This month is all about teen screams here at Nightmare on Film Street, and perhaps no subgenre features teens in peril more reliably than the slasher movie! Though it has roots in early influencers like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Halloween (1978), the craze reached its peak in the 1980s with endless sequels to the previously mentioned movies and newcomers like Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Though it eventually died down by the end of the decade, 1996’s Scream reinvigorated the genre and a steady stream of remakes/reboots/sequels and combinations of all of the above have kept the major slashers alive ever since.
’80s nostalgia is a hot commodity right now, with series and movies like Stranger Things and It becoming cultural phenomenons, the likes of which haven’t been seen in horror since, well, the ’80s with pop culture juggernauts Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. Pennywise and the Demogorgons aren’t exactly slashers, of course, but newer slasher movies have long paid homage to their forefathers, even before this recent wave of throwbacks. In the mid-2000s, cult slashers Leslie Vernon and Victor Crowley burst onto the scene, both referencing and homaging the slashers of the past in different ways.
With the ninth season of American Horror Story premiering this month, also tapping into the nostalgia well and promising to be a retro slasher lover’s dream, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the coolest promotional merchandise for various other throwback slashers that have stalked our screens.
BEHIND THE MERCH OF LESLIE VERNON
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a mockumentary featuring a young reporter (Angela Goethals) who is following an aspiring serial killer named Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) as he prepares to follow in the footsteps of his heroes Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers by slaughtering a group of teenagers who have made the grave decision to party on a rural farm. The documentary crew follows Leslie as he prepares for the murders, setting various traps around the farmhouse and sabotaging weapons so that they inevitably fail when the teens fight back.
Meta-horror was nothing new in 2006 when Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon was released, but it took the concept to a whole new level by having the likes of Freddy Krueger and Leatherface be actual famous serial killers, not just fictional ones known from movies. The movie is chock-full of homages, references, and even visits to the famous locations of the earlier slashers. While it was only given a limited release before going to DVD, Leslie Vernon has become a cult favorite with a sequel long in development but still not in production as of this writing.
Despite all that, the movie actually did receive a rather large marketing push from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Cardboard versions of Leslie’s creepy mask, as well as a faux newspaper from the movie’s fictional setting of Glen Echo, were distributed as advertisements.
There were also two pieces of memorabilia that were distributed in much more limited numbers: a miniature replica of Leslie’s mask made out of resin, and a petri dish containing a bloody heart with the movie’s logo on the outside. Any of these would make a great addition to a Leslie Vernon fan’s collection!
HATCHET: OUT OF THE SWAMP AND ONTO SHELVES
Also released on a limited basis in 2006 before later being released on DVD, Adam Green’s Hatchet was a less-meta approach to the throwback slasher: a group of tourists go on a swamp tour and encounter the ghastly Victor Crowley, a deformed swamp-dwelling killer who wants nothing more than to rip the group of unsuspecting tourists to shreds. Throw in a tragic backstory for the killer and a final girl with a secret connection to him, and you have all the ingredients for a throwback slasher.
Hatchet came with an aggressive marketing campaign that attacked the slew of recent remakes that had been released at the time, with the tagline declaring “It’s not a remake, it’s not a sequel, and it’s not based on a Japanese one.” There was little in the way of direct references to previous movies, but a steady stream of cameos from genre legends like Tony Todd, Robert Englund, and Kane Hodder (in and out of prosthetic makeup) solidified the retro feel.
These knife sharpeners featuring the logo and tagline were released to horror bloggers and critics to promote the release, and have become popular collector’s items in the years since! Also of note is the Best Buy-exclusive Hatchet keychain that was available when you purchased the DVD there.
PLACE YOUR BETS ON FREDDY VS JASON
At the end of the ninth (and ostensibly the final) Friday the 13th movie, Jason Goes to Hell, Freddy Krueger’s iconic glove is seen reaching out of the ground and grabbing onto Jason’s equally iconic hockey mask, starting a decade-long wait before the two slashers finally came face-to-face in 2003’s Freddy Vs. Jason. A crossover event the likes of which had never been seen in horror, it featured sleep stalker Freddy resurrecting Jason to kill the teens of Elm Street, hoping to spark enough fear and terror that he can return himself.
It should have been obvious that a movie combining arguably the two most famous slashers would be a guaranteed hit, but it took ten years and dozens of script rewrites to bring the movie to fruition. As it geared up for release, New Line had fun with the marketing strategy, and used a tagline made famous by the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre: “Who will survive, and what will be left of them?”
In the way of promotional merchandise, plastic Jason masks were distributed, as well as bottles of the fictional dream suppressant Hypnocil (actually just candy). The label on the bottle is full of Easter Eggs, with the prescription number being the date of release and the doctor being Freddy Krueger.
THE STRANGERS PLAY AT NIGHT
Another sequel that took a full decade to be released, The Strangers: Prey at Night invaded theaters in 2018, just two months shy of the 10th anniversary of the original movie. While the first film featured a decidedly muted ’70s aesthetic, Prey at Night was loud and colorful, full of ’80s pop songs put to ironically creepy use and direct callbacks to John Carpenter classics like The Fog and Christine, among many others.
To promote the release, these gift packages were sent to lucky recipients. Inside they found either Dollface or Pin-Up Girl’s mask, along with supplies for a spooky date night: candles, matches, drink mixers, and a USB drive emblazoned with “MUSIC TO DIE FOR.” Plug it in and you’ll find a Strangers mixtape, consisting of three of the songs used in the movie: Kim Wilde’s Kids in America, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and Air Supply’s Making Love Out of Nothing At All.
That’s it for this edition of the Collector’s Crypt! If you have any promotional horror merchandise in your collection, share it with us on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, and it could appear in a future edition!