An Introduction: The Canon of Classic Horror Slasher Film Franchises
Halloween is over, and as the monsters, slashers, and trick-or-treaters fade into the night to be replaced with Christmas iconography, I am left with a hollow feeling. “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good.”
October is one of my favorite months of the year, and not just because of my wedding anniversary. October marks the changing of the seasons, the influx of pumpkin spice into the bloodstream of the world, and the only time when talking about horror movies regularly is okay and not a potential warning sign that there is a serial killer nearby.
The status of horror movies has changed over the years and continues to chase the fads of what’s popular; nothing new here. However, with a new Halloween film in theaters and a renewed interest in bringing back the Friday the 13th franchise, now is a great time to wax nostalgic on some of the classic slasher film franchises.
However, a roadblock to discussing the slasher movies of old, and for anyone looking to jump into the fandom, is the issue of film continuity that plagues each franchise. Some of these issues are due to budgets and early 2000s reboots, while others are due to poor writing, directing, and studio meddling.
Despite these issues I have laid out the “accepted canon” of each of the following series, and have thrown in my own thoughts to help guide new fans. The franchises I discuss here include the following: Hellraiser, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Friday the 13th.
If BDSM had a horror movie then Hellraiser would be it. From the mind of Clive Barker steps the insidious lament configuration, a puzzle box that when solved opens up a portal to a special circle of hell. A circle, where pain and pleasure collide into a skin ripping good...bad time.
If you are trying to jump into this series then you might be overwhelmed by the assortment of straight to video trash. Do not be discouraged though! Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) are arguably the best in the series and begin the official Hellraiser canon. From there, and if you are a fan of comic books, Clive Barker has continued the story started in the films in the Boom! Studios published Hellraiser series. However, if you only want to stick to the films then I recommend watching the first four Hellraiser films. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996) is probably the worse of the bunch, which you can probably figure out since it was directed by “Alan Smithee,” a moniker that directors use when they do not want their name attached to a project.
The film has some interesting moments and visuals though and more or less concludes the Hellraiser story as the film is both a prequel and a sequel. Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992) is enjoyable, overall, and worth checking out. After the fourth film everything in the film series goes downhill. Essentially the studio would take a detective script, sprinkle in some Pinhead and Cenobites, and slap Hellraiser on the title.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:
I recently took a deep dive into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre film franchise. Canonically the films go: Leatherface (2017), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013). The other films in the series, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) are all sequels that connect to the first film in the series, but not to each other.
The film franchise was rebooted with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), and a prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006). However, these two films failed to restart the franchise, so the original film was used as an anchor for all current sequels/prequels. The first film is generally regarded as a classic, while all other films are hit or miss.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) is my favorite of the films and is regarded as a dark comedy. I would then rate Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) as the worst film in the franchise due to how badly the film was butchered in editing.
With the release of Halloween (2018) the film continuity of the franchise has been firmly established as Halloween (1978) and Halloween (2018). If you ignore the latest film, simply for the sake of argument, then Halloween (1978) connects canonically to Halloween II (1981) and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers through Halloween: Resurrection (2002).
In researching the movies for this article I also discovered, Halloween: Resurgence (2012), a 55 minute fan film that John Carpenter assisted with. I have not watched this short yet, but it can be found on YouTube. The Halloween films change in quality due to production issues, but are worth watching.
I recommend Rob Zombie’s reboot as well, though the films may not be for everyone because Zombie has a unique style. Though Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is not canon with the other Halloween films I strongly recommend watching it.
Someone recently posted a fan theory online that does connect the original Halloween films to the third film, but I think it stands on its own without this connection. The only fan theory I have developed on the franchise is that all of the Halloween films, including Halloween (2018) and Rob Zombie directed films, is that the films take place in alternate dimensions/realities where the conflict between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode continues to play out over and over again.
A Nightmare on Elm Street:
Everyone’s favorite nightmare, Freddy Krueger, is the star of the A Nightmare on Elm Street film franchise. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) through Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), the sixth film the series, follows the exploits of Krueger attempting to be reborn in the real world.
These films are canon to one another with Krueger, played consistently by the wonderful Robert Englund, remaining as an anchor point to each film’s story and the overall canon of the series.
There is not much more I can say about the canon of these six films. Most fans of the franchise tend to hail A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) as the best in the series, aside from the first film of course. I think it is important to note that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) has gotten some flak for being an allegory to what life is like being a closeted gay man in the 1980s.
When I originally watched the film I did not recognize any of this subtext, but now upon reviewing the film I can see the connections. Some fans have an issue with this aspect of the film, which I find laughable. If your concern is over whether or not the main character and/or actor of a film is gay, and not the nightmare boogeyman who has raped, tortured, and murdered children, then you should probably reevaluate your priorities. If you are saying to yourself, wait, Freddy only murdered children then you should check out Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), which gives more insight into Freddy’s origin.
These points aside, the next canon film in the series would be Freddy vs. Jason (2003), which I love for how well it balances out the two horror icons. When looking outside the canon of the original films you have New Nightmare (1994), which is a meta commentary on the horror franchise. New Nightmare (1994) takes place in the real world and follows Heather Langenkamp, the female lead in the original film, who plays a version of herself and is being stalked by a shadowy presence that resembles Freddy Krueger. Overall, the film is a slow burn, but I think it presents a very menacing Freddy Krueger and is a must watch for any horror fan. The only other film in the franchise is the reboot, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).
Friday the 13th:
The Friday the 13th films comprise my favorite horror franchise. Jason Voorhees, with his mask, machete, and mommy issues has always remained a prominent horror icon for me. For the most part, the Friday the 13th films, minus the 2009 reboot, present a cohesive story. The key words here are, “for the most part.” When dealing with horror films of the 70s and 80s you expect a certain level of weird and nonsensical storytelling, and the Friday the 13th franchise is not without its issues.
For example, you have what fans have dubbed the “Fake Jason” in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), a teleporting Jason in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), and a body switching Jason, in the form of an incestous worm, in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). Despite these aspects the films create a relatively cohesive timeline, minus the 2009 reboot. To add to this timeline I present you with my own fan theory, and a way to continue the franchise without a full reboot.
Crystal Lake, marred by tragedy and nestled in the forests of New Jersey, is a hellmouth where Jason Voorhees serves as lake’s guardian and one of its prisoners. In Friday the 13th (1980) Jason Voorhees is claimed by Crystal Lake and mutated into the giant behemoth seen in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). Jason is bound to the lake, dispatching anyone that runs afoul of the pristine body of water with a dark and cursed past that has now faded from memory.
Jason is not naturally evil though, and each film will see Jason’s anger grow, transforming him into a wrath of violence and terror. In Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) Jason finally meets his end at the hands of Tommy Jarvis, a boy who reflects the humanity that Jason has lost. Unfortunately, the lake is not done with either Jason or Tommy, and the trauma induced by harrowing events of the fourth film eventually leads to Tommy resurrecting Jason in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986).
Each death and resurrection only fuels Jason’s anger and hatred for the lake and his victims. In Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) the storm, ample supply of drugs, and the effects of the lake on its helpless victims, give the hallucinatory impression that Jason is teleporting around the doomed cruise ship. Jason meets his end, once again, after being blasted by an onslaught of toxic sludge, which allows his latest victim to escape. Weekend by his exposure to the toxic chemicals Jason makes his way back to Camp Crystal Lake where he collapses and becomes one with the ground.
A copycat demon will take on the form and mask of Jason Voorhees in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). The demon’s true form, that of a parasitic worm, will jump from body to body seeking rebirth through the Voorhees flesh. Unfortunately, the demon will be vanquished and sent to hell, his name unknown and forgotten.
The demon’s exploits though are not without merit, and will inspire another slasher, Freddy Kreuger, to seek out the real Jason Voorhees for his own devices. Freddy’s plans for Jason will take shape and come to fruition in Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Though laid to rest in the cursed lake after his battle with Freddy, Jason will heal and continue to terrorize anyone foolish enough to come near the lake, even after the world has ended in Jason X (2001).
In the meantime, the tale of Jason Voorhees will fade into urban legend and myth, an origin tale told and retold until what is seen in Friday the 13th (2009) is a mixture of fact and fiction.
Leave a comment below with your thoughts and favorite slasher films.
Guest Article By Joseph Fridley (@brother_fridley)