While revising my review of LAID TO REST for Vol. 6 of Opening the Vaults, I came across my intro in the original review. Commenting on the reboots of the 80s slasher icons, I noted, “the timing is ideal for young bucks to establish their own pantheon of monsters that they hope will last for decades to come.” After I’d finished the new draft and published it, and then watched LTR last night, that line stuck with me. Reflecting on it, I realized that in 2009, a few young bucks had indeed tried to make their own iconic slashers for the next generation. Though their efforts were laudable, ultimately they went nowhere. Still, the movement is worth some exploration.
In LTR, Hall’s goal was to make a film about “a guy in a mask chasing a girl.” That’s the most rudimentary definition of the slasher subgenre, but usually it holds up. It sure holds up in LTR. There’s running, chasing, screaming. Bobbi Sue Luther spends a lot of time crying, her breasts heaving as she inhabits the entire film in peril. At a glance, that’s a description of 100 golden era slashers, even if those flick are far from gold.
The other half of the equation is Hall’s slasher, Chromeskull. Tall, bald and dressed in black, with a gleaming skull mask, he stalks prey through the flick like a pro. The silent killer is also damn near impossible to stop; stabbing him through the eye deep into his head makes him pause, but it doesn’t drop him. His choice of cutlery is a pair of survival knives, serrated on the topside. He kills. A lot. He’s cut from the same cloth as Michael Myers, the cold, stoic maniac who can take a beating, and keeps coming.
Ostensibly, Hall’s film is everything an old school slasher fan should love. Hall didn’t make a great movie, and it’s not likely to replace HALLOWEEN as anybody’s favorite, but he delivers the goods.
2009 also saw the release of Dave Parker’s THE HILLS RUN RED. Riding on the success of his critical new wave zombie flick THE DEAD HATE THE LIVING, Parker turned his eye to a backwoods tale of the horrors of Babyface, a behemoth sporting a decrepit baby mask. Parker was working off a teleplay by David J. Schow, a man who knows a thing or two about slashers; he wrote LEATHERFACE, the third TEXAS CHAINSAW movie.
Though the plot is updated to include a group of kids looking for a copy of an obscure horror flick, this is pure Jason Vorhees territory. The woods are gloomy, and there’s a maniac out among them. It’s the worst place for a group of kids to go. Because it’s a slasher, it’s exactly where they end up.
Babyface is a massive brute who likes sharp weapons. He’s a little quicker than Chromeskull, and just as devastating. And just like the slasher from LTR, he’s got a distinctive mask that was tailor made to populate sequels.
There’s a twist toward the end that establishes a legacy for Babyface. Hold onto that thought. I’ll revisit it in a bit.
Speaking of legacies, Cameron Romero has a legacy in horror. You may have heard of his dad, George, who directed NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and established the modern zombie. In 2009, Cameron took the plunge into the slasher subgenre, with STAUNTON HILL. A bunch of kids (again) travelling the country end up at the Staunton farm, not a good place for kids to end up (again). Mrs. Staunton and her clan are cannibals, and they’re more than happy to cut up the young group.
Though Mama Staunton is the ringleader, the Big Bad here is Buddy, a burly backwoodsman who doesn’t have much going on upstairs. Of course he also has a thing for cutlery, as he’s got to use something to cut up the meat for dinner. Buddy is a bit of a disappointment when compared to Babyface and Chromeskull. He’s not quite as off the chain as the former, nor as slick and cool as the latter. And it’s kind of an act of heresy in a film aspiring to old school slashers that Buddy doesn’t wear a mask.
It’s a given that Romero wanted to ape the TEXAS CHAINSAW franchise, right down to the casting of Kathy Lamkin, who played the Tea Lady in Marcus Nispel’s remake. Nobly, Cameron stayed far away from father George’s territory, as he’d have been roundly condemned if he jumped into the undead.
All three of these flicks are set up to be franchises. Each director’s goal seems to create an icon for a new pantheon of slashers, one for the new millennium. Rather than actually remake 80s slashers, these guys were a little bolder and wanted to summon a new age of slasher flicks, with brand new big bads ready to go for the throat in sequel after sequel.
So why didn’t it happen? All the pieces were in place for new franchises, and the spirit was willing. LTR got a fair amount of good press within the horror blogging community, and HILLS RUN RED was a critical darling on those sites. Though most agreed that STAUNTON HILL was a mess, the Romero name still carried some cache at the time. Why am I not reviewing the newly released THE HILLS RUN RED 6: BABYFACE REVENGE?
The answer may lie with LTR, the most successful of the three. It’s the only one to receive a theatrical release. It’s also the only one to get a sequel. Those two facts, I surmise, are tied together. In order to spawn a franchise, a slasher needs people who wouldn’t necessarily see a horror flick to see the first installment. The first FRIDAY THE 13TH made so many tens of millions of dollars back in the 80s, and there’s no way that could’ve been all teens. With no theatrical distribution for Parker and Romero’s flicks, they likely couldn’t generate the kind of money to mark a film successful enough for sequels. It’s hard enough on the indie circuit just to get enough money to make a film, let alone a franchise. Keep in mind, 2009 was before Kickstarter became such a huge phenomenon, where every young turk and his uncle can solicit “donation.”
The slasher film also wasn’t trendy in 2009. Though there’s plenty of brutal bloodshed in each of the three, the horror end of the box office was dominated by the SAW franchise and the budding PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Sometimes films miss their moment, and they can never get it back. The modern horror flick was moving in different path from the one these three followed, and so they suffered on that end.
I’ll also make the argument that LTR was the only enjoyable entry of the three, even though the horror community often discounts quality when it comes to slashers. I’ve seen LTR a few times, though never it sequel. I’ve only seen THE HILLS RUN RED and STAUNTON HILL once each, with Mike Cucinotta back when we were doing our Myra Mondays. I didn’t particularly like either. Though unlikey, it’s possible that legions of horror fans who don’t write blogs didn’t like Parker’s film either. And nobody I know or read liked Romero’s flick.
Still, I have to applaud Hall, Parker and Romero for swinging for the fences with their slashers. I doubt they consulted each other, and colluded on creating a new movement in horror. More likely, they’re slasher fans like so many other horror fans. They made their flicks out of love, probably with the hopes of creating the new icons. And it’s sad they failed. Look, I’ll admit I’m not a fan of the slasher subgenre, but instead of seeing Michael Myers floated out in a second reboot next year, it would’ve been nice to be talking in 10 years about a crossover CHROMESKULL VS. BABYFACE.
2009 had the potential to be a paradigm in horror. Rob Hall, Dave Parker and Cameron Romero teased us, but ultimately all they left us with was what could have been. And that’s a shame.