Slasher films once followed a tried and true formula.
If the young, beautiful cast members were getting it on, chances are it’s the last thing they do before meeting the film’s villain.
Franchises like “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” feasted on hormonal teens. Jason and Michael Myers routinely sliced and diced them before, or after. their coital needs had been met. It’s a classic horror trope, although one long since abandoned.
Now, chances are if you make your living online you’ll soon be running for your life (if you’re lucky).
The latest example? Netflix’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The film continues the saga started by director Tobe Hooper in 1974, one loosely based on actual events.
“Massacre” follows two “influencers” visiting the Texas town where Leatherface once roamed. The duo snatched up decaying retail space, hoping to revitalize the region with their cyber-fame and idealism. They soon learn the town’s most infamous resident can’t wait to crank up that chainsaw once more.
Ironically, Dante (Jacob Latimore) quips about “late stage capitalism” while touring the abandoned town since he’s plotting to use that economic system to bring it back to life.
Why make influencers the film’s prey? It’s a quick, identifiable character type easily summoned and exploited. It also suggests something more sinister. These are flawed souls who haven’t truly “earned” their wealth. They didn’t study for years or build a business from the ground up. They jumped on the latest digital trends and, well, got lucky.
It also makes them easy emotional pray. We wouldn’t cheer on Leatherface decapitating a missionary or social worker.
A selfie-snapping influencer? Bring it on!
Influencers aren’t as simple as that, of course. Some work tirelessly to build their flock, studying marketing trends along the way. For horror movie fans, that thumbnail sketch is more than sufficient.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” isn’t the only horror film targeting influencers, though.
The 2020 film “Followed” features an aspiring influencer who visits a so-called haunted hotel, hoping it will grow his subscriber count. He soon learns the property truly is haunted.
Last year’s “Shook” follows a makeup influencer forced to solve a series of puzzles to save her friends’ lives. The film wallows in the main character’s selfish ways, something similar tales pound on as well.
“The Cleansing Hour” (2019) involves a fraudulent exorcist whose digital fame backfires when one of his actors actually becomes possessed.
Netflix’s “Cam” (2019) centers on an OnlyFans’ style influencer who breaks her own rules and, later, becomes the target of someone usurping her online identity.
The 2020 gem “Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight” makes tech dependency a reason to be slashed to bits. The teens in question are forced to hand in their smartphones and explore some analog pursuits – like staying one step ahead of the film’s monsters.
The 2020 thriller “Spree” offers a twist on this emerging formula. The killer in question is an influencer himself, a Lyft-style driver frustrated by his slow ascent up the digital ladder. So he starts killing passengers to pump up his social media flock.
It works, of course, which is part of the disturbing message.
Horror’s latest trend also taps into Millennial resentment. Many of these new horror movie victims are self-righteous, making us root for their comeuppance. Others are urban dwellers looking down on the locals. We see just that in the new “Massacre” as well as the recent “Wrong Turn” reboot.
The ’80s horror coincided with the Moral Majority’s rise, which may have influenced the “sex and die” narratives in play.
Today? Influencers are all the rage, but they also draw plenty of suspicion, jealousy and frustration. Is it any wonder filmmakers are using them as their go-to prey?