The heyday of the slasher film has come and gone, having reached its height in the late 1970s and early ’80s with classics like Halloween and Friday the 13th. But while the once-popular subgenre has largely given way to the current crop of supernatural and thrillers, Hollywood is still making movies about deranged killers running around forests, houses, swamps and cities dispatching victims with a variety of unorthodox implements.
With that in mind, SPINOFF celebrates Halloween by uncovering some gems released since 2010 that may have escaped the notice of slasher-movie fans. The result is a mix of original killers and classics on the comeback trail that will provide some fun, and bloody, viewing this season.
5. Curse of Chucky (2013)
Child’s Play creator Don Mancini returned to the franchise in 2013 with a more serious take on the killer-doll concept with Curse of Chucky. After the satirical and over-the-top entries Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, Curse dropped the serial-killer-trapped-in-a-toy into an old house to haunt occupants Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle) and her wheelchair-bound daughter Nica (Fiona Dourif). After Sarah mysteriously dies, Nica’s sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) arrives with her husband, daughter and nanny, bringing all kinds of drama and more people for the little killer to knock off.
As the visit wears on, Chucky continues his rampage, stalking the characters one by one, first subtly, then far more overtly. By pacing the action well, drawing out the mystery of what’s really going on and minimizing Chucky’s iconic quips early, Mancini creates a creepy film that slithers instead of stomps.
The movie works for new and old Chucky fans alike, although some of the latter may not appreciate the connections made at the very end to the earlier installments. From my point of view, however, this movie offers story material that the uninitiated could easily absorb while also peering into the past of Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), and continues the overarching story that began in 1988.
4. Rites of Spring (2011)
A kind of genre mash-up, Rites of Spring starts off by splitting time between a man kidnapping women for a ritual sacrifice and a group of people involved with a rapidly failing kidnapping plot.
Snatched from her car along with a friend, Rachel (Anessa Ramsey) comes face to face with a man only known as the Stranger (Marco St. John). Unfortunately for the other woman, the Stranger kills her and offers her up to a man-thing called Worm Face that lives underground. Rachel escapes, but frees the monster in the process and literally runs into the kidnappers, which include her former co-worker Ben (A.J. Bowen) and his wife Amy (Katherine Randolph). The couple entered into the kidnapping plan because they’d fallen on hard times, but their circumstances get far worse when Worm Face enters the picture.
Rites of Spring offers slow-burn menace as human evil leads into what may or may not be a supernatural presence. Filled with unnerving imagery and one of the better-looking monster-killers of the past few years, the film offers plenty to dig into, but doesn’t answer some of the questions within the boundaries of the story. However, a sequel is said to be in the works to amend that. I appreciate the effort, and especially enjoy the design of Worm Face as a monstrous slasher, including his scythe-like signature weapon, which would make for a great Halloween costume (if you’re still looking).
3. Stage Fright (2014)
Your opinion of Stage Fright will most likely depend on how you answer these two questions. First, do you like musicals? Second, do you have an affinity for high-school theater? If you said yes to both, then you’ll probably have as much fun watching this film as I did.
Set at a drama camp run by Meat Loaf (or rather his character Roger McCall), Stage Fright centers on a group of kids who show up to hone their singing, dancing and set-designing skills, only for their fun to be ruined by a mysterious masked killer with a penchant for hair metal. The story specifically focuses on siblings Camilla (Allie MacDonald) and Buddy (Douglas Smith), who are left in McCall’s care after their mother dies at the hands of someone dressed as the menace from the in-movie musical The Haunting of the Opera. After McCall announces plans to stage Haunting at camp, Camilla leaves her post in the kitchen, auditions for the role her mother played and enters a world of shade-throwing understudies, predatory directors and a heavy-metal killer who makes his presence known on opening night.
Although Stage Fright plays up the camp factor, the Jerome Sable film is well-paced and properly acted, and sports some surprisingly bloody kills you might not expect from a movie featuring fully choreographed song-and-dance numbers. This one might not for everyone, but if you either loved or hated drama kids in high school, give it a watch.
2. Maniac (2012)
Elijah Wood impressed plenty of people with his turn as silent, stone-cold psycho Kevin in Sin City, but he went further down the murderer’s rabbit hole in last year’s Maniac remake from director Franck Khalfoun. The actor allowed viewers to get inside his head — literally, the film is shot from his point of view — as Frank, a young man compelled to prowl New York City for female victims, due in part to some unresolved mommy issues. After killing them, Frank takes their scalps to his mannequin-repair shop, where he adorns the lifeless constructs with the hair, and creates relationships with them in his head.
While William Lustig’s original Maniac was steeped in the dirty grime of late 7’0s/early ’80s New York City, the remake moves between the more sanitized neighborhoods you’re likely to see in the Big Apple of today and the forgotten corners that would fit in with the first film. Even if the setting is cleaner in this version, there are still plenty of dark and dirty deeds going on.
Frank’s relationship with a photographer named Nora causes the first tremors that lead to a catastrophic shift in his life as the film progresses. Essentially, Frank is forced to deal with what an actual human connection means to a guy who spends his time stomping out life and creating his own facsimiles. Seeing how that plays out makes the end of this film truly suspenseful because, even though you never quite root for Frank, you want to see how his life plays out. Wood’s chilling performance, some ridiculously violent kills and the unique first-person POV make this among the effective serial-killer movies in recent memory.
1. Hatchet II & III (2010 and 2013)
Victor Crowley of the Hatchet films stands out as one of the most iconic slashers in decades. Yes, the first film debuted in 2006, but the second and third were released in 2010 and 2013, respectively, so they count. The first installment introduces backwoods killer Crowley (Kane Hodder) and a variety of characters about to meet their end at his hands in the swamps of New Orleans. The second one picks up with Halloween 4 veteran Danielle Harris taking over the role of Marybeth from Tamara Feldman, the only survivor of the original, as she returns to the swamp to exact revenge. The third film also continues where its predecessor left off, giving more details about Crowley’s origins and his connections to Marybeth’s family.
Adam Green writes all three parts and directs the first two, with BJ McDonnell helming the third, providing the Hatchet films with a consistency that even the heavy-hitters from the ’80s can’t claim. With gore galore, the Hatchets easily fit in with the kinds of films we all used to sneak into, while also playing with the tropes in a way that proves there’s still plenty of life left in the subgenre.
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