bossiness, his antiquated “father knows best” approach to addressing the mysterious circumstances befalling the household and his dismissal of Jesse’s claims do nothing to encourage Jesse to open up or involve his parents. How can Jesse possibly come out to them in such a restrictive, repressive environment?
In the queer community silence = death, but in the Walsh household, that’s just business as usual. Watching the film through modern eyes and considering the studies that correlate mental health and well-being among queer youth with parental acceptance, it’s not hard to imagine a variant (or modern) draft of this film where Freddy’s Revenge ends with Jesse self-harming, possibly even committing suicide.
I think there’s one other integral queer component of Freddy’s Revenge that we need to discuss and that’s how the film alters Freddy into much more of a wisecracking smartass and, in so doing, (unintentionally?) turns Freddy into a queer icon. Why do you think so many queer audiences prefer Freddy over his mute ‘80s franchise companions, Trace? And what is the legacy of Nightmare on Elm Street 2?
It’s curious that the openness in the film bothers you, as that is what I find to be its most interesting aspect. The fact of the matter is that we will never truly know what the real intention behind the film was. Such is the case with all forms of art, right?
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is open to interpretation. I view Freddy as a physical representation of Jesse’s queerness and you view him as a physical representation of Jesse’s internalized homophobia. Neither one of us is wrong, but it’s fascinating that we are having this discussion over what is arguably a cheap cash-in sequel to a very good, original slasher film. Have any of the Nightmare sequels been discussed as much as Freddy’s Revenge for their (sub)text? Maybe New Nightmare, but only Freddy’s Revenge has the distinction of boldly going where no Nightmare film has gone before (or ever would again, thanks to the poor reception of the film at the time).
To go back to your original questions, Joe: will this film only ever be known for its blatant homosexual themes? Sadly, yes, that’s always going to be the case. Even when queerness becomes more normalized in the future, the film will be viewed (or even commended) for being the ‘80s slasher that was brave enough to tackle themes that, at the time, were not common in mainstream cinema. Intentional or not, Freddy’s Revenge is just as topical today as it was in 1985. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in movie theaters when this film was playing! Will this be its legacy? I think so…but I also don’t think that that’s a bad thing.
You have to feel bad for Patton. As much as this film (and the people behind it) supposedly hurt his career, it is an important landmark in queer cinema. This film is and will always be his legacy. It’s a rather sizable contribution to the genre. He seems to have taken it all in stride, though. His Jesse is one of the more interesting Final “Girls” to come out of the ‘80s slasher boom.
Is Freddy a queer icon, though? That’s up for debate. The debate being how you view Freddy in this film (and the films after it). The five sequels that followed eschew any and all queer themes that Freddy’s Revenge introduces. That being said, Freddy is a sassy little fucker. That sassiness would become the hallmark of the franchise by the time Freddy’s Dead came around (that image of him getting jiggy with the chalkboard will forever cement for me the moment that the franchise died). In my experience, Freddy hasn’t gelled as much with queer audiences as much as, say, Scream’s Ghostface has, but that’s a conversation for a future Horror Queers article. Freddy’s Revenge is the outlier of this franchise, not the norm.
People like Freddy for the same reason that they like Chucky and Ghostface: because they talk. There are two types of horror fans: those who prefer talkers and those who prefer the silent type. Jason and Michael are scary because they are mindless killing machines. Freddy and Chucky (and to some degree, Pinhead) are scary because they do have minds and taunt their victims. Sure, much of that taunting involves humor, but facing a killer who knows what he’s doing is scary. The Nightmare sequels gradually increase that humor, making Freddy increasingly campy, which is quite possibly what many queer audiences latched on to (I’m more into Freddy’s darkness than his harsh digs, but to each their own).
What else can be said about Freddy’s Revenge? As I mentioned above, I was loathed to discuss the film because doing so just felt so….basic. A queer series of horror articles tackling what has been frequently referred to as “the gayest horror film ever made?” Please. But I am glad that we were finally able to talk about it. It only took us 11 months! Hopefully, we’ve added something to the discourse that our readers can appreciate and, if not, well, there’s always next month!
Next time on Horror Queers: Now that A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is off our bucket list, it’s time to turn our attention to a kooky off-cycle entry about…killer dolls? That’s right, we’re diving into Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s terrible/awesome 2007 film, Dead Silence!
Between Castle Rock, the new Halloween, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and the hidden ghosts of The Haunting of Hill House, Easter eggs in horror seem to be a major trend in 2018. Though it’s hardly the first time they’ve popped up in horror. Some Easter eggs are well-placed plot clues for the eagle-eyed viewer, sometimes they’re homages to horror fandom, and sometimes they’re a fun volley between filmmakers. No matter their use, a horror Easter egg is almost always fun to spot.
Here are the 10 greatest uses of the Easter egg in horror.
King Kong (2005) – Sumatran Rat-Monkey
The cause of Peter Jackson’s splatter-filled zombie mayhem in Braindead (Dead Alive) is the bite of the Sumatran-Ray Monkey. The film’s prologue explains that the vile creature hails from Skull Island, an animal created from giant plague rats raping small tree monkeys. Skull Island happens to be the very island from which King Kong hails. Jackson brings this full circle in his 2005 film King Kong, when a crate labeled “Sumatran Rat Monkey” is seen in the cargo hold of the SS Venture. Not only is it great seeing a low budget splatter film get a nod in a giant blockbuster feature, but it’s always reassuring to know Jackson hadn’t forgotten his roots.
Land of the Dead – Photo Booth Zombies
Co-writers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg crammed just about every zombie homage and reference they could into their zombie rom com Shaun of the Dead. But for all the nods to just about every entry in the zombie pantheon, it was clear that the work of George A. Romero was held in the highest regard. Romero was so affected by this that he asked the pair to appear in Land of the Dead. Wright and Pegg appear as zombies, chained up in the carnival scene where humans can get their pics taken with them. They’re credited as “Photo Booth Zombies.”
10 Cloverfield Lane – Connecting Universe
The Cloverfield universe is unique in that while each are standalone films, they’re connected by a larger mythology that’s only really explained by digging into the Alternate Reality Games that lead up into the theatrical releases of each entry. While 10 Cloverfield Lane is more of a blood relative than actual sequel to Cloverfield, there are Easter eggs throughout that serve as connective tissue, like Michelle stumbling across a letter addressed to Howard from Bold Futura. It’s inconsequential to the main plot, but hardcore Cloverfield fans will recognize this company as a subsidiary of Tagruato, the company ultimately responsible for unleashing the monstrous creature in the original film. The date on the letter also places it before the events of the first film, making this universe’s timeline all the more complex.
Bride of Chucky – Evidence Locker
From the opening moments, the tone is set when Charles Lee Ray’s ex-girlfriend and former accomplice retrieves Chucky’s remains from the police evidence locker. It seems as though all major horror franchises exist within the same universe, as Chucky’s remains are kept with the likes of Jason Voorhees’s hockey mask, Freddy Krueger’s glove, Michael Myers’ mask, Leatherface’s chainsaw, and even the puppets from Puppet Master. Granted, these are all off-brand references (Wisconsin Chainsaw Massacre), but the implication remains on this tongue-in-cheek Easter egg jackpot. This Easter egg wins extra points, considering director Ronny Yu would go on to helm Freddy vs Jason a few years later.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday – Jason vs. Freddy…vs. Ash?
The final moments stole the show of this weird sequel, in which Freddy’s glove bursts out of the ground and pulls Jason’s mask down below. The implications of an epic battle between the two horror juggernauts is a main event fans salivated over. But there’s a much bigger horror franchise that looms over this sequel; the Evil Dead series. There are nods to other films found within the Voorhees home, particularly that of the Crate from Creepshow in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but hero Steven actually picks up and flips through the Necronomicon. More than that, it’s the Kandarian dagger that’s used to kill Jason. This didn’t just tease a Freddy vs. Jason showdown, but a Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash battle. Too bad no one asked permission from Sam Raimi for the use of these props, and he didn’t approve.
Scream – Janitor Fred
In a film that lovingly deconstructs horror tropes and is filled with references and nods to horror films, this particular Easter egg wins, hands down. When Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) is being targeted by the killer after the school has emptied for the day, he steps out into the quiet hall and finds janitor Fred mopping the floors. Fred is wearing a Freddy Krueger-like sweater and hat, but more importantly, Fred is played by Krueger’s creator Wes Craven. Not only is this cameo a reminder that this wasn’t the first time Craven changed the horror landscape, but that the director also had a major sense of humor. He’ll be forever missed, and Janitor Fred is only one of a million reasons why.
Final Destination series – Death’s Clues
The 2000 supernatural thriller that kicked off a major franchise set the precedent with elaborate death sequences that lent well to majorly effective suspense and tension that had us sinking into our seats. We know that Death is coming to reclaim its victims, we just don’t know when. But Death cleverly tells us repeatedly how each one is going to die. Death doles out clever clues for each death for those that are paying close attention. Example: Evan Lewis meets a gnarly demise in Final Destination 2 when his eye gets impaled by his escape ladder. It’s hinted at over and over, beginning with his fridge magnets spelling out E-Y-E.
Saw – Hospital Bed Reveal
James Wan and Leigh Whannell have mastered the art of dropping Easter eggs since their major horror debut in Saw. Billy the Puppet appears in just about everything from Insidious to Dead Silence, and they often sneak each other into their respective films. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. So, we’re going back to the beginning, in which the duo spelled out the killer’s identity long before the major reveal. In a brilliant misdirect, a flashback scene shows Dr. Lawrence Gordon being approached by detectives in regard to linking evidence found at one of Jigsaw’s games. Gordon happened to be in the middle of discussing terminal patient John Kramer at his bedside. If the detectives would’ve looked down, they would’ve seen Kramer’s designs of the “reverse bear trap” laid out for all to see.
Evil Dead II – Freddy Krueger’s Glove
There’s long-running history of jabs between horror masters Sam Raimi and Wes Craven that began when Raimi included a torn poster of The Hills Have Eyes in his breakout film The Evil Dead. Craven noticed, and returned the nod by having Nancy Thompson fall asleep to The Evil Dead in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Raimi opted to be a bit less subtle when he filmed Evil Dead II, and hung Freddy’s glove in both the cellar and the work shed, in prominent view. That glove never left, either, as it was once again displayed in the cellar in Ash vs. Evil Dead.
Predator 2 – Trophy Room
The cinematic moment that firmly put Predator in the same universe as Alien, and it was glorious. Just before the final showdown between protagonist Harrigan (Danny Glover) and the Predator that’s made Los Angeles its hunting ground, he finds its spaceship hidden underground. The battle takes place in the ship’s trophy room. Of all the skulls on display, the one fans zeroed in on was that of the Xenomorph. Suddenly, we didn’t really care about Harrigan versus Predator. We wanted to see a Predator square off against a Xenomorph. I still do.
With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
One of the most influential horror writers of all time is H.P. Lovecraft, and his expansive catalog of stories full of unknowable creatures and monsters. In the golden age of special effects, Lovecraft’s bestiary and the unbridled practical effect-driven creativity of the ‘80s made for a perfect marriage in horror. In the case of Lovecraft’s short story “The Unnamable,” the creature that haunts the dilapidated house on Meadow Hill in Arkham, Massachusetts is indescribable, save for its monstrous size and piercing shriek. The characters never fully see it; it attacks them in a flash and the story ends with their waking in the hospital. The vague description of the creature and the brief story itself meant a wide berth for interpretation when it came to the feature-length adaptation.
First-time feature director Jean-Paul Ouellette wrote the screenplay adapted from Lovecraft’s story, expanding the plot and setting it mostly in the present day. Right off the bat, the film gives far more backstory on the monster than Lovecraft’s original story. This iteration gives the Unnamable a name; Alyda Winthrop, demonic daughter of 18th-century warlock Joshua Winthrop. Cut to centuries later, where Miskatonic University pals spook each other with stories of Alyda. They do what any reasonable horror character does; decide to stay in her house and use it as a means of wooing the ladies. It doesn’t go well, clearly.
Makeup effects artist R. Christopher Biggs (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2), fresh off his role as special makeup effects supervisor on Critters 2, combined Ouellette’s expansion of the story with the descriptors of the creature from the source short story. The cloven-hooves, the horns, and the piercing shrieks with a not so titanic sized female demon. Though it takes much of the running time to get an actual full glimpse of the creature.
The creature, Alyda, was played by Katrin Alexandre in her only film credit to date. A demonic beast with hooved feet, clawed hands, horns, sharp-toothed maw, and bat-like wings, this creature is clearly female. Despite appearances, though, Alexandre isn’t nude on screen. She was lifecasted from head to toe, and endured a 9-hour makeup application as the rubber prosthetic pieces were glued to every part of her from the waist up. The hairy legs and hooved feet were custom made by Biggs, as a separate piece. There was no easy suite for Alexandre to slip into.
Also integral to the makeup effects team was Biggs’ assistant Camille Calvet, who he’d previously worked with on Critters 2 and Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. Calvet has since gone on to work on films like Kill Bill: Vol 2, Minority Report, and Drag Me to Hell, and won two Emmy Awards for her makeup work on The Stand and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but credits Biggs as a large reason for her success for hiring her in an age where few women were hired for makeup effects. Considering how up close and personal the makeup team needed to get with Alexandre in the creation of the demonic Alyda, hiring Calvet proved doubly invaluable.
While the seams on this creature design do occasionally show, what Biggs and team created is especially impressive considering the budgetary constraints they had to work with. The teams’ shop was literally Biggs’ apartment, and a three-car garage he talked his landlord into letting him use. The small space correlated with the small team Biggs had to work with, too. He even employed his mom in the creation of Alyda’s prosthetics, particularly in the punching of all that horse hair.
The Unnamable was released directly on VHS in June of 1988, and while it did well enough to earn a sequel, this is an ‘80s monster that’s not quite as well known. It’s also a monster that hides in the shadows until the very end, not revealed in full until the climax. Alyda isn’t just an underseen Lovecraftian beast of the ‘80s, but a rare instance where the monster is female. The Unnamable isn’t perfect, but it is obvious in its reverence for Lovecraft’s works.
Earlier this week, I had the chance to watch “What Comes After” a few days before it aired on AMC, and I wrote up a lengthy review that I was all set to publish as soon as it finished airing last night. One thousand words boiled down to just a handful, I was pretty damn annoyed that Rick Grimes’ “final episode” sent the character out on such a lame note, with his heroic sacrifice being tossed away in favor of an ambiguous ending that left his fate unclear. I was annoyed because I felt we deserved better. More importantly, Andrew Lincoln deserved better.
But immediately following last night’s episode of “The Walking Dead,“ of course, we learned something we weren’t previously privy to. As franchise architect Scott Gimple revealed on “Talking Dead,” Andrew Lincoln actually will be reprising the role of Rick Grimes in the future, in *at least* three big budget feature length “Walking Dead” movies that’ll air on AMC. Suddenly, my entire review was rendered pointless, and I scrapped the whole thing. After all, why complain about a lame finish to Rick’s story when, well, it’s not actually finished at all.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that this announcement irritated me in a whole different way, as AMC had been building towards “What Comes After” as the final hour for the Rick Grimes character. Of course, in hindsight, they cleverly only noted that it would be Rick’s “final episode,” and indeed it’s looking like it will be. Movies are an entirely different beast altogether, and though I’m undoubtedly annoyed that they pulled the bait-and-switch on us, I’m not going to sit here and write 1,000 words on how mad I was over being duped.
They tricked us, there’s no doubt about it, but what I’d rather spend some time writing about is the future of “The Walking Dead,” which is actually looking pretty damn bright at the moment. Honestly, I’m more excited about the brand than I have been in a few years, and that’s because, well, the show has needed something of a reboot for a long damn time.
How do you hit the reboot button on “The Walking Dead,” now nine seasons deep? Getting rid of Rick Grimes is honestly a pretty compelling start. Without Grimes as the central character, the show now has the opportunity to start digging into other storylines and strengthening characters that have long been playing second fiddle to Rick, with Michonne, Daryl and Carol now in positions to really lead the charge and take the series down new paths. Of course, how fresh “The Walking Dead” actually is going forward will depend mostly on the show’s writing, but the good news is that the writing does seem intent on giving the series a fresh start. After all, the rest of the series isn’t just Grimes-less, but it’s also set far into the future.
Teased at the very end of “What Comes After,” the remainder of Season 9 is set a complete six years after the season’s previous events, with an adolescent Judith Grimes now taking up the mantle of her missing father and deceased big brother. The jump in time guarantees that “The Walking Dead” will be a different show when it returns this Sunday night, with the world in a far different state and a handful of new characters fighting alongside our old friends. New villains are also on the horizon, with the Whisperers set to arrive within the next few episodes.
The Whisperers, if anyone who doesn’t read the comics isn’t aware, walk around in suits made of zombie flesh as a way to blend in, and Greg Nicotero promises that their arrival will bring some genuine terror back to “The Walking Dead.” The series hasn’t exactly been *scary* in recent years, but the Whisperers may be just what it needs in that department.
While “The Walking Dead” (hopefully) becomes a new show entirely, it’s pretty cool to hear that we’ll also be getting the continuation of Rick’s story in a handful of movies; the first film, which will begin production as early as next year, will explore Rick’s trials and tribulations in a whole new corner of the zombie apocalypse. Separating Rick from the other characters he’s spent the past nine seasons with will allow for new Rick Grimes stories to be told, much the same way that separating them from him will allow for new stories for those other characters.
As Gimple put it last night, “We don’t want to see people doing the same thing, with the same motivations or people with the same lives; it needs to be differentiated from each other in the types of stories that they’re telling, themes and the tones we’re exploring. A variety of locations is absolutely critical to this. Seeing other parts of the world and making sure that we’re not trying to do the same thing that Michonne, Maggie and Carol and everybody have been doing. We want to tell different stories but in different corners of the world.”
I don’t know about you, but as a longtime loyal viewer who has grown tired of “The Walking Dead” being “more of the same,” that statement right there is music to my ears right now.
It’s all in the execution, but as I sit here pondering the show’s future at this very moment, I find myself excited to watch this coming Sunday. And that’s a big step in the right direction.
With Halloween come and gone, the window to stock up on Franken Berry, Count Chocula, and Boo Berry breakfast cereal is closing. Now an annual Halloween treat that hits the shelves at the end of August throughout the spooky season, General Mills has turned the monster cereals into a powerhouse brand tied into the holiday. This year even marked the addition of merchandise in the form of board games and puzzles, targeting those in particular who have been clamoring for the elusive Fruity Yummy Mummy and Fruit Brute. For decades, the core trio were available year ‘round until they became relegated to seasonal treat, but their extensive history means they’re forever part of pop culture, Halloween or not.
In 1971, General Mills introduced chocolate flavored Count Chocula cereal and strawberry flavored Franken Berry cereal. The two cereal mascots, cartoonish versions of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff’s classic monsters, argued with each over which cereal was best, and proved to be scaredy-cats themselves when a child entered the scene. Count Chocula was voiced by voice actor Larry Kenney, and spoofed his Universal monster counterpart with taglines like, “I want to eat your cereal!” Franken Berry was voiced by Bob McFadden. The cereals became an instant hit.
The following year, Franken Berry earned a reputation for turning kids’ poop pink thanks to an indigestible pigment, which was lovingly dubbed “Franken Berry Stool.” It didn’t slow the brand down in popularity at all, though, and 1973 brought the introduction to a new monster; Boo Berry, the first blueberry flavored cereal. Boo Berry may have rocked the odd couple dynamic of Franken Berry and Count Chocula, but it worked. He became a mainstay, rounding out the core trio that would be the face of the brand for the decades to come. For Disney fans, Boo Berry’s first iteration was voiced by legendary voice actor Paul Frees, who is behind the booming Ghost Host from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride and several pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
1974 brought a werewolf into the mix, Fruit Brute. The frosted fruit-flavored cereal, albeit a bit nondescript, ran for only eight years before disappearing into the vault in 1982. Similarly, 1987 brought Yummy Mummy, a fruit cereal with vanilla marshmallows heralded in by a colorful mummy with a penchant for jingles. Yummy Mummy only endured until 1992 before discontinuation.
As with all cereals of the ‘70s and ‘80s, it wasn’t just enough to have endearing mascots and colorful, sugary cereal, kids also made their breakfast choices based on prizes. Of course, monster cereals offered some of the best. 1979 saw the monsters get in on a cereal box trend at the time- the cutout cardboard records from cereal boxes known as flexi-discs. On select boxes of Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry, you could find quick adventures like “The Monsters Go Disco,” “Count Chocula Goes to Hollywood,” and “Monster Adventures in Outer Space.” They warped easily, and the sound quality wasn’t the greatest, but these were still among the coolest collectibles. Stickers and mini figures were common in box prizes, but mail-in prizes like bath kits, beach towels, disguise kits and more were featured on the boxes throughout the years.
For a very brief period in 1987, the monster cereal line was met with controversy when Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was used in marketing for Count Chocula. His enhanced image on the Count Chocula cereal box drew ire from the Jewish community due to a medallion around his neck that looked an awful lot like the Star of David. General Mills pulled the boxes immediately, and you can occasionally find a retro box sold online for an obscene amount of money.
Throughout the ‘80s, the monster cereal brand would play around with the shapes of the grain cereal and marshmallows, adding and removing ghost shapes to each one. Around 2004, the cereal manufacturing team dropped the oats and rice from the recipe, shifting into a corn only base. So, for those who grew up with the monster cereals, nostalgia doesn’t quite taste the same.
By 2010, monster cereals ceased to be produced all year long and slipped into seasonal only fare. Betty Crocker helped soften the blow with the introduction of monster cereal Fruit Roll-Ups while General Meals released Count Chocula cereal bars. 2013 revived Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy temporarily, and with new makeovers. Fruit Brute returned as Frute Brute with a pompadour and crooning expression. His cereal shifted from fruit flavored to a more specific cherry flavor. Fruity Yummy Mummy’s return marked a new orange creamsicle flavor.
In 2014, monster cereals partnered with DC Entertainment for exclusive new designs for the core mascots. Artist Jim Lee tackled Boo Berry, while illustrator Dave Johnson handled Franken Berry and artists Terry and Rachel Dodson gave Count Chocula a new countenance. Two years later, General Mills unveiled a clever marketing campaign that coincided with the election year. All of which demonstrated just how integral Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry have become in our pop culture collective. While many other cereal mascots have withstood the test of time, none of managed to achieve quite as much as the Monster brand. Though we may have to wait for the best time of the year to get reacquainted with these monster cereals, Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry have proven to be worth far more than just Halloween staples.
Yes, tonight was Andrew Lincoln‘s final episode of “The Walking Dead,“ the TV series, but AMC has revealed tonight, in the wake of Rick Grimes’ final episode of the series, that Lincoln actually will be returning in three upcoming movies, all of which will air on AMC.
So. Yeah. That’s why Rick didn’t actually die tonight.
“The story of Rick will go on in films,” Scott Gimple tells THR. “Right now, we’re working on three but there’s flexibility in that. … Over the next several years, we’re going to be doing specials, new series are quite a possibility, high-quality digital content and then some content that defies description at the moment. We’re going to dig into the past and see old characters. We’re going to introduce new characters and new situations.”
Gimple continues, “We don’t want to see people doing the same thing, with the same motivations or people with the same lives; it needs to be differentiated from each other in the types of stories that they’re telling, themes and the tones we’re exploring. A variety of locations is absolutely critical to this. Seeing other parts of the world and making sure that we’re not trying to do the same thing that Michonne, Maggie and Carol and everybody have been doing. We want to tell different stories but in different corners of the world. That’s the exciting thing about it: there is so much possibility with that and so much of this comes from the audience asking questions over these past eight-plus years.”
The upcoming movies will explore, among other things, the time between Rick’s helicopter rescue tonight and the massive time jump that took place directly afterwards.
Flashback to February 2009. Rob Zombie had already debuted the Dimension-backed first installment of his polarizing revisionist take on Michael Myers in 2007 and he was preparing to shoot the August 2009 sequel. At this point, Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller’s production company Platinum Dunes was three films into their remake frenzy, including 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2005’s The Amityville Horror and 2007’s The Hitcher. On February 13, Friday the 13th was released in theatres; a little over a year later on April 30, Platinum Dunes released the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The situation we find ourselves in 2018 is not new: we’re on the cusp of another cycle of remakes. The question is not whether we will see Jason or Freddy again; it is when and in what form? As industry insiders closely follow Halloween’s box office, however, they would do well to consider history. If new installments of our favorite 80s monsters are on the horizon, now is the time to investigate where the previous attempts to reboot Jason and Freddy back in 2009/2010 went wrong in order to ensure the same mistakes aren’t made.
Let’s dig in…
By 2009 it had been six years since horror audiences saw the two icons butt heads in the oft-delayed cross-over film Freddy vs Jason. While this was not the longest time gap in between films for either franchise (there were nine years between 1993’s Jason Goes To Hell and 2002’s Jason X, and nine between 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and 2003’s Freddy vs Jason), 2009’s Friday would attempt something new: it was the first attempt to reboot the franchise as an origin story.
Platinum Dunes was clearly taking a page from their successful Texas Chainsaw Massacre playbook, which revitalized that long-dormant franchise. The TCM remake adopted a desaturated yellow colour scheme, a gritty aesthetic and a liberal dose of gory violence. Bay, Form and Fuller had the good sense to bring back Tobe Hooper and writer Kim Henkel as co-producers; Daniel Pearl as cinematographer; and John Larroquette reprised his role as the film’s ominous narrator.
Friday 2009 shares the same director as TCM – Marcus Nispel – and brings back Freddy vs Jason writers Damian Shannon & Mark Swift (despite near universal disdain for FvJ‘s script). It also repurposes part of the iconic Friday the 13th score. The yellow colour filter is swapped out for blue, but TCM’s lean/mean mentality towards kills and gore remains intact. Example A: that sleeping bag kill in the early section of the film is still brutal nearly a decade later.
NOES 2010 leans even further into these ideas. The most substantial difference is that Friday’s script is an amalgamation of what Shannon and Swift consider the best parts of the first four films of the franchise (which explains why the film plays like three films spread across different time periods). NOES’ script was initially going to follow suit, but eventually, the decision was made to focus exclusively on Wes Craven’s original film, shifting the film into explicit remake territory. Importantly, while the film had Englund’s support for recasting the role of Freddy, Craven was publicly vocal about his lack of consultation on the new film.
Horror is arguably one of the genres that is most immune to reviews. As sweeping generalizations go, there is a perception that horror fans are less discerning about the quality of the films that they will support, including films with poor reviews. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, there is a long and storied history of horror films with low critical aggregate scores that have done well and over-performed at the box office.
It is important to raise this point because it highlights a disconnect between the way horror fans engage with films, which is particularly relevant for the Friday and Nightmare franchises. Consider that by the time of the 2009/2010 remakes, these franchises had a combined 18 films between them over 29 years, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars of box office revenue (to say nothing of lucrative licensing and merchandising deals).
We can consider two points of entry when examining the “success” (or lack thereof) of 2009’s Friday and 2010’s NOES: critic reviews and audience scores/box office. On Rotten Tomatoes, Friday is rated 25% Rotten, while NOES fares even worse at 15% Rotten (for comparison TCM sits at 36%, Freddy vs Jason is 41%, and Zombie’s Halloween is 26%). Critics from traditional (read: non-horror) outlets criticized both films for failing to distinguish themselves from their predecessors, for replicating sequences from the original source material and for relying too heavily on “shock” cuts (ie: jump scares). One obvious distinguishing factor that made Friday go over a little better with critics is the inclusion of humour, while NOES is criticized for being unnecessarily dark and gloomy.
Horror critics weren’t much more favourable:
Friday the 13th:
BC’s review praises the physicality and presence of Derek Mears as Jason, likens the violence to the “torture porn” trend that was popular with Saw films at the time, and struggles to engage with the opening sequence that functions too much like an extended prologue
A Nightmare On Elm Street:
David Harley’s review suggests the new film moves briskly and follows the same story with some slight modern updates, but they (and the characters) don’t resonate. Harley’s verdict is that the film fails to offer anything innovative
Jeff Otto’s review laments the lack of character development, the speed with which characters (and by proxy the audience) know everything and Jackie Earle Haley’s diminutive status, which hampers his ability to scare and intimidate
Cinemascores (exit polls collected over opening weekend) reinforced the audience preference for Friday (B-) over NOES (C+) although the final domestic grosses were nearly identical (approximately ~$65M). The gross, however, is extremely underwhelming when opening weekend figures are considered: Friday opened to $40M while NOES opened slightly lower with $32.9M. The incredibly small difference between opening weekend and final gross for both films indicates that they were both extremely front-loaded (hardcore fans rushed out), but neither film had legs (repeat viewers). Considering Friday’s $19M and NOES’ $35M budget (the latter is quite high for horror) and the subdued response from fans, New Line ultimately pulled the plug on sequel options.
A cursory glance at the key distinctions between Blumhouse’s Halloween, Friday 2009 and NOES 2010 reveal several lessons to be learned:
1) Sequels sell better than remakes:Halloween is a continuation of the original franchise, not a hard reboot (which is sometimes seen as a cynical cash grab by horror fans). Consider this: Zombie’s Halloween remake opened to $31M and ultimately earned $80M, which is slightly better than (but still in line with) Friday and NOES. It appears that there may be a financial ceiling on remakes/reboots.
2) Make the film an event: The fervor surrounding the release of Halloween has dominated horror water cooler talk for nearly the entire year. Not only does the film celebrate the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter‘s original film, it brought back original actress Jamie Lee Curtis to the franchise for the first time in 20 years (still not counting Resurrection). The same argument can be applied to two other franchise entries: 1998’s Halloween: H20 (which played to many of the same strengths to the tune of $55M) and Freddy vs Jason (which capitalized on years of pent-up demand to see the icons face off and ultimately grossed $114M). Even Halloween 2007 was able to capitalize on the odd and unusual choice of Rob Zombie’s involvement to help garner extra attention.
Compare this with Friday and NOES, both of which had much more muted, anxious, and trepidatious reactions from fans. Neither franchise brought back key players such as Kane Hodder or Robert Englund and, in NOES’ case, actually irked Craven, which did not sit well with loyal fans.
3) Reviews matter: Although there are plenty of horror films that have performed admirably without the benefit of strong reviews, Halloween has been able to appeal to a broader audience thanks to its 80% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and sparkling endorsement from horror critics. The B+ Cinemascore also indicates that audiences who see the film are mostly liking what they see.
4) Reputation matters: One intriguing new development that was not in play when the Friday and NOES remakes were made is the power of Blumhouse. The production company has been around since 2000, but didn’t break out until 2009 with the release of Paranormal Activity. Since then Blumhouse has developed a reputation for producing good to great films on small budgets, which ensures high profitability. Their association with well-liked genre auteurs such as James Wan, Leigh Whannell, and Oscar winner Jordan Peele has generated audience goodwill and faith in the brand, which undoubtedly helped to sell Halloween as a reverent property that fans could trust to deliver the goods.
5) Be selective with the homages: One of the consistent complaints in nearly all of the reviews for both Friday 2009 and NOES 2010 is their slavish devotion to previous installments. This is especially apparent in A Nightmare on Elm Street, which lifted whole sequences from Craven’s original film and then failed to differentiate, modernize or improve upon them. Friday the13th‘s cheeky playfulness — incorporating elements of the first four films — likely would have been better received if they were spread out throughout the film, rather than starting the film with a series of false starts. Compare this with the (mostly) appreciative response to the Blumhouse Halloween‘s visual references to its predecessors, even those it has disavowed in its retconned timeline; several reviews applaud its efforts to pay homage without literally recreating the original set pieces.
6) Make it timely: This lesson is apt to be the most controversial. Halloween has generated a fair amount of press due to its political and cultural relevancy in the era of #MeToo. The film’s focus on female trauma, recovery and (to a certain extent) vengeance against a male oppressor has been a persistent theme in reviews, media interviews and think piece articles published in the wake of the film’s release. This has undoubtedly helped to raise the film’s profile and may have encouraged audiences who were uninterested in seeing the film to make an effort to support it. Attempting to anticipate trends years in advance can be dangerous and films run the risk of being out of touch, overly topical, appearing disingenuous or turning off potential audiences.
Whether future iterations of Friday The 13thand A Nightmare On Elm Street will heed these lessons is uncertain, but it is clear that horror audiences are less welcoming to remakes of their favourite franchises, particularly those that eschew the actors and creators that helped make the originals so memorable. Warner Bros and New Line would do well to consider their scripts, their release dates and keep Hodder, Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Kevin Bacon, and Victor Miller on speed dial before they pull the trigger on a new film.
What are your thoughts? Do any of the lessons stated above stand out as reasons why Halloween succeeded where Friday 2009 and NOES 2010 failed?