Tag Archives: remake

Valley of the (not so) Cheapjack Franchises: The Texas Chainsaw Remakes

Probably unpopularly, all of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre canon ranks as one of my least favourite series’ in horror. The 1974-1994 set (plus that godawful 2013 instalment) do next to nothing for me, but what of the Platinum Dunes/Michael Bay ‘re-imaginings’?

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THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

3.5 Stars  2003/18/95m

“What you know about fear…doesn’t even come close.”

Director: Marcus Nispel / Writer: Scott Kosar / Cast: Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen, Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Terrence Evans, Marietta Marich.

Body Count: 7


Michael Bay has much to answer for, and I imagine a mob of horror fans would crucify him for being the poster boy of the remake era, which was a quiet zone of horror filmmaking around 2003, until the announcement of a “re-imagining” of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Twelve years on, it’s an easy equation to comprehend. The 1974 film was notorious, banned in numerous countries, and had a name that is far more suggestive than any of the content. Sooner or later, someone was going to say “Enough with sequels! Remake it!”

Fortunately for me, I have no strong feelings towards the original. I first saw it at a midnight screening in the late 90s and it was a headache of a film. My friend turned to me halfway through and said: “This is probably the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen.” I found it entertaining enough, but not the monstrosity we all expected (same with The Exorcist, which also lost its UK ban in the same time period), and nothing I really cared about seeing again.

Authentic 70s names: Erin, Andy, Pepper, Morgan, Kemper

Our authentic 70s characters: Erin, Andy, Pepper, Morgan, Kemper

The 2003 over-do remains traceably loyal to the ‘true’ story: A van of five teenagers, on their way back from Mexico and on to see Lynyrd Skynyrd, roll into a nightmare. Stopping to help out a girl walking down the road is the grave error they make, as she wastes little time in putting a pistol in her mouth. They find that summoning help is difficult and the locals seem less than fazed about their dilemma, one which they soon argue about: Leave the body and scram, or wait for help?

From here, the Dead Teenager conventions come into play: Two of the group go to the creepy house nearby where one vanishes, looking for him reveals Leatherface, who gives chase wielding the titular weapon. Toss in the imitation-Sheriff (inimitably played by R. Lee Ermey), who the kids wrongly trust, and they sink deeper into the nightmare.

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Before long it’s all down to off-the-marks final girl Erin (Biel), whose luck just keeps getting worse: Everybody she calls on for help is part of the extended family of loons, and she’s soon at their mercy until she manages to escape. From there, it’s abrasive cat and mouse scenes as Leatherface stalks her through the woods, an abandoned shack, eventually to the abattoir.

Whereas the old film pre-dated our understanding of killed-one-by-one plot structure, and is therefore only arguably a slasher film at all, there is no such uncertainty in the remake: We know Erin is going to be the last one standing, we know the others will be laid to waste (it’s just a case of picking the order in which they go), and we hope she’s able to exact a gruesome revenge on her captors.

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So everything works on a mechanical level, but the over-stylized look of the film begins to work against it after awhile, and the fact that Wrong Turn had been released just a few months earlier hoovers up much of the ‘originality’ of the ‘re-imagining': Dirt, grime, rednecks who don’t give a shit.

Everything is very dark and earthy, supposedly to give it an authentic look, but at times it goes too far, while it clashes with the youngsters, who aren’t convincingly ’70s kids’ at all, no matter if you deduct cellphones and brand names, the language they use and even their names are too contemporary to wash. Gunnar Hansen – the original Leatherface – pointed out that the film was shot at chest-level to keep Jessica Biel’s bust in the frame as much as possible, not to mention the moments where her white blouse gets very, very wet.

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Roger Ebert famously gave this film a rare no-stars, and his reasoning is valid enough, but it’s still a solid remake, not too entrenched in the cynicism which was to come with every other horror title they began stuffing through the machine. It’s just that they ‘re-imagined’ it with too little subtlety, so it’s more of a box-ticking exercise than a grafted horror experience.

Blame it for ushering in the dawn of the remake, but enjoy it for breaking out of the tame, studio-slick horror that was beginning to wane in the wake of Scream.

 *

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THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING

2 Stars 2006/18/92m

“Witness the birth of fear.”

Director: Jonathan Liebesman / Writers: Sheldon Turner & David J. Schow / Cast: Jordana Brewster, Matthew Bomer, Diora Baird, Taylor Handley, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Lee Tergesen, Terrence Evans, Marietta Marich, Kathy Lamkin, Cyia Batten, Lew Temple.

Body Count: 10


While I remember going to see this at the movies with my pal Earl, I don’t remember buying the DVD, but there it was on my shelf, possibly unwatched.

As the 2003 film ended the trail of horror left by Leatherface and the Hewitts, the only logical next step to cash-in on its success was to go back… back to “The Beginning”. Ish.

Starting with a very brief 1939-set intro that sees Thomas Hewitt born in a meat-packing factory, while the credits whirr, there are old sepia photos and doctor’s notes about his deformity and within minutes it’s 1969 and Tommy loses his job at the slaughterhouse when it’s closed down as the town dies (economically, it’s not chainsawed to pieces).

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He flips and kills the owner, leading to his clan intervening and ultimately shooting the local Sheriff (“the only law enforcement left”) and taking up cannibalism in the blink of an eye.

Elsewhere, a jeep of two couples heading to Austin where brothers Eric and Dean are going to enlist and be carted off to Vietnam, hurtles towards the Hewitt residence. With their girlfriends in tow for one last weekend of fun, it all goes to shit when they’re accosted by a motorcycling robber, hit a cow at high speed, and crash.

They believe they’re in luck when ‘the Sheriff’ turns up almost immediately, but when he guns down the would-be robber, something seems just a bit more than ‘off’. Eric’s girlfriend, Chrissie, was hurtled into the long grass in the crash and hides while her friends are assaulted and driven away to be tortured and eaten.

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The rest of the film is largely a re-tread (pre-tread?): Chrissie sneaks her way into the house to try and save them, but is too late and eventually ends up caught and invited to dinner, in a scene reminiscent of the 1974 film that was never ‘re-imagined’ into the remake. So samey is it, that she’s chased through the woods to the slaughterhouse for the finale! And, being that we know the Hewitts weren’t caught for a few more years, things don’t look good for anybody surviving this one.

Production values are high, as before, this time with Jonathan Liebesman’s slightly more grounded direction, but whatever appealed to me in 2006 has since gone: Watching the film in 2015 was a pure endurance test. On the one hand it brings nothing new to the table, a few explanations of character attributes aren’t reason enough to make a whole new movie, and it also made contact with, and crossed, my ‘line’.

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My ‘line’ exists where fun entertainment ends and cruelty begins. While the 2003 film wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels of joy, it was exhilarating without being stupidly violent; Here, the film practically revels in demonstrating how gross it is, with peeled off faces, blood rain, chainsaw vivisections… But not an ounce of a good time. A scene in which a dying character says they can no longer feel their limbs and are cold is upsetting, not exhilarating.

Plenty of people will say “well, that’s real horror” etc., but horror is like comedy – we all find different things acceptable or funny. A horror film without the re-equilibrium is just depressing, which is why the first one gets a pass and this doesn’t. There’s no element of mystery or surprise, and rooting for a survivor is futile – The Beginning is just killing for the sake of it.

The film skates over how quickly the family turns from struggling to evil, embracing their newfound cannibalism in what must be no longer than twenty-four hours, and the script makes Ermey the focal point over and above both Leatherface and the tormented teenagers, unable to realise that what made him so good before was moderation. He’s a one-liner away from Freddy Krueger levels of camp at times.

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In the much thinner plus column, Jordana Brewster is a solid heroine, slightly more believable than Jessica Biel was as a child of the time. She has an opportunity to escape without being detected, but is loyal that she goes back to try and save a friend she can hear screaming elsewhere. It’s that pivot scene that tells us a lot about her character – she’s admirably unselfish, regardless of the eventual cost.

A depressing experience in all, although better than the original sequels and the 2013 film, serving only to compound my resistance to this series as a whole: It’s just not very good.

Blurbs-of-interest: Erica Leerhsen was also in Wrong Turn 2 (ha!) and Lonely Joe; Terrence Evans was in The Pumpkin Karver; Diora Baird was in the even worse Stan Helsing; Lee Tergesen was in The Collection; Cyia Batten was in Killer Movie; Andrew Bryniarski was in The Curse of El Charro; Marcus Nispel directed the Friday the 13th remake; Jonathan Liebesman directed Darkness Falls.

Who knows what they’ll do next summer

With the age-compounding news that I Know What You Did Last Summer, a film from 1997 – also known as last week – is being remade (or ‘re-imagined’ as these bullshitty projects are now nominally dubbed), and the merciful slowing trend of grab-bagging any “sounds cool” film title from way back when and stuffing it through the Remake Generator 3000 – what, I ask myself, is left for them to plunder? Hmm…

DEADLY BLESSING 1981

Why, God, why? The odds of this one eventually happening must be quite high – Wes Craven has seen Elm Street, Last House on the Left, and The Hills Have Eyes all remade in the last few years.

What would they do to it? Given the religious backdrop DB is set against, one can only imagine all manner of minority groups picketing it and being offended all over the show; though Craven had the sense to manufacture his sub-Amish society, I doubt whichever 25-year-old was put in charge of the production would be capable of thinking so logically. Expect the trio of heroines to wear the skimpiest of skimpy shorts and at least two of them make out with one another to tease the religious boys, ’cause, you know, nobody but straight men watch horror films.

Should they? The original isn’t that well known and the story is solid enough. Only would this be acceptable in mature, craft-heavy hands.

*

CHERRY FALLS 2000

Why, God, why? If you’ve ever encountered the original script for this one, you’ll know it was way more awesome than the finished product, albeit getting most of said awesome from it’s fucking cool central plot device: The killer only goes after virgins!

What would they do to it? As all media ever now pretty much endorses underage sex, I foresee a PG-13 production along similar lines to that wretched Prom Night re-do, wide-eyed, under-studied teen stars (at least three of whom will also be singers) shrieking a lot and talking sensibly about sex and the responsibilities thereof.

Or, it could go NC-17 and be a gigantic slutfest. Either way, it’d be female-teen centric, girls would be punished far more than boys and the end lesson would be something out of a 7th Heaven episode.

Should they? A remake based on the original script – yes. Otherwise, leave it.

*

HELL NIGHT 1981

Why, God, why? Name. This one almost happened. Say, five years back there were ‘talks’ about sending a bunch of frat and sorority students to a manor house ‘haunted’ by a crazed killer.

What would they do to it? Because of the success of When a Stranger Calls and the forever-grim Prom Night redux (that’ll keep cropping up, soz), Hollywood execs, who I can only assume drool over Excel spreadsheets of weekend box office results, had their evil eyes on updating this genre classic into guess what? PG-13! Not that the Linda Blair orig was dripping with grue and boobs, but c’mon? Slasher films should contain at least some slash. Thankfully, it appears to have fallen off the radar, but I imagined a more-or-less straight up Xerox only with unpleasant bitchy girls and scheming frat boys everywhere you look.

Should they? No. Hell Night‘s plot is so derivative it could be woven into any new film, see the Terror Train/Train saga. It’s name really isn’t that well known outside of dorky websites such as this and, unless we get another retro-fest, I think this one might escape unscathed.

*

GRADUATION DAY 1981

Why, God, why? Yet another calendar-date psycho slasher film, ripe for the remake, a film titled Graduation Night to star Zac Efron was rumoured in the wake of his High School Musical escape plan. As yet, nothing more.

What would they do to it? *sigh* I’m as tired of dredging up fucking Prom Night as you are of reading it, but it was stupidly successful for a movie so barren of anything. Others wanted a slice of the pie. The idea of a track team done in is every high school geek’s dream, but you know the cast would be a bunch of steroid-infused 28-year-olds trying to pass for 17. Death by various athletic equipment should also return with a pole-vaulting vengeance.

Should they? Yes! I’m not precious about Graduation Day; production wise it is piss poor, and there are some cool moments that would update nicely (except that stupid sword-through-football thing), but it’d need to be harder than PG-13. After four years of high school, there are people you want to see die. Bloodily.

*

THE BURNING 1981

Why, God, why? Infamous Video Nasty of shears-toting caretaker has also bee rumoured for a remake for some time. Like Graduation Day, the original film isn’t that wonderfully made: The script is all over the place like a drunk F1 racer, it had the worst excuse for a lead character in Alfred, and it was uncompromisingly violent.

What would they do to it? Hopefully, not much more than tighten a few screws and clean it up. The story has all the hallmarks of a genre classic, it was heavy on the grue and the nudity, boasted a cool score, and has stood the test of time to some degree in terms of reputation. I don’t see how it would work as anything less than an R-rated bloodfest, Cropsy doesn’t snip fingers off just to see it cut from the final print. I have the nagging feeling it’d be adorned with some class-straddling teen romance, say uptight middle class girl and wrong-side-of-the-tracks boy. Ugh.

Should they? Only if the budget was high enough to get it off the starting blocks with any hope of being good. Too many summer camp slasher films attempt to get by on $75 and a few bottles of ketchup.

*

ALONE IN THE DARK 1982

Why, God, why? You’re Next proved the fusion of home invasion horror and slasher conventions can be awesome; this film covered much of that ground thirty years earlier. They re-did Mother’s Day with a similar edge, so why not this too?

What would they do to it? Alone in the Dark is one of the few early 80s slasher films that injected a bit of humour into grim proceedings. You’re Next traded quite heavily on comical denouements for its characters, and with four escaped psycho patients tormenting a family, what is there to lose?

The original film is flawed with too little focus on females, be they victims or ass-handing heroines, that would need to change. If it doesn’t go lighter, take it darker – make those escapees really shady and unnerving.

Should they? Again, I have no particularly strong binds to the original and wouldn’t feel my heart break the way it did over the announcement of the Halloween remake. Yeah, why not?

*

Other vulnerable species:

  • Girls Nite Out. Early 80s campus shenanigans interrupted by a psycho dressed as a cheerleader-hating teddy bear! Too little action and a real WHAT? reveal scuppered a great idea. Do it.
  • Curtains. Curious fan-favourite with a bunch of starlets knocked off at the open audition for a film at a house in the middle of nowhere. Production nightmares kept it on the shelf for three years. Cast a bunch of YouTube stars everyone already hates and let the blades fly.
  • Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Made-for-TV films don’t come much more frightening than this tale. Seasoned actors played good roles for a change and the creep factor severely outweighed any gore. Leave it be before we have to see one of Will Smith’s kids leading the charge.
  • The Final Terror. Daryl Hannah and Rachel Ward are probably still cringing at this early years resume filler: Survivalist types are stalked by a primeval loon in the woods. Wrong Turn has it covered, but a non-comic overdo with a few more bodies might be decent. Just remove the Three Blind Mice singalong.
  • He Knows You’re Alone. Yes! Change it to a high-society celebrity wedding at a castle or something and have the bride-stalking maniac crash it. I’m thinking bride in her big dress fighting him off would be amazing.
  • The Prowler. Another nihilistic early-80s maniac-after-teens title few remember much about beyond the top-notch Savini FX work. The rest of the film is so coma-inducingly boring perhaps just a 30-minute cut of the good bits would do. Actually, make it 15 minutes.
  • Slaughter High. For sure a reputed mid-80s example, why does Slaughter High suck so bad? Could it be the British actors overdoing their accents? The shoddy production values? That weird-ass ending? Caroline Munro’s rather pitiful shower-flow? Who knows – the idea of nerd inviting bullies to bogus reunion is fun, let’s see it again with more care and attention.

Hometown glory

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN

3.5 Stars  2014/86m

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rajon / Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa / Cast: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Gary Cole, Anthony Anderson, Joshua Leonard, Travis Tope, Ed Lauter, Edward Herrmann, Denis O’Hare, Spencer Treat Clark, Wes Chatham, Danielle Harris.

Body Count: 14


Who remembers Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows? Anyone? No? OK, so it was critically slain and sank without a trace, but that was one sequel that picked a particularly smart way of being a sequel without actually being one. Sorta.

Instead of sending more teens into the woods to be messed with, Book of Shadows was set in a world where the phenomenon of the movie, The Blair Witch Project, was observed. It was once-removed and so was able to comment on the 1999 film as a film rather than events true to the world of the sequel.

This is also the tack of this not-remake of 1976 creepy-sleeper of the same name, which is a true story concerning one undetected masked killer who did away with five people in the small Texas/Arkansas border town of (imaginatively named) Texarkana in 1946. Sixty-seven years after the murders, the thirty-seven-year-old slasher flick is shown in the town on Halloween. At said event is shy Jami, whose jock-date Corey agrees to go someplace else when it becomes clear she’s not enjoying it.

Unfortunately for them, their little private party in a lovers lane is crashed by a hooded killer who orders them out of the car at gunpoint and knifes poor Corey to death, allowing Jami to escape on the condition she tells “them” it’s all for Mary. The town goes into shock at the copycat murder and it’s not long before a second couple are attacked, this time both are slain, and the paranoia of the 40s makes an unwelcome return to Texarkana.

Meanwhile, Jami, intrigued by the killer’s message to her, begins conducting research into the murders of the 40s and who the killer might’ve been. Police forces from both sides of the town attempt to cooperate, shadowing Jami’s every movement. She finds an unlikely ally in old classmate Nick, with whom she pays a visit to the son of the director of the 1976 film (inhale!), who believes he knows who the original killer was…

Interspersed with clips from the old film, Sundown 2014 is more of a slasher flick, albeit set over a period of months rather than days, but as the killer has gone to school on the movie, the infamous trombone scene is recreated in a gruesome murder of two bi-curious boys (producer Ryan Murphy’s presence in force), and there’s a bleakly realised mass-shooting at a gas station.

Considering the identity of the real killer has never been resolved, it’s strange that here everything is quite neatly wrapped up. In this sense, and the fact that there was so much story to wade through, The Town That Dreaded Sundown would have made a really good miniseries. There’s a lot to cram into 86 minutes: Jami’s black past, her grandmother’s (the always adorable Veronica Cartwright) hinky demeanor – is she keeping secrets??? – a budding romance between the teen leads, police forces from neighbouring states, and the duo mysteries of who the killers were and are.

Thus, it’s never boring, not for a second. And that cast!! Cartwright! Cole! Anderson! O’Hare! Leonard! Herrmann! Again, they would be even more excellent if only there was more time.

The production is handsome, far more sophisticated on a visual level than most other contemporary slasher films, and really brings the Americana of the locale to the forefront, with particular attention to accents and attitudes. Aguirre-Sacasa has made a beautiful looking horror movie, a rare beast if ever there was, and, typically, one that bypassed a theatrical release completely.

Blurbs-of-interest: Ryan Murphy later created the TV series Scream Queens; Danielle Harris has a cameo role as ‘Townsperson #2′ but be damned if I could spot her!; Gary Cole was also in Cry_Wolf; Anthony Anderson was in Urban Legends: Final Cut and Scream 4; Edward Herrmann was in Death Valley; Josh Leonard – of The Blair Witch Project - was in Hatchet and Madhouse.

The 100 Greatest* Slasher Movies Part X: The Top 10

*According to me! Me, me, me! So expect to see some of your faves missing.

I’m both happy and sad to have reached the end of this mammoth task.

To reiterate the placings on this list, these 100 titles were picked from 631 slasher films I’ve seen over 20 odd years, so even to reach the ‘lower’ echelons of the chart means they’re awesome.

See full rundown of notes: #100-91

100. Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)
99. The Prowler (1981)
98. Tormented (2009)
97. Bloody Homecoming (2012)
96. Stagefright (1986)
95. He Knows You’re Alone (1980)
94. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
93. Intruder (1988)
92. Unhinged (1982)
91. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

#90-81

90. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
89. Madman (1981)
88. Child’s Play 2 (1990)
87. Camping Del Terrore (1986)
86. Final Exam (1981)
85. Club Dread (2002)
84. Boogeyman 2 (2007)
83. Wishcraft (2001)
82. Opera (1987)
81. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

#80-71

80. Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
79. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
78. 7eventy 5ive (2007)
77. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
(1985)
76. Scream 3 (2000)
75. My Super Psycho Sweet 16 (2009)
74. Hellbent (2004)
73. Death Bell (2008)
72. Maniac Cop (1988)
71. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

#70-61

70. Coda (1987)
69. The Funhouse (1981)
68. Some Guy Who Kills People (2012)
67. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
66. Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (2012)
65. Pandemonium (1982)
64. Bride of Chucky (1998)
63. The Pool (2001)
62. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
61. Venom (2005)

#60-51

60. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
59. Tenebrae (1982)
58. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
57. Killer Party (1986)
56. Fatal Games (1983)
55. Julia’s Eyes (2010)
54. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
53. Deadly Blessing (1981)
52. Sorority Row (2009)
51. Final Destination 5 (2011)

#50-41

50. The House on Sorority Row (1982)
49. Cold Prey III (2010)
48. Hot Fuzz (2007)
47. Psycho II (1983)
46. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
45. The Burning (1981)
44. Terror Train (1980)
43. Hollow Man (2000)
42. Session 9 (2001)
41. Anatomy (2000)

#40-31

40. Malevolence (2005)
39. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
38. Psycho Beach Party (2000)
37. Shredder (2001)
36. Flashback (1999)
35. Ripper: Letter from Hell (2001)
34. You’re Next (2011)
33. Scream 4 (2011)
32. Mask Maker (2010)
31. Cut (2000)

#30-21

30. Haute Tension (2003)
29. Wilderness (2006)
28. Final Destination 2 (2003)
27. Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)
26. Friday the 13th (2009)
25. Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)
24. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
23. A Bay of Blood (1971)
22. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
21. Prom Night (1980)

#20-11

20. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
19. Hell Night (1981)
18. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
17. April Fool’s Day (1986)
16. Wrong Turn (2003)
15. Cold Prey II (2008)
14. The Initiation (1983)
13. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
12. Scream (1996)
11. My Bloody Valentine (1981)

THE CRAWFORD TOP 10

10. Scream 2 (1997)

I know, I know… ‘Sequels suck’ might be the general theme of much of Scream 2, but in terms of everything I want out of a slasher film, this one brings it in droves, therefore making it just that tiny bit superior to the first in my eyes.

A couple of years after the Woodsboro murders, Sidney and Randy are at a handsome college when the premiere of the film-based-on-the-book-based-on-the-killings kickstarts a new series of slayings on and around campus. Dewey and Gale are on hand to posit theories, and Cotton Weary has been released from prison after his exoneration – but who is killing everyone and why?

Scream 2, like Final Destination 2, may lack the fresh originality of its predecessor, but sets the bar: Everything is that little bit more polished, the rules established, and the in-jokes more fitting. And for a film that clocks in just shy of 2 hours, it’s never boring (OK, that Greek-play scene maybe). By my decree, the best of its series.

Crowning moment: Sarah Michelle Gellar – surely THE icon of the era – is a sorority girl alone in the house when the weird calls begin…

9. Psycho (1960)

Where would we be without Psycho? Listen to some evangelists and they’d likely say in a better world, But fuck them. That Hitchcock was British means that the ‘American Slasher Film’ owes a lot to our fair shores. Anyway, Jane Leigh steals money on a whim, runs away from her life, but makes the fatal error of checking in off the beaten track at the Bates Motel, where she relaxes a little, has a sarnie with the manager, Norman, and takes a shower…

It just works. Considering how ‘small’ the plot is in correlation to the 104 minute (PAL!) runtime of the film, it’s completely engaging, flawlessly made, and one of the most important films in history. Just imagine if Hitch had been around to make an 80s slasher flick…

Crowning moment: THAT shower scene.

8: Final Destination (2000)

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Average Joe high schooler Alex foresees a plane crash minutes before its departure and gets himself and a few classmates thrown off, only to see his vision come true shortly afterwards.

Later, as the seven surviving ejectees try to move on with their lives, a series of sinister accidents begin claiming them one by one, as if some supernatural dustpan and brush has come to sweep up the lost souls. Alex suspects that Death itself is balancing the books and now every surrounding object is capable of conspiring to take them out.

Comparing this film to its sequels reveals a stark contrast: The characters consider their own mortality, question greater forces controlling their fate, and radiate genuine emotions largely absent in the following movies, that just served up stupid characters to be annihilated, tits, and little to say on the fragility of life.

Crowning moment: The plane crash – at the time criticised for exploiting the huge similarities to the 1996 TWA800 disaster – is expertly realised and fucking terrifying.

7: Cold Prey (2006)

Norway might not carry much weight in international film production, but neigh-sayers be damned when it comes to this back-to-basics slasher that practically redefines the meaning of the word tension.

Five snowboarders drive into the mountains for a days’ shredding only for one to wipeout and break his leg. They take shelter in a closed-down ski-lodge and bed down for the night, only to realise that it already has an anti-social inhabitant who intends on shredding them.

While every trope gets a tick, Cold Prey executes them all the same kind of European style that put fellow Euro-slasher Haute Tension on this list: New landscapes, cultural difference, and language ‘freshen’ up the usual cliches and when it’s down to just the final girl versus the hulking killer, if you’re anything like me you’ll be yelling at your screen for her to run faster, hit harder, and avoid that swinging pick-axe.

Crowning moment: The first murder; brutal, necessary, but almost heartbreaking.

6: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The brilliant simplicity of “Stay awake or you’ll die” is 90% of Elm Street‘s excellence: A quartet of teenagers discover they’re each having bad dreams about a fire-scarred guy with ‘knives-for-fingers’ who wants to kill them. Only Nancy (Heather Langenkampenschwartzenberger) takes it remotely seriously and her probing begins to uncover a dreadful secret that her parents have been keeping from her.

Like Psycho, Freddy Krueger’s impact on pop culture was phenomenal. People who’d never even seen the films were fans in the 80s: Throw in rap videos, toys, a TV series and all those sequels, Elm Street merched its way into the annals of horror history.

But the original film shouldn’t be understated. Though some of the acting and effects work is quirky at best, some of the nightmare themes are petrifyingly familiar, and Nancy’s vain attempts to get anyone to believe she’s anything less than crazy are as frustrating to witness as they are for her character to endure. Perfect horror.

Crowning moment: Nancy’s mom eventually folds and tells her daughter the horrible truth. In a scene cut from the movie, a deceased sibling once existed, a powerful motivator that would’ve added an emotional punch.

5: Urban Legend (1998)

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The controversial entrant. Those familiar with Vegan Voorhees will know just how much I stan for this film. Those who aren’t are likely saying WTF!? Third-tier 90s horror it might be, but everything in Urban Legend is cheese-tastically great: The ludicrous plot, the identity of a killer who could never hope to pull it off (but does!), a serious actress as the final girl having to utter the line: “It’s like somebody out there is taking all these stories and making them reality!” without laughing…

So, college kids at a haughty North Eastern campus are being tormented by a Parka-clad killer who bases their murders on those friend-of-a-friend folklore tales. These coincide with their class on the subject, taught by Robert Englund. Everyone thinks it’s got to do with a 25-year-old massacre at the school, although the audience knows for sure that heroine Natalie’s nasty secret is a more likely candidate.

A game cast of semi-knowns occasionally look a bit embarrassed about the material, but it only adds to the appeal of Urban Legend‘s unmatched ridiculousness. Alicia Witt was an ambitious and awesome choice for the lead, and that climactic scene out-bitches Mean Girls tenfold. You can try to dissuade me, but you’ll never do it.

Crowning moment: Couple in a car in the woods, guy gets out to relieve himself, takes a while, the girl starts to hear scratching on the roof…

4. Black Christmas (1974)

Girls at a sorority house being plagued by a series of bizarre and unpleasant phone calls during the festive season are soon targeted by a mystery killer who has taken up residence in their attic. Police and a worried parent are thrown into the mix when a pretty co-ed disappears, while heroine Jess (Olivia Hussey) finds herself with a personal crisis that may or may not be related to what’s happening (and is something you’d never see taken so seriously in such a lowly genre these days).

Once pulled from a TV showing for being “too frightening”, Black Christmas did first a lot of what Halloween ultimately got credit for. But the two are evenly matched, this one focusing in on the characters at the centre of the carnage over and above the horror, most of which comes in one big hit towards the end.

Excellent performances from all, especially Margot Kidder as the vulgar alcohol-fancying Barb, and John Saxon as, you guessed it, a detective, giving him two entries in this Top 10.

Crowning moment: A festive choir of angelic-voiced kids serenade Jess with a chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful while a murder is occurring in an upstairs bedroom. Expertly done, twisted beauty.

3: Halloween (1978)

You thought it was going to win, right? Will this is Vegan Voorhees, not Meat-eating Myers, so it’s bronze position for the most influential slasher film around. Why is it third? I would just rather watch the Top 2, that’s all. Nothing can be said to denigrate how fucking amazing Halloween is. I haven’t dared try and review it in case I screw up. It’s that important.

Nobody hasn’t seen it, but I’ll recycle the plot anyway: Boy murders sister on Halloween night. Fifteen years later, he breaks out of his institution and returns to the town of Haddonfield to do it again. And again. And again. His chosen targets are the friends of shy babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Only she is cautious enough to pay attention to some of the weird things happening during the school day. And when night falls…

What else is there to say? Astounding brilliant in every possible way: Creepy, scary, never for a moment boring. Only gorehounds might object to the general lack of grue.

Crowning moment: Laurie’s gradual increase of paranoia – who’s the guy across the street? in the car? behind the hedge?

2. Friday the 13th (1980)

Camp Crystal Lake has been closed for over twenty years after an unsolved double murder and recurrent bouts of bad luck every time anybody’s tried to re-open it. When a group of teenage counsellors arrive to set up shop, they’re stalked and slain by a shadowy psycho with an array of cutting implements and a grudge to settle.

I first saw Friday the 13th in the early hours of a June night back in the 90s. It changed everything. That first month or so after I watched it twice or three times a week, literally obsessed with its rustic, isolated, ambience and almost self-parodying nature. It’s a badly made film by most standards but the technical flaws only emphasize an underdog appeal: There’s nothing arty going on, it’s just distilled stalk n’ slash.

Because it’s a fairly simple-minded creature, Friday is an open target for all manner of criticisms. There’s nothing much to think about and it was already hugely predictable within months after the scores of clones, which merged parts of Halloween and this, to try and conquer.

I love it, I never get bored of it, and there’s only one other film I’d rather sit down watch…

Crowning moment: Kevin Bacon’s neck-skewering is an amazing moment, but I love the following scene of Marcie alone in the bathroom cabin as the camera slowly creeps its way ever closer…

The Greatest* Slasher Film of All Time

1. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Five years after the Camp Crystal Lake murders, a nearby counsellor training center is besieged by a masked maniac with a hard-on for slashing up horny teenagers, which happen to be in plentiful supply. Only wisened-up assistant leader Ginny (Amy Steel) has the smarts to escape from the psycho.

A few weeks after discovering Friday the 13th, I made it my mission to repeat the experience. Jason Lives and The New Blood had been shown on cable but weren’t quite up to it, I had low-ish expectations for the £5.99 budget label video cassette I picked up in Portsmouth’s HMV.

Achieving the near-impossible, Friday 2 takes everything awesome from the first film, polishes it until it shines, and then adds half a dozen ejector-seat jump scares and Amy fucking Steel. Amy fucking Steel is the heart of this movie, a final girl forged in horror heaven who proves to be more than a worthy adversary to the B-movie axe murderer named Jason, who was supposed to have died years earlier.

Like Urban Legend, this one ticks all the boxes: Campfire story, pot-smoking, over-sexed counsellors, floating POV-work, a convertible VW Beetle! It’s only flaw is that the excised footage of Carl Fullerton’s makeup work has never been restored, never more frustrating than in the two-for-one shish-ke-bob kill lifted from A Bay of Blood.

An assembly of tweaked-to-perfection genre staples: This is the number one, THE best slasher film out there – deal with it!

Crowning moment: Ginny runs from the killer into a room and closes the door. Hearing nothing, she slowly reaches for the part-open window behind her… Reaches… Reaches… Glass shatters, he outsmarted her! So begins an epic chase to the end.

*

Where the hell is…?

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) I don’t hate it. I just don’t like it very much. Nobody would be stupid enough to deny its influence on the genre, but it does little for me. In a Top 631, I expect to see it around the #300 mark.

Halloween II (1981) The dizzying heights of the original film would be a tough act for anyone to follow. Halloween II is a good film, no more, no less. Carpenter’s inserts near the start are the highlight, but an hour of folks-with-no-names-nor-distinguishing-characteristics being killed before a horror-weary looking Jamie Lee Curtis gets out of her hospital bed wasn’t enough. Chart position estimate: #150

Any other curious absences? Let me know and I’ll tell you why!

The 100 Greatest* Slasher Movies Part VI: #50-41

According to me! Me, me, me! So don’t be surprised to find a few ‘classics’ missing.

See: #100-91 here // #90-81 here // #80-71 here // #70-61 here // #60-51 here

50: The House on Sorority Row (1982)

Seven college girls play one final prank on their strict housemother before they leave, which culminates in her accidental death. While they spend the day of their graduation party trying to cover up the crime, housemom’s psychotic son, secretly squirreled away in the attic until now, takes matters of revenge into his own hands using Mom’s iron walking cane. Understated, but tense, bloody, and even a little bit heartbreaking.

Crowning moment: Scaredy-cat Jeanie’s frantic chase through the empty upstairs of the house.

49: Cold Prey III (2010)

As the film industry is obsessed with trilogies, and with no way to undo that very final ending of Cold Prey II, it’s prequelville for the third (and so far final) film, which winds back the clock to 1988 and a group of youthful campers stalked through the Norwegian wilderness by the burgeoning killer.

Crowning moment: Fleeing teens find an empty house and take refuge in a hidey-hole under the floor, but they have to venture out sooner or later…

48: Hot Fuzz (2007)

“Should Hot Fuzz even be here!?” you may caw, but while primarily an action comedy, the subplot of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s follow up to Shaun of the Dead concerns a cloaked mystery killer doing away with the less favourable residents of the small English town of Sandford, where Pegg’s by-the-book bobby is the only one who thinks the deaths are anything more than accidents.

Crowning moment: Middle-English archetypes – all cucumber sandwiches and deerhunters – brandishing all manner of firearms during a shootout in the quaint village square.

47: Psycho II (1983)

The courts think that 22 years in prison has ‘fixed’ Norman Bates and release him back to his old home, with a job at the local diner. However, some people are less than satisfied with this resolution and, when murders and disappearances begin again, he is naturally the primary suspect. But nothing is ever what it seems at the Bates Motel… is it?

Crowning moment: The magnificent crane shot that floats from Norman, trapped in an attic room, to an aerial of two teenage lovers sneaking into the basement below. Even Hitchcock would’ve been dumbfounded by the pristine composition.

46: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

On one hand, this film is to blame for the glut of Hollywood horror remakes that polluted the 2000s, on the other it refused to compromise on the brutality of the story, while dipping it in glitter with slick production polish. Not being a fan of the original at all (sulk now, you won’t be seeing it appear later), and it hurts me to ‘yay’ anything with the Michael Bay stamp on it, but this is legitimately awesome.

Crowning moment: Jessica Biel and minor scream queen Eric Leerhsen are attacked in a mortally-wounded van by Leatherface, who has no problem tipping it over and going at it with his favoured weapon.

45: The Burning (1981)

Part Friday the 13th clone, part urban legend, part nihilistic gorefest: Five years after being burned beyond recognition in a joke-gone-wrong, a summer camp janitor decides to reap his revenge by pruning the kids at an upstate New York camp with a scarily huge pair of shears. A veritable dictionary of before-they-were-famous actors, look out for Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens amongst others.

Crowning moment: The grisly raft-attack is shocking, but the first murder is practically quivering with tension as a skinny dipper finds her clothes have been scattered about the woods…

44: Terror Train (1980)

The motivation of choice for 80s slasher movie killers was the prank gone awry… Here, a shy frat boy returns three years after a misfired gag put him in a hospital to punish those responsible as they celebrate their graduation aboard a chartered train. While you know who the killer is, there’s still an excellent mystery element at play as to just who the killer might be dressed as at any moment… And then there’s who it was all along!

Crowning moment: The maniac finally gets Jamie Lee Curtis alone in a drawn-out, tension brimming chase scene through the abandoned cars of the train.

43: Hollow Man (2000)

Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi/slasher sees arrogant scientist Kevin Bacon perfect a process that can turn animals invisible. Lacking governmental permission to move on to human trials, he takes the stuff himself. Successful though it is, the failure to get his visibility back slowly drives him insane and he embarks on a killing spree, targeting his team. Amazing FX underscore this one.

Crowning moment: Hollow Man’s first venture outside since his invisifying, and the two kids who ‘see’ him in a traffic jam.

42: Session 9 (2001)

A team of asbestos removal workmen take a job at an old mental hospital with a dodgy past. While dealing with their own issues, the venue takes its toll on each of them psychologically, and one becomes obsessed with the audio tapes of a schizophrenic former inmate. And then it’s not so long before they begin dying…

Crowning moment: Josh Lucas’ hunger for purported riches takes him back to the hospital after hours to look for riches… but there’s somebody already there…

41: Anatomy (2000)

Franka Potente is the new girl at an exclusive German medical school, where she begins to suspect something that would not adhere to the Hippocratic Oath is going on. When a recently-alive classmate appears on the slab in front of her, she begins to investigate and uncovers a bizarre sect operating at the school and taking their pick of students to experiment on.

Crowning moment: A girl flees her boyfriend’s murder with a needle-jab to the leg, which slowly freezes up her muscles until she collapses and seizes up. The killer tells her if she can crawl to a doorway inches ahead of her he’ll give her the antidote… will she? (No).

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