15 Best Movie Posters of 2021

Welcome back to the mostly-annual year-end countdown of the best movie posters of the year! Obviously since we basically got no movies in 2020 I had to take the last year off, but we’re back for 2021 with a very solid selection of eye-catching posters that I had a seriously difficult time narrowing down into just a top 15. As before, I’m using impawards as the source for 2021 posters. Any poster released during the year is eligible, but special consideration is given to posters which are intended for mass distribution rather than posters which are intended to be limited-release, alternative, “artistic” posters. As usual, you can see the full-sized poster in all its glory if you click on the images. Anyway, with those considerations out of the way, let’s get onto the list!

Dishonourable Mention: Cosmic Sin

Okay, the idea of Bruce Willis and Frank Grillo as a couple of space marines sounds fucking awesome, but the cheap, obvious, awful headswap Photoshop job on this poster makes this whole movie seem cheap and laughable. Not that Cosmic Sin needs much help, this movie is apparently so bad and forgettable that no one has even fixed the numerous grammatical errors in its Wikipedia page as of October 21, 2021. Ouch.

15) The French Dispatch

This one mostly makes the list because you take one look at it and go “Oh hey, it’s a Wes Anderson movie in poster form”. It’s quirky, detailed and has tons of stuff to look at, each cell is practically a miniature character poster of its own and the Fibonacci sequence-like layout directs your eyes in an unusual and interesting way. The pulpy, 30s/40s serial art style also helps this standout amongst the other posters of 2021 and no-doubt reflects Anderson’s distinct visual style and aesthetics. All-in-all, a unique and fun poster which undoubtedly reflects the film’s aesthetic as well.

14) Spencer

This poster is very striking. Between the massive, elaborate outfit, the contrast between the dark and the light of the dress and Kristen Stewart’s flawless transformation into Princess Diana, there’s plenty to draw you in. What helps make this more than just a visually-appealing piece is that the design also belies the story’s darker elements, with Diana seemingly stifled, like she’s trapped in the opulence. It’s a true art piece in its own right and I’m curious if Spencer can live up to it.

13) Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry

I’m not really a fan of pop music (shocker), so unsurprisingly I don’t give a shit about Billie Eilish and could care even less for an Apple TV exclusive documentary about her. However, it’s hard to deny that she doesn’t have her own distinct style, best highlighted in these posters for The World’s a Little Blurry. I like the first one mostly, it has a moody tone to it, Eilish’s signature green hair gives it a strong hue and it (obviously) lives up to the “blurry” part of the title. It reminds me of the Joker poster from 2019 that I liked so much. Like most good posters, the use of colour is very intentional, bringing its own tone, mood, style and even symbology to these posters which I can’t help but appreciate.

12) Prisoners of the Ghostland

While I find this poster very visually-arresting, promising me the trippiest samurai movie you’ve ever seen, there’s one small element that really makes me love this poster. I love how this poster draws your eyeline downward – first you see a samurai badass with his back to you, then the spooky mask, then the title and then “This wildest movie I’ve ever made”. Wow, who’s saying that? Nicholas goddamn Cage and for him that is a freaking declaration. The poster itself is cool but that strategically-placed quote gets my imagination racing, just going to show that every aspect of poster design can be crucial to its success. For that, Prisoners of the Ghostland deserves special commendation!

11) A Classic Horror Story

This one succeeds for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s called A Classic Horror Story and the poster design makes this look like… a classic 70s horror story. Secondly, if I saw that horned devil lady in my doorway, I’d be legitimately unsettled. The fact that it seems to be happening in full daylight just makes the whole thing even more unsettling to me, while the red and black colours give the whole thing a sinister vibe. Like I said, colour is very important in good poster design (a trend which you will likely notice going forward) and the use of it here helps contribute to the horrifying atmosphere that A Classic Horror Story is giving off.

10) Honeydew

There are several horror posters this year that get by with their disturbing and unnerving imagery, including choices that just missed the list such as Malignant and We Need to Do Something. However, this poster for Honeydew is the most unsettling for me. I’m not entirely sure what is happening here, but it sure looks uncomfortable and you can see the fear in this guy’s eyes at whatever’s going on. It conjures images in my mind of some Saw-like trap and all the nastiness associated with that. The sickly, yellow hue over the entire poster just makes it feel even more disconcerting.

9) Old

This one is pretty simple but effective. While other posters for Old get across the idea that it takes place on a beach more, this one is far more interesting. In my opinion, it captures the concept of the inevitable, uncontrollable and even frightening passage of time and death very well, all wrapped up in a minimalist, black and white style that makes it striking to view.

8) The Sleeping Negro

Oh and speaking of minimalist styles, while the poster for Old mostly just looks cool, this poster for The Sleeping Negro uses it to get across some pretty clever racial imagery. This poster deftly gets across the theme of alienation and isolation in this film in a very simple manner that makes it even more effective than if they had gone for something more complicated or less stylized. Hell, they could honestly go even more minimalist if they wanted to, cutting out the title completely, and the message would still be conveyed just as strongly, as even the black character’s afro highlights that he’s singled out because of his race. When you can afford to strip down your poster even more then you know the designers hit on something right.

7) Bulletproof

This is another one of those posters where the imagery captures the ideas of the film in a really striking manner. Bulletproof is about the American response to school shootings and seeing children pointing finger guns at each other here is an eerie encapsulation of the topics this film will be exploring. Once again, the eyeline works perfectly – you see the finger guns, then you’re drawn down to the title and know what this movie is saying in chilling fashion.

6) The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad has a huge cast of extremely colourful and varied characters and this first poster captures that aspect of the film and its off-kilter tone in glorious fashion. It also doesn’t give any of the characters more prominence than the others, which makes the characters’ fates in the film even more ambiguous (which is pretty important for a movie where, like, 80% of these characters get annihilated in gory fashion). The second poster captures the feel of a pulpy, 60s-era action movie, which isn’t nearly as interesting but it it’s worth highlighting and contrasting it to the first poster. These are very different styles but they both work to capture the fun of this very enjoyable romp of a film.

5) The Green Knight

I love the use of bright red and gold and the subjects facing away from the camera across The Green Knight‘s posters, it gives them all a unifying, sombre tone. While the main theatrical poster would have made this list regardless due to its strong aesthetic, what really pushed this into the top five for me was the presence of that brilliantly huggable foxy boi. When I first saw that poster I squealed with glee. For the record, graphic designers, throw a fox on your poster and you’re pretty much guaranteed to make my top 15 if your poster is any good.

4) Godzilla vs. Kong

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Monsterverse consistently have some of the best posters of all Hollywood blockbusters. We get posters like Spiral which are pretty and posters like Bring Your Own Brigade and The River Runner which give you massive scale, but Godzilla vs. Kong gives you pretty colours and massive scale! The fact that they have so many cool posters and so many of these were actually used in the general marketing of the film make this even more impressive to me. Even if Godzilla vs. Kong was kinda disappointing, there’s no denying that the marketing was, once again, on point.

3) Army of the Dead

I didn’t really care for Army of the Dead – I thought it was bloated, poorly written and squandered what should have been an over-the-top action romp. While the film itself fell short, the marketing department for Army of the Dead clearly understood what this movie should have been. We get gorgeous poster after gorgeous poster of colourful, macabre excess, all of which make the film look way cooler than it actually is. This is just a handful of the great posters Army of the Dead got this year, so even if the quality wasn’t there (which it is) then due to pure variety this would have ranked highly. For my own part, I especially like the neon-hued skull in a river of paint and the pile of corpses in the shape of a skull. Man, seeing these posters is making me think about how I wish the movie lived up to them all over again…

2) The Night House

We’ve had a slew of spooky and disturbing horror movie posters in 2021, but for my money The Night House has the best of them. What makes it more impressive is that there isn’t much horror imagery to speak of – there’s a blood-red moon, a scared expression from Rebecca Hall and, in one poster, a ghostly hand cutout, representing a spectral figure or perhaps someone who’s been lost? Then there’s the strong use of red and black to give everything an eerie atmosphere. In any case, it works, I really want to see this movie and figure out what sort of thrills The Night House has in store for me, which makes it more than worthy of this spot. However, there can only be one #1 pick…

1) Jackass Forever

There’s something about this poster where I looked at it and said “this is perfect” and instantly put it as a frontrunner for the year’s posters. Like, just look at it, it’s the perfect encapsulation of what Jackass is. You’ve got the rainbow hang glider and obese man to draw your attention and then the eyeline goes down to the cactus plants and then down to the film’s title. Just by looking at it, it creates a story in your head that is equal parts funny, painful and so incredibly stupid that I can’t help but applaud it. It’s so simple, but so striking that I still can’t quite believe that it’s this good, especially because the other Jackass Forever posters don’t hit me the same way at all. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise though, this right here: this is art.

POST-SCRIPT: Well, shit. I usually have a rule here – only posters for movies released in the year in question are considered and here I have completely flubbed as Jackass Forever is going to be released in 2022 instead. To be fair, when I started this list it actually would have been a 2021 film, but it was delayed and I missed that in the time it took to make selections, write and release the list. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this issue due to unexpected delays, but it should probably go without saying that I’ll not take Jackass Forever into account for 2022’s list (because it would probably win again).

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

After the bloated and unpolished Resident Evil 6, excitement for a new mainline Resident Evil game was at an all-time low. Capcom were certainly aware of this and actually took their criticisms to heart. Resident Evil 6 wasn’t anywhere near as successful as they had hoped it would be, so they decided to take the opposite approach – gone were the bombastic setpieces, action-heavy gameplay and globe-trotting story, instead we were going to get a back-to-basics, claustrophobic, true horror experience. Resident Evil 7 feels, in many ways, like a complete reboot of the franchise, but is it quite as much of a dramatic departure as it seems? Read on to find out…

Love

  • The Baker Estate – As much as I loved the intricate level design of Resident Evil 4 (and even 5 to a lesser extent), coming back to a confined environment with locked doors, puzzles to solve and monsters to dodge makes Resident Evil 7 feel like a true return to form.
    • First of all, the environments really feel like a lived-in location. The main house is covered with details that are just there to hint at the Bakers’ family life, hobbies and backstory before they turned into a bunch of psychos. Meanwhile, the old house is dilapidated and literally crumbling apart, making for a very eerie environment to explore. This makes the arrival of the Molded all the more frightening as you suddenly enter environments which are completely unnatural compared to the spaces you’ve been travelling through to this point.
    • While the Baker Estate is quite large, covering three separate complexes with several floors each, it’s so well-designed that you get very familiar with each location and can navigate with ease quickly enough. Undoubtedly you will enter an area and find something you can’t access right then, but file it away in your brain to come back later when you get the key or lockpick you needed for it.
    • I also have to say that the actual design of the environment really makes Resident Evil 7 a satisfying game to play. For example, early on in the game you’ll find a shotgun on pedestal. If you pick it up, the door behind you closes. So you put it back, but now you know you need to find something to put there in order for you to get that shotgun. Eventually you’ll see a broken shotgun on the other side of a locked door, so now you’re trying to find out how to open that door so you can get that. Eventually you find the way in and get the broken shotgun and trade it to get yourself a fancy new gun. However, later still you can find a wooden shotgun and, if you’re reasonably clever, you may realize “oh shit I can repair the broken one now!” and swap it with the wooden one. If you find one of the super-rare repair kits then you’ll net yourself an optional, more powerful secondary shotgun! It’s stuff like this where the devs make use of your environmental knowledge that makes Resident Evil 7 such a great experience.
  • Return to Survival Horror – One of the biggest changes in Resident Evil 7‘s design philosophy is that this game is a horror experience at its core. It takes inspiration from popular horror games of the era, such as Alien: Isolation, Outlast and Amnesia and applies the classic Resident Evil formula of combat, exploration and light puzzle-solving to make for a very compelling experience. The game also loves to build the tension, allowing you to explore and hinting at danger, but knowing when to hold back and when to finally unleash a pursuer enemy at you. I’d argue that this is as scary as Resident Evil has ever gotten, at the very least since the original game on PS1 as the game oozes an eerie atmosphere and builds tension effectively, while forcing you to make tough choices and conserve your resources in order to survive the horrors coming for you.
  • First Person Perspective – The shift to first-person was one of the most contentious changes in Resident Evil 7, but this isn’t simply trend-chasing or a further slide into Call of Duty-like gameplay, it’s a very calculated and (dare I say) brave decision to increase this game’s immersion and make the horror more effective. The third person perspective of previous games in the franchise is because the series started out trying to be a cinematic horror experience and carried that on even after the camera shifted to over-the-shoulder. This game’s first person perspective makes for a more intimate, focused and immersive experience which this game has clearly been built around. There’s a reason why it’s the default for most horror and survival games of the era.
  • Spectacular Boss Fights – Resident Evil bosses are almost always “shoot big monster in its glowing weak point until it stops moving”, which can get really frustrating because there’s usually little indication of just how much damage you’re actually doing to the boss. While Resident Evil 7‘s bosses don’t deviate from this too much, they do stand out as some of the best bosses in the entire franchise because of all the clever twists and environmental interaction that the developers have brought to the table. The first fight with Jack Baker has you searching around an enclosed garage for the keys to a car to fight him with and then the fight plays out in one of two ways. If you’re quick enough, you get in the car and can drive around, running him over until a scripted event happens that will end the fight. If you’re too slow, Jack will throw you out of the car and try to run you over instead. It makes this into two wildly different boss fights and it’s a big surprise seeing the different ways this can play out. Similarly, the second fight with Jack has him getting into a freaking chainsaw duel with him!!! I died several times in this battle but didn’t care because it was so much fun learning the mechanics and using the environment to my advantage to the point where I was feeling some of that Dark Souls-like satisfaction for overcoming the challenge. Meanwhile, spider-Marguerite is classic “shoot the weak spot” Resident Evil, but mixing it up by having her stalk you in a darkened, dilapidated house where she can emerge from literally any direction may be the creepiest showdown in the entire game. The showdown with mutated Jack is also a highlight, taking the classic Resident Evil boss formula and allowing you to strategically maneuver across two storeys to get different angles on his weak points. All-in-all, Resident Evil 7‘s bosses are consistently some of the most creative, fun and well-designed in the entire franchise.
  • Rewards Exploration – Unlike Resident Evil 6, 7 really wants you to look carefully around your environment. To this end, there are some diabolically well-hidden items in this game. Chief among these are the collectable Antique Coins, which you can use to unlock useful upgrades, including increased health, faster reloads or the freaking magnum. However, that magnum’s ammo is extremely limited and you only find 1 to 2 rounds at a time and they’re all hidden very well in the environment so you could theoretically go the whole game and never even see a magnum round if you don’t look carefully. To help with this, the game has a psychostimulant item which briefly highlights items around the environment, making these tricky hidden collectables more attainable and further incentivizing you to look everywhere for secrets.
  • Influences – While previous Resident Evil games paid homage to other horror media (most notably, George A. Romero films), Resident Evil 7 seems to wear these influences on its sleeve most proudly. As a horror fan it’s really fun to see all the nods to films that influenced this game’s design. Probably most obvious is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is most evident in this game’s iconic nod to the dinner scene. Taking that idea and tone and then transplanting it to Louisiana was an inspired move that helps it to feel like more than just a simple ripoff. Other big influences include The Evil Dead (Mia’s possession scenes and chainsaw duel), The Blair Witch Project (found footage and Andre facing the wall) and [REC] (Mia found footage sequence). Hell, there’s even a random Planet of the Apes reference for good measure! All these different influences also help shake up the Resident Evil formula, expanding the scope of what this franchise is capable of in the process.

Mixed

  • Found Footage – One of the obvious influences on Resident Evil 7 is the found footage trend that had been popularized in the horror film genre in the years prior to its release. At several points in the game you can find video tapes which, if you bring them to a VHS player, will allow you to play through the footage. On the one hand, these can provide clever ways to learn new details about the environment in an organic way, preview an area you haven’t gotten to yet or simply shakeup the gameplay a bit. The VHS tape filter also makes the environment just creepier – at a certain point, everything becomes blurry and out of focus. However, I have a couple issues with these tapes. First of all, the fact that you can die in them just doesn’t make sense. More importantly though, whenever I find a tape I get annoyed because I know I’m going to have to set aside what I’m actually doing in the game to go deal with some diversion for the next 15 minutes or so. Tapes can be a pace-killer and feel like they’re just there to pad time, or give you an excuse to breeze your way through an upcoming area. Finally, as the game goes on these “found footage tapes” lose a lot of their narrative justification. The first one you find was literally left by a camera crew, but by the time you find Mia’s tape in the last hour and a half the camera gimmick has been dropped entirely in that footage and it seems like it’s just… a memory maybe?
  • The Story – At a certain point I had to sit and ask myself “What is driving me forward? The narrative or the gameplay?” and concluded that it was overwhelmingly the gameplay. The story in Resident Evil 7 is far more personal and low-stakes compared to a globe-trotting, world-ending affair like Resident Evil 6, which works in this game’s favour. However, the specifics of what exactly is going on in this game are left ambiguous for a long time in the game, meaning that most of your time spent playing is going to involve you getting more confused and frustrated as narrative events play out around you. This all comes to a head towards the last third of the game where you’re given a choice between helping Mia (who’s the whole reason you’re in this place) or helping Zoe (some rando you’ve been talking to on the phone off-screen a few times), but by this point I still really didn’t understand what was going on. The ending of the game is tied to the choice you make here and while the “right” choice seems kinda obvious, if you’re going to implement a major choice like this then maybe inform the player better beforehand so they can actually understand what they’re doing. The final third of the game (and most of the DLCs for that matter) has many revelations which make things a bit better in retrospect, but personally I would have liked to have a bit more insight into what was happening earlier.
  • Molded – I’m pretty torn on the Molded enemies which permeate the latter-half of the game. On the one hand, I love their unceremonious introduction: at one point in the game you just enter a room and suddenly this freaking blob of oily flesh sprouts from the wall and starts chasing you out of nowhere, it sets a great impression for them. They’re quite intimidating when they first appear, taking at least two headshots to take down with your starting pistol, and if you find yourself facing off against multiple Molded then you’re probably going to die. However, as the game progresses you’ll become more adept at killing them and the game throws more and more of them at you. At this point, the Molded become more of a nuisance than anything substantial. The first half of the game works so well because you’re being stalked by one powerful enemy in each area, regularly getting into combat with handfuls of Molded is less interesting in comparison.

Hate

  • Sluggish Movement – I swear to God, Ethan Winters is the slowest motherfucker in videogames. Oh sure, there is a sprint button in this game, but it barely makes a difference and if you’re being chased, it’s not going to be enough to get you away from that enemy. The game’s sluggish movement is not not helped by the difficulty of avoiding damage from enemies. If an enemy gets right in front of you, you basically have to either shoot it and hope to kill/stagger, block and reduce the damage you take, or quick-turn and hope you can run away (thereby completely losing sight of the enemy). Strafing and backing up are pretty much unviable with this movement speed. Most encounters in this game are designed to be very close-quarters (there’s no easy sniping in this game) so this is a more frequent headache than you may expect. You can compensate for it a bit as the game progresses, especially if the developers throw a big obstacle in the room that you can use to generate distance, but there are times where you’ll be in a completely open hallway and your only real option is to run, or you’ll see an attack coming but have no way to actually avoid it.
  • Load Times – I don’t usually worry that much about loading screens, but good God the load times in Resident Evil 7 are brutal. For me at least, going from the main menu into the game takes around 45 seconds to a minute to complete. And those found footage tapes I mentioned? Well, having to sit and wait for a load screen whenever you start and finish one is just more reason why those segments annoyed me and brought the pacing to a halt.
  • The Final Third of the Game – The gameplay loop of the first two thirds of this game is top-notch survival horror, exploring areas, avoiding enemies, gathering and managing resources, etc. However, shortly after you finish with Marguerite’s section in the Old House, the game becomes far more linear and never really gets back to the same level of quality. It’s a bit of a mixed bag – on the one hand, we get more story context and Mia goes from a damsel in distress to a straight-up badass, but the game also suddenly strips you of all your items not once, but twice which is a bit of a momentum-killer and the shift into more linear, action-heavy gameplay takes away a lot of what made the game fun to this point.

Resident Evil 7 was a great return to form for the franchise when it desperately needed it. By going back to its horror roots and not feeling like it had to fit the same mold as previous games in the franchise, it revitalized the series and finally got people excited to see where the series would go again. After slogging my way through 5 and 6, it was refreshing to play a well-paced, focused experience that didn’t overstay its welcome.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 3 (Remake)

While the remake of Resident Evil 2 was widely acclaimed, the follow-up remake of Resident Evil 3 has been one of the most divisive games in the entire franchise. Some people hate it, some people were left thoroughly disappointed and some loved it. With a reputation like that, you’d best believe that I have thoughts…

Love

  • Action Horror Spectacle – REmake 3 may look a lot like REmake 2, but this is a wildly different game. REmake 2 was more in the vein of the first REmake and RE7, emphasizing exploration, survival gameplay and inventory management. REmake 3 is more akin to RE4, 5 and 6, emphasizing action, set piece moments and narrative. I think this deviation disappointed some people, but what we got instead was a game that is completely focused on giving you fun spectacle and it totally delivers in that regard. Whether it’s fleeing Nemesis up a building that’s catching fire all around you, getting swarmed by a horde of zombies, or luring Nemesis away from a train full of civilians, there’s plenty here to get your blood pumping. That’s not to imply that there’s no horror here either, rather that it’s less “tense” and more “intense” and in-your-face. Between Nemesis chasing you at mach speed, the throat-fucking Drain Deimos hunting you in the power substation, getting stalked by two different varieties of Hunter and trying to deal with the Pale Heads, there’s still plenty in here to make you jump.
    • I need to give particular shout-outs to the first twenty minutes or so of this game in particular as it encapsulates this game’s strengths so well. After a quiet intro, Nemesis bursts through the wall and shows that he is basically indestructible. It’s all scripted so well and makes for one of the most badass and terrifying villain introductions that I’ve ever seen in a game. From there, Jill escapes into Raccoon City and finds that it is in total chaos as zombies roam the streets and quickly off her only ally, Brad. Then she has to flee to the roof of a parking garage, but Nemesis intercepts her, so Jill rams him off the roof of the garage with a car… but he keeps coming until Carlos shows up with a rocket launcher and takes him down, temporarily. It’s an incredible opening and I honestly don’t know how you couldn’t love it.
  • The Story and Characters – Here’s a hot take for you: REmake 3 has the strongest story in the franchise (well, that I’ve played so far anyway). It’s exciting, well-told, well-performed, the characters we meet along the way are all great and it feels like the gameplay is driven by the story. The game’s narrative is also bolstered by the fact that, due to the circumstances, Jill finds herself working alongside Umbrella. She isn’t forced to either, she makes an active choice to do so because she thinks it is the best option, which reveals insight into her character, while also ultimately humanizing the grunts at Umbrella who have been completely absent in the series to this point. The game also makes a point of showing Jill’s psychological damage from the Mansion Incident in the opening sequence. It’s very efficient decision because it never really comes up again, but you can tell that Nemesis becomes an embodiment of her trauma. This makes him more satisfying to take down since, thematically, he’s not just a big monster here, he’s all of Jill’s fears made flesh.
  • Jill and Carlos – Okay, I know I mentioned the characters in the last point, but I really need to hit home that Jill Valentine is a fucking badass in this game. She does so much cool shit, takes on an indestructible monster without letting the fear get to her and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She (justifiably) isn’t on very good terms with Carlos at the start of the game, but their relationship improves over time in an organic fashion. Speaking of which, Carlos is also a pretty cool character. He’s confident, capable and tries to do the right thing, which becomes more complicated when he realizes that his employers are responsible for everything that is happening. All-in-all, they make for a good duo, are given a ton of personality and the story wouldn’t be nearly as good without them.
  • Nemesis – Naturally, Nemesis’ shadow looms large over REmake 3. Every time he shows up, something crazy is about to go down. When he’s chasing you through the streets of Raccoon City, he’s utterly terrifying, making Mr. X look like a walk in the park. In fact, he may possibly too overpowered: he can sprint after you, snatch you with a tentacle and drag you back to him, dodge shots if you’re facing him head-on, launch a combo of punches at you, and turn regular zombies into dangerous NE-α zombies. Sure, a lot of his encounters are scripted, but damn if he isn’t one of the most intimidating antagonists in the whole franchise.
  • Dodge – Like the original RE3, REmake 3 includes a dodge mechanic. The game doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the timing for this, but I wanted a dodge so badly in RE7 and REmake 2. In those games, you get caught up close with enemies and have no real way to avoid damage at that point, so I’m happy that REmake 3 gives us this option. Once you come to grips with the dodge, it is a total life-saver, especially during fights with Nemesis.
  • Enemy Variety – There are quite a few different enemy types in this game, from regular zombies, to Cerberus, Drain Deimos, NE-α zombies, Hunter β and γ varieties, Lickers and Pale Heads, not to mention all the varied Nemesis encounters. The pacing for new enemy types is perfect as well, just when you’re getting used to an enemy the game will introduce a new one to spice up the gameplay. In fact it’s impressive enough that it made me realize how sparsely varied REmake 2 was in comparison.

Mixed

  • YMMV – I struggled to decide where to put this section, or if I should even include it at all. I really enjoy REmake 3, but I get that others are much more critical of it and that their complaints deserve to be addressed in some fashion. As this is a Love/Hate article based on my opinions on the game, it could easily give the wrong impression about the game to someone for whom those complaints could be a big deal. Ultimately I decided to address some of the complaints about this game here.
    • Cut Content/More Reimagining Than Remake – Fans of the original game were disappointed to find that areas from the original game were removed, most notably the clocktower sequence. Having not completed the original game, I don’t really have much nostalgia for it, nor am I expecting REmake 3 to play the same way, so ultimately this doesn’t impact my feelings about the game I actually got.
    • Short Playtime/Not Enough Replayability – REmake 3 is a 6-8 hour game on a first playthrough and can be completed in about a quarter of the time if you really rush through it, prompting some people to say it’s not worth the money if it’s that short. The game doesn’t include any alternate campaigns or bonus game modes like REmake 2 did. These complaints doesn’t hold any water for me, not only because I didn’t buy it at full price, but because I’m old and love games that deliver a great, focused experience in a reasonable amount of playtime. The way that the game is scripted to deliver fun in well-paced bursts makes it more than worthy of a replay in my opinion.
    • No Emphasis on Exploration/Too Linear – REmake 3 is a far more linear game than REmake 2, featuring much less exploration in its areas. You’ll basically just need one or two key items to backtrack through an area and completely explore it, which can take maybe half an hour of playtime or less. As I’ve stated, REmake 3 plays very differently than REmake 2 so if you were expecting or wanting the same gameplay then I can see how this would be disappointing. Personally I like a well-told, linear game so this doesn’t bother me much.
    • Nemesis Doesn’t Pursue You – After getting a load of Mr. X in REmake 2, a lot of people were expecting this game to have Nemesis pursuing you constantly in an unscripted manner. When they found that most Nemesis encounters were scripted events, they were disappointed by the result. I’ll be honest, Nemesis is at his most annoying in the unscripted sequences, being able to take away a lot of your ability to flee from him safely. For that matter, Mr. X worked well because he’s not following you through the whole game, I can see him being really irritating if you just want to get something done and you can’t because X gon’ give it to ya. Ultimately, while it might have been interesting to have a couple more unscripted Nemesis encounters, I am still pleased with what we got.

Hate

  • Nemesis De-evolution – About halfway through the game, Nemesis’ power limiter is destroyed and he starts to mutate. In the original, this just caused him to sprout some tentacles, although he retained his shape until he really devolved in his final form. However, in REmake 3, Nemesis goes from an intelligent pursuer to a large, dumb, beast-like form. It’s a big let-down, becoming a far less interesting foe than he was before. Sure, it’s still intimidating to get hunted by this relentless animal, but when he was still humanoid he felt far more cunning and dangerous.
  • Technically Rougher Than REmake 2REmake 2 was a very well-polished game but REmake 3 feels rougher in comparison. For one thing, the zombies in this game lack the dismemberment and gore system which was so satisfying in the previous game. Shoot a zombie in the arm and, instead of detaching, the arm will just explode and disappear. Similarly, distant zombies appear to render at a lower FPS, which is very noticeable at certain points in the game. I don’t know if these were all issues caused by the greater number of enemies on-screen, more detailed environments or maybe just a development issue, but it’s hard not to be at least a little disappointed that REmake 3‘s presentation is rougher.
  • Too Many Item Boxes and Typewriters – I feel like this is a weird complaint, but honestly there are way too many of these things in the game. The game’s areas aren’t all that big, but it feels like there’s always a safe room close-by when there really doesn’t need to be. It’s bad enough that there are multiple instances where you’ll be fleeing Nemesis and you’ll come across two safe rooms in the process, which not only breaks up the pace of the escape because he can’t follow you inside, but also trivializes the encounter since you can just save at each step. This also contributes to the game’s more linear feel, because if you throw save rooms around all over the place then the map doesn’t have to loop back to them. I just think it was an unnecessary and inelegant move. Like, if you’re gonna do that then you might want to rethink having an item box or typewriters to begin with and just do some other system. It feels like forcing survival horror elements into a more linear, action-focused adventure simply because it’s expected, not because it’s the best move for the game.
  • Siege Section – The hospital section of the game culminates with a big siege where Carlos has to battle a horde of zombies… and man, does this one part of the game suck. This is the game leaning too hard into the action side of action horror and it just feels like a chore, like the lamest version of Call of Duty‘s zombie mode. The worst part is that if you die, you have to redo the whole damn thing, which happened to me the first time I tried it.

I really don’t get the hate that REmake 3 gets. I can understand arguments about not being faithful enough to the original game, having a different feel than the acclaimed REmake 2, and being “too short”, but none of these hold any weight for me. The way I see it, REmake 3 is a game laser-focused on giving you a fun and totally badass romp through Raccoon City, and in that regard it succeeds with flying colours. During this most recent playthrough there were so many moments where I just had to stop and say to myself “How can you not love this?” Honestly, I enjoyed Resident Evil 3 remake more than Resident Evil 2‘s remake. Maybe that just speaks to my taste in games more than anything else, but if you write off REmake 3 then I just don’t understand you at all.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 2 (Remake)

It took nearly twenty years, but fans finally got the Resident Evil 2 remake they had been begging Capcom for. While I had played several Resident Evil games over the years, this was actually the first game in the franchise that I played from start to finish, so it’s ultimately the reason I started this whole Love/Hate series. I gave it another replay before writing this article to make sure my impressions were fresh. How does it hold up after playing through the rest of the series? Read on to find out…

Love

  • RPD Design – The Racoon City Police Department makes for a great setting for this game, it has so much character and personality. The decision for it to have been converted from a museum was inspired, granting it a history that you can see and makes it far more visually interesting than if it was just a standard police precinct. I like the Spencer Mansion just a bit more, but RPD would easily be my second favourite area in the whole series.
  • Open-Ended, Interconnected World – Carrying on from the last point, the game’s world is initially maze-like, but over time you’ll get keys and unlock doors to allow yourself to travel back to areas you’ve previously explored. Even when you’re done with any story moments involving the RPD, you can find passages leading back to it so you can pick up items you missed or just to show how connected the various locales in the game are.
  • Graphics – Resident Evil 7 looked good, but REmake 2 looks incredible. The team at Capcom have clearly come to grips with the RE Engine and are pulling out all the stops in this game. These visuals aren’t just to look pretty either, there’s a clear attempt here to make the game feel grounded and realistic and the at-times borderline photorealistic visuals really pull their weight.
  • The Gore – Resident Evil games have traditionally had a warning at the start that they’re full of explicit violence, but very rarely do they live up to that. Well, REmake 2 is living up to its zombie movie inspirations because it is not fucking around. In explicit detail you’ll get to see got faces torn open, a dude getting ripped in half from the waste down, chests exploding… and that’s just the stuff in cutscenes. The zombies show wounds as you hit them, so subsequent headshots will quickly leave their faces as nothing more than a fleshy mess. That’s not all though – zombies have a dismemberment system, so if you shoot them in the arm, then it may slowly detach and fall off over time. Hitting them with acid is probably the most gruesome example of this though, because it causes their skin to slough off in real-time as it literally consumes their flesh. Also, as someone who has seen what a shotgun does to a human face, I’ve gotta say that the critical headshot animation in this game is disturbingly realistic.
  • The Map – All my complaints about the map in REmake are addressed in REmake 2, it is an incredible quality of life addition which keeps all exploration-based frustration at bay. It clearly marks locations explored/unexplored, locked/unlocked doors, what key you need for each door, the locations of items you’ve found but haven’t picked up yet, points of interest and where your safe rooms are. Seriously, every game with a map needs to take a lesson from REmake 2, this is how you do it.
  • The Zombies – It’s a minor miracle that the basic zombies in this game are so goddamn terrifying. They move very erratic and unnaturally, which makes them unsettling and makes it very easy to miss a shot. This is particularly problematic because zombies take a ton of ammunition to put down, it can easily take 5+ headshots to down one and even then they will get back up again if you don’t double-tap them while they’re down. The resource-intensive nature of zombie combat means that, especially in the early game, non-confrontation is paramount for survival. While your resources are limited, you’re generally going to avoid zombies or only shoot them enough to get past them safely.
  • Mr. X – X gon’ give it to ya! Making Mr. X hunt and pursue you around RPD may just be the most inspired design decision in REmake 2. Jack Baker could be a localized nuisance, but Mr. X will hunt you around the entire police department (minus a few safe rooms, which is a bit immersion-breaking but it’s a welcome compromise). The best part is that even if you know what’s going to happen in the game, Mr. X will inevitably surprise you sooner or later. He’s always good for a couple jump scares, especially if you left any lickers or zombies alive in the RPD when he starts pursuing you. Hell, even listening to him stomping nearby and opening doors to find you is frightening as you can’t be entirely certain if it’s safe for you to head out or not.
  • A/B Scenarios Encourage Replayability – While Leon and Claire’s campaigns go through most of the same beats, each character has access to exclusive areas, story content and bosses which really encourages players to go through the game again with the other character. In addition to this, there are lots of optional game modes and scenarios for players looking to get more out of the game’s ~8 hour runtime.

Mixed

  • Post-RPD – REmake 2 loses some lustre after you leave RPD, as the subsequent levels are less well-designed and more linear in scope. While I don’t hate the sewers like some people do, it really can be hard to find your way around from place to place. It also doesn’t help that the map doesn’t clearly layout where the various staircases in the level lead you to, so you can wander trying to find a specific room if you forget how to get there.
  • The Story – I like how Resident Evil 2‘s campaigns play out for the most part. Leon and Claire are very likeable and charismatic leads, the mishaps they get into in their campaigns are enough to keep pushing you forward and the greater “lore” is compelling. However, the actual narrative itself can’t help but feel a little hollow to me. Leon and Claire don’t really change much over the course of their adventure and the antagonists have no real reason to be after either of them. The plot itself basically boils down to “the characters try to escape Raccoon City” and that’s it. Again, this works but it made me less engaged with the actual story than I would have liked.

Hate

  • Story Does Not Make Sense With A/B Scenario – The intent for this game is that your A and B scenarios are playing out at the same time, but because they overlap so much this doesn’t make any sense. You’re telling me Leon and Claire just happen to fight William Birkin in the same place, one after the other, multiple times in a row? Most egregiously, if we’re to make sense of the A/B Scenarios, then Annette Birkin pretends to die for one character and then comes back for the other one only to die for real that time. On top of that, the original games made certain items and characters disappear in the B Scenario depending on your actions in the A Scenario, but this game doesn’t do that. All-in-all, this contributes to the somewhat hollow feel that the game’s story leaves me. It’s top-notch survival horror but without a stronger plot it doesn’t resonate with me as much as I would like it to.
  • Sherry’s Stealth Section – Oh hey, a stealth segment in a non-stealth game is annoying you say? How surprising. In Claire’s campaign you get to play as Sherry Birkin briefly and her scenario has a stealth sequence where Chief Irons is looking for her. It’s basically just trial and error. If you know where you’re supposed to go then it’s fine, but you have a moment to figure it out or you’ll get caught and instantly lose if you fail.

Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic melding of classic survival horror game design and modern, single-player, AAA polish. Even if you haven’t played any Resident Evil games before I’d heartily recommend it, it’s a phenomenal experience that’s a joy to play through. It’s also on sale cheap all the time so you really have no excuse not to give it a shot if it interests you.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil (Remake)

Welcome back to another Love/Hate series! You may be surprised to hear that, despite having a whole Retrospectives series about the Resident Evil movies, until just over a year ago I hadn’t played through a Resident Evil game from start to finish. Sure, I had owned and played several Resident Evil games over the years, but it never really resonated with me much til recently. I’ve since been on a journey exploring this franchise and I’m now ready to put out my thoughts on most of the mainline entries. To start, we’re going to look at the Game Cube remake of Resident Evil (aka REmake), often touted as the definitive way to play the game. Does it still hold up almost 20 years later? Read on to find out…

Love

  • The Spencer Mansion – There are several iconic and well-designed locales in the Resident Evil franchise, but the Spencer Mansion is probably my favourite of the bunch. Its layout is maze-like and filled with locked doors but you’ll become very familiar with it over time, which is helped by the way the developers encourage you to traverse the map in a figure eight pattern. Its design also reminds me of the best parts of Dark Souls, where opening up new shortcuts makes the whole thing more interconnected.
  • Compelling Gameplay Loop – The basic gameplay in Resident Evil revolves around “find items to open new areas” and “manage your items and plan your routes to best survive”. While simple, it’s very compelling to play through. Every time you figure out where a key item needs to go it feels satisfying and every single item you take with you has to be strategically calculated because you’ll never have enough for all the weapons, ammo and healing you may need. Moreso than any other game in the franchise, Resident Evil is a game that emphasizes exploration over combat. The game’s basic, slow and infrequent combat works well because it keeps the tension going and makes the exploration feel dangerous.
  • Encourages Replayability – REmake has a frankly ridiculous amount of replayability. First off, the character you pick at the start of the game isn’t just a cosmetic choice – they can have a huge impact on game progression, cutting off entire boss strategies, providing unique weapons, items and skills (eg, Jill knows how to play piano whereas Chris cannot which makes solving a particular puzzle different), and opening up opportunities to get items early (eg, Jill can get a shotgun early if she performs actions in a specific order). In addition to this, while the game plays out largely the same, the story itself changes pretty significantly as Chris and Jill interact with different cast members who are absent from the other run and the ending you get changes depending on how many characters you keep alive. This makes a “B Scenario” run a very different experience. In addition, the game is more satisfying and can be completed in about half as much time as a first playthrough when you already know what needs to be done.
  • Atmosphere – One thing REmake does really well is nail the spooky, gothic atmosphere of the Spencer Mansion. The art direction for this game is spectacular, giving the Spencer Mansion a very antique, lived-in feel that comes across as believable. In addition, the game’s fix camera perspective allows the developers to direct players’ attentions in very deliberate ways, hiding enemies just off-screen to get a very cinematic scare or showing the action in a very voyeuristic manner to put you on edge. It gives the whole affair a very cinematic feel.
  • Meaningfully Adds to the Original – REmake takes the skeleton of the original game and remixes and polishes it to make for a much smoother and expanded way to experience this story. Additions like defense weapons make the minute-to-minute gameplay less punishing and overall this feels less like a graphical overhaul and more like a second chance to let us experience Resident Evil as it was always intended.
  • Option For More Traditional Controls – While REmake originally released with classic tank controls, the HD remaster added in the option to play the game with an altered control scheme. This altered scheme essentially allows you to move with traditional analog controls and removes the need to hold the sprint button. Basically, point the analog stick in the direction you want to go and the character will move that way. The controls are essentially reset every time the camera moves, but if you were already heading in a direction the game will continue to move you that way until the stick is shifted, at which point it will update. It still takes some getting used to, but for someone who didn’t grow up on tank controls it was easier to get into and actually made tank controls easier to wrap my head around.
  • Crimson Heads – Crimson Heads were a brilliant addition in REmake. In case you’re unaware, every time you kill a zombie in this game, their body will stay behind and a timer will begin to countdown. You have about an hour to either blow their head off or light them on fire or the body will resurrect as a fast, hard-hitting zombie the next time you pass by. This works so well on numerous levels. First of all, it provides a huge, unexpected shock for a first time player or veteran of the original game. The best part though is that even if you know about them ahead of time, it transforms the dynamic of every zombie encounter. There isn’t enough kerosene to burn every zombie, so you find yourself avoiding zombies for as long as possible, burning them only at the most high-traffic areas and remembering where you’ve left bodies that you’ll have to deal with later. It’s so weird to me that Capcom hasn’t brought them back since (unlike, say, Regenerators) because they’re top-tier Resident Evil enemies and brilliant game design.

Mixed

  • The Map Feels Half-Baked – REmake‘s map is handy and will be a constant companion as you learn the layout of the mansion. Beyond showing the building’s layout, it will also show you what doors are locked and unlocked, where you have found typewriters and item boxes and whether a room is unexplored, has items still in it or has been completely explored. That said, while it’s nice that it’s more than a bare-bones map, it could have gone so much further to make for an indispensable resource. For example, knowing which key you need to unlock which doors, what items are still in each room, what other points of interest there may be, etc. There is a lot of shit to keep track of in this game, especially in the mansion at the start of the game, so having it laid out on-screen would have been nice. It feels like it’s just pushing you to buy the guidebook to get all the item locations in one place… which, now that I mention it, is probably why the map is the way it is.
  • The Story – I’m pretty mixed on the story in Resident Evil. On the one hand, it’s very simple and functional, which serves the gameplay well, so that’s a major point in its favour. However, for the story we do get, we’re missing some major context to understand it. We get thrown right into the game with no real idea who is in S.T.A.R.S. Alpha or Bravo team, so whenever we run across a comrade in this story I have no idea if this is one of the survivors I’m supposed to be finding or someone who came with me and got lost. The story is also baffling at times, like when the player finds Enrico and then he GETS SHOT by someone behind you… and then Chris or Jill decides to focus all their attention on Enrico instead of, y’know, the murderous gunman who is just behind them. That said, we’ve also got stuff like the story of Lisa Trevor, which is conveyed well over the game’s runtime through text files and environmental storytelling.
  • HD Edition Graphics – The HD remaster of REmake is the most accessible version of the game out there, but its presentation is compromised compared to the Game Cube original. Apparently Capcom either lost the assets or source code for this game and had to Frankenstein the HD remaster together with what they had available. The pre-rendered backgrounds have had to be up-rezzed and stretched into widescreen and the results are mixed. I’ve played this game in 1080p on PS4 and you can definitely notice the low resolution there, whereas in 720p on Switch in handheld mode it holds up much better. Worst of all are the pre-rendered cutscenes which are in incredibly muddy 480p stretched to HD widescreen. Imagine if someone threw a bad Youtube rip into a game and you can imagine how it looks. Thankfully the character models are pretty decent, although I can’t help but feel that Jill and Barry got a lot more effort put into them than Chris and Rebecca. Chris’ dead-eye stare is more unnerving than most of the game’s zombies… The graphics issues don’t really tarnish the game overall, but they do hold back the presentation because, when everything falls into place, this game looks incredible.

Hate

  • Old-School Design Takes Getting Used To – As I have alluded to, if you didn’t grow up on old-school Resident Evil then REmake is going to take time just to get used to the simple act of moving around. I had tried to play this game 2 or 3 times before I finally knuckled down and did a full playthrough for this series. That said, the experience and knowledge of the Mansion I got in my previous attempt certainly helped make this playthrough much easier to slide into. It’s just too bad that there’s such a potentially steep learning curve to overcome before you can enjoy the game.
  • Inventory Management Can Get Frustrating – While inventory management is a fundamental aspect of Resident Evil, it can be frustrating, especially in a first playthrough. The item box is never far away, but you don’t know what enemies to expect or what you’re going to find, so you pack your best weapons and head out. Within a few minutes, you’re loaded up on key items, so in order to advance you’re going to have to go back and dump them in the item box. Then you set back out and, lo-and-behind, you find where those (or a different) key item needs to go, so now you have to turn around again and get them, then head back to use them, etc. Resident Evil‘s game design encourages conservative play, especially with its punishing save system, but the drawback is that it will bore you if you play conservatively. Again, this is why repeat playthroughs will be a bit more enjoyable since you should know when and where you need key items, but prior knowledge shouldn’t be a crutch for game design. There has to be a middle-ground where you maintain the game’s strategic inventory management while making it less frustrating, such as having less inventory slots overall but you can carry all key items, or maybe you could get an attaché case pickup that can store key items only.
  • A Lot of Uninspired Enemy Designs – For a series with such iconic, mutated monsters as Lickers, Hunters and the Regenerators, it’s surprising to go back to this first game and find that most of the enemies are just big animals. Seriously, four of the main bosses in this game are a big snake (who you fight twice!), a big spider, a big plant and a big shark. They don’t even look mutated or disfigured either, they’re literally just big creatures.
  • Voice Acting – Look, I get that the dialogue and voice acting in this game are a HUGE improvement over the original game, but if you think the voice acting in the game is good then you have a serious case of nostalgia. Most of the line-readings in this game are stilted and awkward. It’s an early Game Cube game from a Japanese studio and the voice acting is what you would expect of that era (eg, Final Fantasy X). In Jill’s campaign this wasn’t too big a deal for me – Barry and Wesker give the best performances in the game so that helps offset things, and Jill’s line deliveries give the game an unintentional B-movie horror tone. But, oh my God, the voice acting and writing is so bad in Chris’ campaign. I beg you to check out that link; between Chris’ dead expression, the awful dialogue and bad line deliveries, I cannot take the story seriously at all.

While it did take me a long time to come to grips with this game, I’m really glad that I finally gave REmake a fair shot. It’s still a really fun time and its emphasis on exploration above all else still gives it a unique feel which no other game in the series can really boast. Plus it takes what worked with the original game and expands it, polishing it to a mirror sheen and establishing itself as the definitive way to experience this story. If you have any interest in the series, I’d definitely recommend checking this game out.

Love/Hate: Dead Space Extended Universe

From the very beginning Dead Space was conceived as a multi-media franchise. To that end it managed to build up quite the impressive collection of extended universe material in the five years it was active. Having dabbled in EU material from Star Wars, Halo, Warhammer 40,000 and Splinter Cell (among others), a lot of the time these story extensions are viewed as inessential marketing material. As a result, they typically aren’t very well written, don’t stand on their own merits, or are just “bolter porn” (eg, action fests with little in the way of characters or depth). Luckily, Dead Space has some real gems within its EU, although there is still plenty of material which fit into the latter categories… Sounds ripe for a love/hate breakdown to me!

Also, before we begin, I need to mention that the only piece of Dead Space media I never consumed was the mobile game, due to me not having a smartphone at the time. If I had played it I’d probably include it here and from what I hear it was a fantastic game, but the game is no longer supported on modern Android devices and is unavailable on the Play store. If I can manage to get ahold of it I’ll write a whole entry for it, assuming I have enough thoughts for a post. Anyway, with that aside out of the way, let’s dive in!

Love

  • Dead Space (graphic novel) – EA and Visceral games demonstrated that they were not fucking around with the Dead Space brand as the very first piece of media out of the gate was this six issue comic series and it is easily the best entry in the franchise outside of the actual games. There are a few reasons why this graphic novel is essential reading for horror fans. First of all, the writing is pretty great. Antony Johnston portrays how the entire Aegis VII colony goes to hell in compelling detail, slowly building up the tension to the point of absolute desperation. Secondly, Ben Templesmith’s art is perfect for this kind of story, being very clear but stylized and inked in a manner which gives it this manic, twisted and dark edge. Thirdly, it is the definitive tome about what happened on Aegis VII, which we only get bits and pieces of in Extraction, and therefore is essential for fans. Finally, it’s the perfect entry point to get into the franchise – you don’t need to know the lore to understand it, because everything gets laid out for you organically.
  • Dead Space: Extraction (comic) – Perhaps unsurprisingly, the one-off direct follow-up to the Dead Space comics is just as compelling and essential for fans of the series. Antony Johnston and Ben Templesmith essentially take a victory lap, showing us what Nicole is up to on the Ishimura during the outbreak and gives us more insight into her psychology and personality than any other entry into the franchise. That alone is enough to make Extraction worthwhile reading (especially since Nicole is essentially treated like an objective rather than a person elsewhere), but there’s such a bleak and tragic atmosphere to the whole proceeding that makes it so sad to read, especially since you know how it’s all going to turn out.
  • Dead Space: Martyr – This one really surprised me. Like I said up top, video game extended universe novels have a shaky track record and going through the first chapter of Martyr made me think that my low expectations were going to be met. However, by the time the second chapter starts, Martyr gets enthralling. It works for the same reasons that the Dead Space graphic novel works – it’s all about the build-up. You’re going to notice a trend as this goes along: necromorphs are great video game monsters, but an outbreak is boring in a non-interactive medium. Martyr focuses on the madness that the marker causes and the machinations of the people around it, for good or evil. It also gives fans essential insight into Michael Altman, the “Prophet” of the Church of Unitology, and shows us that he’s not a bad guy as we might have expected. Martyr really surprised me with how good it was and it makes for a chilling read with an ending which is just pitch-black.
  • Samuel Irons – I’ll cover Dead Space: Downfall in its own section later, but the one thing I love in it is Samuel Irons, who I would argue is straight-up the best character in the entire Dead Space franchise. Seriously, he’s a goddamn champ and is literally the only Unitologist we get to see who isn’t portrayed as a fanatic or outright evil. Dude even gets his own badass line before he goes off to face a swarm of necromorphs: “I’m not a hero… just a man”.

Mixed

  • Dead Space: Salvage – In the interstice between Dead Space and Dead Space 2, Ben Templesmith was dropped as the artist on the comic series and was replaced with Christopher Shy. I don’t know if this was for creative or financial reasons, but Shy’s artwork is as gorgeous as it is haunting and very befitting of the Dead Space universe. However, this is ultimately a blessing and a curse for Salvage. On the one hand, it lends the graphic novel a distinct and captivating visual style, making every panel a work of art. However, Shy’s style doesn’t lend itself very well to the story being told here. Salvage follows a team of “Magpies”, illegal salvagers who stumble upon the remains of the Ishimura as Earthgov is seeking it in the aftermath of the first game. We’re introduced to a huge cast of characters, but Shy’s art style makes it difficult to tell who is who in any given panel, who is saying what and even what is going on at times. Like, you can understand the broad strokes of the story with little issue, but good luck knowing what’s happening panel-to-panel. Hell, about two-thirds of the way through I realized that all the Magpies were on board the Ishimura – I had thought that only a recon team went aboard that whole time! Like I said, the art alone makes slogging through Salvage worthwhile, plus it gives us some really interesting insight into the greater Dead Space universe and the story itself is enjoyable enough when you can understand it, but the unnecessary confusion makes Salvage more difficult to appreciate than it should be.
  • Dead Space: Aftermath – I have a soft spot in my heart for Aftermath which makes me overlook its glaring flaws. First off, it must be said – the CG animation in this movie? DOGSHIT. Seriously, the animation is ReBoot levels of quality (which isn’t a knock on ReBoot, for the record, but you’d think that 17 years of advances in computer technology would raise the minimum threshold). Since almost half the movie is rendered in this machinima-level style, that’s a major issue right off the bat. However, the story structure and characters manage to make Aftermath interesting (for fans of the series at least). Each of the four main characters’ gets a POV section where their part in the story is told via a different anime style flashback. It’s really obvious that this was done so that five different animation studios could be working on the movie simultaneously and for minimal expenditure, but it’s integrated into the narrative itself in an ideal manner. Plus it helps that all of these anime segments are well animated, as opposed to Dead Space: Downfall (which we’ll get to soon enough…). The characters aren’t revolutionary, but they’re interesting enough to carry the proceedings, especially Nolan Stross, whose role in Dead Space 2 is far more interesting when you have this film’s insight into his backstory. Unfortunately, the film suddenly devolves into yet another outbreak story about halfway through, and I really do mean sudden – one minute everything’s fine, the next there’s necromorphs all over the O’Bannon. Aftermath‘s first half does a really good job setting up the madness and expanding the series’ lore, so when it rushes into a half-assed and boring outbreak scenario it’s a real bummer. Like I said, I have a soft spot for Aftermath in spite of its several flaws which would probably throw it right into the “Hate” section for most, but there’s just enough interesting lore and story here that I can’t help but find it interesting.
  • Dead Space: Catalyst – After the surprisingly good Martyr, my excitement for B.K. Evenson’s follow-up novel, Catalyst, couldn’t be higher as the hype train for Dead Space 3 approached. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as captivating as its predecessor was and is arguably the single most inessential piece of media in the Dead Space extended universe. It follows estranged brothers Istvan and Jensi, along with Jensi’s friend Henry. Istvan has some sort of mental illness which makes him psychotic, which eventually leads him to assassinate a political figure and end up in a remote prison facility where a marker research station is housed. Jensi and Henry try to rescue Istvan… but then another outbreak happens. Sigh. Compared to Martyr, Catalyst has far more interesting and compelling characters and the whole setup works really well. Unfortunately, it’s all in service of just giving us yet another necromorph outbreak story and little else beyond that. About the only revelation with potential impact is that Istvan’s mental illness is such that he can change the marker signal, but it is barely developed and Evenson is careful to cut off that source of potential future storytelling. It’s an alright novel, but it didn’t stick with me or demand my attention the way Martyr did.
  • Dead Space: Liberation – Acting as a direct prequel to Dead Space 3, Liberation gives us the backstory for John Carver, showing us the shittiest day of his life. Christopher Shy is back but this time his style has been reined in to be far less ethereal and abstract and instead more moody and realistic. This makes it far easier to follow the story and I can’t say I was ever lost or confused. However, Antony Johnston (writer on the Dead Space comics and games up to this point) was replaced with Ian Edginton (his series Scarlet Traces is well worth checking out!) and the difference in style between the two is night-and-day. Like Dead Space 3, Liberation is a fast-paced, high-stakes action story, where necromorph outbreaks are so inconsequential that we get two of them! Liberation really suffers from being a prequel – there’s no conclusion and all the major plot beats are basically just to set up stuff that will happen in Dead Space 3. Of all the Dead Space extended universe media, Liberation may just be the most obvious marketing ploy of them all. That said, the only things making it worthwhile at all are getting insight into John Carver’s character and Shy’s continued exceptional artwork.

Hate

  • Dead Space: Downfall – I rewatched this movie for this article and good God I still dislike it. The first big issue? The awful, bargain-basement animation. Just look at that screenshot above – it lacks any sort of detail and is meant to be as simple as possible. As bad as it looks in screenshots, it looks even more terrible in motion, with choppy animation demonstrating that they couldn’t afford/be bothered to key in enough frames to make it look smooth. I don’t know if the studio just got overwhelmed with the work they had to do, but it makes me glad that Aftermath took the approach of farming out work to several studios as its animated segments look leagues better (y’know, aside from the awful CG parts). The second big issue is that the main character, Alissa Vincent, sucks. She’s your generic take-no-nonsense head of security and spends the whole movie being insubordinate, hot-headed and doing random acrobatics in the middle of gun fights. She feels like a lame RPG character rather than someone who belongs in the more grounded Dead Space universe. The third big issue is that the story kind of sucks. There’s some enjoyment to be had in seeing the Ishimura plunge into chaos, especially Captain Matthius’ growing paranoia and delusion, but when the film turns into a montage of Vincent and her Dungeons & Dragons party getting into several shootouts with necromorphs it’s just plain dull. Sure, Downfall has Samuel Irons, but he’s the only thing about this movie that I actually love. Dead Space: Extraction covers the fall of the Ishimura as well, so as far as I’m concerned Downfall can be straight-up ignored in the continuity of the franchise.
  • Dead Space: Ignition – Soooooo, I know for a fact I’ve never played this game, but checking through my PlayStation account reveals that at some point I bought it and then never played it… So, um, I want my $5 back, EA. That said, I’m probably better off for never having played Ignition because it’s apparently the crappiest entry in the entire franchise (and that’s factoring in all the games and extended universe, including Downfall). Do you like hacking minigames and cheap comic book art? I sure hope you do because that’s all you’re going to get out of this experience! The only purpose this game serves to the series’ narrative is letting us know a bit about Franco before he’s immediately offed at the beginning of Dead Space 2, but like… who cares? Skip this one for sure.
  • EU Peters Out By Dead Space 3 – Moving on to more general thoughts, it sucks that Dead Space 3 killed the series because it effectively killed the extended universe while it was at it. This especially sucks because Dead Space 3‘s story was ripe for spin-off tales. After all, it introduced a rogue, militant terrorist faction of the Unitologist Church who come out of nowhere, wipe out Earthgov and then cause outbreaks across the galaxy, which the game promptly forgets. That’s a bunch of potential horror stories that went completely unmined. Even then, the two EU stories we did get during Dead Space 3‘s cycle, Catalyst and Liberation did almost nothing to expand the series’ scope or lore. Dead Space and Dead Space 2‘s cycles both gave us new insights into the universe or background events, which makes the sudden disinterest come Dead Space 3 even more depressing.
  • The Portrayal of Religion – One thing that has always annoyed me about the extended universe in Dead Space is that it’s really obvious that the writers have a bone to pick with religion. Everyone writes off Unitologists immediately and calls them crazy, despite the fact that they’re often being confronted face-to-face with the literal holy object of their religion. Like, I’m no Scientologist, but if someone showed me Xenu I’d at least consider the possibility that they might have some answers. Naturally, every Unitologist (except for Samuel Irons, the goddamn champ) gets written as a fanatic or downright evil, while the people who explicitly oppose them are “rational” thinkers like scientists, doctors and… uh… the police. This despite the fact that about half of the Unitologist characters weren’t even known to be Unitologists until the events of the stories, showing that they’re really just regular people for the most part. It’s just so obviously anti-religious sentiment and is excessively simplified to the point of being insulting (such as the implication that being religious causes you to be more susceptible to the marker’s maddening effects). This also ignores that the Dead Space series makes it explicitly clear that governments are the real villains, Unitology is just a tool. Hell, even the series’ writers seem to have forgotten this because by the time Dead Space 3 rolls around the government’s killed off-screen and we have moustache-twirling religious loonies as the villains. The treatment in the franchise is just lazy and makes “Unitologist” shorthand for “villain” 99% of the time.
  • No Resolution – Sure, you could argue that Awakened ends the franchise with everyone dying, but I don’t buy that. Dead Space has too many loose ends still dangling, the most crucial of which is Lexine. Dead Space 4 (or an EU story at the very least) NEEDED to bring Lexine into the forefront and make good on Nicole’s revelations in the Extraction comic – it is possible to defeat the necromorphs. Hell… I’m half tempted to write my own version, because EA sure as fuck is never going to.

Love/Hate: Dead Space 3

Man, I was being nice to this game back when I wrote my original review of it. The intervening years have made me more and more hostile to Dead Space 3, especially considering that EA used its moderate success as an excuse to kill the franchise. That said, there are things to love about Dead Space 3, so let’s dive in and check it out…

Love

  • Tau Volantis is Cool – I remember a lot of fans complained that a Dead Space game was going to be taking place on a planet back in the day, but I’ve never had an issue with this. For one thing, it’s still sci-fi and for another, a frozen planet is barely a step down from the existential danger of space. In fact, it opens up new opportunities for horror – enemies hidden in the snow, body temperature regulation, snow squalls, etc. Visceral Games use all of these elements throughout the game and make the most of the setting within the framework they set for themselves.
  • Side-quests – One of the most interesting new additions in Dead Space 3 is the optional “side-quests” that you can embark on. These reward the player with supplies for completion and, most importantly, provide little self-contained stories to uncover. I’m a sucker for side-quests and appreciate their inclusion in this game – it gives me some fun, optional content to explore and rewards you for taking the risk.
  • Co-Op is Entirely Optional – Co-op modes were being shoehorned into games during this time period and often resulted in you being forced to wrangle a friend whenever you wanted to play, or dealing with invariably awful AI companions. Dead Space 3 makes the elegant decision to make the game’s marquee co-op mode entirely optional. Want to play through the game solo? That’s cool, Carver will be awkwardly on the fringes of the entire story, but you’re otherwise not even going to notice. It is a far more preferable solution to this than brain-dead AI that turns into a frustrating burden. The only issue is that certain side-quests are co-op only, making it feel like you’re missing out on content for not participating.
  • Extensive Weapon Crafting System – Dead Space 3 is often criticized for its weapon crafting system, being blamed for reducing the horror. However, I feel like it provides a more elegant solution to the weapon management system from the previous games, effectively allowing you to pick the weapons you actually want to use and mash them together into two personal super-guns. Sure, this also results in them being potentially overpowered, jack-of-all-trades crutch weapons, but Dead Space 3 is designed around that so it works. Getting your preferred weapon to a “just right” state is satisfying in itself and there are so many combinations you can produce that it’s cool to see it in action.
  • Supercharged Kinesis – In the very late game Dead Space 3 goes off the rails in terms of its stakes. One of the best parts of this though is the supercharged kinesis – kinesis has always been fun, but how do you like the idea of tearing the limbs right off of attacking necromorphs or launching entire markers at the real hive mind of the necromorphs? It’s a power fantasy but it feels so damn good while it lasts.
  • The Space Section – After the introduction, Dead Space 3 spends a good hour or two in orbit around Tau Volantis. It feels like a watered down version of classic Dead Space, but it’s still a blast to play through as you fly through a spaceship graveyard and trying to get the parts to repair your own craft. I especially like the art direction on the necromorphs here, they’ve been dormant for almost 200 years and they look so desiccated after all this time.
  • Feeders – Dead Space 3 doesn’t introduce a lot of new enemies, but a couple of them are great. Most pertinent are the Feeders, blind necromorphs that are attracted to strong light sources and sound. Having to deal with enemies in a non-combative way is a great change for the series and provides some of the few true horror moments in the game. Plus their backstory is amazing, having been created after starving humans got desperate enough to feed on the flesh of defeated necromorphs. In addition to Feeders, the Shambler is also a cool concept, where a necromorph decapitates a victim and then embeds itself in their neck cavity to control the body.

Mixed

  • Body Temperature Regulation is Underutilized – I know I praised Dead Space 3 for how it makes the most of Tau Volantis, but one thing it could have done more with is body temperature regulation. When you crash land on the planet you have to stay in proximity to heat to avoid freezing to death, but you soon find a thermal suit and never have to worry about it again. If they hadn’t done this then there’s definitely the potential for this to just become a burden, but handled well I feel like having to worry about freezing to death would have added far more tension to the game and made Tau Volantis itself a more dangerous setting.
  • Awakened DLC – Once again, a Dead Space story DLC lands in the mixed section, for similar reasons. On the plus side, Awakened drastically ups the horror elements compared to the main game, making for a tenser and more interesting experience. However, its ending leaves a real sour taste in my mouth. For one thing, it effectively undoes the ending of the main game, going from a bittersweet ending to one that is straight-up nihilistic. The fact that this is the last piece of Dead Space story we’ve ever gotten just makes it worse. Don’t get me wrong, a bleak ending can work but I don’t feel like it was earned at all. In addition, are you telling me that no one managed to evacuate Earth to the several stations and colonies we know humanity has? Hell, I was under the impression that the vast majority of The Sprawl was evacuated in Dead Space 2 and that was in the middle of a full-on outbreak in a confined station. It just makes me even more annoyed that we never got Dead Space 4 starring Lexine Murdoch-Weller going out to kick some necromorph ass.

Hate

  • Balance Is Out of Whack – Dead Space and Dead Space 2 struck a fantastic balance of making health and ammo scarce while giving you just enough enemies to deal with where you felt like you were barely holding on. Dead Space 3, however, completely fails in this regard and just feels cheap at times. The game inundates you health pickups, to the point where I never managed to run out (and, to be more accurate, my inventory was chocked full of them at all times). You’re also never going to run out of ammo for any particular weapon, because ammo pickups are now universal. Enemy encounters are just a pain in the ass though – you get swarmed by enemies from all angles, to the point where it just feels cheap. I’m not sure if this is because the game only has one spawn system to cover for single player and co-op, or if the game has just been designed to try to overwhelm you, but it makes planning less important than spraying and praying.
  • Microtransactions – Dead Space 3 was the prototype for forced-in microtransactions in single player games. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a big deal back in the day because I never felt like you needed to rely on them to get supplies, but goddamn if their putrid legacy can’t be felt to this day. The fact that this game was so groundbreaking for something so shitty is an irredeemable blight on the game that can’t be taken away.
  • Human Enemies – By far one of the worst aspects of this game is that it turns into a cover shooter at certain points. I’m playing Dead Space, I don’t want to play a crappy version of Uncharted or Gears of War. It’s just… ugh.
  • Everything is Watered Down – Did you like Dead Space‘s mix of horror and gore? Cool, then how about we give you an action game in the vein of Uncharted instead… While Dead Space 3 does have occasional moments of light horror, the game is on the whole orders of magnitude less scary and far less violent. Hell, even aspects of the previous game which return here, such as the Stalkers, are changed to be less scary (instead of trying to flank you, they just charge instantly). Like I said, the weapon crafting and universal ammo reduce the tension as well in favour of straight action. What do we get instead? Over-the-top set pieces which quickly outstay their welcome. Even some of the necromorphs are wielding weapons in this game, which just makes them less inhuman terrors.
  • The Story – Hoo boy, strap in because there is a lot to talk about in this regard:
    • In regards to the set-up of this game, within the first few minutes we’re told that Unitologist terrorists have straight-up wiped out EarthGov and are launching terrorist attacks across the galaxy to try to initiate convergence. Holy shit, that’s crazy! I hope you don’t care about this interesting turn of events though because the game never returns to it and we never got any extended universe content to cover these monumental developments. To make matters worse, Awakened ends with Isaac and Carver trying to contact EarthGov so… did they (by which I mean the writers) forget what happened?
    • I also don’t like the concept of the Brethren Moons. For one thing, we don’t need to know what controls and creates the markers, the mystery is part of the allure. Beyond that, we’ve already got enough complication – the markers make the hive mind, which controls the necromorphs… so what’s the point of a hive mind if there are actually Brethren Moons? It’s the sort of plot development that I hate, where it relies on ever-growing stakes to feel important. Like, what was next for Dead Space 4, finding out what’s controlling the Brethren Moons?
    • Oh and nearly every single character in Dead Space 3 SUUUUUUUCKS. Main human antagonist, Danik? He’s such a lame villain. At least Tiedemann in Dead Space 2 was somewhat understandable in his motivations, Danik is just a monologuing asshole. And speaking of assholes, Norton spends the entire game being a jealous prick to Isaac. Even Carver’s a real dick, but at least he has something of an arc where he becomes friendly over time. Most of the rest of the cast are cannon fodder, except for…
  • Ellie Has Been Sexed Up – God damn, EA wanted Dead Space 3 to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, so what’s one way they went about this? They sexed up Ellie Langford, softening her features, presumably giving her implants and then showing off a ton of cleavage whenever possible. Like… it’s so in your face and so obviously pandering that I hate it.
  • It’s Compromised to the Core – Perhaps the worst thing about Dead Space 3 after all this time is that the game is fundamentally compromised. Visceral clearly didn’t get to make the story or game they wanted to, but in order to keep the series going they had to give in to EA’s demands… and for what? The game still didn’t do well enough to keep the franchise alive and even if it did we would have gotten a Dead Space 4 that was even more removed from what made this franchise great in the first place. All we’re left with is a game which betrays everything we liked about Dead Space to begin with and ends the series on a truly sour note.

Love/Hate: Dead Space 2

Welcome back to the next entry in the Dead Space Love/Hate series. Today we’re going to be looking at Dead Space 2, which is probably my favourite entry in the franchise and straight-up one of my favourite games ever. That said, there are still things that bother me even in my favourite games, so let’s get into them…

Love

  • Builds On The First Game’s Strengths – For the most part Dead Space 2 plays like the first game did, but better. There’s more of everything – more enemies, more weapons, more varied encounters, more intensity, more polish, etc. It doesn’t take any huge leaps forward but it doesn’t need to – it takes an already solid foundation and just makes it better in every way.
  • Balance of Horror and Action – A lot of people say that Dead Space 2 isn’t nearly as scary as the first game, but I disagree. While Dead Space 2 has a bit more action, it still balances this with intense encounters and a pervasive scary atmosphere. Just as much as the first game you’re having to balance your sparse reserves of health and ammo and plan out how you’re going to survive every encounter. Big set-pieces like the Tormentor fight are still intense and terrifying and to this day I can remember moments of horror like fighting my way through the necromorph infested school.
  • Isaac Speaks! – Dead Space 2 really drives home how much Isaac Clarke’s silent protagonist turn in the first game was a mistake, because he displays so much more personality here. It opens up so much more opportunity to interact and react to the world around you. It also makes it easier to show off his personality and the influence that the marker is having on his sanity.
  • Story Is Improved – One area where Dead Space 2 excels over its predecessor is its much more interesting story progression. Kicking off in one of the most viscerally-memorable opening sequences I’ve ever experienced in a game, Dead Space 2 throws you into the middle of an active necromorph outbreak as Earthgov and the Church of Unitology fight over control of Isaac. Meanwhile, Isaac is just trying to figure out how to destroy the marker and survive, while being taunted by haunting visions of his deceased girlfriend, Nicole, as his sanity is ripped away. It makes for a far more interesting narrative than the relatively simple “bitch work” in the first game. The story even explores some deeper themes, showing the toll that grief takes on the mind and the process of overcoming it.
  • New Enemies Are Amazing – Dead Space 2 introduces several new and iconic enemies to the series, making combat encounters even more varied than they were before. The best is by far the Stalkers, velociraptor-like necromorphs that hunt in packs, peeking out around corners at you and running away to find the best place to get a sneaky flank on. Hearing one of these things letting out their charge-scream when you don’t know where it is coming from is panic-inducing. Pukers are also very iconic enemies, to the point where I had completely forgotten that they weren’t in the first game. Their corrosive and slowing projectile vomit attacks can create really tense problems for Isaac if they aren’t managed carefully and getting too close is a potential death sentence. The Pack and Crawlers are also great enemies and terrifying reminders that the necromorphs are merciless, wiping out all living beings regardless of their age.
  • New Weapons Add More Variety – There are three new weapons in Dead Space 2, adding more ways to dismember necromorphs. Of these, by far the coolest is the javelin gun, a weapon which shoots out huge javelins which can impale necromorphs and pin them to walls and, to add insult to injury, be electrocuted for additional damage. The detonator is also cool, acting as a grenade launcher that can be used to set traps around the environment. Finally, the seeker rifle is effectively a powerful battle rifle, allowing you to fire at distant enemies with greater precision. Furthermore, old weapons have been rebalanced to make them more useful, such as the pulse rifle gaining a far more useful grenade launcher alt-fire mode. The flamethrower’s still pretty meh though.
  • Free Movement in Zero-G – The space sections of Dead Space felt gimmicky, but the feature is fully fleshed out in Dead Space 2, allowing you full ability to move and shoot in zero gravity. Put simply, it makes these sequences much more exciting and fun to play through.

Mixed

  • Severed DLC – The Severed story DLC for Dead Space 2 is such a mixed bag of glorious highs and disappointing lows. One the plus side: holy shit, it’s a bite-sized narrative sequel to Dead Space: Extraction! It gives us even more of Dead Space 2‘s fantastic gameplay! We get some really interesting lore for the factions in the Dead Space universe! Twitchers are back! But on the disappointing side… it’s barely an hour long (for ~$7)! Lexine’s back and gets screwed over even harder than in Dead Space: Extraction (she’s shunted into a relationship with Gabe, despite both of them not getting along at all in Extraction, and spends the entire game being damselled despite once again being the most important person in the Dead Space universe)! Ultimately, it’s more Dead Space 2 so it’s worth it for me, but I can’t help but wish it was its own fully fleshed-out experience.

Hate

  • Obligatory Multiplayer – Like many AAA games of the era, Dead Space 2 has a tacked-on multiplayer mode that no one wanted or asked for, which exists purely to extend player engagement and sell multiplayer DLC packs. Don’t get me wrong, there are tacked-on multiplayer modes from this era which were surprisingly fun, such as Metal Gear Online and The Last of Us, but that was because they offered some sort of fun unique experience that you couldn’t get elsewhere. While the concept of playing as a necromorph is enticing, it is ultimately just not very fun to play and struggles to justify the mode’s existence. Like… if I’m playing Dead Space 2, I’m there for the story mode. There’s nothing here to keep me interested.
  • Hard Core Mode is BRUTAL – I don’t bother to go for Platinum trophies unless I really enjoy a game, so the fact that I went for it on Dead Space 2 should show how much I was dedicated to the pursuit. To this day there is only one roadblock keeping me from the Platinum – beat the game in Hard Core mode. Can’t be that bad, right? I soldiered through Zealot mode no problem, what more can the game throw at me? How about beating the game on Hard but with only 3 saves to get you through the whole 6+ hour runtime of the game? So not only do you have to plan out the points you save ahead of time, but if you reach that point and your health/ammo are low? Too bad, you’re screwed. Oh, you died? Say good bye to an hour and a half of gameplay! And don’t even think about having a life, you have to dedicate it to this game solely if you want to earn this trophy. Seriously, I just don’t have the time to throw myself into this mode and deal with the frustration that it demands just to get a digital trophy. The fact that even 6% of players have beaten the game on this difficulty is insane to me.
  • Final Boss Fight… Again – Once again the final boss fight in a Dead Space game is questionable. After blasting through hordes of enemies and barely surviving the regenerating ubermorph, Isaac reaches the marker and gets dragged into a hallucination where he has to fight off Nicole, necromorphs and damage the marker. Do this three times and convergence is stopped… because the marker’s creator has to be absorbed in order for it to work? What? The marker is destroyed because he managed to literally overcome his grief? It’s better than the original Dead Space‘s ending and it makes sense thematically, but it’s a weird-ass way to defeat the final boss for an otherwise straightforward game like this and just makes the lore around markers convoluted… Okay, that’s a bit of a nit-picky hate, but seriously, this game is just so damn good.

Love/Hate: Dead Space – Extraction

For the second entry in the Dead Space Love/Hate series, we have Dead Space: Extraction, the shockingly good rail shooter spinoff for the Wii… like, just typing that out makes it even more surprising that this game is as good as it is. I played this when it was ported to the PS3 alongside Dead Space 2 and had a great time with it. That said, for everything I love there are always things to hate – let’s take a look at the breakdown.

Love

  • Wisely Translates Dead Space to Motion Controls – The Wii had a terrible track record of nigh-unplayable ports which were marred from the system’s underpowered specs and reliance on motion controls. Rather than try to put a lesser version of the original game onto the Wii, the devs at Visceral Games wisely chose to make a brand new experience from the ground up. This allows Extraction to provide a fun experience well worth checking out for fans of the first game and exist on its own merits at the same time. It also manages to keep the horror elements mostly intact, providing plenty of build-up before confrontations and making running out of ammo terrifying as you get swarmed by necromorphs.
  • Compelling Side-Story – Prequels and side-stories often struggle to justify themselves in video games, but Extraction has the benefit of being legitimately interesting. Dead Space‘s world was designed to be expanded upon and the events that took place on Aegis VII were only hinted at in the first game. The comics and movies cover this ground as well, but Extraction is the most comprehensive and engrossing version of what happened on Aegis VII and the Ishimura. As a result, it’s well worth playing for fans of the series and doesn’t suffer from demystifying the events that led up to Dead Space. It also helps that the mainline Dead Space games always happen long after or in the middle of necromorph outbreaks, so seeing one from the very beginning provides a very different and just as compelling experience.
  • Action Reloads – In addition to all its changes as a result of adapting to the Wii’s hardware, Extraction introduces action reloads to the series. It’s a small change but it is so satisfying to pull these off consistently (that sound effect is pure bliss) and necessary to survive the swarms of enemies that come at you. Fumbling an action reload can be a horror unto itself as you’re stuck reloading those extra moments while a necromorph is bearing down on you.
  • Enjoyable Characters – Extraction spends a lot of time just letting you get to know the characters and having them interact with one another. They’re all fairly stock characters (Nathan’s a detective, Gabe’s a soldier, Lexine is the over-her-head civilian and Warren’s the executive company man), but the amount of time we get to spend with everyone makes them grow on you and there are a few twists and turns as it goes along. Lexine in particular has a fascinating secret which I wish would have been explored further in Dead Space 3 or 4.

Mixed

  • Pacing – Rail shooters tend to conjure up images of endless bullet-fests, but Extraction tends to take its time between confrontations, building up the characters, atmosphere and tension instead. While this ultimately makes for a better experience in my opinion, it’s undeniable that you’re going to need patience because Extraction can take a long time to get from place to place, moreso than any of the mainline games in the series.
  • Voice Acting is Spotty – As much as I enjoy the characters and interactions in this game, and as great as Laura Pyper’s Irish accent is, it’s hard to deny that the voice acting is questionable at times. Whether it’s weird delivery or bad acting, every single main character suffers from this at some point. It’s not constant and it’s not a crippling issue, but it does make the game’s emphasis on the characters awkward at times.

Hate

  • Poor Graphics – I get that Extraction is a Wii game so Visceral had to work with what they could, but the game still looks really rough, especially in the HD PS3 port. I think that a lot of the game’s assets are recycled from Dead Space, but scaled down so that we’re stuck with really muddy textures. The bodies of dead necromorphs also immediately dissolve, which I can only imagine is related to the Wii’s underpowered tech. That said, at least the framerate is silky smooth in the PS3 port (can’t confirm whether this carries over to the Wii version), which is important since the whole game is in first person with a lot of head-bobbing. A sub-60fps would be nigh unplayable so while the graphics are bad at least the game’s still very enjoyable in spite of this.
  • Seriously, Another Asteroid Shooting Gallery? – One of the universal complaints about the first Dead Space is that the section where Isaac has to man a cannon and shoot asteroids is the worst part of the game. So what do they do in Extraction? Why, they added another shooting gallery as you approach the Ishimura! It’s just as bad as it was in Dead Space and judging the distances of incoming projectiles is unforgiving.
  • The Objectification of Lexine – Like I said earlier, Lexine is probably the most fascinating character in the game. Everyone else is an archetype, but she gets at least a bit more potential in that she’s a civilian who’s caught up in all of this mess and has to make the most of it. The fact that she’s immune to the Marker signal and causes the people around her to be as well also makes her potentially the most important character in all of the Dead Space universe, brimming with story potential. So what does Extraction do with her? Well, within a minute of the game starting she’s getting overt sex comments from her boyfriend. That’s innocuous enough, but then it’s implied that Nathan McNeil keeps her around because he wants to seduce her, he stares at her ass at one point, he stares at her during one scene when she’s gratuitously naked and she needs to be rescued on several occasions. When you add it all up, Lexine’s portrayal turns her into a damsel and sex object. None of the other characters get this sort of treatment and it sucks.
  • Rushed Ending – The ending of Extraction is strangely rushed and sudden. After the survivors escape the Ishimura, suddenly the screen fades to a necromorph POV which attacks Lexine… and that’s it. Did a necromorph sneak on board the ship? Did they survive? It’s so ambiguous that Word of God had to step in and reveal that this necromorph was Nathan McNeil, who somehow got infected and transformed on the ship as they got away. We now know that Gabe and Lexine survived, but there’s no way to know this based on the way Extraction ends.

Love/Hate: Dead Space

Dead Space is one of my favourite video game franchises. It’s like it’s made to appeal to me – horror, sci-fi and twisted monsters intent on tearing you apart. During the series’ hey-day, I enthusiastically consumed every bit of Dead Space media I could get my hands on. The franchise has had its ups and downs, which makes it ripe for a Love/Hate series! Naturally, we’ll start at the beginning with 2008’s Dead Space

Love

  • Solid Gameplay – Dead Space was conceptualized as a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 and builds on that game’s foundation in some fantastic ways. For a long time people said that the restrictive controls in early survival horror games were a key part of the experience. Dead Space showed that you could have free movement and enjoyable gameplay and still have a terrifying game experience. More specifically:
    • Strategic dismemberment makes combat far more interesting than just making enemies into bullet sponges. Blowing limbs off also dynamically changes necromorph attacks – cut out their legs and they’ll crawl after you, blow off their head and they’ll flail wildly, take off an arm and they’ll have one less way to kill you, etc. Some enemies are also only vulnerable to specific attacks so it keeps combat constantly engaging.
    • Stasis and kinesis are also great tools for combat, light puzzle-solving and environmental traversal. Stasis in particular is essential to survive the swarms of enemies you’ll face in the late game and kinesis can be the difference between life and death when ammo gets scarce.
    • Another thing that I really appreciate about Dead Space‘s design is that ammo and health pickups are wisely restricted to keep you desperate, especially in the late game. I can still remember getting into combat encounters where I had a handful of ammo and had to actively strategize how to get through the next encounter alive, it makes for intense, thrilling gameplay.
  • Immersive In-Universe HUD – One of the coolest design aspects of Dead Space is that it doesn’t have a traditional HUD showing health, ammo, etc. Instead, these are all built into Isaac’s outfit (RIG) and weapons. Unlike some other games at the time which tried to cut down on HUD elements (such as Splinter Cell: Double Agent, which removed the visibility meter for a binary red light/green light), the information visible to the player isn’t inadequate either, everything they would need to know is clearly communicated and visible at a glance.
  • Sound Design – One aspect in which the Dead Space series was universally commended on was its sound design. From the blasts of your weapons, to the screeches and roars of the necromorphs (I can still remember being freaked out the first time I heard a Divider), to the sounds of things scuttling around out of sight, it all helps to create a pervasive horror atmosphere for the game. The way that sound is almost entirely absent during sections that take place in space are particularly notable, featuring just dull thuds which makes these areas an eerie highlight.
  • The Horror – Dead Space‘s horror takes elements of the Resident Evil games and mixes them in with influences from The Thing, Alien, Event Horizon and zombie movies to give us an enticing cocktail. You’re just constantly on edge, unsure where or when danger is going to come at you. It even trains you over time – is something going to come out of that air vent? Is that slasher just playing dead (you quickly learn to stomp every corpse, even human ones, just to be safe)? When the door opens is there going to be something on the other side? The resource management I’ve previously mentioned also helps here, keeping every single encounter tense and ensuring that you can never let your guard down.
  • Enemy Variety – Dead Space features fifteen unique forms of necromorphs, enhanced forms of most of these, plus three boss monsters, all presenting unique threats and requiring different methods to dispatch them. This variety helps ensure that Dead Space‘s combat encounters never get old as the enemies and environments can be mixed and matched to present unique challenges. Particular highlights include the Pregnants, whose bloated chests will spew out several small enemies if shot, Leapers (who never fail to stress me out) and the shriek-inducing Twitchers. Also worth mentioning is The Hunter, a necromorph that rapidly regrows its limbs and stalks you as you try to complete your objectives during two parts of the game. The first time you encounter it, you have to use kinesis to create a path to escape as it’s bearing down on you – I can still remember being freaked out!
  • Organic World Building – Like many games of its time, Dead Space populates its environment with audio logs and diary entries, filling out its world without forcing the player to sit through mandatory exposition dumps. Some of these logs are quite affecting – as you travel through the game you’ll find snippets from Jacob Temple and Elizabeth Cross, another couple who are fighting to reunite with one another. When you finally catch up with them, it makes for a tragic moment because you’ve invested so much in their journey and serves to make the psychotic Dr. Mercer that much more of a villain. In addition, the game imparts details about fictional concepts like planet cracking, the state of the galaxy and the Church of Unitology organically, giving us a sense of what the Dead Space universe is like without having to show us directly.
  • The Ishimura Layout – The Ishimura makes for a claustrophobic and cramped locale to try to survive on. It feels appropriately old, grimy and lived-in and each deck has its own unique feel to it. It’s a fun, varied environment that helps drive most of the game’s terrors.
  • Brutal Death Sequences – No one wants to die in a video game, but if it’s gonna happen then at least you can revel in the morbid satisfaction that is Dead Space‘s BRUTAL death sequences. Isaac gets chopped to bits in various manners that really drive home how relentless and merciless the necromorphs are.

Mixed

  • The Story is Functional But Unremarkable – The story in Dead Space is pretty simple – bad stuff happening in space, Isaac volunteers to man the rescue mission because his girlfriend is caught up in the middle of it all. From there you spend the next several hours surviving and uncovering exactly what happened, but a lot of it ultimately boils down to bitch work: something bad happens on the ship, so Isaac gets told to go fix it. It works and it helps drive the game forward, but it’s not super compelling on its own. There’s a twist towards the end that is also not particularly satisfying because the red herring is really obvious.
  • Oxygen Meter is Kind of Pointless – Isaac has a limited reserve of oxygen when entering the vacuum of space. Initially this creates some additional anxiety and you can even upgrade your RIG to have a greater reserve… however, this is a waste of a power node. You realize pretty quickly that oxygen is more of a threat than a real problem – after all, the developers had to design all vacuum sections to be completed without requiring upgrades. In addition, there are O2 refill stations and, if that wasn’t enough, portable air canisters. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever died from lack of O2, nor have I bothered to waste my valuable power nodes on upgrading my supply. Spend that shit on stasis or your guns.
  • Zero G Sections Are Clunky – While functional at the time, movement in the zero gravity segments of the game is pretty stiff. Basically, you have to aim at platforms and press a button, which will launch Isaac towards it automatically. Again, this works, but compared to later games in the series, it’s far less enjoyable to move around in zero G.

Hate

  • Situational Weapons – There are seven weapons in Dead Space, each with a primary and alternate fire mode… and some of these are just crap. The flamethrower in particular is almost universally acknowledged to be dogshit in nearly every situation, especially when its jobs could easily be done with a less situational weapon. To add insult to injury, it can’t even be used in a vacuum in this game and can’t even hit most of the bosses at all! The Pulse Rifle and Ripper are also quite weak without significant investment in upgrades. I also never liked the Force Gun, it’s is only really good for knocking back enemies, but I’d rather just kill them outright. Personally, I tend to stick with the Plasma Cutter as my mainstay, Line Gun for heavier targets, then maybe the Pulse Rifle, Ripper or Contact Beam for my last two slots, depending on what I need at the time.
  • Silent Isaac – The sequels made Isaac’s “silent protagonist” turn in Dead Space worse, but even at the time this was a dated element of the game. While Isaac does manage to show a bit of personality just through his actions, it really limits how engaging he can be, in favour of being a blank slate for the player to project on. Even then, it’s just plain weird that he’s not talking to people who are talking to him or reacting to all the horrors going on. Like, he’s not gonna say anything about the monsters or the people committing suicide in front of him…?
  • Final Boss is Disappointing – After hours of tense horror, the final boss fight suddenly turns Dead Space into an action spectacle. It goes against the whole point of the game and doesn’t provide much of a challenge for that matter. I feel like the regenerating Hunter provided a better template for how to make a horrifying boss, but the Hive Mind makes for a disappointing finale.
  • DLC – Being a PS3/Xbox 360 game, Dead Space comes with obligatory DLC in the form of reskinned costumes and weapon skin packs. The costumes that give you in-game effects that shake up the game slightly, but there really isn’t much to them and they don’t change the game enough to be worth it in my opinion. Effectively, it’s DLC for the sake of DLC.

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#10-01)

We’re finally here! We’ve whittled down the Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises to the ten best films. Which one will come out on top? Read on to find out…

10) Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
After so many awful sequels, it’s refreshing that we finally got a worthy successor to the original Halloween. While the other sequels tried to come up with ever more convoluted means to continue the storyline and Michael’s killing sprees, H20 takes things back to the most logical jumping-off point and deals with how Laurie’s life was impacted by the events of that Halloween night twenty years ago (acting as a sequel to only the first two Halloween films and ignoring the rest). In that time Laurie has faked her own death, moved across the country to California, had a son and is now a teacher at a private school, but she hasn’t been able to confront the trauma of what happened 20 years ago. The premise alone puts H20 well ahead of other sequels in this franchise because it actually has some things to say about fear and trauma and how it can ruin not only your life but the lives of those around you if you don’t confront it. Luckily for Laurie, Michael Myers manages to figure out where she’s living and pencils in an exposure therapy session for that Halloween evening…

H20 has been compared to Scream many times, although I feel like the comparisons make you expect a far more referential film than what we got (it very much lacks the meta elements which basically defined the Scream franchise… although it does have some unexpected meta elements like Janet Leigh acting as Laurie Strode’s maternal proxy). I mean, sure, the film very clearly exists in the post-Scream landscape with characters who aren’t complete idiots. Just compare H20 to Halloween 6, which had come out only three years earlier – that film felt like a late 80s slasher, with its bloated mythology, idiotic teen cast and over the top gore, reeking of a tired genre content to just coast off of the lowest common denominator. In contrast, H20 is written in a fairly clever and fun manner, ditching a reliance on lazy tropes and with no one being truly stupid. It actually takes its time to establish the characters and setting before setting loose. After a trio of early kills, Michael takes almost an hour to really get into his murder spree, similar to the original film, which gives us time to get to know the victims on the chopping block. That said, this is very much Jamie Lee Curtis’ movie, as Laurie Strode is by far the most compelling character (good try though, Josh Hartnett). Seeing her confront her fears and then beat the tar out of Michael Myers is quite entertaining and a satisfying arc for the film.

However, I can’t be entirely positive about this film. For one thing, the movie is very heavily relying on your previous knowledge of Michael Myers for his character to be in any way compelling. It’s not like the original Halloween where we get to meet Laurie and see Michael stalking her menacingly the entire time, here Laurie gets most of the focus and then Michael just kind of shows up momentarily on occasion. Hell, even when he does show up, he doesn’t even kill anyone, despite having two different occasions to do so. I kind of like the restraint, but again if you didn’t come in knowing Michael would probably usually kill these people then it just makes him look like less of a threat. I think that they just could have done more to re-establish him in this film, especially considering that it wiped several sequels off the slate. However, the issues with Michael are nothing compared to the ending. Like, I’d knock a whole point off this movie’s score for the crappy ending. There’s a certain satisfaction to having Laurie kill off Michael Myers definitively, but even if you didn’t know about the pre-planned retcon this ending was preparing for the next film in the franchise, it’s still insane. So Laurie kidnaps Michael in an ambulance at gun point, drives like a maniac, runs him over, rolls down a cliff side (and gets herself ejected from the ambulance in the process, unscathed), pins Michael to a tree and then chops his head off! Like… just let her kill him in the school! Dammit, LL Cool J! Ugh, I just hated how ridiculous that ending got, it felt like an escalation that went way too far, and knowing that it was to bake in a potential sequel in incredibly convoluted fashion just makes it worse.

Those gripes aside though, H20 was really enjoyable… and thank God because the Halloween franchise was a real slog to get through for this count-down. It’s really no wonder that they went back to H20‘s ideas for another go-around in 2018. Oh, speaking of which…

9) Halloween (2018)
At first glance, Halloween 2018 (the third freaking movie in this franchise with the same title) is basically just a redo of H20 – after all, it features Laurie Strode once again dealing with PTSD, a crumbling family structure and fighting back against Michael Myers. However, there are some fundamental differences that make this a different story at its core. First of all, in H20 Laurie was running away and hiding from her past because she can’t bring herself to confront it and this fear is suffocating her relationship with her son. In Halloween 2018, Laurie is obsessed with the events of the original film and has been preparing for, what is in her mind, an inevitable final confrontation with Michael Myers, to the detriment of her family’s well-being. Another fundamental weak point of H20 is that Michael Myers is just kind of… there. It relies very heavily on you already being invested in the character going in, but it doesn’t really do much on its own to sell him as an intimidating foe. However, Halloween 2018 immediately sets up Michael Myers as this mysterious, inhuman, almost otherworldly monster in the shape of a man even before he starts going on a killing spree. Then, when he does escape, his threat is established when he mercilessly kills a freaking child, which actually makes later moments even more tense such as when he passes by a crib with a crying baby.

Perhaps what makes Halloween 2018 stand out so much though is that it is easily one of the best directed and edited films on this entire countdown. Directed by David Gordon Green, perhaps best known for directing the freaking Pineapple Express of all things, crafts some of the best moments in the entire franchise. The extended one-take which sees Michael make his way through Haddonfield on his random murder spree is expertly crafted, while other very tense moments include a father and son coming across the crashed sanitarium bus and the truck rest stop attack. It’s not every year that you can say that the editing in a slasher sequel puts Oscar nominees from the same year to shame, but that’s how good Halloween 2018 is.

The main issue with Halloween 2018 though is the writing, which is a bit of a mixed bag. When it comes down to it all, the film is basically just standard, predictable slasher movie sequel fare. Sure, the execution is much better than your average slasher sequel, but there are still issues. The middle of the film in particular feels like it’s about one draft away from being perfect, because there’s all sorts of weird issues. For example, we get a random subplot where Allyson’s boyfriend cheats on her, which ends up having pretty much no purpose and goes absolutely nowhere. The momentum in this section also starts to stagnate – Laurie keeps talking about how Michael is going to be coming after their family and tries to secure them all, but he’s really just killing randomly. It’s pure coincidence that Michael happens to come across Allyson, and then pure convenience when Dr. Sartain ends up transporting him to Laurie’s house for the final showdown. And then Allyson spends nearly the entire last act running through the woods and only ends up putting herself in danger stupidly by blundering into Laurie’s house when Michael is on the loose. Ultimately, it wasn’t really worth it for Laurie to ruin her family’s life due to her paranoia, because if she had just moved out of Haddonfield then they probably wouldn’t have been in any danger anyway because Michael sure as hell did not seem to care about seeking her out.

That said, the writing of Halloween 2018 still does some great things. In particular, the victims in this film are almost always more than just pure cannon fodder. On several occasions we’ll get to meet a group of characters right before they get into danger, and they’re actually written in a way that makes them interesting, which makes it hurt a lot more when they meet their grisly demise. Even the assholish characters, like the pair of podcasters who are investigating Michael’s history or Allyson’s friend who tries to come onto her after her boyfriend cheats on her, are sympathetic enough that we don’t really want to see them die. In any other slasher sequel, they would have just been written as cartoonish dickheads, but here they’re actual people and it really sucks when Michael kills them. The last act is also pretty great on the whole as Laurie and Michael go head-to-head in a very Skyfall-esque sequence. Seeing Laurie clearing her house room by room and then locking them down afterwards is pretty awesome, showing off how capable and prepared she is. Like, why can’t we get more badass final girls like this? Horror movies seem to think that they need to have stupid, incompetent final girls who are powerless against the villain, but seeing badass Laurie Strode trading blows with Michael and still getting overcome regardless is way more tense in my opinion. It makes for an incredibly satisfying conclusion to the film, moreso than H20‘s ending as far as I’m concerned. That said, we do know that we have two more Halloween films coming in this new continuity, so hopefully they don’t completely invalidate the successes of this newest sequel.

8) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
There’s nothing truly revolutionary about Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – after all, it’s yet another movie that boils down to “Jason murders horny teens”. However, The Final Chapter is easily the best rendition of that formula. Part of what makes it so much better than its predecessors is that it doesn’t waste any time with lulling the audience into boredom in order to get a fake-out or cheap scare, most of the action comes hard and fast. Even the obligatory opening recap is a lean three minutes and manages to cover all of the events of the previous films quite well! The Final Chapter also has some of the most entertaining victims in the entire franchise (most famously, an awkward Crispin Glover). Sure, they’re almost all dickheads, but they’re actually pretty enjoyable to watch, they don’t make you want to pull your hair out when they’re on screen like Shelly from Part III does. What also helps to set it apart is that the dickhead teens aren’t the main characters, it’s the Jarvis family living next door. This addition allows The Final Chapter to follow the usual formula of offing all the cannon fodder and then move over to the Jarvis’ family for further carnage, and features some clever writing to allow Trish and Tommy Jarvis to survive their night of terror. As the title implies, The Final Chapter was indeed intended to be the last Friday the 13th film, and it’s clear that the filmmakers really were trying their absolute best to make this the most definitive film in the franchise rather than another cheap follow-up. They certainly succeeded, and many people will rightly say that it’s the best film in the entire franchise. However, there is one other Friday the 13th film which often is cited as the best, and for my tastes I have to give it the slight edge…

7) Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
A lot of people will debate whether Jason Lives or The Final Chapter are the best Friday the 13th movie, but for my part I have to give the slight edge to Jason Lives. While Part IV is essentially the best execution of the classic formula, Jason Lives reinvents the franchise to be just more lighthearted and a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, the previous Friday the 13th films had had some fun with their kill sequences, but they mostly aimed to be serious and scary. Jason Lives isn’t quite so concerned with that, instead making Jason’s murder spree as enjoyable as possible. It also resurrects Jason in such a cartoonish manner that you can’t help but smile in glee at this new, super-powered zombie Jason (in my opinion, the best version of Jason in the franchise).

Of course, it’s not just the fun times that make Jason Lives so good, because otherwise Jason X would be in this spot. No, Jason Lives also has a solid story revolving around Tommy Jarvis, back once again and more badass than ever, trying to take down Jason once and for all. Tommy also has a burgeoning romance with the sheriff’s daughter, which doesn’t please the sheriff too much when all of the murdering starts going down. It even manages to make Jason’s murder spree more tense than ever because this time there are actual kids at Camp Crystal Lake which the counsellors have to protect! It’s nothing mind-blowing, but Jason Lives is executed to such perfection and is so enjoyable that you can’t help but love it, especially considering that they managed to reinvent the franchise so well six movies in!

6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
I imagine that there are some people who are shocked that I’ve ranked Freddy’s Revenge so highly on this list, but I really enjoyed it. I know a lot of people dislike that it has very little to do with any of the other Nightmare films and doesn’t really follow their continuity (plus, y’know, some people are also just homophobes). Hell, in some ways I think that it manages to be more compelling than the original. Much of this comes down to a very well-written story centred on Jesse Walsh, a young man whose body is being taken over by Freddy Krueger. Pretty much all discussion on this film goes to how clearly gay it is, especially for a mid-80s film, so you can see how these themes about body and instances of body horror are really compelling. I feel like the addition of the character Lisa muddles this somewhat, since by the end Jesse seems to have settled into a relationship with her, despite the film heavily implying that he is much more interested in his friend, Grady. Regardless, it’s a much more thoughtful and interesting film than nearly any other slasher sequel and I kind of wish that more Nightmare films had followed its lead.

Freddy Krueger is also very different in this film. He still invades Jesse’s dreams, but he uses this as a means in which to take over Jesse’s body and force him to kill for him. This culminates in an unforgettable scene where Freddy literally bursts out of Jesse’s body, shredding his skin like a cocoon, akin to a werewolf transformation sequence. Freddy is also truly terrifying in this film, grim and dead serious. The film itself can be pretty weird at times though, such as when Freddy’s powers cause a parrot to explode, causing Jesse’s dad to inexplicably blame him for the strange happening. People like to cherry-pick that moment for being bonkers, but I view it as part of the gay themes, with his dad creating irrational explanations for Jesse’s changing behaviour in order to keep his own masculine view of his son intact. That said, there are some sequences in Freddy’s Revenge which do feel like they’re just padding for time (such as that parrot scene), which cause the film to feel a bit more bloated than the original, but don’t let that turn you away – Freddy’s Revenge is a great film in its own right, I loved that it was very unique without having to rehash the original Nightmare‘s formula all over again.

5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Dream Warriors feels like a truly blockbuster horror film, much like Aliens was the year before. In fact, Aliens is a great movie to compare Dream Warriors to: if the original Nightmare is Alien, then the Aliens-like Dream Warriors expands the scope of its universe, ups the stakes, pushes its characters further, and makes Freddy Krueger more grandiose than ever (in part due to some fantastic special effects). It does so by introducing a new heroine, Kris, a girl who has the power to pull other people into her dreams. It’s a bit of a strange set-up, but combined with returning heroine Nancy Thompson’s knowledge, the latest group of teens being targeted by Freddy are able to band together to try to fight back against their tormentor before he can kill them all.

Dream Warriors doesn’t waste too much time rehashing the same story as the original – the kids all know from the start that Freddy’s after them and they’re actively trying to avoid sleeping or at least put themselves on a watch to at least get some rest. The characters are actually pretty smart and well-written, which makes the fact that Freddy is able to still isolate and pick them off even scarier, which also shows off just how much power he has in the dream realm. This also makes the spectacular kill sequences even more impactful and memorable, because you don’t really want to see any of them die. Some of the deaths are just as iconic as the big kills from the original, such as the brutal sequence where Freddy pulls a guy’s tendons out to turn him into a human puppet, or when he comes out of a TV to ram a girl’s head into the screen.

As fun as Dream Warriors is though, it is also a really messy and inconsistent film. For all of the cool things it brings to the franchise, it also has some elements I really didn’t like. For example, each character brings along some sort of ill-defined “dream power”, which feels like it could probably have been expanded further. Like, Kincaid’s power is that he becomes strong, but… it’s a dream. Could he not theoretically do anything if he is in control of his own dreams? I get that they probably don’t want the Dream Warriors to be able to fight back too easily, but it feels like a pretty artificial limitation. Worst of all though is the addition of a dull subplot involving Freddy’s mother and Freddy’s bones needing to be consecrated in order to put him to rest once and for all. It just sucks and every time the film cuts away to this subplot it loses a lot of the energy it has built up. Still, it’s not enough to truly ruin the film, and Dream Warriors brings so much fun to the table that it feels like a true successor to the original Nightmare‘s legacy.

4) Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
People are probably going to be angry that I put this ahead of Dream Warriors, and I can understand that. After the disaster that was Freddy’s Dead, Freddy Krueger felt totally defanged, so Wes Craven came back to the franchise to bring true horror back to the character. New Nightmare isn’t following the slasher formula so much, instead it is more of a psychological and supernatural thriller, with the focus being put onto Heather Langenkamp (playing a fictionalized version of herself), with Freddy being mostly an unseen, menacing presence. The film is also very slow in the middle and could have done with some tightening up in its almost 2 hour runtime.

Wes Craven essentially tested out his idea of meta-horror here for the first time, which he would later go on to redefine the horror genre with in Scream. Most people say that Scream does so much better, but I think that New Nightmare is pretty damn close to its successor. The fact that it’s a sequel dealing with its franchise’s own legacy and how that impacts the people involved in constructing that legacy is fascinating and not the sort of thing that can be explored in a stand-alone film. That said, it can feel like Wes Craven’s being more than a little self-congratulatory at times (especially with his explanation of Freddy’s demonic origins), although thankfully it doesn’t get nearly as bad as, say, Lady in the Water. Add in a stand-out performance from Heather Langenkamp and her compelling relationship with her son and the cultural legacy of Freddy Krueger and you’ve got a socially-relevant horror film with actual things to say.

I will note though that it starts to crumble a bit by the end when the more familiar slasher antics start to trickle in and the new, more menacing Freddy starts acting silly. The effects when he’s defeated (…spoiler?) are also embarrassing to witness. Still, I have to give this the edge over the funner, but much more uneven, Dream Warriors.

3) Halloween (1978)
A lot of people would have put Halloween at the top of this list, but I can’t really justify that myself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an undeniably good film with great direction from John Carpenter, an iconic soundtrack and a good lead performance from Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s such a simple film, especially considering how the slasher genre evolved in its wake – Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium, comes back home to Haddonfield and then stalks and kills a group of babysitters on Halloween. Michael himself is very clearly intended to be as simple as possible. He doesn’t really have a motivation to kill or a personality to speak of, he’s just evil. That could come across as just lazy for most films, but Halloween manages to make it work so well in part because it absolutely commits to the idea. The way that the main characters are handled also helps to make Halloween what it is. We spend a lot of time getting to know Laurie Strode and her friends while Michael Myers stalks them for a very long time. This creates a tension which just continues to build and build as you’re left wondering when or if Michael is ever going to strike. Then, when he finally does, all hell truly breaks loose as Laurie and Michael end up in a terrifying pursuit, which is also helped by how capable Laurie is.

Unfortunately, most of Halloween‘s issues come down to how dated it can feel at times. For one thing, the slasher boom which it inspired can make it feel quaint and restrained in comparison (and hence the accusations that it’s a simple film). The fact that this film was so influential also makes Laurie look like an idiot in retrospective, since she keeps turning her back on Michael when she thinks he’s dead. In a post-Halloween world we all know that you make sure that the killer’s dead, but there’s no way that Laurie would have known that… it doesn’t make me think she’s any less of an idiot though when I see her do it twice in 2019 though. Still, Halloween builds tension expertly and that’s an element which can’t be taken away from it, no matter how much time passes.

2) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
So many slasher movies tried to just get a slice of the popularity of Halloween, but A Nightmare on Elm Street surpassed them all by being incredibly creative. Rather than just have another killer on the loose, this killer stalks his victims in their dreams. It’s a pretty simple twist, but it adds a whole new dimension of terror, because not only do the characters now have to beware of a process which is just a part of everyday life, but it also allows the villain to break the usual laws of reality for some truly spectacular kills, not to mention scares such as the bathtub scene or Freddy’s silhouette coming out of the wall. It also establishes Freddy Krueger as an iconic, sadistic and truly evil villain for the ages. Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson is also one of the best final girls ever, very capable and clever, although Heather’s acting is a bit wonky throughout the film. The film also over-explains itself at times. For example, Nancy gets a phone call from a visibly broken phone, which some editor decided we needed to then needed to have confirmed was broken and then have Nancy say so as well for good measure… we get it, you didn’t need to reiterate the same thing over and over, movie. Really though, these are ultimately very minor gripes compared to the stupid, studio-mandated ending. I really hate the way this film ends, it was clearly done to get in “one last scare”, but it just shits all over the characters we’ve grown to care for during the film. Still, I can get over a crappy ending when the rest of the movie is so good. I love the inventiveness on display throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street, which easily establishes it as one of the greatest slasher flicks of all time (not to mention one of the best slasher franchises too, especially considering that four of the top ten films here are from the Nightmare franchise!). However, there can only be one film on the top of this list and I definitely know which slasher film I love the most…

1) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
If you’ve read my retrospectives series, then you know that I love this movie. Kind of like Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a very simple film – a bunch of teens keep wandering onto a farm where they come across a family of murderous cannibals. However, it’s not the plot which makes this film so good, it’s the fantastic direction, the beautiful cinematography, the unrelenting intensity, the unsettling atmosphere and surprisingly deep themes. Very few horror movies actually scare me in any way – in fact, I’d say that literally no other film in this entire countdown gets my blood pumping at all (it makes it pretty difficult at times to figure out if a film is actually scary to most people or not). However, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is so unsettling that I can’t help but feel something while watching it. And it does it all with minimal on-screen violence! There really wasn’t an other film in contention for this #1 spot as far as I’m concerned, it’s just that good.

…and that’s it for the countdown! We’re not quite done yet though – be sure to tune in again soon as we go through some of the best moments in these franchises!

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#20-11)

We’re getting close now! After whittling our way through a bunch of truly crappy slasher films, we’re finally into the top 20, where I actually start enjoying some of these films! What a nice change of pace! With that said, let’s get back to the countdown, starting with #20…

20) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
In a lot of ways, The Dream Master is like a rehash of Dream Warriors, but to a much lesser effect. It makes the questionable decision of killing off all of the surviving dream warriors in the first act, replacing them all with a new protagonist, Alice, who inherits Kris’ powers… somehow. Somehow’s probably a good description for The Dream Master, because the film just doesn’t bother to make any sense. Freddy’s powers expand to whatever’s most convenient for the writers at the time, such as how he gets around being buried and consecrated by being resurrected… in a dream. Shouldn’t he have not even been able to affect dreams if he was gone anyway? Who cares! And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous way that Freddy is defeated, I’m not sure I could even explain what the hell that was all about if you held a gun to my head. Freddy himself is starting to turn into more and more of a toothless cartoon here, with the particular lowlight of having him use his razor glove as a shark fin and then putting on a pair of sunglasses on the beach. However, The Dream Master is a pretty fun film overall with some of the best kills in the franchise. Debbie’s kill in particular is incredible and shows off this film’s fantastic special effects as she’s turned into a bug. It’s certainly a huge step down for the Elm Street franchise after so many good films, but at least The Dream Master is entertaining enough that it’s watchable.

19) Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
I know a lot of people hate Freddy vs. Jason and I kind of get it. The characters all suck, Freddy doesn’t get to do much, the fights are cartoonish and making Jason afraid of water is ridiculous. However, after more than two decades of slasher sequels just doing the same thing over and over again, they have to do something interesting to actually stand out to me. After getting burnt out on so many bad slasher sequels, at least Freddy vs. Jason had two horror icons going head-to-head with one another in truly brutal fashion. And, unlike many “versus” films, the showdown in the title isn’t just a tease – Freddy and Jason really do get some great fights during the film, culminating in a brutal final battle to see who will come out on top. The whole premise of the film is pretty clever too, featuring a hell-bound Freddy manipulating Jason into murdering people in Springwood so that the murders will be attributed to Freddy, which will allow him to return to the dream realm and continue killing. Sure, most of the individual aspects of the film are pretty crappy, but ultimately the blockbuster premise of the film is enough to make it stand out compared to most other slashers.

18) Halloween (2007)
Halloween has always been a difficult film to follow up on. The original film is, by design, incredibly simple and it’s difficult (perhaps even impossible) to recapture that magic now. It is perhaps unsurprising then that Rob Zombie’s Halloween is notoriously divisive. The film tries to be both an origin story and a remake at the same time, to mixed results. I actually liked the origin story segment of the film, for the most part. It’s something different, more of a character study of a disturbed mind. I know I’ve slagged a lot of the Halloween films for complicating Michael Myers’ “pure evil” motives, but since this is a remake, not beholden to the rules of the original story, I can get on board with a more humanized, rage-fuelled, clinically psychopathic take on Michael Myers. Daeg Faerch’s performance as the burgeoning serial killer is fantastic.

However, the second half of the film is where it all begins to crumble. It takes about fifty minutes (in the Director’s Cut anyway) for Michael Myers to escape and for the narrative to finally get past what was only the first few minutes of the original film. From this point onwards, Rob Zombie’s Halloween is basically just a poor remake of the original. Worse, moving the story in this direction largely makes the more enjoyable origin section largely pointless. What purpose was there in humanizing Michael Myers, making him seem sympathetic and downtrodden, if you’re just going to shift the story’s perspective to Laurie and have him murder innocent people like in the original film? It feels like they felt like they had to hit all the iconic beats from the original film, but with the fundamental context of the villain changed, it doesn’t make sense. Given what we’ve seen of Michael up to this point, he kills in violent fits of rage when people antagonize him (Ronnie, Judith, the asshole nurse and the asshole redneck orderlies). He even has people that he likes and cares for (specifically, his mother and his baby sister). So why would he go on a murder spree against Laurie’s friends? Hell, for that matter, how does he even know that Laurie is his secret baby sister or that he would find her in Haddonfield? Again, this made sense in the original movie – Michael’s just evil, he goes back to Haddonfield because that’s where he started his killings, and he targets Laurie and her friends by pure happenstance when he decides to start stalking them. I also think that they should have just made this Michael use homemade masks during his killing spree. I get that the Michael Myers mask is iconic and so they probably felt beholden to using it, but I just didn’t get the connection that Michael would have with it where he’d come back to it seventeen years later.

Unfortunately, even if they had justified Michael’s actions a bit more, the remake section of the film is also just badly paced compared to the original. There isn’t much tension building – we get about fifteen minutes total to meet the characters and have Michael stalk them before he’s already murdering them (a process which, by itself, takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes before he’s just pursuing Laurie for the rest of the movie). It’s far less subtle and far less exciting as far as I’m concerned.

Rob Zombie’s artistic influence might also turn plenty of people off. His dialogue tends to be very crude, with at least half of the entire cast being either straight-up horny, or full-on sex perverts. And I do mean the entire cast – we’ve got Laurie and all her friends having or talking almost exclusively about sex (I get that they’re teenagers, but c’mon, they talk about other things), all of Michael’s family talk about sex (and his mom’s a freaking stripper for christsakes), Michael’s bully/first victim talks about how he’s going to bang Mikey’s mom, both of Laurie’s parent’s talking about getting it on, even the goddamn babysitting kids are speculating about who’s getting laid, etc. At a certain point it just makes your eyes roll when sex is all that anyone can talk about… which also leads us into the cynicism of this film. This movie is set in such a crapsack world and a lot of the sexual dialogue is also sexually violent (lots of instances of people saying that they’re going to rape someone) or sexual insults (lots of instances of people calling someone a “faggot”). Combine this with several characters who exist for no other reason than to be unbearable assholes and the movie can just get tiring at times. The Director’s Cut also has a scene where an asshole orderly and his asshole cousin straight-up rape a patient in front of Michael Myers. It’s an idiotic and disgusting scene, which only exists to add some more extreme content to the film and ultimately makes Michael’s escape from the sanitarium a matter of pure dumbassery.

There are some really good things about Rob Zombie’s Halloween though. The cast is absolutely stacked and they all do a fantastic job, especially Malcolm McDowell’s much more sympathetic Dr. Loomis. Michael Myers himself is extremely imposing, able to bash heavyweights like Danny Trejo and Ken Foree to death with his bare hands. Rob Zombie’s direction is also fairly good, although he does ape John Carpenter a bit too much in the second half. And, again, I quite like the origin segment, even if it is pointless when you factor in the rest of the film. It’s a shame that Halloween is such a mixed bag though. If it hadn’t felt quite so beholden to telling the same story as the original, we could have gotten something truly special.

17) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a truly bonkers sequel, which is incredible when you realize that it was also made by Tobe Hooper, director of the original film. I saw both films for the first time as part of a back-to-back double bill and it was quite the tonal whiplash to say the least. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 aims to be more of a horror comedy and while it’s questionable if it succeeded, the film is absolutely batshit crazy from start to finish. This is largely thanks to its colourful cast of characters, which features Dennis Hopper as an insane Texas ranger who wields an arsenal of chainsaws and screams “BRING IT DOWN!!!!” and “I am the lord of the harvest!” with such fervour that it becomes instantly memorable. Arguably even more memorable is Bill Moseley as Choptop, probably the most iconic character he’s ever played and one of the best characters in the entire franchise. Then there’s Leatherface, who suddenly finds himself in the throes of horniness as he has to decide between the saw and family. Hell, I haven’t even mentioned the final girl Stretch yet, who is probably the best protagonist in the Chainsaw franchise. Really, there’s a lot to love about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but the film is mostly an entertaining failure. It’s apparently supposed to be a satire of Reagan’s politics and yuppie culture, but I don’t think that these really came across that well, and more often I feel like I’m laughing at the film, rather than with it.

16) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The Chainsaw remake is unquestionably a lesser film than the original, but on its own merits it is a decent remake which brings some interesting new ideas to the table. Probably the best addition is Sherrif Hoyt, a delightfully evil bastard who taunts the main characters and chews the scenery as only R. Lee Ermey can. Leatherface has also been given beefed up considerably, becoming more of a terrifying, somewhat more cunning hunter. The film is also nowhere near as violent and gory as its reputation would suggest, it actually feels quite restrained if you go back and watch it. In fact, I’d say that I was actually quite enjoying the Chainsaw remake for the first two thirds as it slowly builds up the tension and establishes the (somewhat mediocre) characters. Unfortunately, the film devolves into a series of tedious, loud chase sequences in its last third, which deflates much of the tension which it had been building up. It’s too bad really, the Chainsaw remake is decent enough, but it could have been legitimately good on its own merits if that last act had had a bit more substance to it.

15) Leatherface (2017)
Leatherface feels like it has the deck stacked against it – it’s a prequel that no one asked for, continuing the story of a Chainsaw sequel no one cares about and sheds pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from the franchise thus far. Despite that, on its own merits, Leatherface is a surprisingly solid film, although it would probably be better without its Chainsaw heritage. Instead of a slasher film, Leatherface is a roadtrip movie featuring a bunch of surprisingly fleshed-out, runaway psychos who are about ready to kill each other at any moment. The film also builds up a mystery about which character will grow up to be Leatherface, although the ultimate answer to this mystery is questionable and doesn’t jive with the character as established in the previous films. The film also builds on the Hartman/Sawyer feud established in Texas Chainsaw 3D, although it also reestablishes the Sawyers as straight-up evil bastards, so I’m still not sure what they were doing making them appear heroic in Texas Chainsaw 3D. Again, Leatherface is a reasonably good film, although its status as a Chainsaw prequel hurts it more than it helps.

14) Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
For the most part, Friday the 13th Part 2 is the same film as the first, only with a bag-headed Jason as the killer instead of his mom. Sure, he’s supposed to be dead and the film basically acknowledges it up front, but it’s not really something worth getting caught up on. There’s a never-ending debate about whether the original Friday the 13th or Part 2 is better and it ultimately comes down to personal taste, because they both have different strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, I like how Part 2 handles Jason, only giving us bits and pieces of him at a time. We start out only seeing his feet, then later we see him but he’s got a bag on his head which keeps him mysterious. Then when he loses his bag, we still don’t get to see his unmasked face until the end. The film handles his shack in a similar manner, introducing it but making the contents a mystery until Ginny stumbles across it. The movie also has a couple of classic kills, with Mark’s machete to the face which causes his wheelchair to go careening down two flights of steps, and Jeff and Sandra getting speared together right after sex. Part 2 also has some characters that I actually like. Ginny’s a strong final girl, she’s smart and fairly clever and even fights back against Jason sometimes. Her boyfriend, Paul, is also an enjoyable character; he’s not super deep, but he’s responsible, likeable, capable and a very solid supporting character who you don’t want to see anything bad happen to. Speaking of which, Part 2 has two of the best “victim” characters in the whole franchise with Mark, a wheelchair-bound hunk, and Vickie, a cute girl who is really into Mark. Watching them interact is so cute and you instantly find yourself rooting for them both, which makes it heartbreaking when they end up on the chopping block and Jason starts hunting them down. Slasher movies, why can’t you give us more characters we actually care about instead of cannon fodder?

Speaking of which, the way that Mark and Vickie are handled shows that the whole idea that slasher movies are always exploitative and regressive when it comes to sex really didn’t have to be a thing. Vickie is very upfront that she wants to have sex with Mark and we, the audience, are totally rooting for it because they’re both into it and are respectful of each other. In a franchise (and genre for that matter) replete with casual sexual harassment for cheap titillation, it’s nice to see a healthy, happy relationship for once and I wish that more played out like this in slasher films… y’know, even if it ends with murder.

Which brings me to the negatives for Part 2. While I can praise some of the characters in this film, the rest of the main cast are not great. There’s Jeff and Sandra, who are basically just sexy, dull nobodies. I didn’t really get anything out of their characters, despite their considerable screentime. They’re both preferable to Ted though, this movie’s obligatory stupid prankster, but unlike the first film’s Ned, he survives the whole movie… ugh. Then there’s Terry and Scott, who both suuuuck. Scott spends the whole film sexually harassing Terry, staring at her ass, stealing her clothes so she has to chase him naked, etc. I hate this guy so much and you’d think that that would make me at least like Terry, but she’s handled so badly. She just runs around in short shorts and a crop top, which is basically treated as her character because she does absolutely nothing. Like, when her dog goes missing, she decides that the best thing to do to find it is to go skinny dipping so the audience can see her naked. I mean, clearly, that’s all she’s really here for. Probably the biggest issue with Part 2 though is the pacing. The film is shorter than the first film, but it feels sluggish in comparison. The first six and a half minutes are largely recycled footage recapping the ending of the first film. It’s annoying and unnecessarily long – they could have easily cut the entire thing, but if they felt like they had to include it then it could have been several minutes shorter. It’s clearly just padding for time. The film then wastes another five minutes following previous final girl Alice wandering around her house until Jason finally pops out and kills her. The film also takes forty-four minutes to really get going, more than ten minutes more than the original film and I’m not convinced that there was really a need for this additional setup time. Like I said though, your preference of the original or Part 2 is going to come down to taste. While I prefer some of the characters in Part 2, the original’s snappier pace and twist ending give it the edge in my opinion.

13) Friday the 13th (1980)
Considering that it’s just one of many Halloween rip-offs that kicked off the slasher boom of the early 80s, Friday the 13th is a pretty decent movie in its own right. I mean, it’s nothing particularly special – the story is super simple, the acting isn’t great, the characters are pretty flat and half of the kills are off-screen, but there’s something enjoyable about it regardless. One big asset in its favour is the soundtrack, which definitely elevates the film every moment it is used. It’s eerie when it needs to build tension and then explosive at all the right moments. I mean, sure, it’s also clearly derivative of Psycho‘s soundtrack, but at least they’re imitating the best, right? Another element of the film that has retroactively become even better is the mystery angle. At the onset, the audience doesn’t know who is killing the counsellors or why. Considering the legacy this franchise has developed, most new viewers are going to assume that it’s Jason, but this just makes the Pamela Voorhees reveal even better. Betsy Palmer kills it as an unhinged, murderous grandma, making what could have been a pretty lame reveal (especially considering that we haven’t even heard of this character before her reveal) into something special.

Considering that Friday the 13th was basically just a Halloween knock-off, it’s interesting to compare how the two contrast. For one thing, Friday the 13th is definitely a gorier film. It’s restrained by the standards of its franchise, but there are still some pretty gruesome shots of Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through the back of his throat, a girl getting a freaking axe embedded in her face and another getting pinned to a door by three arrows. Friday the 13th also tries to spend time letting us get to know its cast of characters, but it does so to much lesser effect. We get several scenes of the characters interacting, but we don’t really get to know much about their personalities, other than that Ned is a dickhead (who dies mercifully quickly). I mean, they’re all better than the typical slasher movie “cannon fodder” who are introduced and then die immediately, but not even final girl Alice feels like a fleshed out character. The other thing that Friday the 13th unsuccessfully tries to emulate from Halloween is tension-building. Someone must have seen all the scenes in Halloween where nothing of major import is happening and thought that this is how you build up for a good scare. However, in Halloween, these scenes of “nothing” usually remain interesting because there’s still a clear motive or goal for the character while they are performing their actions which keeps it interesting. In Friday the 13th, we get multiple scenes of Alice doing nothing particularly important, but it doesn’t really build to anything. For example, Annie is bored, so she plays guitar and then puts on fire wood… nothing happens. Later, she’s bored so she puts on a kettle and grabs some sugar… nothing happens. It just wastes time. Later we spend like three minutes watching Alice barricade a door and close windows while she tries to hide from Pamela. It’s ultimately just meant to be monotonous and lull you into boredom so that when Pamela throws a body through the window they can get a cheap scare. I mean, I guess it works, but it’s a pretty poor way to go about it. Still, I can’t really be too harsh, Friday the 13th is a fun, simple, classic 80s horror film which is still easily watchable today.

12) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Season of the Witch is the infamous Halloween film which wasn’t about Michael Myers, a decision which earned it scorn for decades (although it has finally started to get a cult following in recent years). Setting that bone of contention aside, Season of the Witch is actually a really enjoyable film, enough to make one wish that the Halloween franchise hadn’t felt like it had to be tethered to Michael Myers. On its surface, the whole premise is certifiably insane – there’s an evil toy maker who wants to commit a mass sacrifice by convincing children all across America to buy his magical Halloween masks, which will be triggered en masse when a special broadcast is played. Oh and there are androids and a stolen piece of Stonehenge for good measure! But none of that really matters while you’re watching the film, because it’s all played straight and is made competently enough that you just go with it. There’s a very palpable 80s charm to this film, harkening back to the sci-fi/horror/mystery films which modern properties like Stranger Things and Super 8 try to recapture. Anchoring it all is leading man Tom Atkins, who plays the most 80s hero imaginable: a meatheaded, womanizing, chronic alcoholic, deadbeat dad who stumbles into a mystery after meeting a beautiful stranger whose father was killed by a shadowy conspiracy. Atkins’ character is ridiculous, but he’s played with enough charm that I at least found him funny, although I can certainly understand if someone couldn’t stand him (especially since the female lead, while initially intriguing and feisty, is quickly relegated to generic damsel in distress). The kills are also pretty brutal, including such highlights as a guy getting his head ripped right off and an annoying ginger kid’s head exploding into bugs and snakes! The music is also great, with a repeated jingle that will get stuck in your head forever after. It’s certainly something worth seeing, and is definitely better than most of the Halloween sequels that followed.

11) Jason X (2002)
Jason X is absurd and I fucking LOVE it. While there has always been an element of dark humour to the Friday the 13th films, they’re usually very self-serious (aside from scattered moments where Jason stabs someone in the eye with a honking bike horn, or bashes a face into a tree which leaves behind a smiley face, etc). This generally-dour attitude can make Friday the 13th films a bit of a slog to get through, but then along comes Jason X, which captures the spirit of this franchise far better than you would ever expect. Usually when a franchise heads into self-parody, it’s a disastrous move which kills the franchise’s main storyline (see: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Alien: Resurrection, etc). In the case of Jason X, we’re already ten films into this series and it actually provides a refreshing twist to make the film overtly tongue-in-cheek. The sci-fi setting helps this immensely, as having Jason running around on a space ship gives us all sorts of creative new opportunities, from healing nanomachines to holodecks. It also makes him even more intimidating, because guns are not in short supply here. Jason gets pumped full of bullets, but they barely phase him, which is far more frightening to me than just having all his victims be too feeble to fight back.

Jason X also benefits from the fact that it plays out more like an Alien movie than it does a Friday the 13th film. In a Friday the 13th movie, usually the big cast of characters split up to do their own thing and then get killed one-by-one. In an Alien movie, the cast generally sticks together while the monster hunts them down one-by-one. It’s a seemingly-subtle change, but it makes a huge difference. Instead of having cannon fodder characters who we only see in once or twice before they get killed off, we get cannon fodder characters who actually get time to make an impression as the cast quickly gets whittled down. None of the characters are fleshed out or deep, but in a regular Friday the 13th film, obvious victim characters like Crutch, Waylander or Janessa would not make any sort of impression. However, since they get time to interact with the group of survivors and actually get something of a personality, I can’t help but feel bad for them when their inevitable demise comes. There aren’t really any unbearable, cartoonish asshole characters either – sure, Professor Lowe is a sleazeball, but he’s actually fun to watch. I’ll actually go so far as to say that Jason X has the single best performance in the franchise (outside of the actors playing Jason anyway, they’ve always done a great job), courtesy of Lisa Ryder’s android character Kay-Em 14. The moment she comes onto the screen, you can tell that she’s an android without having to be told – the way she moves and the way she talks is subtly mechanical, but it contrasts enough with the more natural actions of the human characters that it’s clear. She also gets to take a level in badass near the end of the film and is in general such a pleasant and helpful character that you can’t help but love her. Not only do we get one standout character, but Jason X also features the total badass Sgt. Brodski, a regular soldier who goes toe-to-toe with Jason on multiple occasions and manages to survive each time. Again, he’s not particularly deep, but he’s played with such gusto by Peter Mensah and is so unkillable that you just want to cheer whenever he’s on-screen.

In case it wasn’t obvious already, Jason X is a hell of a lot of fun. For one thing, it has what is considered one of the best kills in the franchise with the liquid nitrogen kill, plus plenty of other awesome kills including a guy getting thrown onto a giant corkscrew (and then spinning around due to gravity, nice!), Jason breaking another guy’s back over his knee, or Kay-Em 14 blowing Jason to bits with a grenade launcher. The film’s tongue-in-cheek tone is also just hilarious. We get moments such as Jason managing to resurrect himself in the film because he literally senses horny teenagers having sex nearby and he is not going to let that shit go down on his watch! I also love when Uber Jason gets drawn into a VR simulation where he beats a ditzy counsellor inside a sleeping bag to death with another ditzy counsellor in a sleeping bag (complete with goofy squeals of “Ow!” every time he lands a hit). There are also several funny one-liners. Brodski acts like a total badass when he gets skewered by Jason for the first time, saying “Gonna take more than a poke in the ribs to put this old dog down!” Jason then immediately follows that up with a machete to the gut, to which Brodski says “…Yeah, that outta do it.” The line delivery is so funny, but the crowning moment has to be when Professor Lowe tries to defeat Jason with with his Charisma stat. Suffice to say, “Guys, it’s okay, he just wanted his machete back!” might be my favourite moment in the whole film. Even the filmmaking itself is funny – as soon as the final girl realizes that Jason is on board the ship, she demands to see him. Professor Lowe says that he’s definitely dead and the incredulous heroine says “Show me”. It then immediately cuts to them cleaning up the body of the liquid nitrogen kill while the Professor squirms about this predicament. It’s not only a funny moment, but it is also very efficient filmmaking which keeps the pace moving at a snappy rate.

I love Jason X, it tickles me in all the right ways. It is undeniably a dumb film with poor character writing, terrible special effects and lacking in any real originality, but goddamn if it isn’t a good time. Hell, I enjoy this movie so much that I’d say Jason X is probably my favourite Friday the 13th film in the whole franchise. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily the best, highest-quality entry in the franchise by any means, but it is my favourite to watch.

…and that’s all for this entry. Be sure to tune in again soon as we finally count down the top 10 best movies in these franchises. Which movie is going to take the top spot?

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#30-21)

Welcome back to the big slasher franchise countdown! After whittling our way through some of the worst films I’ve ever seen… well, we’re still working our way through a bunch of crappy films today. They’re just not as crappy as Freddy’s Dead, which is something to celebrate, I guess! So with that in mind, let’s look at the next batch of movies, starting with #30…

30) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
After killing off Jason in Part IV, the producers wanted to carry on the franchise without him. If they had decided to do something other than replace him with a Jason knock-off this could have maybe worked, but since they didn’t, A New Beginning just feels like a filler entry in the franchise, not only because Jason would be back in the next film, but also because they clearly wanted to set-up Tommy Jarvis as the new killer going forward. On the one hand, it is really nice to see Tommy Jarvis return and lend some continuity to the film, but the way he is handled is very poor. He basically spends the whole movie on the verge of freaking out, in a medically-induced haze, snapping at people who act like a dick to him, or just entirely missing for large chunks of the runtime. Some of this comes down to the filmmakers trying to set up a mystery about who the killer is, similar to the first film, and Tommy Jarvis is one of the main red herrings. This mystery is actually better handled in some ways than it was in the original, since there are several potential killers, including a mysterious drifter, a guy who legitimately axe murders someone early in the film and even a potentially resurrected Jason Voorhees himself. However, the execution of this mystery is significantly worse than in the original film and is easily one of the main reasons why A New Beginning is so derided. This is a movie whose entire premise hinges on a kid named Joey who is so stupid and annoying (he literally has melted chocolate running down his lips) that a guy with rage issues axes him to death, causing Joey’s deadbeat dad to freak out and go on a murder spree. Why did he take it all out on his whole community instead of going after the guy who actually killed his son? Good question, who knows! We don’t even find out until the ending that the killer was a random paramedic named Roy Burns who had shown up momentarily at two earlier points in the film, at which point they just exposition dump his motives. However, the way that the film highlights the seemingly-pointless Roy Burns during these sequences pretty much gives away the twist if you’re only paying attention to the language of film, rather than a coherent narrative. I don’t think this twist was ever going to be satisfying, but it could have worked better if Roy Burns got unmasked just a little earlier and went on a rage-fuelled tangent about how he’s getting revenge for his son.

Even without the poor twist though, A New Beginning is just a really bad Friday the 13th movie. The characters are all nobodies. Several characters are introduced in the same scene where they are killed off with the audience having no reason to give a shit about them. The bulk of the characters only get two or three scenes, but absolutely no development beyond an outline of a character trait. Even final girl Pam doesn’t have much character to speak of and Tommy Jarvis himself gets no real development in the film. The only character who is at least fun to watch is the little black kid Reggie, who adds a bit of diversity to a franchise which had been overwhelmingly white until now. Oh, and then there are the fucking rednecks. Holy shit I loathe these cartoon bumpkins. They get more screentime than most of the other characters and every second of it makes me want to murder them myself. The dull characters combine with mediocre kills and the film’s unavoidable filler status to make A New Beginning a truly forgettable Friday the 13th film. I have to give them a bit of credit for trying to take the franchise in a different direction, but boy did it not work.

29) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
On the surface, the Elm Street remake seems to have some good things going for it, most obviously the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. It’s also obvious that the screenwriters did some research before writing the film because they inject new ideas into the story based on the science of sleep deprivation and the history of the Satanic Panic (which was still unfolding during the time of the original Elm Street).

Unfortunately, the Elm Street remake ultimately feels like a needless disappointment. Many of the film’s beats are just copies of the original, but done to much lesser effect (eg, CGI Freddy coming out of the wall looks so much worse than the sheet effect in the original). As for the new ideas, while the sleep deprevation ideas come across more as a half-baked means of narrative convenience, it’s the Satanic Panic elements which really screw over this film. You could boil this movie’s story down to “What if Satanic Panic, but real?” The Elm Street remake teases the idea that Freddy was innocent of any wrongdoing and is getting revenge on the children for lying to their parents, which is exactly what happened in the real life events that this film is clearly inspired by. The main characters also have to uncover their “repressed memories” of the events, which is another key element of the Satanic Panic which was later proven false. However, in this film it turns out that Freddy Krueger was actually a pedophile, so it’s good that the parents all burned him alive without any real evidence and repressed memories are totally real, y’all! Considering that they were obviously cribbing from a real-life event which ruined several peoples’ lives despite them all being completely innocent and then turn the narrative around to them actually being guilty, it’s disappointing. That’s not even getting to the fact that turning Freddy into a straight-up pedophile and abuser completely sucks any sort of fun you might get out of the character. It makes him too real and too disgusting to enjoy. Why would any of us want to see Freddy continue to abuse victims whose lives he’s been ruining for their whole lives? I’m not sure where the line of no return is between this unacceptable Freddy and Freddy torturing teenagers by turning them into bugs and then squashing them, but the Elm Street remake is just joyless and it’s no wonder there wasn’t a sequel.

A unlikeable Freddy is not the end of the remake’s issues though either. The film features a pre-breakout Rooney Mara as Nancy, which would lead one to expect a strong performance from her. However, her performance is practically lifeless and the character is written as a boring, passive protagonist. This effectively torpedoes audience engagement on its own, even if Freddy was more likeable in his own right. It’s strange too because one of the elements of the film I do like is that the first half hour frames Kris as the protagonist – she figures out that the killer is in their nightmares, starts looking into the characters’ pasts and gets the most development. As a result, it’s actually pretty shocking when she’s the one who gets killed in the first act, in easily the most impactful death of the film. This could have actually been a great idea if Nancy had been set up better to pick up the torch from her, kind of like how Alice becomes the protagonist in The Dream Master. Ultimately, the film is also just not very fun or scary. Perhaps they were going for a more grounded take on Freddy, but he doesn’t really do anything creative with his victims’ dreams. He just shows them scenes from the past, and then when he’s stalking them the most elaborate thing he’ll do is teleport around. Add everything up and you have a remake which they just shouldn’t have bothered with, because there is basically nothing to recommend.

28) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
As much as I detest this film, I have to give it one thing – it’s main goal is to be a brutal film and in this regard it succeeds in spades. With torture porn coming in vogue at the time, the producers at Platinum Dunes decided that they really had to up the ante compared to the Chainsaw remake, and you can’t deny that they created a very nasty film. If that’s all you’re looking for then you will probably enjoy The Beginning much more than I did, but if not then you’re in for a miserable time. For my own tastes, The Beginning is so bleak in its pointless torture of the characters that there’s nothing to enjoy about it. Even then, the film is a piss-poor excuse for a prequel, skimming over questions that no one really asked about the Chainsaw remake. Furthermore, the narrative also stumbles with a Vietnam war draft dodging subplot which goes nowhere and a final girl who keeps rolling nat 20s on her stealth checks until it becomes narratively convenient for her to finally get caught. Even R. Lee Ermey’s Sherrif Hoyt is much less fun to watch. Again, your feelings on this film will probably come down to taste, but for my own part, I don’t like it at all.

27) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D has to be one of the stupidest horror sequels in the past decade, even if you ignore the fact that the characters are about 20 years too young based on the film’s timeline (this is because the film was supposed to be set in the 1990s, but was changed to present day at the last minute). Some of this probably comes down to the fact that this film was co-written by Adam Marcus, the guy who brought us Jason Goes to Hell. Here he once again tries to expand a franchise’s mythology, this time by bringing us a feud between two clans, the Sawyers and the Hartmans. The most baffling aspect of this is that the Sawyers, and Leatherface, get repositioned as freaking misunderstood heroes… who, y’know, we’ll just conveniently pretend don’t regularly engage in murder, torture and cannibalism. It’s especially ridiculous when their foes, the Hartmans, are essentially just guilty of police brutality, which is bad but nothing compared to the inhuman acts of the Sawyers. The 3D is also pretty bad, although very restrained compared to the likes of Friday the 13th: Part III and Freddy’s Dead. All that said, Texas Chainsaw 3D is at least never boring, which helps keep it out of the bottom tiers of this list, but good God does it ever insult your intelligence.

26) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 4 is about as bog-standard as a Halloween sequel could be. Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium on Halloween… again. He’s trying to kill his last remaining relative… again. Dr. Loomis and the sherrif are trying to hunt him down before he can kill… again. I mean, there are a few differences between this as the original Halloween, namely the introduction of child actress Danielle Harris’ new character, Jamie Lloyd, daughter of a now-deceased Laurie Strode. Having a child as one of the main characters provides a more vulnerable victim for Michael to hunt down, but she ultimately is little more than a burden for the other characters to protect. Speaking of other characters, the other female lead, Rachel, is pretty boring. She is constantly losing Jamie and the only other thing we get for her is that her boyfriend cheats on her because she has to babysit Jamie on Halloween… wow, she’s really good at picking them isn’t she? We also get Dr. Loomis back, but he’s much more restrained than he was in previous Halloween films. He’s still easily the most entertaining character, but compared to the first two films he’s definitely mellowed out.

Halloween 4 makes some weird and unfortunate decisions. For one thing, the tension that was so key to the first film is gone. Michael rarely stalks his victims now, he just shows up and kills them almost immediately. He also teleports around town whenever it’s narratively convenient, killing whole police stations and power plants in the process while somehow managing to keep track of where Jamie is at all times. Oh and Michael’s mask is so strange looking in this film – it’s almost pure white, the eyes are pure black and the texture is so smooth looking that the lighting can’t give it any sort of depth. It just looks strange, especially compared to all the other masks in this franchise. I know that the producers felt like they had to course-correct after the much-maligned Season of the Witch, but Halloween 4 ultimately is just a boring film which tries way too hard to recapture the original film’s spirit, while missing out on basically everything that made that film work.

25) Halloween II (1981)
Hoo boy, of all the franchises on this list the Halloween franchise saw the biggest dip in quality between its first and second films, in my opinion. This is probably a surprising placement for most, because it seems like a lot of people think Halloween II is pretty decent, and I kind of get the urge to defend it (especially considering the films that came after). However, I was actually really disappointed by Halloween II. You’d think that only a couple years removed from the original they’d be able to retain a spark of what made the first film work so well, but this film feels more akin to the Halloween slasher ripoffs than it does the original. There are scattered moments of brilliance, such as Michael Myers coming out of the shadows behind an unsuspecting victim and a couple solid kills, but most of this movie is incredibly unsatisfying. Part of the issue is that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is wasted in a comatose state for the first hour, and instead we have to watch a bunch of unlikeable and/or personality-less characters get picked off one-by-one with no real clear direction of what anyone is doing. When Laurie finally does start getting stalked by Michael, the tension and enjoyment does ratchet up considerably, but by then two thirds of the movie have passed. Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is also already going batshit crazy by this film, ranting like a madman, shooting out car windows and dragging people into danger, which makes for some fun distractions at least. Unfortunately, other than those little flashes of brilliance and a decent last act, most of Halloween II is really underwhelming and lacking in momentum.

24) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
At its core, The Dream Child has a surprisingly compelling premise – protagonist Alice is pregnant and her unborn child has become connected to Freddy and is leeching off Alice’s dream powers. As a result, Freddy is able to use the unborn child to attack victims in the real world at any time, since the fetus is almost always dreaming. This means that Alice has to grapple with the idea of aborting her own child in order to stop Freddy from killing people, which is a fantastic set-up for some tense drama. Unfortunately, the execution of this premise is not great, since Alice immediately takes abortion off the table, so from there it just becomes a Nightmare film with increasingly-unclear rules. This is the entry in the Nightmare franchise where Freddy finally became a total cartoon character, quipping off cringy one-liners before, during and after every kill, and sometimes you’d just wish he’d shut up. The film also brings back the subplot about Freddy’s mother, which was already one of the worst parts about the previous Nightmare films, and is just as crappy here, only now with a hokey dream child thrown in for good measure. By this film, Alice has grown on me a fair bit, but the new characters are little more than walking victims, whose character traits only exist to give Freddy something to kill them with. Speaking of which, this movie has a surprisingly low number of kills and they’re a real mixed bag. The force-feeding death has some really terrible looking effects and the Freddy-cycle kill is okay but Freddy’s constant one-liners make it annoying, but the “Take on Me” inspired rotoscope kill is a true classic which shows off just how cool and creative Nightmare films can be… too bad this film is just a convoluted, nonsensical mess.

23) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
The New Blood has a very strange premise which practically screams “franchise fatigue”, as the film suddenly throws a character with psychic powers into the mix. Maybe they figured “well, Jason’s a zombie now so any sort of magic is on the table”? It basically makes The New Blood into Carrie vs Jason and the last act when the two are finally allowed to go head-to-head has some of the most amazing sequences in any Friday the 13th movie. This is helped by the introduction of everyone’s favourite Jason Vorhees, Kane Hodder, who gets the absolute crap kicked out of him as final girl Tina throws Jason around, flings things, lights him on fire and even drops a house on him, complete with some of the best special effects in the whole franchise (and probably the best-looking Jason for that matter). However, the film comes with some MAJOR caveats. For one thing, the MPAA was cracking down hard on slasher films at this time and so most of the kills were censored heavily (although we did get the classic “sleeping bag kill”, which gets around needing to have any gore with how creatively brutal it is). I’d also argue that, if we’re just judging on the first hour of the film, this could have been the worst film in the entire Friday the 13th franchise. Other than Tina, the characters are forgettable or infuriatingly unlikeable (especially Dr. Crews), and it’s hard to care as Jason tears through a bunch of nobodies for the millionth time. Still, at least the last act is fun enough that it at somewhat makes up for the rest of the mess.

22) Friday the 13th (2009)
As far as horror remakes go, Friday the 13th is actually pretty decent. It’s faithful to the source material without being overly-reverential and essentially feels like an updated, more explicit entry in the franchise. And man, do I ever mean more explicit – not only is Jason just brutal in this film, but the nudity and sex scenes have been cranked up to borderline-porno levels. Jason himself has also gotten an interesting makeover, coming across here as an unstoppable survivalist who uses the environment against his victims and actually sets traps for them. He’s certainly a more cunning, fast and lethal foe than ever, making him easily the most intense and arguably the scariest Jason ever. However, the film commits the cardinal sin of most slashers, featuring unlikeable and uninteresting characters who exist for no reason but to get killed in various brutal ways. Chief among these is Trent, a cartoonish, irredeemable asshole who is apparently supposed to be Megan Fox’s ex-boyfriend from the start of Transformers (a bit of trivia I learned while researching my ranking of cinematic universes). The other characters are all just bog-standard at best, which keeps the film from being good in its own right, but by Friday standards, it’s solid.

21) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Leatherface isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to give it some credit for introducing some interesting new ideas to the Chainsaw franchise which have never really been capitalized upon. Foremost amongst these is the idea of making the Sawyers into active hunters, rather than having them scavenge and kill people who just happen to wander onto their property. It gives the film more of a The Hills Have Eyes vibe, which feels appropriate. As the film’s title suggests, Leatherface has also been beefed up, becoming a meaner, more sadistic killer who wields a massive, golden chainsaw at the end. The villainous characters are also quite colourful, from the creative Tink, to the charming Tex, to the disgusting pervert, Alfredo. The main couple, Ryan and Michelle, are unfortunately pretty underwhelming protagonists, but at least we get Ken Foree as Benny, a badass survivalist who goes toe-to-toe with the Sawyers and is an absolute joy to watch. Despite all these cool elements, the film is unable to execute on any of them to the fullest, which is in part due to studio interference and the MPAA mercilessly cutting down on all of the brutal deaths.

…and that’s all for this entry in the rankings. We’re getting closer to the top though! Be sure to tune in again soon though, as we go through #20-11!

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#39-31)

Happy Halloween everyone! This new series has been a long time coming. Since at least the Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective I’ve been considering ranking all of the films from the big four slasher franchises, Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Obviously, this is a mammoth undertaking – we’re talking 39 films here, about half of which I hadn’t seen before. I’ll be counting down 10 films in each post (well, 9 in this one post), releasing a new post every second day, until we reach Halloween, at which point I’ll have a special comparison of the best parts of each franchise. So, without further adieu, let’s get into the bottom of the barrel – there are some notoriously awful films in these franchises, so which ones are going to fight for the title of the worst? Read on to find out…

39) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
I didn’t think that any slasher movie could be worse than Texs Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, but then along comes Freddy’s Dead to prove me wrong. It’s a super close contest between the two, since they’re awful for different reasons, but I came to the decision that the problems with Freddy’s Dead put it on top of the shit pile. The plot is contrived and derivative, the characters suck, the acting is mostly trash, the special effects are amateur-level and the film ignores all of the rules that the series had established and just hopes that no one will notice. Worst of all, they’ve turned Freddy Krueger into such a cartoon that he is just annoying. Like, on more than one occasion I wished that he’d just shut up. It feels like New Line Cinema had turned Freddy into such an icon that they defanged him to try to get mass appeal. However, like most corporate mascots in the 90s, the result is a movie which is staggeringly uncool. This all culiminates in the most embarrassing slasher movie moment ever, when Freddy kills a victim in a video game with some of the stupidest dialogue, visuals and sound effects imaginable. Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed. Oh and lest we forget, the last act of the film is in gimmicky 3D, featuring the tadpole-like “Dream Demons” which just float around and laugh a lot.

I will give it some credit though – Carlos’ death scene is very solid. There’s some actual tension and horror in the scene. Hell, even cartoon Freddy strikes a perfect, dark comedic tone here, giving us at least one kill that’s entertaining. Too bad the rest of the film is total nonsensical garbage. What really puts it at the bottom of the pile though is that this film had an $11 million budget! Considering what we got on screen, that is totally insane. This film’s quality is even worse when you also consider that this was still a major franchise for New Line Cinema, although it also calls to mind such 90s misfires as Batman & Robin. Freddy’s Dead is truly the bottom of the barrel for slasher films, which is really saying something.

38) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Like I said under Freddy’s Dead, going into this ranking I fully expected The Next Generation to take the bottom slot on this list. This film is a dreadfully dull, incomprehensible mess which has the audacity to think that it can make a meta-commentary about bad slasher sequels, despite being one of the absolute worst itself. It’s also pretty insulting to series fans as Leatherface (or “Leather” as they’re called here) is a complete joke who spends every second of screentime shrieking incessantly. The only real saving grace which kept The Next Generation from taking the bottom of this list is Matthew McConaughey’s deranged performance as Vilmer. The character himself is nonsense but McConaughey goes so far beyond hamming up that it’s at least entertaining. I wrote a whole Retrospectives review on this film, so if you want a more detailed commentary you can read it here.

37) Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Imagine being a Halloween fan who had waited 6 years for the unresolved plot threads from Halloween 5 to be resolved, only to have this film shit into existence. Halloween 6 is an ignoble ending for the original continuity of Halloween sequels and an embarrassing capstone to Donald Pleasence’s career. The poor guy just looks tired in this film and can’t even muster up the deranged energy that had made him so entertaining to watch. He’s not the only one who gets done dirty by this film though – Danielle Harris didn’t even get invited back to play Jamie Lloyd one last time, and instead the character is recast and then unceremoniously killed off in the first twenty minutes, continuing the Halloween franchise’s shitty obsession with killing off all its main characters for no good reason. And then we also have a young Paul Rudd, who gets this weirdly creepy role as Tommy Doyle, the boy Laurie was babysitting in the first film. Regardless, all of the characters are half-baked with no real reason to care about any of them.

The film also has a terrible, mid-90s horror aesthetic to it. It often throws ambient screams into the soundtrack to try to make things feel scarier and will suddenly intercut split-second shots of knives or other “scary” images and loud scare sounds into a scene to try to get a cheap jump scare (sometimes even using these as transitions to other scenes). And, oh God, they also will just throw hard rock into the soundtrack when Michael’s showing up to show us that he’s not fucking around, this Michael has ‘tude. I mean, it’s not as embarrassing as the slide-whistle cops in Halloween 5, but it’s still pretty bad.

The main issue with Halloween 6 though is that it makes absolutely no sense. The whole conspiracy angle ends up being a dead-end with no explanation for what’s going on. Michael’s motivations are explicitly laid out that he’s still trying to wipe out his last living relative (this time Jamie’s newborn son), but then he spends most of the film going after the Strodes who have moved into his old house and have nothing to do with the baby. It’s also kind of implied that the man in black has some sort of control over him, but then Michael just wipes out the whole cult when they leave him loose in their sanitarium…? I just… what? The narrative also just doesn’t flow. At one point Dr. Loomis yells “Where is the baby?” and that caused me to stop and say “Yeah, that’s a very good question. Where IS the baby? Hell, where is anybody in this film? What the hell is happening!?” The last twenty minutes in particular just don’t make any sense (at least, in the theatrical version I watched – the ending was heavily reshot and there’s a producer’s cut which apparently is better, but I didn’t see it).

I will give this movie a bit of credit though. It mercifully moves pretty quickly – the first fourty minutes went by before I knew it, despite very little of substance actually happening in that time. The film also at least looks professional, with a nice production design and some decent shots. I also think that, considering what they had to work with, the curse of Thorn which is fuelling Michael Myers actually kind of makes sense. I mean, look at what they had to explain: why Michael Myers is invincible and inhuman evil, kills on Halloween, and goes after his family members. The explanation that druids would possess one person to kill their family in order to spare the demon, Thorn, from killing all of the tribe is actually kind of sensible when you look at it that way. I mean, it’s still bullshit in the end and not the sort of explanation we ever needed, but it’s not as bad as it might have seemed at first glance. That said, considering the conspiracy just gets tossed aside in the last thirty minutes, it ultimately becomes pretty pointless.

Halloween 6 is just an absolute mess from start to finish. It’s no wonder that the franchise was rebooted after this point because there was nowhere further to go from this point. The only regrettable part about it was that they didn’t pull the plug earlier. Apparently the producer’s cut was better, but since I can only go off the version I saw, they should have done better the first time.

36) Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The Halloween franchise was given a gift with H20. After several years of horrible sequels, the public was finally excited about the prospect of another outing. So what did they do with this golden opportunity? Well, they shit out Halloween: Resurrection, which might be one of the stupidest films I’ve ever seen. After the refreshingly clever H20, Resurrection goes right back to lazy tropes and dumb characters, even managing to make Laurie Strode into an idiot before killing her off again in the first fifteen minutes. Bloody hell, Halloween get some class!

Anyway, with Laurie dead, the film then cuts to a group of dumb, horny teenagers who are cast on an Internet reality TV show, set in the Myers house. As you can imagine from the set-up, this film was trying to be very contemporary for the early 2000s, but it is painfully dated now, with ridiculous celebrity cameos from a kung-fu fighting Busta Rymes and a completely pointless Tyra Banks. The film is also ripping off its contemporaries in terrible fashion. The Blair Witch Project is popular? We’ll have low-resolution cameras mounted on everyone which they will constantly forget about! People still like Scream? We’ll make this film meta, that’s the part about Scream that was good, right? The characters also are all shitty and one-dimensional. Like, there’s a character who is introduced as a chef. Next time we see him, he’s explaining that he believes that Michael Myers became evil because he had a bad diet… um, okay… Then the next time we see him, he says that he bets that the Myers house has a big kitchen, which he promptly wanders off to find. We get it movie, he likes cooking. The rest of the cast are no better – you have your insecure final girl who doesn’t develop or learn anything, a fame obsessed girl, an academic girl who apparently doesn’t know how to be a human being, a horndog, a creepy guy music guy, etc. They all suck.

The entire set-up of this film is so bad. Invalidating the ending of H20 is just insulting to the audience’s intelligence and screws over Laurie Strode’s ending to get the Weinsteins a bit more money in the bank. There’s basically no reason for Michael to be killing people in this film, other than that they just happened to wander into his house. The movie also has very little to say about anything. You’d think that, considering the premise, maybe they’d have some commentary on reality TV, but it literally boils down to “reality TV is not real”. Wow, that’s some revelatory insight there, Resurrection. Literally, the only thing that I actually thought was clever in this movie was having the show’s audience message the final girl to let her know where Michael is and give her tips to evade him. That was a pretty cool idea, but it’s the only moment of brilliance inside of this giant turd of a film.

35) Halloween II (2009)
Holy shit… say what you will about Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, but the sequel is utter dogshit. Like, I had to think long and hard about whether I hated it more than Halloween: Resurrection. I’ll give Rob a little bit of credit for running with his own artistic vision for a Halloween sequel, but good God were the results awful. Where do I even begin describing this movie… actually, now that I ask it, there’s really only one starting point, and it’s two words: Ghost. Mom. Rob Zombie obviously really wanted to work his wife back into the sequel so we get “treated” to numerous scenes of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode seeing visions of a white-clad Sheri Moon Zombie telling them that they need to be a family again. It’s freaking stupid and just one of several missteps. Let’s get to the narrative – Laurie has PTSD and is trying to cope with the fact that her life is crumbling around her, Dr. Loomis is on a book tour and Michael Myers is slowly walking back to Haddonfield to reunite with her. That’s basically all this movie is for the vast majority of its runtime. Seriously, this is a two hour movie and it takes about an hour and a half for Michael to even find Laurie, meaning that there is just a ton of wheel spinning in the meantime. There are also plenty of kill scenes, but they don’t really make any sense – why does Michael go after the strip club where his mom used to work and kill everyone there? I guess because Ghost Mom told him to…? That’s the only possible explanation, but then why does he go to a party and kill one of Laurie’s friends and her hookup for that night? Especially considering that he then just heads to Laurie’s house to try to ambush her there? Uhhhh… because this is a Halloween movie? Seriously, it makes absolutely no sense other than to just tick off the boxes of what people expect from this series. Oh, and speaking of which, that must be the entire motive behind Michael stalking Laurie in a hospital during the first twenty-five minutes of the film… which culminates with it all being revealed to be part of a fucking dream sequence!!!

It also doesn’t help that nearly everyone in Halloween II is an asshole. Dr. Loomis has gone from being sympathetic to just a fame-obsessed prick and even Laurie has become really unbearable. Like, I get that she’s suffering from PTSD and can sympathize with that, but she lashes out at fellow victim, Annie, when she tries to help and even admits that she wants to kill her. Laurie also has a couple of new friends, but they’re basically nobodies who only exist to fill out the bodycount. The only characters I liked at all were Sheriff Brackett (played excellently by Brad Dourif) and Annie, because at least they were trying to make the best of the situation. Halloween II is just a senseless, nasty mess from start to finish, there really isn’t much more you can say about it.

34) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
When I started this list, I expected Jason Goes to Hell to be ranked much lower. However, in a franchise as formulaic as Friday the 13th, Jason Goes to Hell gets at least some points for trying to shake up the formula… but holy shit, did they ever fail spectacularly. Deciding that the ninth film in a franchise is the perfect time to suddenly begin filling in the mythology of Jason was a major misstep which goes against the pure simplicity which gave this series the longevity it enjoys. Honestly, Jason Goes to Hell is pretty decent in most ways (especially by Friday standards) – the acting’s fine, the characters are interesting (Creighton Duke is fun and Steven is a one of the best protagonists in the series), the directing is slicker than usual, there are some funny moments (such as the opening, where the FBI ambushes Jason) and the kills are just brutal. However, the story is so batshit insane that it brings down everything else. So Jason can now suddenly possess people temporarily when he dies and needs to be reborn from a secret sibling of his that we never knew existed until now? What the actual hell? This, of course, also means that Jason barely even factors into the film and instead we get to see such “interesting” killers as a coroner and an asshole reporter… great, just what the franchise needed… It makes Jason Goes to Hell at least entertaining in its ridiculousness, but there’s no way to ignore that this film is a massive failure. The fact that this film got a theatrical release is just insane to me. Oh and to make matters worse, the redesigned Jason is just butt-ugly, which makes it inadvertently good that he barely shows up in the film.

33) Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Halloween 5 has to be the point where the franchise really went off the rails. What started as an incredibly simple tale about the embodiment of evil deciding that he wants to stalk and kill a group of fleshed-out teens turns into a saga about family bloodlines, ill-defined psychic links, the curse of thorn and a shady conspiracy surrounding a man in black. Holy shit, what happened to this franchise? Halloween 5 somehow manages to find ways to not only get stupider but more boring as it goes on. Most of the film is just a very dull rehash of very well-trodden slasher territory as Michael kills teens that we’ve barely met.

There are just so many dumb things in this film. Jamie is suddenly mute and has some sort of psychic connection with Michael, but neither really has any purpose. There’s a shady man in black who has some sort of connection to Michael, but it was literally added without bothering to have it make sense, because the filmmakers figured they’d be able to answer it later. And why does Dr. Loomis suddenly believe that Michael Myers is fuelled by rage? He’s the one who said that he was pure evil, attributing his violence to malice goes against the entire point of the character.

Another issue is that the previous film’s co-lead, Rachel, is uncermoniously killed. She wasn’t a particularly fleshed-out character, but she was miles better than her replacement, Tina, a ditzy girl who just wants to have some fun. Don’t get me wrong, a final girl doesn’t always need to be the strong, independent type, but Tina is just straight-up dumb. Michael ends up stalking her and her friends for basically no reason – apparently Tina plans on visiting Jamie at some point that evening, but why wouldn’t Michael just go straight to Jamie then instead? It doesn’t make much sense, but then again, not much does in Halloween 5. There can’t have been a script when this film was shot, or at the very least, they can’t have followed it because there’s no way someone could put this film’s narrative down on paper and say “yeah, this sounds good!” (EDIT: I looked it up afterwards and this film did indeed begin shooting without a completed script and there were moments, such as the man in black, which were just added on the fly to fill in plot holes!) I’ll give the film some credit for clearly trying to recapture some of the suspense that had been lost in the previous film though, such as a scene where Tina stupidly gets into a car with Michael, thinking that he’s her boyfriend, and you’re left wondering if/when he’s going to kill her. For the most part though, Halloween 5 is just trying to squeeze blood out of a stone for a franchise that went in the wrong direction ages ago.

32) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Perhaps due to the formulaic nature of the franchise, Friday the 13th films generally maintained a pretty consistent level of mediocrity during the 80s. However, it wasn’t until Jason Takes Manhattan that we suddenly saw that sticking to the formula could still manage to disappoint everyone – even fans who had eaten up all the previous entries. Jason Takes Manhattan is a derivative and subpar Friday film on its own, with Jason somehow managing to secretly kill sexy teenagers on a boat which is impossibly labrynthine. However, its hints at shaking up the formula are what truly make it disappointing. How cool could a film about Jason stalking people on the streets of New York have been? But no, he shows up and then just continues stalking only the people he was already chasing after. The film also has many of the most irritating and dull victims in the entire franchise, a terrible final girl with a contrived connection to Jason and an embarrassingly bad-looking unmasked Jason. Seriously, the makeup they used in this film when he loses his hockey mask looks WORSE than a Halloween mask. The only real saving grace is that a couple of the kills are decent, particularly the boxing scene where Jason takes dozens of punches to tire out his opponent and then one-punches his head off.

31) Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
It didn’t take long for Friday the 13th to begin scraping the bottom of the barrel, but they sure as hell succeeded in Part III. Some people have a fondness for Part III because it’s the entry where Jason gets his iconic hockey mask, but don’t be fooled – this film suuuuucks. What’s so bad about it? For the most part, it’s just another rehash of the first two films, but stupider and more dull. By this point, the filmmakers have realized that they like to string the audience along with fake-outs until something really scary happens, but in Part III they forgot that the characters still need to actually have something to do. Instead, we get multiple scenes where characters will wander into a dangerous place for no reason and just forget that they know what the layout of their own home is like, or just play with random things in the environment despite the fact that they’re supposed to be actually doing something. It’s obvious what the filmmakers are doing and it just feels lazy and wastes the audience’s time.

Another big issue is that the first two films in the franchise went to a lot of effort to make you at least get to know the characters before they would give picked off, but in Part III we get to meet a bunch of annoying assholes. Prime amongst these is Shelly, an irritating prankster with a self-esteem issues. However, lest you feel sorry for him, the little bastard lashes out at other people to try to compensate for his own insecurity, which just turns him into a dick. We also get a group of cartoonish, brain-dead gang members whose idea of revenge is to try to burn down a barn as unstealthily as possible. The film also opens with a pair of irritating rednecks who you just immediately want to be killed off. Other than them, nearly everyone else in the cast are your usual Friday the 13th cannon fodder, with no real personalities to speak of (especially the two stoners, who barely get any screen time before they get offed). The only exceptions are final girl Chris and her handsome hunk boyfriend, Rick, who are both at least sympathetic enough that I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them. The acting is also pretty bad, even by Friday standards. I wouldn’t say that any of the characters put in particularly strong performances and even characters like Chris and Rick have some line deliveries which are unconvincing.

Oh and I would be remiss to mention the 3D gimmick. Not only does it make the film always slightly blurry to watch in 2D now, but it also means that we get lots of shitty, blurry shots where something gets stuck into the foreground for no real reason. I hope you like blurry shots of yo-yos, eye balls, popcorn, rakes and a blunt getting shoved in your face and taking you out of the experience! It also highlights the pathetic special effects – since they have to get so many things thrown at the camera, they use lots of wires to get the shot right, meaning that you can clearly see these wires since they’re in the foreground of the shot! This happens on two very obvious occasions with a rattle snake and when a fake eyeball goes flying out of a very rubber-looking head.

On the plus side though, there are a couple fun kills as usual and, when she gets promoted to the final girl, Chris turns into a no-nonsense badass. Like, the moment she sees Jason, she’s right on the offensive, dropping a book case on him and then taking a knife out of her friend’s back and using it to stab him in the hand and leg. She actually causes Jason to back away from her, she’s so intimidating! She absolutely kicks his ass and makes smart decisions on the fly more often than not in the process. She’s easily one of the best final girls in the franchise, but she’s easily the only thing about this movie that makes it worthwhile.

…and that’s it for the worst of the worst. Be sure to tune in again soon as we go through #30-21!