Nostalgia has been a reliable way to draw in audiences for games, TV and movies alike, both over the last few years, as well as with upcoming releases, whether they be action, fantasy or horror. This comes in a number of ways. Stranger Things brings the 80s to a modern audience in a way that feels appropriate. Cobra Kai could also be said to an effective throwback. Disney tends to be a bit more blunt, remaking classics such as The Lion King and the upcoming The Little Mermaid, or placing popular characters into new shows, such as Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian.
For many audiences’ members this has become exhausting. However there seems to be a new wave of nostalgic content coming out. The horror twist on childhood properties. Now this isn’t strictly a new phenomenon. There’s been a smattering of these types of media for a long time. 2020 had Gretel and Hansel, 2011 had Red Riding Hood. Back in 1997 there was Snow White: A Tale of Terror and 1984 saw Silent Night, Deadly Night. This is just to name a few.
However, it seems that this bizarre genre is making a comeback, with at least 3 of these coming to our screens in late 2022 and early 2023. Here’s a look at these upcoming horrors, and what may be leading to this renaissance.
Choo Choo Charles
Whilst the name and colour palette has been changed, probably to avoid copyright claims, we all know that this game is the culmination of the spooky Thomas the Tank Engine meme. The game is being developed by Two Star Games, with a terrifying spider train, named Charles, hunting the player. The combination of ridiculous premise, and genuinely scary looking gameplay, has taken the game viral. It managed to get added to 90,000 Wishlist’s in just 2 weeks.
The upcoming horror game has succeeded in capitalising on the trend of scary childhood memories and nostalgia in much the same way 5 Nights at Freddy’s did. These kind of indie horrors can skyrocket in popularity as horror fans love the warping of the familiar, especially when boosted on platforms such as TikTok. Obviously not everything will go viral but having a finger on the pulse of the gaming community certainly helps. With so many Thomas the Tank Engine memes and horror shorts it was only a matter of time before something like this came out. It seems unlikely that a generic Thomas the Tank Engine game would have garnered the same level of attention. The game is releasing on the 9th of December 2022.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey
A factor that may lead to the creation of more of these horrors is that a lot of older properties are entering the public domain. Of courses there are complications. Only the original Winnie-The-Pooh story has entered the public domain, but later entries are still copyrighted. Unfortunately, that means we won’t see a murderous Tigger as Disney retains copyright on their additions to the Winnie-the-Pooh franchise. Director Rhys Waterfield has seized the moment to create the slasher Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.
The film will follow the events of a rampage by Pooh and Piglet after Christopher Robin returns to Hundred Acre Woods from college. The beloved bear is out for revenge and blood to go with his honey. The trailer has garnered a lot of attention, with 4.1 million views on the Rotten Tomatoes Trailers YouTube channel, and millions more if you count the versions across other channels, such as IGN which stands at 495k views.
It seems we can’t get enough of having child friendly classics being twisted into violent nightmare fuel. With several other properties entering public domain, we may see even more of these. Bambi has similarly had its copyright expired, and the original Mickey Mouse ‘Steamboat Willie‘ expires in 2024, as does Popeye. With easier access to these properties for more subversive filmmakers, and the popularity of said products, it seems likely that this will be the case. Or maybe I’m just hopeful for a killer Bambi revenge story.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey comes out in 2023 on February 15th. The Hollywood Reporter also states that a sequel is in the works, as well as a horror version of Peter Pan, so it seems that at the moment, these films are gaining enough attention to warrant further investment.
The Mean One
Now just because there’s the pesky copyright in the way, doesn’t mean you can’t wiggle your way around it. This is the case for The Mean One, which is a upcoming horror parody of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas, seeking to subvert the nostalgia for the old Christmas story.
The film subverts the traditional story, with the Grinch, or something very similar, stealing lives rather than presents. This seems to lead to the monster and facing down with the daughter of parents he had previously murdered. The movie will star David Howard Thorton, who horror fans may know as Art the Clown from Terrifier, or as the Joker from the Nightwing: Escalation series.
Seasonal horrors tend to attract cult audiences, if not particularly good reviews. Krampus, Leprechaun and Silent Night, Deadly Night come to mind. The Mean One will likely fall into the similar category of a silly, but hopefully fun, time. Christmas, being in many ways the antithesis of Halloween, is a prime candidate for horror twists. Not only is it a time filled with childhood memories, but also of dark nights and mystical creatures. It’s the perfect time to juxtapose the fun of the season, with winter-themed horror.
The Mean One has be announced to release on December 15th 2022. There has yet to be a trailer released for the movie.
What’s Made this Upcoming Nostalgic Horror Trend
In a time where we can’t seem to escape the franchises of the past it’s nice to see them being twisted and subverted. But just exactly why this is happening? No doubt it is in part the releasing of a number of properties into the public domain. It’s a gold mine for directors and game makers to capitalise on these popular characters and properties. Not that they have to make them official. You can always change them slightly to avoid copyright, like with The Mean One.
There have been several successful online takes on characters such as these. The demonic Thomas the Tank Engine is one such take. Another popular one is the Garfield meme, where in the cat is a eldritch abomination seeking to destroy the world, and eat lasagne. With the viral popularity of these approaches, it was likely only a matter of time before we saw them brought to the film and gaming scene. The above creations are almost tailored made for the internet. Especially with platforms like TikTok to market on and spread awareness.
Arguably it is the connection between the availability of these characters, and the overall media landscape. Brand and character recognition is a sure-fire way to generate attention and views, even if the market is saturated. By offering a twist these games and movies can distinguish themselves and offer something familiar yet new. It may not just be horrors that these get turned into either, David Harbour is starring in the upcoming Violent Night, an action movie, but with Santa.
We will have to see how these creations fare after release. They may fade into the background or they may just have found the golden ticket. Let us know what you think about these upcoming nostalgia subverting horrors in the comments!