This week we learned that Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series will be coming to television in the form of Ash Vs The Evil Dead on the Starz network. This is just the latest horror franchise from what I’d call the “modern/classic” horror era of the ’70s to the ’90s reinventing itself as a television series. It would join Bates Motel, Hannibal, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Walking Dead. All of these shows are quite successful, and coming soon are television versions of other classic horror franchises like The Omen, Friday the 13th and Scream.
So what’s behind all these great horror franchises from the ’70s through the ’90s coming to the small screen? If you think about it, it makes perfect sense: the generation that grew up and loves these franchises are now in their thirties and forties and even fifties. We don’t go out to the movies quite as much as we used to, and when we do, it tends to not be horror films, which are aimed at young people. And younger people want their own horror franchises — they want their Paranormal Activities and Insidiouses. Sure, the last decade has been littered with remakes of horror films that Gen-X loved, repackaged for the millennial generation, but how many of them really caught on? The remakes of Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street came and went…only Halloween and Texas Chainsaw got sequels, neither of which did particularly well, that’s how apathetic audiences were to these remakes.
But television is another story. It’s the domain of more sophisticated long form storytelling now, and the perfect place for the horror franchises that the VHS generation grew up with to find a new interpretation, ones not so concerned with appealing primarily to 17 year olds on date night. And of course, because of cable, the gloves are off when it comes to how much violence and gore we can see on TV these days. With that in mind, here are five iconic horror franchises that could join Ash, Norman Bates, and Hannibal Lecter on the small screen.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Yes, I know what you’re going to say: “Wasn’t there already a Nightmare on Elm Street television show? And wasn’t it really bad?” Well yes, there was one. Kind of. In the late 1980s, there was a syndicated series called Freddy’s Nightmares, where Freddy Krueger, as played by Robert Englund, was like a Crypt Keeper-style horror host for a series of anthology stories. Occasionally Freddy would be involved with the episodes themselves, but not nearly enough… and the show only lasted two seasons. One could make the argument that Freddy’s overexposure during this time period helped kill the movie franchise not long after.
But this wouldn’t be Freddy’s Nightmares 2.0. No, what I’m talking about would be a series set firmly in the Elm Street mythology as presented by the six original movies (not sure that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, as cool as as it is, can really be counted as part of the Elm Street canon, or Freddy vs. Jason, which seems to exist in its only world.) You have all kinds of options with a show like this. You can cover the period when Freddy Krueger was still alive and a serial killer of children, and the local parents took justice into their own hands. Or it can be set in the present, focusing on teens living in Springwood today, for whom the whole Freddy thing is a weird local myth from the ’80s that’s now rearing its ugly head again. The Elm Street movies at their best were a giant commentary on the ugly secrets kept in American suburbia, and the horrors of the parents visited upon their children, themes that are easily translatable to a television series.
The important ingredient for this show to succeed would be the presence of Robert Englund in some capacity, and possibly Wes Craven as well. As long as Englund is alive and working, fans won’t want anyone else playing Freddy (sorry Jackie Earle Haley). While I doubt Englund could be lured back into the red and green sweater for another movie sequel, a smart and scary television version, with high production value and good writing, and presumably on cable, could be just the thing to bring him back.
Once upon a time, the thought of Aliens anything without Sigourney Weaver would have seemed like blasphemy. But since then, the franchise has been diluted by two rather awful Alien Vs. Predator movies, and arguably Prometheus as well (and it’s not like Alien 3 or Alien Resurrection were all that great themselves, let’s be honest). So why not an Aliens television series? There are more than enough Aliens books, comics, and video games out there to base something decent on for the television format, things like Aliens: Colonial Marines. At this point, the franchise can only improve, so why not on TV?
This horror franchise is the ultimate no-brainer for a television show, and yet may be also the hardest one to do. On the positive side, imagine a Halloween series which runs for say, eight episodes from mid September through early November every year, smack in the middle of Halloween season. From a marketing standpoint, that just sells itself. On the negative side however, just what the heck would a Halloween TV show entail? How does one do a slasher film as a weekly series, even a shorter weekly series on cable?
The continuity of the movie series is so screwed up, you can almost pick and choose which sequel of the series to consider canonical and which to throw away if you wanted it set in the world of the pre-existing movies. (Halloween H20 and Halloween Resurrection ignore parts 4-6 in the series, for example. None of the sequels count part three as canon at all.) The original plan John Carpenter had was to make Halloween a yearly anthology movie set during the holiday, but audiences rejected a Michael Myers-less Halloween III, so a TV series would need Michael Myers in it. A proper prequel series would be boring, since we already know young Michael just sat there at Smith’s Gorve Sanitarioum for 15 years and stared at the walls.
Because the continuity is so screwed up in the original series, and since the Rob Zombie remake and its sequel are so divisive, maybe the best bet is to start from scratch all over again for the small screen, but with something more in line with Carpenter’s original movie than what Rob Zombie did — more suspense and atmosphere. Instead of Michael Myers breaking out of an institution near Haddonfield, Illinois, make it all across the country: a murder filled trek across the United States for Michael as he zeroes in on his target, his sister Laurie Strode. Your main character could be Dr. Sam Loomis, the good doctor who tries to stay one step ahead of Michael in a Fugitive-style pursuit of him. And just to add the right twist (not to mention marketing opportunity) have Dr. Loomis be a woman this time…played by Jamie Lee Curtis. You’re welcome, Hollywood.
The Hellraiser franchise was never quite on the same level of popularity as the Elm Streets or Halloweeens or Friday the 13ths, but it always had a unique place all its own. Sadly, ever since the release of the fourth movie back in 1996, the Hellraiser series has continued on straight-to-video hell (no pun intended) for seven more films, each more forgettable than the last.
Reports have been going around for the last several years that the Weinstein Company, the rights holders to the series, want to do a proper theatrical reboot, and they have employed series creator (and director of the first two movies) Clive Barker to come back and write the screenplay for the new version. Barker himself has recently said that his ideas for a reboot involve showing the origins of the infamous puzzle box, and while that might make for an interesting movie, it might make for a more interesting television series. The Cenobite world is a lot more than just Pinhead; TV might be the perfect place to explore all the different kinds of demons that inhabit Barker’s imagination.
The Universal Monsters
Lately there’s been a lot of noise made by Universal Studios about re-launching their classic movie monsters into a new, Marvel Studios-like shared universe of films. The recent Dracula Untold was step one in this, with a Mummy reboot coming in a couple of years as step two. Whether or not those are successful, Universal is clearly missing an opportunity to use the one part of these public domain characters that they made famous that they — and only they — own outright: the classic looks and make-ups from the original films of the Golden Age. It’s the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula and the Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein that are globally famous, and that have made up everything from Halloween decorations to breakfast cereal parodies for decades, and they own those versions, lock, stock, and barrel.
What Universal should consider is something like Penny Dreadful. Instead of a show set in the 19th century, perhaps something in 1930s, the hey day of Universal’s monster movies, as a highly stylized black and white series, one that uses those classic versions of the creatures. It’s highly unlikely that whatever movies Universal is concocting with their monsters will have the classic looks, as they will clearly be aiming for a young demographic, so why not take advantage and do something interesting with them on television for a more grown up audience?
Did I miss a vital horror icon from your youth from this list? Did I slight Chucky by leaving him off? Let us know in the comments below.
Featured image courtesy of deviantART// Artist: mneferta