Hulu’s Hellraiser is more mainstream than the remainder of the franchise, but in spite of an excellent new Pinhead, a straightforward approach isn’t always the best one. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser isn’t a slasher per se, but it feels very much like a cousin to John Carpenter’s Halloween, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. Yet it’s far more cerebral (even more so than Nightmare), and it does not play by any of the rules established by the very films to which it feels similar.
That trend has continued in horror cinema because it’s been born of necessity. What was scary once will not be scary again, or at least asscary. It’s up to superb filmmakers like Zach Cregger and his Barbarian to create works that flip the script either a bit or all the way.
Macro-scale hot-button issues with law enforcement aside, they’re predominately supposed to be at least helpful. Yet, that doesn’t so much tend to be the case in horror, and it’s rarer still that the lead is portrayed to be not just a cop but an actually effective one. This could be said of Deliver Us from Evil‘s Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana, a wonderful Australian actor perhaps unfairly saddled with a thick Bronx accent). Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us from Evil was as hyped up as his The Black Phone, but it saw inferior results at the box office (still technically a hit). It’s not a fast-paced scarer, but it’s a more effective procedural than Saw.
It’s also superbly well-cast, with Édgar Ramírez (who looks an awful lot like Jim Morrison in a movie that constantly quotes The Doors), Sean Harris, and the ever-great Joel McHale all turning in committed turns. But Bana’s lead is at the heart of it all, and he’s written as if he’s the definitive example of the conflict between brave and conflicted. Most other times, they’re akin to the bumbling-in-blue duo from Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.
Easily one of the best movies released for Halloween 2022, Zach Cregger’s Barbarian is a modern classic with terrific performances and an excellent script. Due to that combination of factors, it’s populated by characters that transcend the norm of depth for the genre.
Georgina Campbell brings true life and depth to Tess Marshall, a young woman who’s rented a Detroit Airbnb for a job interview. But there’s another man (Bill Skarsgård, giving a horror performance every bit as good, but very different from, It‘s Pennywise) staying there. The setup alone allows an actor of Campbell’s range to explore a character, and she makes it not only her own but unsettlingly real. That’s a far sight different from Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.
Freddy vs. Jason not only has one of the best villain vs. villain fights in movies, but it also has a script flip for the ever-iconic Camp Crystal Lake. Up until FvJ, Crystal Lake was a stomping ground for Jason, and his victims came on their own ignorant terms.
In Freddy vs. Jason, the teens (young adults, really) bring Jason to his own stomping ground. Not only that, they’re feeding him to Freddy Krueger. For once, Jason isn’t the king of control mountain, he’s at the will of others. It’s new territory for him in spite of traversing familiar ground.
If any horror villain subverts slasher tropes by their very definition, it’s Ghostface. Ghostface is never the same because Ghostface will never make it to the next movie. And, most importantly, Ghostface never should make it to the next movie.
What makes Ghostface stand out is that each one has his or her own motive, and they’re usually pretty dead set on accomplishing that specific goal (save for perhaps Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey Altieri in Scream 2). They take lives to accomplish it, so theirs must be taken by the time credits roll. Most importantly, they’re known to be human, unlike Michael or Jason, so the actions come down to the mindset of an otherwise well-functioning individual with a cardiac rhythm that can fade to black.
There are so many horror films released in a given calendar year that it’s impressive when one really stands out, and in the crowded summer of 2008, much less, a movie season that also saw the release of Iron Man and The Dark Knight. But The Strangers does, and it’s bizarrely via its strict adherence to realism and the potential depravity of human nature.
Gut-wrenching home invasion movies like Straw Dogs show monsters with motives, but the masked sadists of The Strangers have none. They readily and openly admit that they chose Kristen McKey and James Hoyt simply because the two of them “were home.”
Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson appeared in three installments of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but to varying extents. It’s through that variation she excels because, while her role in the original is that of the victim, her role in the third installment (basically the second film of the franchise by some fans’ appraisal) is that of the mentor.
It’s a massive reversal that’s just as substantial a juxtaposition as the level of involvement between Thompson and her short-lived counterpart in Friday the 13th Part II: Adrienne King’s Alice Hardy. But Nancy doesn’t die in the first five minutes of her sequel, she dies in the third act. And while that alone is a defiance of standard enough, it’s how much relevance she serves to Dream Warriors‘ plot that makes Nancy stand out.
A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Nancy Thompson may be one of the best horror movie final girls, but antagonist Freddy Krueger is even better. Even in the original film, he displays more personality than his genre counterparts. He has a motive, and he’s blindly rage-filled in accomplishing that motive.
Krueger would go on to have a personality that would even further defy the conventional restraints of a slasher protagonist. But it was a series of diminishing returns. Scary Freddy is infinitely better than dad joke Freddy, and even the former, more restrained, personality contains more life than Jason, Leatherface, and Michael combined.
Todd Strauss-Schulson’s high-concept horror comedy The Final Girls is an impeccably cast blast with a brain. It’s also an analysis of just about every slasher trope out there, and it smartly toys with all of them. The plot follows a group of high school teens who find themselves literally within a 1980s slasher film. Namely, one titled Camp Bloodbath, and it just so happens to have starred one of the teens’ mothers. Taissa Farmiga portrays Max Cartwright while comedy expert Malin Åkerman (in perhaps the best performance of her career) plays her mother, Amanda. The antagonist is the Jason-like Billy Murphy, who finds a way to show up literally the moment two characters start getting intimate.
The Final Girls explores the typical trope of premarital sex meaning death, but it’s taken to the next level. There’s no concept of chance in Camp Bloodbath, there are just rules that carry a permanent penalty. The literal nature of the rules in unison with the Scream-like self-awareness is subversion enough, but then the film poignantly alters the rule of their being a “Final Girl,” singular. Amanda passes the torch to Ma, who becomes the final “Final Girl” and gains closure in the process.
NEXT: 10 Best Slasher Movie Characters (Who Aren’t Final Girls), According To Reddit