Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
One of the reasons the Scream franchise (which just released its fourth sequel) is so successful is that it plays off of tropes, and slasher movies are positively riddled with some of the worst tropes in genre filmmaking. Often, you can predict when a sfranchise is going to jump the shark, when it's going to focus on humor over horror, when it's going To Space, etc.
This installment is all about breaking rhythms. Some of them are franchise entries that just don't seem to fit in with any of the other films in the series. Some change the series for the better (we're going to skip the ones that changed their series for the worst). And we're going to throw in some one-shot films that stand out from their peers.
1. Friday The 13th: Jason Lives
The first four installments of the series are Fuck Around And Get Killed. Jason and his mom being absolute prudes. The death scenes are a little creative but it's mostly Terrifying Unkillable Man terrorizes sexy teens. In this movie, we mix it up. The little kid from The Final Chapter has grown up, and he wants to kill Jason again. A lot of this film is pre-Scream Scream. Metahumor, creative deaths, etc. This is also when the series gets supernatural as (at the end of the previous film) the protagonist accidentally resurrects Jason, making him a sort of zombie for the rest of the franchise. This time when the death scenes are funny, they're meant to be.
2. Freddy's Revenge
Oh, did you think we were going to skip this movie? Hellllll, no. This is the weirdest metaphor for growing up gay ever commited to film as Freddy, instead of just attacking people in nightmares, takes over a kid's body and uses him to kill people while they're awake. It's a bonkers movie, and has the most accidental subtext of any other movie in the course.
3. Bride Of Chucky
Jennifer Tilly makes everything better. Here, she plays a jilted lover of Charles Lee Ray (the guy stuck inside the Chucky doll) who brings him back to life only for him to kill her and trap her in a different murderous doll. It's weird. And, like Jason Lives, brings a different style of humor into the narrative. There isn't any Andy in this movie, but don't worry, he'll be back.
4. Get Out
We've had subtextual metaphor, now let's go for something more Overt. Get Out is, without hesitation, the Best Movie in the whole Final Girl course. It's satirical horror about racism with easily the smartest script in modern horror. This is the kind of horror movie you can safely recommend to people who hate horror movies. And it's definitely a change of pace from all the movies that surround it.
5. Alone In The Dark
This is an almost Twin Peaks style of horror. A psychiatrist decides to work in an asylum with dangerous patients, and one of the patients decides that this new psychiatrist killed the psychiatrist he liked, and he convinces his most dangeous peers to escape the hospital and terrorize the psychiatrist's family. It's super creepy.
6. Final Destination 3
Death goes to the fairgrounds! There are no recurring characters from the first two films. A whole new batch of survivors flee from death with varying amounts of success. The story is really shunted to the side to focus on elaborate death scenes, which really are the highlight of all the Final Destination movies.
7. The Funhouse
Oh, we're staying at the faire, as this almost Ray Bradburyan tale of teens getting murdered because they didn't obey their parents takes place almost exclusively in a funhouse. These teens are much more likable than your Friday The 13th types, but it's still fun watching them get picked off after they witness a murder.
8. Urban Legends
The actors who played Freddy, Chucky, and the Well-Manicured Man from the X-Files are just some of the interesting characters in this meta-meta movie. That's right, people who are watching these movies as a course guide, this movie is about maybe serial killings that take place around a cirriculum about urban legends. It's very Scream-like. Thus, we'll be skipping a Scream entry this semester.
9. Happy Death Day
We Stay In School for Groundhog Day The Slasher Flick. Yeup, a girl keeps reliving the same day, and she and her friends keep getting murdered. It's a Time Loop story! So much fun.
10. Wes Craven's New Nightmare
At the beginning of the season, we saw Nightmare On Elm Street switched up into a subtextual coming of age gay film. Now the franchise gets rejuvenated again as we focus on the actors from the original film, as well as its creator (Wes Craven) dealing with the PTSD of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise. Oh, and Freddy might be real.
The Freshman Year course of Final Girl University was all about The Classic Slasher Films: Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, Halloween, Friday The 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, Child's Play, Final Destination, Scream, and Cabin In The Woods. Eight classics from the 1960s-1990s, a meta commentary from the 90s, written by one of the creators of the classics from the 80s, and one movie from the 21st century that goes beyond meta. Mostly we dealt with normal people who found themselves in a horrigying situation from realistic encounters with unbalanced people to supernatural nonsense involving possessed dolls and dead child killers with powers over dreams. But at the end of each movie, at least one person lived.
The easy way to craft Sophomore year would just be to throw Psycho 2, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the Black Christmas Reboot, Halloween 2, Friday The 13th 2, Nightmare On Elm Street 2, Child's Play 2, Final Destination 2, Scream 2, and Final Girls at you. But I'm taking this educational opportunity seriously.
This "year" of horror will focus on people who've survived a major unexpected trauma and how they handle it, whether it turns them into killers or saviors. Yes, there will be sequels in this season, but we'll also meet new characters, and we'll skip over some films. Some because they're bad, and nobody should be forced to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or Halloween 2 without getting paid for it. But some of the part 2s will show up in future "years", so don't worry if your favorite sequel doesn't show up on this list. It might make the next one.
1. Friday The 13th Part 2
We'll start off simply. At the end of Friday The 13th, a single survivor was rescued from Crystal Lake by the local police force. She asked what happened to Jason (who was not the killer in the movie), and nobody knew what she was talking about. They had found the actual killer and all the dead bodies, but the franchise superstar seemed like it might have been a dream. Buuuuuuuuut, of course it wasn't. In this movie, we finally meet the unstoppable force, Jason Vorhees. While he does have a scene with The Final Girl, most of this movie concerns a new camp that opens up on the other side of Crystal Lake. If they'd just stayed on their property, perhaps the lusty teenagers could have been shooting a porn instead of a horror movie. Alas, a couple of them sneak over the line to the old camp, and Jason unleashes Hell. This is a surprisingly good 1980s sequel as it sets up a bunch of tropes, but mostly avoids them. Every time I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen, I was wrong.
2. The Burning
We're going to stick with summer camps for a bit. This time we deal with different kind of survivors. We open with a scene where a group of campers and counselors seek prank revenge on a terrible counselor, but it goes awry and horribly burns him. He never fully recovers but he survives, and first seeks revenge on the general world that won't accept him, and then finds one of the prankers has grown up to work at a summer camp, and he sets on his path to revenge. There are lots of butts and boobs, and also Jason Alexander is supposed to be one of the campers, but I spent the entire movie assuming he was a counselor because he looks so much older than the rest of the cast. It's a somewhat typical morality horror where people who do bad things get their comeuppance, but also a bunch of innocent kids are just destroyed. It's not super thrilling until the final sequences, but once it gets going, it's great
3. Sleepaway Camp
If you don't know the massive spoiler in this film, don't look it up. This is about a child who survives trauma, becomes introverted, and then is sent away to a camp where they have trouble fitting in with the other kids. It's not long before people who who act cruelly start getting killed off, and it seems ridiculously easy to guess who the killer is. There are some very odd 80s dream montage / flashback sequences that briefly confuse the narrative but this ends up being a really interesting character study, and unlike the last two movies, the actors who play the campers are actually kids
4. Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Don't worry, we'll get to part two during Junior Year, but it's almost non-canonical. This film focuses on a group of kids who've been institutionalized for sleep related issues. Guess what, they all grew up on Elm Street, and their parents were part of the posse that killed Freddy Krueger. But unlike the generic teens from the first film, everyone in this group has a power that keeps them from getting killed. One of the psychiatrists in charge of studying the group reluctantly hires a young dream expert to try and connect with the kids, and, oh shit, it's The Final Girl from the first film! This is actually a much better film than the first one. The acting is better, the death scenes are more creative, and Freddy Krueger gets better one-liners.
We go from a movie about being attacked in dreams, to the first Woke movie of the entire course. Candyman is about gentrification and urban legends. The protagonist tries to debunk the sillier part of an urban legend she's researching, and everything goes horribly, horribly wrong for her. Like Sleepaway Camp, and The Burning, she becomes a Final Girl during the course of the film, and then has to try and overcome her trauma. It's probably the best written movie of this Sophomore Year.
6. Child's Play 2
Actually better than the original, this is a well-paced thriller. Not a cinematic triumph by any stretch but a prime example of 80s horror that's campy and unrealistic but not unbelivable and cheap.
7. Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter
And speaking of campy....eh? Eh? We return to Crystal Lake for the second time this semester. Why? Because there's a slight shift in tone. We start off with a historical recap of the first three movies, even though we've only seen the first two. The third movie isn't bad, but doesn't really fit into the cirriculum. Plus, this movie starts with them finding all the bodies from the third installment. We meet a bunch of new characters who vary slightly from the template of the first two movies, but only slightly. Then the movie really focuses on the Don't Fuck Or You Die trope with some fine ridiculous acting. There is a death scene near the end that takes so long that I'm not sure I'm not still watching the character yell "He's killing me. Ahhhhh. Run. Run. He's killing me. Ahhhhhhh."
Neither Sigourney Weaver nor John Hurt can catch a break. I always imagine how perfect an experience this would be if there were no more sequels to this. It's great to have three sequels in a row that improve upon the originals. This will ... not be a trend, unfortunately.
9. Final Destination 2
We pick up soon after the first film as we learn which person from the original cast survived when a new crop or idiot teenagers accidentally escape Death and begin being hunted down in creative fashions. This is a fun sequel, and stays true to the heart of the original film.
10. Scream 2
I debated beginning Sophomore Year with this, as one of our survivors from the original film gets super meta and lists the rules for how to survive sequels in horror movies. Then the film goes down the list of tropes and destroys them. It's just as meta fun as the original, and is also actually thrilling. And it's a nice way to see off some of our familiar faces, as Junior Year is mostly invested in the parts of slasher franchises that go off the rails and tell different kinds of stories.
My partner, Comrade, and I have been consuming a ton of TV and movies together. We've been using many of the guides on this list to watch Doctor Who, Star Trek, Community, Bojack Horseman, Happy Endings, and more.
Early on in our relationship, we'd talked about watching terrible horror movies together, but never got around to it. Since October is Scary Movie Month, we decided to sit down and binge some classic franchises. We started with Poltergeist (woohoo! amazing!), and then watched Poltergeist 2 (what the fuck was that? that was terrible!).
Binging franchises was probably going to wear us down. So, instead, we decided to watch the movies somewhat thematically. We'd watch a ton of the classics (that's this season), followed by The Best Early Sequels (so, Child's Play skips over part 2 and goes directly to 3, and Nightmare On Elm Street skips 2, which is not a real sequel, for a while, etc.), followed by The Outlier Films (Halloween 3 is an anthology film, Nightmare On Elm Street 2 has a completely different premise, etc.), followed by a Many Years Later season where we check in with characters often decades after their original trauma, and closing it out with Full Circles, which hint at the franchises and premises being concluded. But, you know, I can always come back and do a Season 6 if there are good enough movies in the future.
This first season is The Ultimate Classics of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s. Meet the recurring evil, the original final girls and boys, and just enjoy the different premises that blend into this Often Terrible Genre. Yes, some of these movies are fantastic films that involve slashers. But many of them are porrly written or poorly acted schlock-fests that ingrained themselves into American Culture's Psyche and maybe Eventually included a great film or at least a really fun set of sequels. This season is fairly chronological, so you get to see the progression of the genre over fifty years.
The one that starts it all without really starting it all. This is a wonderful suspense film where Anthony Perkins is the perfectly creepy without being creepy Norman Bates. He shines in every scene he's in, as a morality play unfolds around him and he gets to hack away at the center of it. This is one of Hitchcock's absolute masterpieces, and it features a twist that M Knight Shamylan can never hope to live up to. Professor Stone would argue that Bates is not only the first Big Evil of this course, he's also the first Final Girl.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The first overtly violent film in the slasher genre, this film was banned all over the place. It's a very fictionalized take on serial killer Ed Gein, and introduces the trope of traveling friends encounter horror, not so fine not so young cannibals, and an undisputed Final Girl. It's a real creepy, I Suppose That Could Conceivably Happen horror movie. Like Psycho, but not so much many of the movies after it, it's actully quite unnerving.
3. Black Christmas
The 1970s horror genre brought us holidays, a whole bunch of films centered around creepy phone calls, and the idea that sexy co-ed sorority girls are always running into terrifying danger. And this is the first movie to successfully translate that into Final Girlism. It also features a wonderful cliffhanger ending that will also help inspire thousands of much worse movies.
Comrade, and the general public, like this movie a lot more than I do. It's certainly important to the slasher genre, and Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent, but I find the rest of the cast excruciating, and blame this film for the Thirty Year Old Teenager trope of actors failing miserably to portray more youthful characters. There are also some scenes that were clearly filmed to set up premises that were later abandoned and somewhat contradict the action going on around it. In particular, a scene where the psychiatrist finds an abandoned truck, and fails to notice a dead body, presumably to show us that Mike Meyers changed cars during his escape (which he definitely did not do, according to the rest of the movie). It's still fun to watch, and, like Psycho has a fantastic and memorable theme song.
5. Friday The 13th
Continuing a trilogy of classic slasher films with holidays in their title, we get to see horror film that became a franchise the fastest. A group of slutty teenagers end up working at a cursed camp and are slowly slaughtered by an unknown force. While not precisely magical, we get our first Unusual Character Who Tries To Warn People Away. Also, unlike most of the slashers that follow this, there isn't an accumulation of bodies bewildering a police force, or the survivors. No one has any idea what's happening until we approach the very end of the film. The Final Girl and the killer reveal are worthy of having a franchise set upon them. The theme to the movie is wonderfully creepy.
6. A Nightmare On Elm Street
Our first taste of the supernatural comes when a murdered child killer sort of comes back from the dead by invading the dreams of the children whose parents killed him. It's a brilliant premise which helps offset the terrible acting (even Johnny Depp isn't very good in this) and hacky writing (Wes Craven is an astounding director, but while the premise and plot points are solid, the dialog and the characters in this leave a lot to be desired). I had a false memory of the ending of this film which was a combination of the actual ending of this, and the actual ending of Nightmare On Elm Street 2 mixed together. My memory far surpassed the actual ending which was Studioed Away from Craven's original vision. That's a shame. It also boasts a memorable soundtrack.
7. Child's Play
Continuing with the supernatural theme, we get a serial killer who uses magic to put his soul into a doll. As soon as a child receives the doll as a present, the bodies start to pile up. While Friday The 13th got to the killing fairly quickly, it still built a lot of suspense as it went around. The plot and the murders are Full Steam Ahead here. There is, of course, a bout of Nobody Believes The Child Who Knows What's Happening And Who The Killer Is (which we got a taste of in Nightmare On Elm Street) and a few other fun tropes and scares, but this is definitely the weakest of the films in the Fresh(Wo)men Year course.
8. Final Destination
This movie does the best job since Psycho of making you care about the characters and what they're going through. And this is good because the deaths are complex but silly and the soundtrack is Awful. We take a further leap in the supernatural direction as the Big Evil of this movie is Death, and not some hokey creepy dude in a Ghost Of Christmas Future hoodie, it's the intangible concept of Death following a group of people who survived a plane crash when they weren't supposed to. This also presents us with a cliffhanger ending where you don't find out who the Final Girl is until partway through the sequel.
It's time to get sci-fi! Not all final girls are scream queens of horror. Some are stone cold, bad-assed sci-fi heroes. But none of them are as cool and as awesome as Ellen Ripley.
It's time to get meta! Wes Craven's delicious 1990 horror/comedy examines the tropes of 20th century horror movies while it uses those tropes and tries to convince you it's not going to use the tropes .... while using the tropes. It's silly in the best possible way, and the actors appear to be having an absolute blast while still being Very Good Actors. This is about ten times better written than Nightmare On Elm Street. It's also a great way to bring us back to the non-supernatural horror as it's just a fun teen slasher flick. Musically, it features Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds's "Red Right Hand" several different times, so I loved it.