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Mixtape Macabre: “The Returning Champion” Double Feature

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Welcome to Mixtape Macabre, an ongoing column in which FANGORIA examines and recommend cinematic soulmates to horror fans, whether it be through anthology mixes, double features, or other fun moviewatching experiments. In doing so, we hope to give horror fans a new reason to revisit our favorite frighteners, and perhaps even make a macabre mixtape of their own.

There’s a real strange fascination with continuity in the slasher subgenre of horror, which can best be summed up with the phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” As slashers went into more ridiculous territory to build the mythology of its boogeyman, studios often would forget the early chapters of said franchises in ways that fans often did not. Frankly, these filmmakers and studios considered previous films to be ultimately irrelevant; a byproduct of the horror genre once again being treated like lower-class cinema. But from these ignored or written-out early characters, horror fans found their most adept and beloved heroes, and would even be satiated by these characters receiving a justified death in battle with their nightmarish nemesis.

It’s perhaps this reason why horror fans are so excited when we see original horror heroes coming back into the fold so many years later. With the likes of Andy Barclay, Kirsty Cotton, Ash Williams and more returning to their franchises in some form or other, we see producers giving meaning to the stories from the original films that won our hearts and earned our nightmares. And in some way, it even retroactively makes the tangentially-connected sequels that much more enjoyable too, as it all seems like a part of a journey that has come full-circle.

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And it’s these kinds of tales that make up this week’s Mixtape Macabre, as both these tales create a sense of synergy in their decision to go in the exact opposite direction that the tale before them had gone. The films that I’m talking about, of course, as Steve Miner’s HALLOWEEN H20 and Wes Craven’s NEW NIGHTMARE. While operating on different levels conceptually, both films actually carry a surprising amount of similarities that compliment the experience of watching them back to back.

Of course, the biggest similarity between the projects is that both films brought back their iconic leading ladies (Jamie Lee Curtis and Heather Langenkamp) while devoting their time to reintroducing their series-long villains as genuinely frightening threats. But beyond that, both films share a themes of empowerment that the original HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET so strongly emphasized. While NEW NIGHTMARE goes a more meta route by placing Heather (as herself) in Freddy Krueger’s path and H20 stays within the fictional world of Michael Myers, both films essentially wipe the slate clean while operating on the knowledge the viewer has on the franchise.

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To be fair, NEW NIGHTMARE and H20 both are films that are essentially foreign to anyone unfamiliar with the first two HALLOWEEN films and all of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET FILMS. But their similarities also extend beyond that: both films follow protective mothers trying to safeguard their children from their past, are surprisingly restrained in terms of violence and contain knowledge of both mythologies within the film. But most importantly, both H20 and NEW NIGHTMARE reinvigorate their franchises coming off the heels of the most maligned entries in each series: HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS and FREDDY’S DEAD.

Between the two films, I would say to begin with HALLOWEEN H20, which is a shockingly lean and surprisingly scary movie that works as a welcome appetizer to the weird, contemplative entree that is NEW NIGHTMARE. The placement also works for both films in terms of their central chillers: while the body language of Michael Myers in H20 feels surprisingly reminiscent of the original HALLOWEEN, he’s still a silent and hulking figure, as opposed to the Craven’s new and more visceral take on the always-animated Freddy Krueger. Meanwhile, the placement benefits each leading lady as well: whereas Laurie Strode still provides a formidable opponent for Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN H20, the fantastical element and cognizant nature of NEW NIGHTMARE adds a layer of unpredictability to NEW NIGHTMARE and to Langenkamp’s portrayal of self.

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However, both films compliment each other incredibly richly because they’re both the work of genuine slasher masters, with Steve Miner having worked on the first three FRIDAY THE 13TH films (and as a director on Part 2 and 3) and Craven returning to the director’s chair on the franchise for the first time since the original. Both directors use their monsters almost perfectly, with Myers feeling like an omnipresent that refers to his underestimated wits (an aspect included in the original HALLOWEEN as well) and with Krueger launching his psychological offensive against Lagencamp whilst remaining mostly unseen. In this way, the use of environment and atmosphere in both films are similar and complimentary to one another, even if the latter goes into a more fantastical tone by its end.

But all in all, HALLOWEEN H20 and NEW NIGHTMARE make for an astounding double feature, especially considering that without NEW NIGHTMARE, the post-SCREAM slasher obsession would never have spawned the likes of HALLOWEEN H20. History aside, HALLOWEEN H20 does feel like an excellent blast from slasher film past, and is a perfect cinematic palate cleanser for the reality-bending insanity of NEW NIGHTMARE. Likewise, NEW NIGHTMARE takes the same route as H20 but does so under the guise of reality, which allows H20 to surprisingly still carry the slasher weight of the double feature. In any case, “The Returning Champion” double feature pits our favorite slashers against their first final girls, but on completely new battlegrounds with even more personal stakes, and they both remind us exactly why we go back to these films, and characters, time and time again.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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