Halloween. Scream. Hellraiser. Legacy horror franchises – properties whose origins reach back decades – have returned in a big way, with the three mentioned above and others all part of a wave of reboots, sequels, prequels, and reimaginings (feel free to add your own buzzword) that are either reinvigorating somewhat dusty titles for new generations of fans or putting the final nail in their crusty old coffins.
The reason for this is clear: if you think Hollywood craved proven IP (that’s intellectual property to us plebs) before the pandemic, the major studios are even more desperate to scarf up and regurgitate as much of it now as possible in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic nearly killing the theatrical movie business altogether and still leaving it on shaky ground.
But familiarity, as the saying goes, can breed contempt just as much as it can breed box office dollars. Sure, audiences will show up for a new Halloween or perhaps even a Friday the 13th, but they have to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. That means honoring the franchise and its mythology without insulting our intelligence and while providing a fresh spin on the material (a legacy actor or two showing up from the original movie doesn’t hurt either).
Based on the franchises below, the best solution is to hire genuine fans to tackle the material. Slap together some cash grab with the hack of the week behind the camera and chances are you’ll get what you deserve at the ticket counter – maybe a brief burst of opening weekend activity and then crickets.
But put someone like David Bruckner in charge of Hellraiser or Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett on Scream – filmmakers with a real love for the franchise and the genre – and the movie still might not work, but at least there’s a passion there that’s missing from, say, 2010’s horrid A Nightmare on Elm Street retread (they have to be talented too, of course).
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules to all this, which is why each of the top shelf genre brands below have their individual highs and lows. For now, however, legacy horror is here to stay – but whether or not those legacies shine bright or end up tarnished beyond repair is the question.
Four years ago, we would have celebrated the rebirth of the Halloween saga under the direction (and co-writing with Danny McBride) of David Gordon Green. His 2018 reboot – a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original, ignoring the many convoluted and desperate entries and remakes in between – recontextualized the entire story and made it about the generational aftermath of confronting inexplicable evil, a timely and hard-hitting breath of fresh air.
In 2022, however, we’re forced to rethink that decision, as Green’s two follow-ups, last year’s Halloween Kills and the new Halloween Ends, have been utter misfires. The former was a slapdash compendium of fan service, unearned subplots, and overabundant gore, while the latter literally introduces an entirely new main character and haphazardly tacks on the Halloween elements in its last third. Jamie Lee Curtis shockingly gets little to do in either film, and even Michael Myers is reduced to a weird supporting role in Ends. What’s most dismaying is that we’re certain the brand won’t stay dead forever, but we can’t imagine how it even moves forward from here.
The first two Hellraiser movies (the original and Hellbound: Hellraiser II) are considered a classic and a worthy follow-up, respectively. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth has its fans too, and Hellraiser: Bloodline – the last of the films to be released theatrically – has managed to garner a cult following despite extensive studio interference in the final edit.
But while fans may find something worthy here and there in the next six entries – all of which went direct to video – it’s no secret that the now-defunct Dimension Films merely kept churning them out to hold onto the rights, even taking existing non-Hellraiser screenplays and grafting the mythology onto them to create the films. The new Hellraiser, on the other hand, is directed by a filmmaker (David Bruckner) with a clear love for the series and an interest in expanding upon the lore, even if the movie falls short in other areas (like, uh, compelling characters).
While no sequel has been formally announced for Bruckner’s take on this universe, the director told Den of Geek magazine he’s definitely open to it: “Should the fans respond to this, should there be a desire to go further with it? I would be absolutely honored.”
As of right now, Hellraiser is certified “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning critics liked Bruckner’s film for the most part, but the bigger deciding factor will undoubtedly be the viewership numbers at Hulu, which we don’t know at this time.
The Scream saga is one of those rare properties on which the original creators stuck around for most of its history, with the late Wes Craven directing the first four movies and writer Kevin Williamson penning three of the first four films. The original three lead actors (Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox) have reprised their roles as well, right through the most recent entry, Scream (aka Scream 5), which enjoyed a successful run earlier this year.
The result has been a franchise that – while your mileage and the level of quality might vary between entries – has stayed remarkably consistent in terms of its tone, aesthetic, mythology, and the ability to adapt each new movie to themes that are relevant to the time in which its released. Scream 5 directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are huge, enthusiastic fans, which bodes well for the upcoming Scream 6, but Campbell’s decision to walk away over salary issues leaves a massive hole in the film no matter what.
Like Scream, the Evil Dead franchise has stayed under the control of its creators. Even when Sam Raimi hasn’t directed or Bruce Campbell hasn’t starred, they and partner Rob Tapert have overseen all offshoots of the property that launched their careers back in 1981. As a result, also similar to Scream, the series – four films and a TV show so far, with a fifth movie on the way – has retained its original over-the-top spirit and consistently zany blend of slapstick and horror.
Raimi himself hasn’t directed anything with the name Evil Dead on it since helming the pilot for the Ash vs. Evil Dead series back in 2015, but it’s clear that he, Tapert, and Campbell are protective of the brand. The 2013 reboot directed by Fede Alvarez was a darker, somewhat harder-edged effort that still captured the maniacal tone of the previous three films, while Evil Dead Rise – with director Lee Cronin personally selected by Raimi – is due out next spring.
We all know the score on The Exorcist: William Friedkin’s 1973 original film (adapted by the book’s author, William Peter Blatty) is a stone-cold masterpiece, arguably the greatest horror film of all time, and remains so even if Friedkin and Blatty have tinkered with it from time to time. Blatty’s own follow-up, 1990’s Exorcist III, is a minor classic on its own terms and certainly the film that comes the closest in spirit to the original. The other three – 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, 2004’s Exorcist: The Beginning, and 2005’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist – are each a disaster in their own way, while the two-season 2016 TV series, The Exorcist, probably got better reviews than anything since the first movie.
Blatty is dead and Friedkin has had nothing to do with the brand for years, but Blumhouse and Universal have recently acquired the rights and plan to give it the same three-film, legacy-sequel treatment that they gave Halloween, with David Gordon Green directing, original star Ellen Burstyn on board as the legacy star, and the rest of us wondering why anyone thinks this is a good idea.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
As with so many films on this list, Tobe Hooper’s original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) remains a landmark in horror history, with primary villain Leatherface becoming a genre icon in his own right. Hooper’s film has never been topped for its surreal, unrelentingly nightmarish aesthetic (not even by Hooper himself, who went for more of a black comedy vibe with 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), and the succeeding mish-mash of sequels, prequels, and remakes have proven to be mostly barren of anything worthwhile, with one or two exceptions (Marcus Nispel’s 2005 remake has its moments).
The latest addition to the brand, Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was a dreary, amateurish, offensive mess that screamed “cash grab” for the entirety of its too-long 83-minute running time. Weirdly the same guy who did the 2013 Evil Dead reboot (Fede Alvarez) was involved in conceiving the story for this, but without the supervision of anyone who cared (Hooper passed away five years ago), we can imagine more feckless producers glomming onto this property.
Seven films, one remake and a TV series later, that indestructible doll known as Chucky continues to fascinate fans old and new. The first movie is a minor classic, establishing Chucky (and the actor voicing him, Brad Dourif) as a durable horror icon. What makes Child’s Play/Chucky interesting is that, under the supervision of creator Don Mancini (who wrote all seven of the original series of films and directed the last three), the series evolved from more or less straight genre fare into a kind of campy, self-aware, often darkly amusing comedy-horror hybrid.
Neither Mancini nor Dourif was involved with the dull 2019 remake, which dispensed with Chucky’s well-established supernatural origins in favor of a new high-tech backstory. It didn’t really take with audiences, grossing just $45 million worldwide, while critics were slightly kinder. Mancini, Dourif, and Jennifer Tilly (who voiced Tiffany in the films) have all returned for the SyFy show Chucky, which just began its second season this month and is part of the original movies’ continuity, so Chucky and friends continue to live and perhaps even thrive.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
This is really a perfect case of a franchise that, when you have someone who really cares about it involved – in this case, creator Wes Craven – the quality jumps up remarkably. The original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) are all directed and/or written or co-written by Craven, and all three are considered the best of the series. Other sequels not involving Craven are mostly useless, as is the dreadfully bland 2010 remake directed by Samuel Bayer (who should have stuck to music videos). Even 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, while offering a few laughs, failed to reignite any real interest in the character.
Talk of yet another remake has circulated since around 2015, but in 2019 the rights to the franchise reverted back to the late Craven’s estate, which reportedly began taking pitches for both a theatrical film and a potential series. But that was three years and one pandemic ago, and even though his estate is in control, we’re leery about anything Elm Street-related without Wes Craven being a part of it.
Friday the 13th
It’s been 42 years since Jason Voorhees first lunged out of Crystal Lake at the shock climax of Friday the 13th, but remarkably it’s also been 13 years since Jason last lumbered onto a multiplex screen near you. For a long time, you could almost set your watch by a new Friday the 13th movie, with 10 of them produced between 1980 and 2002, followed by Freddy vs. Jason in 2003.
The quality has varied wildly over the years, but at least a third of the pictures haven’t been too bad. The 2009 reboot, directed by remake specialist Marcus Nispel and produced by Michael Bay and cronies, wasn’t so much bad as just lifeless and uninspired, a soulless exercise in making a film purely to retain an option and squeeze a few more coins out of an already wheezing machine.
Part of the reason for the long delay in any new entries has been an ongoing legal feud between the original film’s writer, Victor Miller, and its producer/director, Sean Cunningham, over the rights to the property. Miller won a major round in that battle back in September 2021 when a judge awarded him ownership of the original Friday the 13th screenplay, but it was unclear whether Cunningham would appeal and if Miller even owned the rights to, say, the adult version of Jason and his signature hockey mask, both of which showed up in later entries. Cunningham hinted as late as last August about a new movie coming in 2023, but little has been heard since.
Richard Donner’s 1976 film The Omen is the last of the trio of horror films – which included Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973) – that defined the genre’s tilt toward Satanic terror during that rather turbulent era. It’s still a gem, although the lack of involvement by either Donner or writer David Seltzer on Damien: Omen II (1978) and Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) clearly led to diminishing returns (although we do have a soft spot for Omen II). A 1991 TV-movie, Omen IV: The Awakening, and a soulless 2006 remake of the original film are not even worth discussing.
A 2016 A&E series titled Damien, in which the adult Antichrist begins to remember who he is (after forgetting his heritage) and acts accordingly, kept the character’s name alive even if it lasted for just 10 episodes. And now, unfortunately, that worst of all incarnations, a prequel film, is in development. Titled First Omen, it’s slated to be directed by Arkasha Stevenson (Legion) and will focus on…what? The life of the jackal that gives birth to Damien before Satan impregnates her?
The Amityville Horror
Depending on which source you’re looking at, there are anywhere from an astounding 28 to 39 films that have the word “Amityville” in the title. Some of these are only announced, while others may not really exist at all (Wikipedia lists one called Amityville Vibrator, which sounds either like a prank or a porn parody), but pretty much all of them – with the exception of the 1979 original, The Amityville Horror – represent the ultimate cash grab in legacy horror history.
The reason for that is simple: since the original story is based on events that are in the public record (the murders of the DeFeo family and the alleged haunting of the Lutz clan, in the same house in the same town), anyone can make a movie that is “inspired” by those incidents, no matter how loose the reference. So not only has this story long ago left behind any sense of narrative continuity, but there is no one filmmaker or production entity that has been in control of it.
Screen Rant estimates that around 11 of the movies are “canon,” including the original, 1982’s Amityville II: The Possession, 1983’s Amityville 3-D, and the weak-tea 2005 remake starring Ryan Reynolds. That leaves at least two dozen more for which you are on your own – with, believe it or not, more to come.
Halloween Ends is in theaters and streaming on Peacock now, while Hellraiser is streaming on Hulu.