Freddy, Jason or Michael Myers: What’s the Best Horror Series?
The Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises have combined for more than 30 films. They've introduced the world to three memorably indestructible villains -- Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger -- and influenced generations of slasher flicks. But which is the best? We've asked five of our writers to sound off on their favorite and least favorite moments of the three.
1) Considering all the reboots and sequels, which of the three is the best series?
Michael Gallucci: Probably Friday the 13th, mostly because the sheer number of movies in the series averages to more hits than misses, even if some of the outings are pretty ludicrous. For the most part, resurrecting Jason was always more fun than watching the Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger revivals.
Corey Irwin: Overall, I believe Nightmare on Elm Street is the strongest. Not only is Freddy Krueger the most dynamic antagonist of the bunch, consistency is important. Of the nine films in its franchise, only one or two Nightmare films can really be called duds. Compare that to the Halloween and Friday the 13th series, each of which have several poor efforts, and the answer is clear.
Tyler Sage: For my money, the Halloween franchise is consistently the scariest and Friday the 13th is the funniest and maybe the most self-aware. But I'd probably say Nightmare is the best by a razor's edge. It's the most intelligent, and the strength of its trope -- don't fall asleep or the bad guy will get you -- results in psychological inventiveness.
Michael Christopher: Halloween has traditionally been the strongest, mainly because of an innate ability to bounce back from dreadful entries in the series. Like the film’s masked antagonist, it never fails to rise from the dead, even if it takes some time. Bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis for Halloween H20: 20 Years Later in 1998 was a stroke of genius, and Rob Zombie’s Halloween stood out from the rest of the reboots. Now that the white hot Blumhouse Productions has control of the franchise, it’s looking pretty unstoppable.
Matthew Chojnacki: All three series have real highs and very deep lows. Friday the 13th is the best series to watch with friends since it’s so campy. I consider the Halloween series, when Curtis is involved, to be the highest quality. But then A Nightmare on Elm Street is probably the most fun in terms of both scares and laughs. Let’s go for Halloween. I’m a sucker for any holiday-themed horror films.
2) Which of the three original movies is the best?
Gallucci: Halloween got there first, so it gets points for being the most influential. It's hard to imagine Friday the 13th without Halloween. A Nightmare on Elm Street, however, is inspired and original, and, while Halloween's inspiration is a presence, it's easy to see Wes Craven eventually getting there without Halloween paving the way.
Irwin: Nightmare may be my preferred franchise, but Halloween is the best of the first films. John Carpenter's iconic movie established many of the horror tropes still used today: The killing of sexually active characters, giving the killer a theme song, shooting from the killer’s perspective and creating the “final girl” character who survives the harrowing affair to share her story.
Sage: Halloween has the best technical filmmaking chops, courtesy of Carpenter, and is the scariest of the three. A Nightmare on Elm Street is relentlessly original and has that astounding trope, allowing writer/director Wes Craven to match the sheer gruesomeness and political suggestion of his earlier work with a playfulness that suits his talents well. Friday the 13th is pretty weak sauce compared to the other two. It's got special effects genius Tom Savini, a glorious sound-design scheme and a great twist, but ultimately feels kind of like what it is: a B-picture elevated by the success of the franchise it spawned.
Christopher: The setting of Friday the 13th makes it the creepiest of the three, which puts it at the top. Halloween, on the other hand, is a masterclass in independent filmmaking. John Carpenter was able to do so much with limited financial resources and primarily relied on creating a tense atmosphere sustained by his eminently eerie soundtrack. Donald Pleasence nails it as Dr. Loomis too, ratcheting up the audience’s frustration when he’s continually doubted as the bodies pile up. What makes A Nightmare on Elm Street so scary is that everyone dreams. To build a story around the possibility that perishing in one’s dreams could lead to death in real life is terrifying, made even more so when you find out it’s based on real cases.
Chojnacki: While I certainly enjoy Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween has that relatability that amps up the scary factor, and I love that it was almost in real-time. It helps that Carpenter's score is basically a co-star with Curtis, and P.J. Soles is also a great actress.
3) What’s the worst movie from each series?
Gallucci: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The sixth movie and the last to star Pleasence. It's pretty much the same movie as the first one, but not good.
Friday the 13th: Jason X. Set almost 450 years after the last movie, the 10th in the series finds Jason cryogenically frozen and thawed in outer space. Yes, it's that stupid.
The 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street was pointless.
Irwin: From Friday the 13th, Jason X is clearly the worst. You can practically envision some studio executive suggesting, “What if we put Jason in outer space?” followed by a chorus of yes-men praising the idea. Watching Jason slashing victims on a spaceship was more than just ridiculous, it was unwatchable.
Halloween: Resurrection, the eighth film in the Halloween franchise, isn’t much better. In it, a reality show places wannabe stars in Michael Myers' old home, and he begins slaughtering them all. Its weak plot and weaker performances made the film largely forgettable. At least they found a role for Busta Rhymes in the cast.
The worst of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is 1989’s The Dream Child. It seemingly can’t decide if it wants to be scary or funny, but ultimately fails at being either. Even the most memorable scene, in which Freddy Krueger force-feeds a girl to death, is more gross than entertaining.
Sage: Halloween: Resurrection is just awful, and you can't even enjoy it ironically. A reality TV show? Busta Rhymes? It's a mockery of what makes horror great.
In Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, he doesn't so much take Manhattan as float towards it for an unbelievably long time in a boat before getting his ass kicked by a bunch of teenagers. At least Jason X actually takes place in space.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child feels like almost everyone involved was high on some kind of drug that doesn't lend itself particularly well to telling a scary story.
Christopher: Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday offered nothing of merit with a convoluted storyline. It’s a mess, with the sole redeemable element at the very end when Freddy Krueger’s glove reaches up from Hell to pull down Jason’s hockey mask in the ultimate tease of a future onscreen battle.
Halloween: Resurrection erased any goodwill created by Halloween H20. It felt immediately dated with the shaky camera work popularized by The Blair Witch Project a few years prior. The worst part, however, was centering the entire story on the tired concept of having a group of people spend the night in a house where an act of evil had previously taken place.
It’s almost too easy to bash reboots, but 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street was simply abysmal. The film suffered greatly from Robert Englund not being in the role of Freddy Krueger, as well as the failure to even try to get Craven involved on any level. And unlike the original where you instantly disliked some of the teens while rooting for others, there was no depth at all to the characters.
Chojnacki: For Halloween, I have to go with Rob Zombie's 2009 Halloween II. I am definitely a Rob Zombie fan and have always loved horror, but not necessarily a ton of gore. His films teeter in that direction quite often.
The 2009 Friday the 13th reboot was totally disappointing. I’m a bit tired of reboots that simply film the same movie with a younger cast, and this version didn’t bring anything new to the table.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare suffered from extremely high expectations. A Nightmare on Elm Street was such a great series, and the buzz was that this really was the last installment. But boy did it go off the rails. Fortunately the producers went back on their word and got Craven back for the excellent Wes Craven’s New Nightmare a few years later.
4) Other than the first movies, what’s the best movie in each series?
Gallucci: Halloween III: Season of the Witch. There's no Michael Myers here, but there's more of a supernatural element. It has a different tone than any of the remakes/reboots/sequels in any of the franchises, and it's totally welcomed.
Friday the 13th Part 2. Jason takes over the spotlight in a story that picks up five years after the original. It retains the feel of the original without coming off like a mere retread.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The second movie was pretty much the original with a different title. The third film is way more inventive.
Irwin: My vote goes to 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The idea of having distinctively unique teens in a psych ward like some kind of tormented version of The Breakfast Club, plus the use of hypnosis as a means for them to control their dreams and fight Freddy, was very creative. Plus, there were some of the most memorable deaths of the series, including one where Krueger replaces his customary glove of blades for fingers of syringes.
From the other franchises, I’d go with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Halloween H20. The former offers the perfect balance of gore and comedy while extracting an engaging and entertaining performance out of Corey Feldman. The latter brought back Jamie Lee Curtis 20 years after her character, Laurie Strode, first faced-off against Michael Myers. It’s steeped in the late ‘90s style -- Josh Hartnett wearing puka shells -- and strays into Scream territory with its dialogue. Still, the result is an entertaining slasher flick, signaling that the series would continue to flourish into the 21st century.
Sage: Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Can we give it up for a sequel that completely ignores the things that made the original great and instead revolves around a mask-factory caper? Halloween II is a far tighter horror movie, but I'm going for the Larry Cohen-style inventiveness.
Friday the 13th Part II. I love the humor that infuses some of the later installments, but I'm a sucker for filmmaking, so I'm going with the one that not only features a nicely constructed narrative but pays cheeky homage to horror classics like The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Mario Bava's gonzo Bay of Blood.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Everyone loves the pseudo-action movie vibes of Dream Warriors, and the gay subtext of Freddy's Revenge was fantastically subversive for its time, but I'm going with the film that revolves around the idea that Freddy is now stalking the real-world actors and filmmaker who brought him to life, because it's just so much fun.
Christopher: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors put things squarely back on track, with the return of Craven and Heather Langenkamp, the final girl in the original film. There was no subtext, just a cadre of kids being pursued by Freddy Krueger while they were trapped in an insane asylum, and Englund takes Freddy to another level by turning him into the wisecracking killer audiences have come to love.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is the climax of the battle between Jason and Tommy Jarvis, and the 1986 film is the perfect balance of camp, faithfulness to the myth and memorable characters who have their own narrative. Add in a trio of Alice Cooper songs, the final girl driving a candy apple red Camaro and an opening credits spoof of 007 and you’ve got the best in the franchise.
The 2018 Halloween was fashioned as a direct sequel to the 1978 original. Jamie Lee Curtis finally looks comfortable again in the role of Laurie Strode for the first time in nearly four decades, playing a troubled but tough-as-nails protagonist who is perpetually ready for the threat of Michael Myers, despite all conventional logic suggesting otherwise.
Chojnacki: After the original, I rewatch Halloween III most often. Forget about Michael Myers, and you’re left with a really great Halloween-themed B-movie here that feels very ‘80s, and with a jingle that is unequivocally infectious. Yeah, it'is totally campy and ridiculous, but that’s how I like my ‘80s horror.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a really smart screenplay. Even before Scream, the whole poking-fun-at-the-series idea started with this film. It’s now a regular gimmick, and all horror films that currently turn the audience on its head with a dash of comedy owe a salute to Wes Craven.
Friday the 13th Part III, when seen in 3D is, hands down, the best experience in the theater to have with the Friday the 13th series. It’s ridiculous, using typical 3D tricks like a yo-yo at the camera, and is loaded with laughs.
5) It’s been 10 years since a 'Nightmare on Elm Street' movie, and 11 since a 'Friday the 13th' one. Which would you bring back first?
Gallucci: A Nightmare on Elm Street. The 2010 remake was awful; the Friday the 13th reboot wasn't too bad. The Nightmare movies, for the most part, were always the most original. There are many opportunities there to update Freddy for a new generation.
Irwin: A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy will always be the quintessential horror villain. The genre is just better when the character is doing his worst. Since he attacks people in their dreams, viewers can be taken absolutely anywhere, and the components are all there for a fresh team of filmmakers to revitalize the franchise.
Sage: A Nightmare on Elm Street. Given the state of our world, I think there's a lot more to be done with a franchise more obsessed with nightmares than teen sexuality. Maybe a Freddy sequel could involve him coming to our universe and realizing how terrifying it is and then trying desperately to escape back to the safety of his boiler room.
Christopher: You get the sense that the powers that be are sitting on a goldmine with the next installment of Friday the 13th, as it will be the thirteenth in the series. Unfortunately, protracted court battles between the original writer and the original director, along with uncertainty over which studio will produce it, have the whole thing up in the air. It’s a shame too, as there have been some very promising spec scripts put together while the legalities play out, including one by Tom McLoughlin, who wrote and directed the last great Friday the 13th movie, Jason Lives.
Chojnacki: A Nightmare on Elm Street is the only series that has the capability to go in endless directions. I helped produce Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, the documentary about Mark Patton and the LGBT issues surrounding Freddy's Revenge. Subsequently Robert Englund said that he’d like to reboot it and have an LGBT-themed installment whereby being in the closet and other issues could be explored. That’s a real opportunity for the series to add an additional layer of drama to the storyline. Yeah, it’s still a horror flick, but that doesn’t mean that it can't be a smart horror flick.
The Best Horror Movie From Every Year: 1920-2019