So long, Santa. It was nice knowing you, Jigsaw. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, generic baby-doll-mask killer from Happy Death Day. After surviving the mass reaping of round one in our Ultimate Slasher Franchise Tournament, all of the fiends above (and six more besides) got the axe in round two. Now we’re on to the Elite Eight in our bracketed attempt to determine the greatest slasher-movie series of them all.
Round three comes down to just four showdowns, but each is a doozy. In fact, were we making a list of the 10 best slasher movies of all time, most of these franchises would likely earn at least one slot. But we’re not just judging the merits of milestone originals. Every sequel counts in these battles, which means your detours to space and prominent supporting roles for Busta Rhymes or Roseanne Barr could cost you at the bell. Or not—all of these horror icons have a habit of surviving whatever you throw at them.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the Final Four. And don’t forget to weigh in with your own votes in the readers poll below.
Finally, a fair fight. These seminal slashers, released 18 years apart, have been in dialogue ever since 1978. If Psycho often gets credit for starting the slasher genre, Halloween crystalized its rules, with original scream queen, Psycho star Janet Leigh, passing the crown to her daughter, Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis. Even the MOs of the killers are similar, with Michael Myers and Norman Bates being quiet, unassuming children when they started taking out family members.
Franchising the movies would prove equally challenging, as both series offered a mixed bag of follow-ups and their own respective, divisive, auteur-driven remakes. Hollywood has been trying to get a sequel right for these properties since the ’80s, which is why there are no less than three versions of Halloween II (Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, and David Gordon Green’s Halloween), edging out Psycho’s two cracks at a direct sequel (Psycho II and the made-for-TV movie Bates Motel).
These movies’ cultural import cannot be overstated. After all, Halloween and Psycho are probably the only movies in this tournament that don’t merely come up in best-horror-movie conversations but also in conversations about the best movies of all time, period. (Okay, Texas Chain Saw Massacre might qualify there, too.) While John Carpenter’s Halloween is not quite as accomplished as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (it’s hard to compare a director’s third movie to another’s 64th), the sheer amount of interpretations, ripoffs, and general cultural staying power help old Michael Myers eke out a victory. Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates is iconic, but it’s been dang-near impossible to find someone to fill his shoes; we don’t care how many weddings they’ve crashed, not just anyone can be the manager of the Bates Motel.
Meanwhile, Michael Myers, with his weird William Shatner mask, is as timeless as the bogeyman. He’s as much a part of Halloween as jack-o’-lanterns. So hit the showers, Psycho! [Matt Schimkowitz]
If this was a match-up of killer costume designs, Jason Voorhees would win in a very slow walk, leaving the smashed remains of that dimestore Ghostface mask in his wake. But it’s in their treatment of their would-be victims that these two franchises—both blood-soaked imitators of a sort, repurposing the mayhem of either recent contemporaries or more distant ancestors—reveal their deeper worth. Or to put it another way: Name one non-Jason “starring” character from the Friday The 13th franchise who invokes even a fraction of the pathos that Drew Barrymore summons in those iconic first 12 minutes of Scream. And that’s to say nothing of Neve Campbell’s consistently grounded lead performance throughout the entirety of the series’ run.
Like most slasher flicks, the Friday The 13th movies typically treat acting like a tertiary concern at best, letting the occasional memorable death—and a brutally efficient marquee killer—do all of the heavy lifting. But in the Scream series, even the villains are characters (they have to be, to keep us guessing on who’s secretly behind the latest murder spree), and they’re almost always more interesting once the mask comes off.
It feels strange to treat the human element as paramount here, in a branch of horror so dedicated to rendering people as just so many piles of hapless murder meat. But Scream frequently transcends the genre it endlessly winks at—and the killers it regularly namechecks, including Jason himself—by treating Sidney Prescott and her friends as more than just faceless killer bait. [William Hughes]
Winner: A Nightmare On Elm Street
It’s the ultimate battle of the catchphrase-spouting supernatural killers! Sure, Chucky may have a penchant for rhymes (“Don’t fuck with the Chuck!”), but can he really compete with a guy who drives a girl’s head through a television set while acidly quipping, “Welcome to prime time, bitch”?
Both series began life as pure horror, slowly introducing dark humor along the way (though as corny as the Nightmare franchise later got, it never tipped over into full-on campy comedy the way Child’s Play did). The excesses of long-running slasher silliness were endemic to both, and by their later installments, you could count on some one-liners sure to elicit groans. The killers were respectively well-known enough—ubiquitous enough, even—to make appearances in pop culture outside of their respective films, dropping by Saturday Night Live and World Championship Wrestling. The pair even share a director in Ronny Yu, who helmed both Bride Of Chucky and Freddy Vs. Jason—proof of some overlapping creative DNA behind the scenes.
But at the end of the gore-drenched day, the guy who can invade people’s dreams triumphs over the doll who curses a blue streak. Admittedly, Chucky is still going strong—albeit on the small screen—while Freddy is currently MIA. But if the gloved killer has taught us anything, it’s that you shouldn’t sleep on his odds of returning. [Alex McLevy]
Winner: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Both the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the original Hellraiser are outsider visions, films that shook up the horror establishment through the violation of taboos. Hellraiser’s unspeakable pleasures are erudite, evoking BDSM and an addict’s futile quest for the ultimate high. Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s transgressions are more primal. As in, maybe the ultimate primal transgression: cannibalism, which the backwoods Sawyer clan practices with disturbing abandon.
Looking at both franchise-starters, Texas Chain Saw gains a slight edge by virtue of grimy realism, which is so intense that some still think that the events of the film really happened. (No such danger with Hellraiser.) But when you look at the two series as a whole, it’s actually a sense of humor that gives Chain Saw a solid lead. The Hellraiser movies remain committed to edginess even as the scenarios descend into absurdity, which can be fun only in an unintentional way. But The Texas Chain Saw Massacre encourages viewers to darkly snicker, starting with the outrageous first sequel, which posed the Sawyers in a parody of The Breakfast Club on the theatrical poster. And a satirical blade cuts deeper than a self-serious one, no matter how into knife play Pinhead and his disciples may be. [Katie Rife]
No big surprises or upsets on day two. Though Monday’s reader results deviated a little from The A.V. Club’s, allowing a couple of different franchises to advance to round two, Tuesday’s have put this parallel bracket back on the same course as our main one, with an identical elite eight squaring off in today’s round three of the readers poll. Yesterday’s biggest blowout? Nightmare On Elm Street putting the razor-gloved smackdown on Wes Craven’s earlier horror series, The Hills Have Eyes. The closest match wasn’t all that close—Saw put up about half the numbers as its victorious, similarly pint-sized competition.
Still, we have a suspicion that things might have get a little tighter in round three, especially when it comes to one long-running slasher legacy franchise and the young, more tongue-in-cheek series taking it on. But that’s not our call in this poll; to have your say, vote below or here.