Why Gritty Horror Reboots Fail

I love bad slasher movies. Yes, I know they're artistically bankrupt. I'm well aware that most of them are predictable and implausible. And yeah, a lot of them are unnecessarily gory and bloody. But I just don't care. Something about watching those cheesy special effects and seeing terrible attempts at humor, intentional or no, just strikes a chord with me. Sue me.

Of course, there's what I consider the "Big Three" when it comes to iconic movie killers: Jason, Freddy and Michael. Two are silent, vengeful murder machines, and one is an obnoxious, belligerent asshole... who is also a murder machine. All three of them, though, have anchored franchises that have more entries than most other film series... mainly due to the fact that they're pretty easy to crank out. I mean, you write in some teenagers, throw some darts at their names on a wall, and BAM, the ones that you hit are the ones that die. Not exactly rocket science.

But all three of them have have something else in common: they've been rebooted in gritty, modern reinterpretations of the source material. All of these reboots are pretty awful, spitting in the face of the franchises they belong to. Why, though? What was lost in translation to the new writers? Why do these reboots always blow chunks? Well...

They're "Edgy" To A Fault

Gritty reboot writers' clothing store of choice.
For starters, let's focus on the new Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies. These are pretty difficult formulas to screw up, you'd think, but lo and behold somebody managed to do it. Let's take Halloween, for example. It's the least funny of the Big Three, as the first one is actually a genuinely horrific film... which makes sense, considering underrated auteur John Carpenter was at the helm. But the formula wasn't exactly complicated. Michael was a kid who killed his sister, was locked up, then started killing again in a snazzy William Shatner mask (which I happen to have a 60 dollar replica of, because I'm a total geek.) To recap: murderous kid, escapes from asylum, kills teenagers. That's all that needs to be present, and the rest is up to presentation. Even the later movies, stupid as they got, kept that formula in mind, only adding one or two novel twists to keep stuff fresh.

So what did Rob Zombie do for his "look how edgy I can be" reboot and subsequent sequel? Um, Michael as a kid living in a trailer with a stripper for a mom, who abuses animals and is bullied... also rape? Abuse? Other unnecessary plot threads? See, Zombie is a fine filmmaker, and a very smart man. But he pissed in the proverbial soup of the Halloween franchise too much. He added in dark, edgy subject matter that made the movie less fun to watch, and more uncomfortable. Some women have to strip to support themselves because they can't find other work. Women are raped on the daily, to the point where there's even a term for the societal infrastructure that encourages violence against women. Animals get abused, kids get bullied, and all of that horrible stuff happens on the daily. You know what doesn't? An immortal man in a William Shatner mask running around killing teenagers.

See, the reason slasher franchises work is because it's a fake terror. The audience gets so invested in this fake threat that they can forget about the very real troubles of their lives for two hours or so. When you start throwing in gritty stuff for shock value, that element of escapism disappears. It can hit home for the audience, and while there's a place for that in film, it isn't in a movie with a masked man killing people in gruesome ways. Making Michael's mom a stripper or Freddy Krueger a pedophile (spoiler alert from four years ago, I guess) doesn't make the movie more entertaining. It actually just shows that the writers are grasping for straws, trying to shock the audience. Little do they know they're doing it at the expense of longtime fans like myself who get suckered into paying for this crap.

They're Not Creative

Yet another unrealistic standard of beauty.
Jason X is a high point of the Friday the 13th franchise for me. Here we have a flick where Jason is taken to space from a post-apocalyptic Earth, let loose on a space ship, and then turned into a fucking cyborg. It's ridiculous, and the movie knows this. There are cheesy one-liners put in with the unbelievable gore that make the experience one-part horror, one-part farce. That's because the writers and director know that most people don't go to these movies to actually be scared. They go to laugh at stupid character decisions, to gasp at the inventive ways in which people are killed, to sometimes even root for characters to get killed. The best slasher movies, the ones that are beloved by fans years after their release, are the ones that are fun and cheesy. There's a reason people want to watch Jason Lives or Freddy Vs. Jason  over Part 2 or The Final Friday, is what I'm trying to say.

These reboots lose the creative fun that the originals possessed. The new Michael just stabs and maims, lacking even the cruel sense of humor he had in the first flick, which was still pretty spooky. Freddy is a child molester whose dream sequence kills are now mindlessly bloody and flat, lacking the fun spectacle of older entries. And the new Jason is... uh, well, he's just an invincible guy that kills kids. No demonic possession from eating a heart, no fights against robots in dominatrix gear. Just a regression to the most boring parts of the franchise.

Instead of coming up with new and ludicrous ways to write themselves out of a corner, the filmmakers simply decided to say "screw it" and hit the reset button. It's a lazy move, because it shows a lack of willingness to do anything new or fresh with the material. They take a dull plot, throw in some edgy twists in the case of Halloween and Nightmare, then plop in an iconic character to make some quick and easy money. There's a way to steer a series in a new, fresh direction without rebooting it and dishonoring the rest of the franchise. Look at H20: 20 Years Later. Look at Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Hell, look at Bride of Chucky, or even last year's Curse of Chucky. You can dramatically shift the direction of something without lazily rebooting it. But then, I think maybe this brings perhaps my most important point forward....

Was A Reboot Really, Really Necessary?

This is the most obvious point, I think. But try telling that to Michael Bay, who somehow had his greasy little fingers in the reboots of Nightmare and Friday the 13th (not to mention that Texas Chainsaw Massacre retread) as the producer. Try telling that to Rob Zombie, who not only gave Michael the aforementioned grimdark origin story, but also shoddily retold the first film in roughly the last 30 minutes of his new version. And try telling that the small army of writers put on board to work on these rehashes.

To me, this practice of taking established franchises, applying them to an uncharacteristic script, then calling it a "reboot" reeks of cynical corporate money-grubbing. The new Friday the 13th could have starred a miscellaneous dime-store movie murderer and still been the same movie. Nightmare was so far off track that it could have been a generic psychological slasher flick with some tweaks. And Halloween? I mean, Halloween was basically a Rob Zombie movie. It didn't need to be a Halloween movie. It could have been another spin-off to House of 1000 Corpses or something, tonally. None of these movies feel like true experiences within their respective franchises. They're just soulless cash grabs.

How did they get made, then? Well, pretty simple, I think. People know Freddy, Jason and Michael. Again, they're pretty much "the big three." You put them into a movie and people like me will go see it opening day, regardless of review scores or anything like that. Because, y'know, barely any of these movies ever get favorable reviews anyway. And by the time we realize we've been had, it's too late. Our money's gone. We've been duped into paying for a cynical exercise in dragging a once-great series through the mud.

The point to all this? Don't see horror reboots. Watch good new entries in classic series. Like, Final Destination 5 or the aforementioned Curse of Chucky, or... or... I dunno. Just don't support this shit. I'm done complaining. I'm going to watch Freddy Vs Jason or Jason X again or something.

Happy Halloween, folks.

Truly the height of America's cinematic achievements.


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