The Slasher Cycle Theory

Today some deep thoughts on slasher cinema from that deep thinkin’ pumpkinhead, Jeff Carter, author of Criterion from Crossroad Press and keeper of the Compendium Of Monsters.

Hallowe’en greetings, Ed-Heads.

I like to watch and review an entire horror franchise every October (see previous posts here and here). While every franchise has its ups and downs, nothing could prepare me for the mind shattering downward spiral of the Howling sequels. To spare you that suffering, I’ve pulled back for a wider look at the franchises in general.

In film school we were taught about Christian Metz’s ‘Genre Cycle Theory’. He wrote that each film genre begins in the Experimental Stage, evolves into the Classic Stage, devolves into the Parody Stage and ends in its Deconstruction Stage. With luck, the genre is reborn and the cycle continues.

You can see these rhythms play out across all forms of cinema. Without the masterful deconstruction of the Western genre in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’, we would never have received Paul Hogan’s ‘Lightning Jack’.

In my analysis of the great horror franchises, however, I have discovered strange mutations undreamt of by any stuffy French film critic. I give you Jeff C. Carter’s ‘Slasher Cycle Theory’.

These are more than just common tropes. They are essential rites of passage, and every great horror franchise must eventually pass through some or all of them:

The Original

Hilarity Ensues

3D!!!

Die Monster Die

Missing Monster

Magic!

Spaaaaaaace

Return to Roots

Das Preboot

Hilarity Ensues – while this sounds like Metz’s ‘Parody Stage’, these are not outright parodies like the Wayans brothers’ ‘Scary Movie’ series. This is when humor is injected into the horror, for better or worse.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4, Friday the 13th Part 6, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Child’s Play 4, Howling 3, Phantasm 2.

howling nuns

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of Howling 3: The Marsupials

3D!!! – For a genre that must constantly innovate, the gimmick of jumping off the screen is irresistible.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 6, Friday the 13th Part 3, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 7.

Freddy 3D glasses.jpg

Get ready to dodge Dream Demons.

Die, Monster, Die – Slashers are notoriously hard to kill, but sometimes a tired franchise needs the promise of a ‘final chapter’ to get its viewers back.

Examples:  Nightmare on Elm Street Part 6, Friday the 13th Part 4, Halloween H20

jason dead

Fairly convincing….

Magic! – Sometimes the monsters are human, and sometimes there is a supernatural evil at work. During the Magic! stage, however, we get into some Harry Potter sh*t. I’m talking spells, dream demons and magic swords.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 6, Friday the 13th Part 6, 7, 9, Halloween 5 & 6, Howling 2

howling magic

When being a werewolf is the least interesting thing about you…

Missing Monster – Probably the strangest mutation is when sequels lack their own main character.

Examples:  Friday the 13th Part 5, Halloween 3, Hellraiser 8

Michael on TV

Doesn’t count.

Spaaaaace – In these movies, no one can hear you scream.

Examples: Jason X (Friday the 13th Part 10), Hellraiser 4, Leprechaun 4

spaceraiser

Houston, we have a problem.

Return to Roots – With luck a franchise will shake off the gimmicks and return to its roots. Unlike the ‘Classic Stage’, which codifies the core elements, this is a hard won perspective about what audiences love about the series. Next to the originals, these are often the only scary movies in the franchise.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 7,Halloween 7,Child’s Play 6, Phantasm 5

chucky smile.jpg

You can’t keep a Good Guy down.

Das Preboot – The unhallowed graves of infamous monsters are rarely left undisturbed. More often than not they are desecrated, updated and demystified with lousy prequels and reboots.

Examples: Nightmare on Elm Street 9, Friday the 13th Part 12, Halloween 9, Howling 4, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5.

Robert says

How can the ‘Slasher Cycle Theory’ help you? Let the growing pains of our favorite franchises inspire you. The next time you’re feeling stale, try some magic, or take a trip to space. If that doesn’t help you return to your roots, perhaps you can go Back 2 Tha Hood.

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