Between the revival of trusty IPs like Halloween and Scream dominating the box office lately and such streaming hits as Hellraiser and Texas Chainsaw Massacre stirring up conversations online, we’re currently living through a full-blown slasher renaissance. We have Chucky slicing up the Syfy channel following a 2019 Child’s Play remake—in addition to other recent tentpoles of the genre, including Blumhouse’s bold Black Christmas, an ever-relevant Candyman reimagining, and a Slumber Party Massacre redux—while there have additionally been countless fresh faces entering the chat and leaving a mark.
Christopher Landon’s Freaky flipped the script on the Freaky Friday model, whereas There’s Someone Inside Your House riffed on Scream as it carved out its own unique place in modern horror. Meanwhile, Ti West’s soon-to-be bloody triple feature (X, Pearl, MaXXXine) and Leigh Janiak’s juggernaut Fear Street trilogy swept audiences away in a vat of period-set nostalgic pieces. Then there’s Haunt, Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey, They/Them, Sick, Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight, Willy’s Wonderland, Evil Dead Rise, Terrifier 2, Hellfest, Ready or Not, A Classic Horror Story—and the list goes on and on. Whether it's studio-backed theatrical releases or those landing on streaming and VOD, slashers are all the rage.
It then begs the question: how did we even get here?
Jonas Trukanas, the director behind Screambox’s upcoming We Might Hurt Each Other, notes 2015-2016 as a pivotal moment when the pendulum swung away from the brief early-’10s horror craze of possessions and the paranormal in favor of more slashing—despite the continued success of The Conjuring and the return of Paranormal Activity in 2021. While the horror genre also ballooned to include “elevated horror” essentials like The Witch and Hereditary during these years, slashers bubbled up too—as evidenced by 2015’s The Final Girls, the Scream TV series on MTV, the short-lived Scream Queens, and Shudder’s ongoing Slasher.
“Anyone can just turn on [MTV], and they’re suddenly watching a slasher show—as opposed to it being something that folks are seeking out. That has contributed to horror, in general, being as popular as it is.” — Patrick Brice (director, Creep)
Patrick Brice, director of two Creep films and 2021’s There’s Someone Inside Your House, believes MTV’s slasher foray contributed directly to the eventual boom. “MTV looked at the success of the Scream movies, and thought, ‘Oh, this is something that could translate to television and potentially be seen by a wider audience,’” he says. “Anyone can just turn on that channel, and they're suddenly watching a slasher show—as opposed to it being something that folks are seeking out. That has contributed to horror, in general, being as popular as it is. Look at the success—especially theatrically—of horror movies in the last 10 years, and the fact that it's sort of become the last genre standing outside of superhero movies in terms of actually being able to make real money at the box office.”
According to Deadline, 2018’s Halloween reboot turned a $128.5 million profit, proving that not only was the IP long from dead, but that audiences were finally ready to embrace slashers again in a big way. “It looked like a movie that they really cared to put some time into,” observes Adam MacDonald, the filmmaker behind the last three seasons of Slasher. “Jamie Lee Curtis comes back and she looks great. She's kicking ass. From the costumes to the mask, everything was done really well. Some of these movies are evergreen, and there’s always a place for them. We can all relate to fear, and what better way to go on a roller coaster ride than these kinds of horror movies where one person’s getting killed and trying to figure out who the person is or how they’re going to survive?”
MacDonald is onto something. Slashers commodify fear in a way other subgenres are unwilling to confront: fear of the unknown, fear of the other, fear of the world. Experiencing a slasher taps into the primal nature of humanity—at least that’s how Willy’s Wonderland director Kevin Lewis sees it. “Don't tell me that someone’s not gotten fired from a job and wanted to frickin’ be a slasher and take out their boss,” he says. “With these movies, we live vicariously through them. We’re sane people, and we won’t go do that. If you think about today’s world, with Instagram and everything, it’s the stalker mentality. And the idea of that is very primordial and very singular.”
“We can all relate to fear, and what better way to go on a roller coaster ride than these kinds of horror movies where one person’s getting killed and trying to figure out who the person is or how they’re going to survive?” — Adam MacDonald (director, Slasher)
Slashers have always spoken to social and political issues of the moment. Take 1974’s original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, for example. This grimy early entry into the slasher canon sculpts its theme of generational trauma out of national unrest, pummeling the emotional and psychological pain inflicted on young people with the force of Leatherface’s chainsaw. “It starts to really come out post-Vietnam [and] Watergate,” says Halloween Ends co-writer Paul Brad Logan. “It’s sort of, ‘What do we believe in?’ Everything just feels blah. These slashers emerge from this thing that’s in the air and in the water—just nihilism.” Other slasher essentials, including Black Christmas and John Carpenter’s Halloween, slice into suburban fears of unlocked doors and vulgar phone calls. There’s no shortage of pointed commentary about the state of the world beneath their moody, cinematic layers.
Todd Strauss-Schulson, director of The Final Girls, further examines the threads connecting culture and the slasher genre. “In the ’70s, it was sex-positive, and you get punished for sex. Then, in the ’80s, the kids were paying for the sins of the parents,” he says, also pointing out the prevalent “anti-authority” tone of the period. The ’90s and early aughts tilted toward meta-awareness of genre clichés and tropes while positioning a different kind of Final Girl in Scream’s Sidney Prescott—a young woman who defined the movie on her own terms. A shift happened again in the years following Obama’s election, “where things seem to go into a softening of culture in a way,” Strauss-Schulson continues. “There’s more eagerness to talk about vulnerability and therapy culture and things like that. What The Final Girls tried to do along those lines was not to be punished for sex or even talk about authority—it was talking about grief.”
Today’s renaissance speaks to many of the same things. There’s sex positivity, a reclamation of desires, a distrust for authority, and emotional untethering. Given the onslaught of news headlines, we’re living in solitude and feeling hopeless, so we seek out splatter films as a way to deal with the world. “There’s a visceral response to the violence that we read about in the newspapers and see on TV,” remarks David Blue Garcia, director of 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. “There’s always murders happening, and when you’re saturated with that kind of content through the media, [slashers are] the filmmakers and audiences trying to work out that fear of the other coming after you in the night.”
“There’s always murders happening, and when you’re saturated with that kind of content through the media, [slashers are] the filmmakers and audiences trying to work out that fear of the other coming after you in the night.” — David Blue Garcia (director, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022))
There’s also an element of disillusionment and an “inability to trust anyone,” says Logan, citing the new Scream films as embracing these elements. There’s Someone Inside Your House is another prime example, as well as others like The Babysitter: Killer Queen and Initiation, in which trust is broken and betrayal becomes the central theme. More importantly, current slashers find audiences “coming to terms with what happened in our past and figuring out how that transforms into new things in front of us,” Logan adds. “If you're doing this sort of self-discovery, you’re confronting elements all the time that surprise you.”
Tragedy Girls filmmaker Tyler MacIntyre considers the role “big world stage” events—namely Trump’s presidential election—have on the current wave of slashers. “I thought, ‘Oh man, this is going to be a rough four years,’” he says. “We were editing Tragedy Girls at the time [of Trump’s win]. We were almost unable to work, so we took the day off. But I was like, ‘These four years are going to give us some good horror movies and punk-rock.’ There’s some amount of counterculture to it. It gives you fuel for this alienation and this kind of reaction—the vibes that can lead to that sort of creativity.”
A film like John Hyams’ Sick, written by Scream penman Kevin Williamson, excavates the politicization of the pandemic for its central pulse and also serves fans with long chase scenes and shocking violence. Its politically charged edge simply heightens the emotional throughline in a way that feels hyper-realistic and engaging. Beneath its surface, two characters struggle with an on-again, off-again relationship, tapping into the essence of what slashers have always been about. “There’s something about slashers that targets people who are trying to figure out who they are,” explains MacIntyre. “There’s this coming-of-age element to slashers that works better than any other place in horror.”
“There’s something about slashers that targets people who are trying to figure out who they are. There’s this coming-of-age element to slashers that works better than any other place in horror.” — Tyler MacIntyre (director, Tragedy Girls)
Slashers provide catharsis in times of trouble. Where such films as There’s Someone Inside Your House carry powerful messages about bigotry and accountability, others like Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey and Willy’s Wonderland are meant strictly for entertainment. In an era with increasingly volatile political tensions and social upheaval, the hack ’n’ slash genre supplies audiences with not only an escape but a way to process and deal with reality. Few other genres accomplish what slashers can, and the current renaissance proves to be both an artistic success and a critical one.
With horror proving as viable as ever, slashers show no signs of slowing down. In fact, they’re just getting started. Coming down the pipeline, we have MaXXXine, We Might Hurt Each Other, Scream VII, Chucky season three, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, The Final Girl Support Group series, and The Blackening—and that’s just scraping the surface. Even A24, behind the slasher-adjacent Bodies Bodies Bodies, plans to do more slashing with the forthcoming Crystal Lake series, produced by Bryan Fuller.
Here’s to 10 more years of slashers. We’ve earned it. FL