Is 2017 the Year Horror Franchises Return from the Grave?

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For decades, fiends like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Jigsaw ruled the cinemas with a razor-tipped glove. The 2010s, at the same time, haven’t been kind to the fear icons of the ‘80s. Despite a surge in studio interest in the Members Only decade, recent lukewarm reboots and remakes seem to have given Hollywood cold feet about dipping their toes back into classic horror franchises.

As a result, contemporary multi-film terror tales are at a crossroad between one path leading to a resurgence in nostalgia horror and the other resigning an array of hockey masks, sewing-implement adorned heads, and butcher knife-wielding dolls to direct-to-video status. Hollywood at present is heavily focused on blockbusters and shared universe franchises. So it makes sense that studios would return to the terror gift that keeps giving, especially during this age of high-risk horror.

Seeing as fright flicks often barely register at the box office, throwing money into unknown properties probably seems too hazardous for most studios. Tentpole horror movies that lend major support, like The Conjuring 2 or Don’t Breathe, are set up for success, presuming they live up to half of what they promise. For every movie like Get Out, which surpasses expectations, there are hundreds of hyped horror movies, such as Rings, that fail at the box office column.

Freddy Kreuger and Nancy Thompson in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

In an era of franchising, Hollywood is hoping brand recognition pays off. Digging up the corpses of Chucky, Pinhead, and Jigsaw (perhaps literally) certainly requires no formal introduction from their franchise’s respective studios. It also means that the filmmakers and scripters will have to walk a thin rope between to resuscitate these long-running storylines.

True, most iconic fear-lines follow a rinse-and-repeat formula, and toeing the balance between novel and nostalgia is always tricky. But it’s also the key to any successful fright icon revivals.

For instance, Freddy’s comeback in the Nightmare on Elm Street redux (2010) fared decently in theaters, but failed to ignite audiences and restart the franchise. Fans were already familiar with Robert Englund’s performance as the main ghoul and knew what to expect for the most part. Despite Jackie Earl Haley’s acting chops, the remake trod too close to its source material without offering anything that opened up a new vein, cinematically, or even captured the subtle nuances and meta-moments Wes Craven’s original brought to the table.

The same could easily be said for the remakes of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot – which also has Leatherface in the works for sometime this year – but still managed to put up solid enough numbers to keep the franchise crawling through its own.

Truly, the most effective revitalizations of classic scare series are those which that expand upon the mythology of the original films and add a new twist to them, such as the Child’s Play sequence and its successful meta-reinvention, Bride of Chucky. Of course, more rote if serious films like Friday the 13th and Hellraiser often suffer from campy followups (although Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives was clever enough to be an enjoyable reiteration). While the Friday reboot also experienced solid numbers, it hasn’t landed a proper sequel, in part due to studio in-fighting, and recently saw yet another redux shelved indefinitely by New Line.

Things are looking up, if you’re a fan of classic sagas, though. The next incarnation of Halloween is actually a sequel to the original Halloween II, produced by John Carpenter himself and written by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride (yep). Hellraiser: Judgement will also purportedly depart from the milquetoast crime procedurals and tepid updates that marred the once-innovative franchise, resigning it to a string of bargain basement meh-fests. Even though the writer/director Gary Tunnicliffe also wrote the universally panned Hellraiser: Revelations (2011), twisted new foes, including Cenobites (sadly, Doug Bradley once again opted out of Pinhead, though) may offer shelter from the crap storm.

The remarkably long-winded Amityville saga also finds itself with another sequel in The Awakening, but the eighteenth (wow!) film in the franchise languished in post-production limbo and returned for reshoots due to poor test audience response.

Jason is waiting the next Friday film. Image from ‘Freddy Vs. Jason’ 2003 film.

Fear fans do have a good reason for excitement. Even if the long-awaited rehabs of Friday and Nightmare stay under the radar for some time, several big names could return in a major way. Alien: Covenant will capitalize on Ridley Scott’s own franchise backstory in Prometheus (2012) and looks absolutely terrifying. In addition, Saw: Legacy appears to unearth new aspects of classic adversary Jigsaw (hopefully sans zombie moments), while Jeepers Creepers 3 could round out the vaguely intriguing and long-dormant cult saga.

Whether horror hounds are ready for more eerie antics from Children of the Corn or anxiously awaiting the reboot of Pumpkinhead, our lives will be touched in creepy ways by some retro-horror fiends in the next year or two. If Hollywood wants to bring its latent horror franchises back from the dead and encourage them to remain that way, they’ll need much more than a scary new face or some state-of-the-art special effects.

There was a reason many of these classic stalkers (maybe not all of them) were whispered across the sleeping bags and kids looked both ways before passing dark alleyways; these terror tropes once scared the crap out of us. Studios need to unearth spooky new angles or come up with some very good reasons for us to shell out our hard-earned cash. These old fiends need a fresh look but not in the cosmetic department.

Studio hacks beware, though; fear fanatics can smell a cop out or a cash grab a mile away. Whether working with legendary directors or innovative new talents, these characters need room to sprout their shadowy wings and fly.

2017 could be the year when ‘80s franchises return from the grave, but Pinhead, Jigsaw, and Michael Myers have to scare up some new experiences from their old bag of tricks. With well-crafted scripts by writers who truly understand these characters and what made them so frightening or why certain slightly tongue-in-cheek elements worked so well, horror hounds and studios could scream the praises of these fear figures once more. 

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