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Neverending Nightmares: A Retrospective of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street

Neverending Nightmares: A Retrospective of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street

Slasher films are employments of subtraction and not, significantly, deduction. There’s seldom a mystery to solve, and the plots often concern those who are attempting, often futilely, to escape death. The killers are all enormous, even if unseen, presences, and their victims are often all defenseless teens. There’re lots of chase sequences, lots of screaming, and lots of blood, repeated over and over and over again, as reliable and humorless as an old joke. It is one of the most derivative subgenres in film, and is perhaps epitomized in the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. In sum, they comprise 18 films that span over two decades, each varying little from the original formula.

The foundation for both is John Carpenter’s Halloween, which in 1978 grossed over one hundred and fifty times its production budget, becoming the most successful independent film ever made. Two years later came Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, an admitted and immensely successful attempt to capitalize on the success of Halloween. It cost less than a million dollars to produce, and grossed over fifty times that.

During this era, slasher films were becoming mainstays of suburban multiplexes, but the success of Friday the 13th remains unique. I would attribute this almost solely to makeup effects expert Tom Savini. However closely Friday the 13th emulates Halloween in tactics and narrative, it exceeds its predecessor in the brutality of its murders. In an early one, a girl is killed with an ax, and the camera lingers on her corpse’s gaping mouth, divided in two by the weapon lodged in her face. This is Savini’s work, and his ingenious deaths populate the film. People aren’t only bullied and frightened in this film, you get an impression of their pain, and the harm done to them.

Up until its final minutes, Friday the 13th is a fairly straightforward slasher exercise; the killer hasn’t been revealed yet, and there has been little attempt to identify him. Its final minutes introduce two aspects that would not only ensure its profit, but inspire its sequels: Pamela Voorhees, a middle aged woman, is revealed to be the killer, and the shocker ending in which her son, presumed dead, leaps out of a lake and claims the film’s final survivor.

By 1984 the utilitarian horror mechanics of Friday the 13th had been sustained in three sequels: parts II and III, and The Final Chapter. Later the same year Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street would debut, the flagship production under a fledgling New Line films; it cost under two million, and enjoyed a profit of twelve times that. A sequel was put into production almost immediately. Henceforth every remaining year in the 1980s saw the release of a sequel to either franchise, or sometimes both. And each was measurably profitable.

It is only in terms of profit, genre, and reiteration that the similarities between the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises remain apparent; a foolproof formula the engine driving each, they begin to veer in wildly different directions, before – to the delight of many fans – merging in 2002’s Freddy vs. Jason. One has as its routine slasher killer a durable, taciturn and deformed son, who forever seeks vengeance for not only his mother’s death, but his own. The other has a maniacal, effeminate, and outspoken child molester, burned alive at the hands of angry parents, and who vows to forever torment their children in their sleep. Each character has made for a great, even if critically derided, variety of scenarios, illustrating the very extent of a subgenre over the course of the past quarter-century.

Introduction by Rumsey Taylor


Friday the 13th
1980–2001

Friday the 13th 12 October
Friday the 13th Part 2 30 October
Friday the 13th Part 3 30 October
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter 30 October
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning 30 October
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives 30 October
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood 30 October
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan 30 October
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday 30 October
Jason X 30 October

A Nightmare on Elm Street
1984–1994

A Nightmare on Elm Street 20 October
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge 30 October
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors 30 October
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master 30 October
A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child 30 October
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare 30 October
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare 30 October

Freddy vs. Jason
2002

Freddy vs. Jason 30 October

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