Yesterday brought round one of our Ultimate Slasher Franchise Tournament to a close. It was, true to the spirit of the whole affair, a total bloodbath: The Gingerdead Man got munched, the Evil Bong got cashed, and Maniac Cop was killed in the line of diabolical duty (#ACAB). Today, the competition gets stiffer and the stakes higher as we enter the Sweet 16 portion of our bracket.
Which ’90s slasher franchise will move on to the Elite Eight? Which evil plaything will live to slash another day? And can the luck of the Irish compete with the power of the Cenobites? Keep reading to see the movies we favored in round two of our tournament. And be sure to scroll to the bottom to vote in the parallel readers’ poll, which has already begun to diverge from our results.
There’s a simple way to settle this contest between pure horror and clever genre play: Happy Death Day’s time-loop mayhem wouldn’t even exist without Halloween to provide half of its hybrid formula. But Michael Myers wins on more than just technical grounds, even as both franchises here are blessed with smarter-than-average scripts and a lead performer (Jamie Lee Curtis on the one hand, Jessica Rothe on the other) operating at a caliber higher than what the Final Girl role typically demands. The fact remains that Happy Death Day, for all its merits, simply isn’t scary—even before Tree’s temporally imposed invulnerability kicks in. The franchise has laughs. It has sci-fi weirdness. It has a mildly creepy baby mask. But it lacks even a single frame that comes close to matching the skin-crawling horror of those slow tracking shots that captured The Shape’s first rampage across Haddonfield, and which inspire such looming dread even 40 years after the fact. [William Hughes]
The camper-murdering villain of Sleepaway Camp may have been able to take out a homicidal parental unit in our first round, but they’re no match for Norman Bates—or his bloodthirsty alter ego. Despite 23 years between them, both franchises began with films that feature shocking (and visually similar) twist endings that reveal the truth about their respective killers. But all those summer-camp deaths became awfully, well, campy in the lackluster Sleepaway sequels (and borderline unwatchable with the revival in the 2000s). Whereas Psycho at least had the pleasure of delivering the definition of a “better than it has any right to be” belated second installment with Psycho II, which avoids all the usual pitfalls of horror sequels in favor of a slow-burn breakdown of Norman’s mind games—and the reasons he’s eventually driven to kill again. Yes, the franchise started to falter after Norman himself, Anthony Perkins, stepped behind the camera to helm Psycho III, and the TV movie sequel/prequel combo Psycho IV: The Beginning tarnished it further. But how many classic horror films have the distinction of being granted an almost shot-for-shot remake some 40 years later? Norman Bates remains the murderous icon of midcentury American horror—no matter how hard Gus Van Sant worked to sap that iconic power. [Alex McLevy]
Winner: Friday The 13th
Plot-light and stab-heavy, these holiday-themed slashers are cut from the same cloth—namely, a Halloween-branded beach towel. Aided by considerably higher production values and a flair for innovation in the field of freezing someone’s face and smashing it, the Friday The 13th movies edge out a win. While there’s plenty to enjoy in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series, the fun comes at the films’ expense. Friday is plenty stupid, but it’s more technically sound, making it easier to settle in for a couple of good scares. With Silent Night, Deadly Night, you’re mostly getting coal—hilarious coal, but coal nonetheless. Still, few performances are as delightfully sweaty as Eric Freeman’s Ricky Caldwell in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, the film that gave us “garbage day.” That this quintessentially terrible sequel blows 45 of its 88 minutes recapping and replaying scenes from the original is part of its so-bad-it’s-good appeal… but also further reason to favor Jason. Punish! [Matthew Schimkowitz]
With the Candyman reboot still fresh in the collective memory and Scream 5 (only the original deserves to be called Scream, sorry those are the rules) approaching fast, it’s an interesting time to reevaluate the most thoughtful slasher franchises of the ’90s. They’ve both remained relevant for longer than your average series, keeping their iconic villains alive, even when the specific characters brandishing the knife or hook change. But though the teen-slasher revival Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson kicked off only lasted for a few years, the Scream movies have still made a surprise lasting impact on the genre, as evidenced by a recent crop of copycats. They’re also inherently watchable (and rewatchable), thanks to their meta commentary and standout performances. The first Candyman is as smart on folklore as Scream is on other movies, but its sequels pale in comparison—only this year’s fourth installment comes close to the original’s power. Though the Scream movies established that there can be more than one killer, only one can advance to the next round here. Better luck next time, Candyman. [Saloni Gajjar]
Winner: A Nightmare On Elm Street
If there’s anyone more perfectly suited to slashing his way through the dozing denizens of a slumber party than Freddy Krueger, their franchise doesn’t exist yet. A power drill-wielding madman may be able to take out high-school seniors, but he’s no match for a killer who can just wait for him to fall asleep. If anything, the Slumber Party franchise knows it’s outclassed—it ripped off some of Nightmare’s supernatural mojo for its sequel, which transformed the baddie into a magical rockabilly killer with a power-drill guitar. That’s certainly silly, but the campy music-laced madness was still preferable to the straight-faced blandness of the next Slumber Party—whereas Nightmare’s third entry is arguably its best. Freddy was just getting started, and saved his sillier outings for subsequent entries in the series. By that point, Slumber Party Massacre had already been killed off. Ambien, anyone? [Alex McLevy]
Winner: Child’s Play
With both of these long-running, puppet-forward franchises, versatility is the name of the game. Unfortunately for Jigsaw, no one is more posable than Chucky. Able to play in shades of black comedy, Don Mancini and Tom Holland’s killer doll is the demonic-toy gold standard, the one all Annabelles aspire to. It’s not a first-round knockout, though. No monster was more recognizable than Jigsaw for the first half of the new century, even as the labyrinthine soap opera plotting became more over-the-top than the bloodshed. Unfortunately, The Book Of Saw seems closed for the foreseeable future, after the ironic punishment slaughterhouse of John Kramer (Tobin Bell) failed to recapture the world’s imagination in two failed reboot attempts. Unlike Jigsaw, Chucky never ruled the horror landscape, but he has endured in sequels, a remake, and a new TV series. Don Mancini, Brad Dourif, and Jennifer Tilly have proven time and again that they know how to keep Good Guys happy, refreshing the character in style and tone every few years. And so another menacing marionette falls to Chucky. [Matt Schimkowitz]
Winner: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Mixed reviews and “F” CinemaScore be damned, Wolf Creek might be the most harrowing nightmare in the boonies since the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre—the rare movie about a murderous lunatic living off the grid that approaches some of the pounding terror of its iconic 1974 ancestor. But having dispatched another of that classic’s bastard offspring last round, Greg McLean’s outback variation must now contend with the slaughterhouse slasher to rule them all. And sorry Mick Taylor, your jackknife is no match for the Sawyers’ machine-powered tool. Truthfully, neither of these white-knuckle shockers needed to become a franchise, and plenty of the Chain Saw sequels (and prequels and remakes) stink like offal. But on a whole, they’re weirder, funnier, and/or scarier than the redundant Wolf Creek 2 and subsequent TV version. And there’s some deranged inspiration sprinkled like seasoning across the mangled, chronologically convoluted Chain Saw series—especially in Tobe Hooper’s over-the-top, blackly comic second installment, which gave us a chainsaw duel between Leatherface and Dennis freakin’ Hopper. That alone makes cackling Mick the head on a stick. [A.A. Dowd]
If you keep your more depraved urges in check and don’t touch gold that doesn’t belong to you, it’s unlikely you’ll receive a visit from the villains in either the Leprechaun or the Hellraiser franchises. (Unless you’re in space. All bets are off once you leave the Earth’s atmosphere.) But were you to commit some transgression that put you face to face with either Pinhead or the Leprechaun, you could just dropkick one of them in self-defense, and it’s not the Cenobite. Setting aside the differing fearsomeness of their monsters, Hellraiser still has the advantage as a series: Both get dire pretty quickly, but the first two Hellraiser movies actually carry some thematic weight, supercharged by kinky subtext and diabolically inspired imagery. These give them an aura of transgression that’s infinitely more titillating than the self-aware silliness of Leprechaun. Point to the hell priest. [Katie Rife]
The results of yesterday’s readers poll largely aligned with our own, especially when it came to the blow-out matches—those number eight seeds never had a prayer. (At just 14 votes apiece, tournament fodder Camp Blood and The Gingerdead Man are the biggest losers of day one.) But the voters diverged from our picks a couple times: In the battle of holiday horrors, you rather decisively went for Black Christmas over Silent Night, Deadly Night, while keeping three Wes Craven franchises in the mix by opting for The Hills Have Eyes over Slumber Party Massacre. Meanwhile, the day’s closest race was between two series about bloodthirsty rural bogeymen; Wolf Creek edged out Wrong Turn by a mere 34 votes, a true photo finish.
Does Black Christmas have a snowball’s chance in hell against Friday The 13th? And in a head-to-head between Wes Craven franchises, can The Hills Have Eyes pull the upset on Freddy? You decide, below or here!