They're baaack! The ultra gory slasher film (search) franchises that made movie fans scream in the '80s are looking for box office success once again.
A slew of new and remade flicks like "Freddy vs. Jason," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Cabin Fever" and "Dawn of the Dead" are slated to start hitting theaters this month.
But don't call it a comeback -- horror movies never disappeared from theaters. Studio interest dwindled in the '90s, slowing their release and cutting their production budgets. But with the success of the zombie shoot 'em up "28 Days Later," studios are starting to pitch big money into slasher projects.
Leading the way is New Line Cinema's "Freddy vs. Jason," a film that revives two of horror's most profitable and prolific franchises, "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th."
"Freddy vs. Jason" pits two of the most famous movie bad boys, Freddy Kreuger (search), the snap-brim fedora-wearing dream-killer, and Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked machete mutilator, against each other in an old-school battle royale. But will it make a splatter with moviegoers?
"Freddy vs. Jason" producer Sean Cunningham said the decline of slasher flicks was partly a result of improvements in digital special effects technology. But he thinks audiences are losing patience for movies that are almost all over-the-top computer effects.
Cunningham, who also produced the original "Friday the 13th," sees slasher films as a presentation of timeless fairy tales that deal with fears of untimely death. He argues that watching slasher flicks can have a type of therapeutic effect.
"Every kid in high school remembers when some kid got on a motorcycle, ran it into a tree and died -- or some version of that -- and the whole high school came to a crashing halt, because that’s not supposed to happen to kids," Cunningham said. "This is what gets dealt with in horror: You take what you're really afraid of, put it in a story, and when you pull it away, you're a little less scared of it than before."
Cunningham said "Freddy vs. Jason" is the most highly produced film in either franchise: "Nightmare" had seven installations and "Friday the 13th" has had 10. Cunningham said the biggest budget for any Freddy film or any Jason film together would be near what New Line spent on "Freddy vs. Jason."
James Cross, a 26-year-old slasher buff from Chicago, said he is excited to see slasher films return to the big screen. Cross thinks that slasher flicks lost out to more psychological horror films like "The Ring" and "What Lies Beneath" because audiences wanted to pretend they didn’t enjoy something as campy as a tried-and-true slasher.
"People got too highbrow in the '90s and looked down on anything from the previous decade," Cross said. "Generation X (search) loves its nostalgia though -- even more so than their parents."
Cross, who dreams of making a slasher film about zombie slaves created by a gourmet coffee retailing giant called "Caffeine Undead," said a great slasher sticks to horror-movie basics.
"[What makes a good slasher film is] obvious: flat-out hot chicks, an isolated camp setting and unstoppable bad guys," Cross said. "A well-spun yarn into what made the monster that exists onscreen also doesn't hurt."
Cross refers to clichés from slasher classics like John Carpenter's "Halloween," the godfather of all slashers, which established the so-called "rules" of the slasher movie. And although the rules can seem formulaic, successful slasher franchises can pull in nine or 10 sequels.
Slasher films have even launched some of Hollywood's biggest names to stardom. Jamie Lee Curtis' big break came when she played the heroine in "Halloween"; Kevin Bacon found fame as one of the butchered camp counselors in the original "Friday the 13th" and Johnny Depp's first foray into film pitted him against Freddy in "Nightmare on Elm Street."
Robert Butterworth, a psychologist with a specialty in media and its psychological effects, said the return of slasher films may be linked to a psychological need for reassurance in an uncertain world.
"When you go see bad people doing these horrible things they get it in the end," Butterworth said. "We haven't gotten Saddam, we haven't gotten bin Laden yet -- even if there's an air bubble coming up from the lake at the end of a movie, at least there's a sense of closure."
But Cunningham said no amount of closure can put an end to slasher franchises.
"Nothing's a true end -- the truth is, if people show up and enjoy this movie, there'll be more," he said.