10 persistent horror franchises

Odd List Ryan Lambie 10 Jan 2012 - 16:58

They may run out of ideas or slip into absurdity, but horror franchises never truly end. Here’s a selection of a few of the most persistent…

In the horror genre, death is never the end. It’s true of its seemingly indestructible antagonists, and it’s frequently true of the movies in which they appear – it’s highly unusual for a lucrative horror series to ever truly end, even if the title claims that what you’ve paid to see really is the final instalment.

To this end, here are 10 horror franchises that, no matter how many times they appear to have run out of ways of killing people, still keep coming back from the grave. And because horror sequels so frequently play around with time, we’ll approach this particular list in no particular order, starting with a gore-laden hit in glorious 3D…

Final Destination

The inspiration for this article, and a rare example of a sequel that actually improves on the film that preceded it. By 2009’s The Final Destination, the definite article in the title, and its general lack of invented ideas, appeared to sound a death knell for the series.

This suspicion was proved unfounded when Final Destination 5 was announced a short while later, and the result was a success. The now well-established template of narrowly averted disaster and subsequent inventive deaths returned yet again, but this time joined by a new sense of narrative vigour and some impressive use of 3D.

Tony Todd made a welcome comeback, too, to freak out Death’s victims before their inevitable demise, and the film’s conclusion was a great one – so great, in fact, that we shan’t spoil it here.

Hellraiser

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is one that more casual cinemagoers may be forgiven for assuming died years ago, but even after Bloodline signalled the end of its theatrical releases back in 1996, sequels have continued to appear on DVD. Some of these are rather weird.

Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) was a kind of murder mystery thriller vaguely along the lines of Angel Heart; Hellraiser: Hellseeker saw the unexpected return of actress Kirsty Cotton (who’d been missing in action since Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth) and featured a faustian plot-twist. The appallingly titled Hellraiser: Deader introduced an underground suicide cult in Bucharest, while 2005’s Hellworld had something to do with an MMORPG.

Hellraiser: Revelations, released last year, was the weirdest yet – not least because it was shot for around the price of a sack of charcoal and was only shown in a single cinema. The film was hastily cobbled together by the Weinstein Company in order to retain the franchise’s rights, and by all accounts, it’s absolutely terrible. Last August, an incensed Clive Barker was seen to remark on Twitter, “It's not even from my butt-hole.”

Naturally, this isn’t the end of the Hellraiser franchise. After a season in development Hades, a new movie featuring the Cenobites is currently in the works. It’ll be directed by Patrick Lussier, who was responsible for Drive Angry, and will be presented in 3D. How bad can it possibly be?

A Nightmare On Elm Street

Wes Craven’s enormously successful franchise, like so many horror premises, gradually deteriorated as the list of sequels grew. The 1984 original was a lean and scary departure for the slasher genre, establishing a new horror antagonist – dream demon Freddie Krueger – who was genuinely menacing. But while the budgets for the sequels grew (Craven shot the first film for just $1.8million), the series descended into camp self-parody, and Krueger gradually morphed from a terrifying demon into a wise-cracking figure of fun.

As the title Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare implies, the sixth film was intended as the last, and by this point, the franchise had reached the point where it featured Simpsons-style celebrity cameos (Alice Cooper, Roseanne Barr and Johnny Depp all briefly show up), and its conclusion was shot presented in 3D.

But like the Final Destination franchise, Freddy’s revival was actually a decent one; Wes Craven returned with his New Nightmare in 1994, which served as a kind of proving ground for the self-aware meta filmmaking that made Scream such a success two years later.

Sadly, New Nightmare wasn’t a huge hit, and made less money than its far worse predecessor. The franchise has, nevertheless, carried on regardless. Freddy Vs Jason was a follow-up of sorts, and its collision of two horror properties and over-the-top violence resulted in a certified hit.

A rebooted Nightmare On Elm Street was released in 2010, and was, according to most, terrible, but people went to see it in any case, netting the film around $115million at the box office. With numbers like that behind it, it’s probably only a matter of time before another sequel emerges, even if the black magic that made Wes Craven’s entries so disturbing appears to have departed long ago.

Halloween

With a minimal budget, a cast of unknowns and a William Shatner mask purchased at a local department store, director John Carpenter made one of the most frequently imitated horror movies in history. Its unexpected success made it the template for low-budget genre flicks for the decades that followed, with the 1978 Halloween followed up by a gorier, more expensive sequel three years later.

Predictably, subsequent Halloween films worsened; Halloween III: Season Of The Witch didn’t even feature antagonist Michael Myers, and 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later ignored films IV, V and IV altogether.

Although not a brilliant film by any means, H20 at least attempted to bring some sort of closure to the ageing franchise, with its heroine Laurie Strode finally defeating her nemesis in mortal combat. And with Michael Myers’ masked head graphically decapitated at its conclusion, that really did appear to be it.

Except it wasn’t. 1998’s Halloween: Resurrection, in an absurd twist, revealed that poor Laurie hadn’t killed Myers at all, but an incapacitated paramedic who Myers had disguised with his mask. Compared to Resurrection, H20 was Hitchcock’s Psycho.

And since this is the horror genre, where ailing franchises are merely reincarnated, Rob Zombie brought Myers back from the dead yet again in his 2007 Halloween reboot and its 2009 sequel. Like Myers himself, the Halloween franchise never dies; it merely takes a tumble from a balcony, sprints off into the night, and comes back again a couple of years later.

Friday The 13th

Riding in the bloody wake of Halloween in the golden age of slasher movies, the Friday The 13th franchise began in 1980, and revelled in its firework display of gory deaths. After Mrs Voorhees’ rampage was ended in the first film, her son dutifully took over, and his Hockey-mask (introduced in the third film) became one of the slasher subgenre’s defining clichés (for proof, see Namco’s classic videogame, Splatterhouse).

As ever, those sequels became more predictable and less frightening as the 80s wore on, and Jason Takes Manhattan fared dismally. A comparatively cheap ‘last’ instalment was convened – Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday – which did much better. And as you’ll probably have guessed, this wasn’t the end of the franchise. Its conclusion set up the Freddy Vs Jason movie mentioned earlier, and Voorhees was shot into space for 2002’s Jason X.

Like A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th was subjected to a reboot treatment from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company in 2009. It wasn’t particularly good, but made quite a lot of money in any case.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Personally, I like to pretend that Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the only film in the series, and that none of the others ever happened. Hooper’s 1986 sequel and various other follow-ups completely failed to recreate the 70s version’s sweaty aura of horror, which is proof, I suppose, of just how deceptively well-made the original was.

Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake had a bigger budget (and made lots of money), but its slick production was its undoing – as John Landis once pointed out, it looks like a shampoo commercial. Nevertheless, another film followed, which was a prequel to the remake.

And just to add to the confusion, the next film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, will ignore the other five sequels, prequels and reboots, and will follow on directly from the end of the 1974 film.

Alien

Proof that even the biggest, studio-owned horror names can gradually dwindle in quality, the dreadful Alien Versus Predator movies dragged the franchise far from its classy 70s roots.

Like most of the other series on this list, Alien 3 appeared to offer a natural, if downbeat, conclusion: at the insistence of Sigourney Weaver, who’d grown tired of killing monsters, Ripley took a swan dive into a lake of fire at the end of David Fincher’s troubled debut. And given the tonally odd mess that was Alien: Resurrection, I wonder whether Weaver had wished she’d left the franchise where it was.

With Ridley Scott returning to the franchise for its sort-of-prequel, Prometheus, here’s hoping that the Alien series can get the much-needed quality injection it so desperately needs.

The Amityville Horror

This series of tawdry ghost house horror flicks holds a grim fascination for me, largely because their plots appear to have been written during a visit to an opium den. The 1979 original was a swiftly-made, predictable flick based on a supposedly true story. In spite of its indifferent direction and atrocious acting, it made lots of money. And then the madness began.

Amityville II: The Possession had little to do with the original, though some critics claimed it was slightly better than the original. Amityville III was shot in 3D (seldom a good sign), and appeared to end the franchise when the demonically possessed house at the centre of it all burned down at the end.

The fourth film, Evil Escapes (1989) ignored the conflagration, and mostly focused on the exploits of a demon-possessed floor lamp. The fifth film ignored all the other films, and basically retold the story of the original Amityville, except in a different house.

Amityville 1992: It’s About Time featured a haunted clock. 1993’s A New Generation was about an evil mirror. The threat at the centre of 1996’s Amityville Dollshouse is self-explanatory.

And so it went, until Michael Bay stepped in to end the madness in 2005, with a straight remake of the original which received negative reviews but made a not unreasonable amount of money.

No doubt spurred on by the success of the Paranormal Activity films, which take the modern haunted house formula and add night-vision cameras, two more Amityville films are on the way: The Legacy 3D, due out this year, and The Lost Tapes likely to follow in 2013.

Wrong Turn

Although only the first Wrong Turn movie made it into theatres, the cannibal horror series has persisted on DVD, with the fourth, Bloody Beginnings, released last October. Given that the original is gradually approaching its 10th birthday, expect a big-budget remake from Platinum Dunes to arrive at some point in the next few years.

Saw

Between 2004 and 2010, the Saw franchise became a regular Halloween fixture at the cinema, as filmgoers queued up to see what bloody deaths its makers had come up with. While results varied, each one was a big hit, making between five and ten times its initial investment – the kind of statistics that have film producers everywhere salivating.

The Saw franchise is unusual, in fact, for not outstaying its welcome – where most horror series see a dip in popularity, fans remained faithful right up to the seventh and final film, Saw 3D. But this is the horror genre, and franchises never stay dead for long if they’re popular. Last year, series creator James Wan admitted that, “[Saw] is finished for now, but since it's such a huge, well-known franchise, it's gonna come back at some point.”

The future

Although a comparatively new series, the success of the Paranormal Activity movies shows no sign of abating. The third film made more than $200million, and naturally, there’s another on the way next year. And given just how cheap these films are to make, it’s likely we’ll see more sequels, prequels and spin-offs for many years to come.

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