February 13, 2009. Like any other day in the office, I was sitting at my desk managing the crisis of the moment when in comes one of the most beautiful flower arrangements I have ever seen. Dozens of deep red roses surrounded by seasonal flowers meticulously placed in a gorgeous ornate chest. For a quick moment my heart was aflutter, thinking that my husband had sent me a romantic Valentine’s Day delivery. But then something unusual caught my eye… Smack in the middle of the roses was a giant bloody machete.
I read the card: “Happy Friday the 13th. Love, Jason.”
Yes, my husband’s name is Jason, and yes, he has a sick sense of humor, but I knew it wasn’t him, leaving only one possibility: Jason Voorhees. (Or, more accurately, our client who owns the rights to the Friday the 13th franchise.) It was opening day for the twelfth installment of Friday the 13th, and we were expected to slash our way to the top of the box office. As expected, the film finished #1 for the weekend, raking in over $40 million in the first few days alone. On the biggest date night of year, couples everywhere chose to watch Jason slice and dice the newest generation of unsuspecting college kids at Camp Crystal Lake. Romantic.
From Psycho to Paranormal Activity 2 (which brought in an estimated $41.5 million this past weekend), horror films hold a special place in our hearts — and in the wallets of studio executives. With Halloween just days away, we once again are reminded of our morbid affinity for big screen gore. Thousands of party goers and trick-or-treaters alike will pay homage to the genre by donning hockey masks, gloves with long imposing knives, and uber creepy clown masks, to name a few. So, in the spirit of All Hallows Eve, it only seems appropriate to put aside all that law for a moment, and look back at the history and success of several of the most infamous box office slayers.
Michael Myers. The poster child of Haddonfield, Illinois and psychopathic stalker of the Halloween franchise. Michael first came on the scene in 1978, although his character was only credited as “The Shape.” A disturbed child, young Michael brutally murdered his older sister on Halloween night. Years later, on October 30, 1978, he escapes Smith Grove’s sanitarium and returns to Haddonfield, just in time for Halloween. (Rule #1 of slasher films: Places that otherwise have ironclad security, such as prisons and mental hospitals, are guaranteed to drop the ball.) Michael fixates on teenage babysitter Laurie Strode, memorably played by Jamie Lee Curtis, leaving a trail of bodies along the way. The only hope is Dr, Loomis, Michael’s psychiatrist, who works with the town sheriff to find Michael before he can reach his coveted prize Laurie. The real prize? Millions and millions of dollars.
Halloween is regarded by many as the first widely successful horror film franchise, and the first film (appropriately entitled Halloween: The Night He Came Home), has been reported as the most successful independent horror film of all time. Michael came back to us in nine additional films, including Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of the original film, and 2009’s Halloween II. And if that isn’t enough, Halloween 3D is in production and is scheduled to be released on Halloween 2011. Love him or hate him, whenever you hear John Carpenter’s chilling theme song, you must admit that we all think of the same guy.
Jason Voorhees. Jason was first introduced to us in 1980, although we didn’t really get to know and love him until the sequel was released a year later. As the story goes, a group of unsuspecting teenagers was preparing to reopen Camp Crystal Lake, which had been closed several years earlier after a young boy named Jason drowned in the lake. The counselors who were supposed to be watching him were too busy having sex and could not hear his cries for help. (Rule #2 of slasher films: Teenage sex is always punishable by death. Now that’s some real abstinence education.) When Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), hears of the reopening of the camp, she returns to seek vengeance against all who dare come near. She is driven by Jason’s murderous command, “Kill her Mommy!” This line inspired the most well-known piece of Harry Manfredini’s musical score: the “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” sound which ominously plays in the background every time Mrs. Voorhees is near.
Friday the 13th was the first film to successfully cash in on the Halloween phenomenon. With a total budget of little over $500,000 and 1980s-quality special effects, one of America’s most successful horror franchises was born, rising to the top of the box office and creating a devoted fan following. Interestingly, the symbol of the franchise — Jason’s hockey mask — did not appear until Part III, when Jason took the mask from one of his victims to hide his disfigured face. Jason is affectionately reunited with his mask in the twelfth film as he continues his indiscriminate killing spree. Since 1980, Jason has been resurrected time and again, has visited Manhattan and the future, been banished to hell and, in 2003, faced off in an epic battle with rival serial killer Freddy Krueger in Freddy v. Jason. Almost 30 years later, he returned to Crystal Lake, where it all began. Although we do not yet know how, when or where, we do know one thing: Jason will return again.
Freddy Krueger. One two, Freddy’s comin’ for you. Three, four, better lock your door… Okay, you get the idea. Everyone’s favorite 1980s resurrected dream-killer is none other than Wes Craven’s Freddy Krueger. Who doesn’t love long, razor-sharp knives for fingers and a mutilated face topped with a fedora? Admit it, there was at least one night in the mid-80s on which you were afraid to fall asleep. (Rule #3 of slasher films: Locking doors and windows doesn’t work. This only means that the killer is already inside your house, or in this case, will come in through your dreams.) The vengeful saga of the return of the child murderer who was burned to death by the parents of his victims has spawned nine films, and brought in hundreds of millions dollars. But unlike Halloween and Friday the 13th, Freddy’s A Nightmare on Elm Street actually received critical acclaim. Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without Freddy.
Jigsaw. While there have been many horror films over the years, one the most recent horror films to reach the franchise level, and new Halloween favorite, is Saw. The original film, based on the short film by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, was released in 2004, and features the clever puzzles of the Jigsaw Killer (and the creepiest mask ever) which are designed to “test” unsuspecting victims through a series of physically and psychologically torturous ultimatums and traps. (Rule #4 of slasher films: With only two people left in the room, it’s safe to say that one of you will die.) This weekend, Saw 3D, the seventh installment in the Saw series, will hit theaters with all new sadistic traps. If a Valentine’s weekend release can bring in big numbers for a horror film, I’m sure a Halloween release will do even better. Although the films have received mixed reviews, Jigsaw has officially entered the Halloween hall of fame.
It goes without saying that these are only a small sample of iconic horror villains. Moreover, there are hundreds of horror films that, while they may not fit within the classic slasher format, are just as, or if not more, spine-chilling than their gratuitously violent counterparts. (Think Let the Right One In, Silence of the Lambs, or Perfume.) So while we wait for the studios to churn out our next demonic hero, we can be sure of one thing: no matter how many times these killers are mistaken for dead, they will never die. And neither will their film franchises. (And, lucky for us as lawyers, neither will the legal questions and disputes these lucrative franchises inevitably spawn.) Despite claims of “final chapters” or saga endings, they will be back to terrorize a whole new generation of movie goers. Again. And again. And again.
From all of us at Law Law Land to all of you, Happy Halloween.