Hollywood loves a sure thing. And apart from sequels to big-budget superhero comic-book movies, few things over the last couple of decades have been as sure at the box office as the endless rehashing of popular horror- movie franchises. The current boom of slasher reboots began in 2003, with the all-new version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since then, we’ve had new versions of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and now A Nightmare on Elm Street — but with the triumphant return of Freddy Krueger this past weekend (audiences may have been mixed on it, but $32 million in ticket sales is scary proof of what an iron-clad fan demo these movies have), America’s gallery of iconic movie psycho killers has officially been strip-mined. Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface — there’s no one left! Except that there’s always someone left. What can Hollywood now do for a horror encore? Here are a few ideas:
1. Make a much more fun Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. I stand by my not-so-hostile, B-minus grade for the new Nightmare. It may have been, as I wrote, “a corporately ordered rerun,” but it had atmosphere and a few jolts, and Jackie Earle Haley slipped into Freddy’s singed latex with creepy personality. But here’s my question: Why so serious? The way that Wes Craven directed the original Nightmare on Elm Street, in 1984, it had a lively, let’s-try-it-on B-movie demon-prankster spirit. The new one glumly goes through the motions of reproducing some of the original’s most famous scenes, but why didn’t the filmmakers take advantage of the opportunity to do something freshly shocking and audacious with Freddy? As the original series went on, it got funnier and more outlandish (often to its detriment, but sometimes not, especially in Dream Warriors), and that’s what this new series now needs to do. Unleash the trippy, over-the-top showbiz blood-freak craziness. And let Jackie Earle Haley loose!
2. Speaking of Wes Craven…. He’s making Scream 4, and that’s a terrific thing. Here’s one series that’s far from played out, though I did feel the twinges of creative fatigue in Scream 3. To revive this series in a memorable way, Craven now needs to do what the first Scream did: Surprise us. Play a whole new set of tricks on us. Scare us, and make us laugh, in boldly macabre and original ways. And turn the whole movie, like the first Scream, into a super-sly satirical commentary on the way that kids watch horror movies now. Which is a lot different from how they watched them when Scream came out, in 1996.
3. Let us not forget Pinhead. The Hellraiser movies, the first of which was released in 1987, never generated the mass following that the classic slasher series of the ’70s and ’80s did. But they do enjoy a rabid cult fan base, and they were, if anything, ahead of the curve. Pinhead, the series’ spiky-faced monster mascot (pictured above, left), is basically a proselytizer for the pleasures of pain — he’s sadosmasochism’s answer to Freddy Krueger. But the Hellraiser films came out on the cusp of the era when S&M was crossing over into something chicly mainstream. It’s time to relaunch this series, with Pinhead as the hip maestro of an erotic dungeon from hell.
4. Let’s hold out some hope for when horror goes 3-D. I’m not sure if horror movies actually need to get more gimmicky, but the current 3-D boom really does seem a natural fit for a genre in which thrusting machetes, spiky contraptions and power tools, and disembodied limbs are the disorder of the day. The producers of the Saw series, taking a look at their waning box-office receipts last October, have already announced that the next Saw film will be in 3-D; so did the Weinstein Company with regard to the next Halloween sequel. Personally, I’m waiting for Hostel 3-D: Scare Your Face Off. Done right, a 3-D horror movie could be just the sort of blood-spattered carnival ride to get people juiced.
5. No more zombie movies. Please. At least for a while. No, not even parodies. (At this point, we’re more or less due for a parody of the parodies.) The genre has been wrung dry. We’ve been there, chomped that. We’ve read the sociological musings that accompany every new George A. Romero movie, and we’re convinced: The living dead have nothing new to tell us. And no novel ways to scare us. Please, just let them die.
6. Where have you gone, M. Night Shyamalan? In more ways than one, he hasn’t gone anywhere. As we all know, the Shyamaleister continues to churn out “Hitchcockian” thrillers with “mindblowing” twist endings that are sure to wow any 11-year-old who has never sat through a Twilight Zone marathon. Over the years, M. Night (pictured above, right) has labored to turn himself into a brand — the Steven Spielberg of high-minded dread. Instead, he has turned himself into a punchline. But let us not forget that he is (or was) a very, very talented film director. (My personal favorite movie of his is the stunning, fascinating, and egregiously underrated Unbreakable.) To steal a point made by Mark Harris in the pages of EW, what Shyamalan desperately needs to do is to find a new screenwriter — i.e., someone other than himself. Shyamalan the cornball-hack artiste who writes leaden-with-portent dialogue and conceives his films from the (contrived) ending backwards has completely overshadowed Shyamalan the elegant craftsman who I’m convinced, with the right material, could make a horror movie that would blow us all away.
So now that the mythical slashers of the ’80s have all been revived, where would you like to see Hollywood horror go? What hasn’t been tried yet? And what director who has never made a horror film do you think could make a great one?