Horror cinema is filled with iconic villains, figures who induce chills down our spines thanks to their creepy, shady motivations. Reincarnations of evil, mysterious entities without a face, masked killers who aren’t very talkative to say the least: regardless who, or what, the antagonist in a horror movie is, they scare/creep us out because of the inescapability of their actions.
Or so it was until somebody, somewhere, thought it would have been a good idea to draw mystery and uncertainty off by giving villains an origin story.
I thought about writing about this topic upon reading about the upcoming release of Leatherface – which, eventually, I watched and pretty much thought it was worthless.
That’s beside the point, though.
You might think that I’m a purist of horror cinema, because I’m a reviewer, thus I’m just sitting here waiting to trash movies and focus solely to spot flaws and mistakes – I hope you can read my reviews and see that’s not exactly my goal.
Anyway, to support my statement about origin stories, I’m going to present you a few examples.
Let’s start with a comparison between A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and its 2010 remake: Wes Craven’s movie introduces us to Freddy Krueger without lingering on the villain’s past; on the contrary, the 2010 shameless remake gives us a backstory to Freddy and makes it look less scary, less threatening and, above all, less mysterious.
Easy pick: I know that there’s no comparison between the original masterpiece and the trashy remake.
Next stop will then be Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) in which we… get a human version of Pinhead?! Are you serious? I am a huge fan of the franchise created by Clive Barker – some of the movies are great, others are just mindless, stupid entertainment. Hell on Earth, however, is a kick in the balls of every Pinhead’s lover. A reckless, merciless demon who feeds upon human lust is now presented as Elliott Spencer, a captain in the British Expeditionary Force suffering from PTSD and survivor guilt. This way, Hell on Earth only scales down the main villain of the franchise, in fact one of the greatest anti-hero of horror history.
What about Leatherface? Although I recognise the importance of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) within the genre rules, I’ve never been a fan of this ground-breaking film. What I do love about it, though, is the character of Leatherface: gritty, conflicted, real like only a handful of other characters. The 2017 movie that’s supposed to tell his origin story, lessens Leatherface’s on screen impact, makes him weak and less scary.
Yet, origin stories suck beyond the slasher sub-genre. For instance, think about It Follows (2014) – whether you love or despise the movie, what makes it work is that you never get to see or understand what ‘it’ is, right? No matter what you do, where you are, it will follow you. Now, think about a hypothetical It Follows part 2, in which the audience discovers the origin of this sort of curse through a paranormal investigation: this would take away the tension deriving from the mystery delivered by the first movie. This scenario is, for me, scarier than any movie could be.
Another example? IT by Andy Muschietti – or the 1990 mini-series for that matter. Pennywise makes for an amazing monster because he’s a multidimensional entity the viewer knows very little about. Are you curious to know its origin story? Well, you might end up with a trashy flick about a clown that flies from one dimension to the other feeding up on little aliens’ fears. Do you really want to see that?
Most of the times, origin stories aren’t just pointless, they’re also awful. Obviously, they don’t ruin the original movies, so we can always come back to them to be reassured and cuddled in the comfort of good films that we learnt to love. Cheers!