There are two things about horror movies that hold true no matter what. The one survivor is usually a white girl, and there will be sequels. Dozens upon dozens of sequels. But can a franchise really sustain so many sequels? We’re not so sure.
Here are ten horror franchises that should have quit sooner:
The first Halloween (1978) is a classic suspense thriller. Much like other movies that launched a genre, the formula has been stolen by everybody, but there’s nothing like the real thing. Whether it’s everybody’s favorite Shatner-mask wearing psycho pinning teenagers to walls with a knife, Laurie Strode discovering he’s unkillable, or even just that killer opening, John Carpenter delivered a classic film.
At least Halloween II (1981) has points to recommend it; it’s not as suspenseful, but it’s got its thrills.
Then for the third one, they decided to make it about a novelty company using Halloween masks to brainwash children with a commercial or something. We’re not kidding. That’s the plot of Halloween III (1982). And it gets worse, as the franchise recycles everything through five more sequels to the point where you’ve got Busta Rhymes berating Michael Myers into going away in Halloween: Resurrection (2002).
Next, they let Rob Zombie reboot the franchise with a remake of Halloween in 2007 (probably the worst idea in film since Batman and Robin) and then he remakes Halloween II (2009) (another bad idea).
We’re pretty sure Michael Myers wishes Laurie Strode really HAD killed him.
9. The Exorcist
The Exorcist (1973) is, again, one of the all time horror classics. Sure, it’s gross. It’s incredibly gross. But that’s balanced by the sheer transgressiveness of the material, which is still pretty shocking, and the calm, documentary feel of the movie. It’s a horror film that’s paced like a drama, although we still want to know why they’d be shooting a movie about student protests in the early ‘70s.
For some reason, John Boorman, the director of the sequel, decided that all of this meant he really needed to put James Earl Jones in a fly suit and have Richard Burton relentlessly overact. We’re not kidding about either. Just as the original was a huge hit, The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) was so legendarily bad, and tanked so legendarily hard, that it’s still used as a measure of a disappointing follow-up.
Ten years later, the writer of the original made a movie called Legion …and the studio forced him to call it Exorcist III despite it having nothing whatsoever to do with the franchise aside from some blasphemy and a forcible name swap between characters. It didn’t even feature the same actors. Amazingly, though, the movie itself was actually pretty good.
But don’t worry, there was a prequel! Actually, two, as Warner Brothers hired Paul Schrader, writer of lighthearted fun like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, not to mention a guy who has been struggling with his Catholicism for, let’s see here, his entire career, to make a prequel. Then they told him his movie, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist was too intellectual and they hired crap-slinger Rennie Harlin. Harlin wound up making an entirely different movie (Exorcist: The Beginning), had it bomb, and then Warners had to release both (2004 and 2005, respectively) to see a profit.
The moral of the story? If you hire an artist, know what you’re getting into.
If you’ve never seen the original Leprechaun (1993), well, it features an evil leprechaun and Jennifer Aniston in ridiculous pants. That’s about it for highlights. It’s cheap, it’s ridiculous, it’s stupid, and it’s not scary.
Which apparently means we needed six of them. Two of them set in “Tha Hood”, which strikes us as about a century too late, as there haven’t been Irish people in the inner city anywhere except Boston since World War II. While there’s not much to say about Leprechaun, it deserves a special mention because…six movies? What?
7. Children of the Corn
If there is one author who defines the ‘80s, it’s Stephen King. And the movies sometimes did right by King: Cujo, Christine, The Shining, Cat’s Eye. Other times, it was terrible to him: Lawnmower Man, Night Shift, The Mangler. But nothing defines just how bad it could get like Children of the Corn (1984).
The original movie came out in 1984 and…well, it was OK. It had to expand the short story way too much, but it was fun. And that, apparently, was that, for nearly ten years.
Then Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice came out in 1993. Of course, calling something “The Final” just meant it wasn’t going to die, so they kept turning these movies out all through the ‘90s, with seven all told. Yes, there are more Children of the Corn movies than Star Wars movies.
It seemed the franchise was out of gas in 2001, becoming so bad even direct-to-video didn’t do anything for it…and then, of course, it was rebooted. On the SyFy Channel. And King stated he wanted no part of it in a letter he sent through his lawyer. Yeah, real classic, there.
6. Final Destination
The original Final Destination (2000) was actually kind of brilliant: it’s a slasher movie, without the slasher. Instead of a nutjob with a knife, it’s the spirit of Death itself, which apparently is a huge fan of Bond movies because we’ve seen less elaborate plans in the Saw movies. Boy, Death just doesn’t want to fool around, does it? The original was both suspenseful and hilarious, and worked really well; although, catch the original ending if you can (much better, but it unfortunately didn’t test well).
Then they just basically kept remaking it. And remaking it. And remaking it. There’s no twist or any attempt to make it special: there’s a big opening disaster that’s an effect showpiece, and then smaller showpieces offing middling actors and Abercrombie models until the ending…which is generally a hint that Death doesn’t give up easily.
How many are we up to? Well, number five is being made as we speak. Maybe this time, Death will just make them cocoa. That’d be a good twist.
The original Candyman (1992) was a great movie. Yeah, it was a slasher movie, but it was a different kind of slasher movie- one built on the classic “Bloody Mary” legend with a great hook (pun intended) and featuring noir elements. And you’ve also got Tony Todd, who, let’s face it, is just great as a slasher. The first ends on a twist, and it’s great.
Then they made the sequel (Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh, 1995), which decided to throw the ending out the window in favor of exploring family trees, because that’s what you need with a Candyman movie: ancestry. Candyman 3: Day of the Dead (1999) was so bad it couldn’t hit theaters. Thankfully, any threats of a reboot have been just that. Let’s let the “Candyman” rest in peace. After all, we wouldn’t want the Candyman to come… YEEEEEAAAARGH![Writer’s Note: And that’s why you don’t say his name five times, kids.]
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is, of course, a classic. Tobe Hooper created an atmosphere of painful unease and creepiness, with a disturbed family in the middle of nowhere. Made on a shoestring, and creating the original image of the slasher movie being a dude with a chainsaw, it’s unnerving even to this day with its matter-of-fact violence and surreal presentation.
Unfortunately, the first one was distributed by, well, the Mob, so everybody involved got screwed even though it was a major hit. Tobe Hooper went back twelve years later and made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) but, unfortunately, he was accompanied by schlock merchants Golan Globus, who you might remember as producing every crappy movie from the ‘80s.
You’d think that’d be the nadir, but you’d be wrong. A third one, pretty much just Leatherface running around in a boring slasher flick, hit (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, 1990) and then the series got not just bad, but weird.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) stars, of all people, Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger in a movie that has little relation to anything resembling coherence, forget horror. Although McConaughey casually backing over an annoying character a bunch of times is, in fact, absolutely hilarious. Still, good luck figuring out the weird, dream-like ending, which seems to exist because horror directors were discovering foreign movies in the early ‘90s and thought weird, abstract endings were cool.
Oh, and then there was the reboot- a remake of the original movie (2003) and a prequel (2006)- which apparently has managed to launch and kill a franchise in two films. Considering this list, that’s a real achievement.
The original Psycho (1960) is, of course, a classic of suspense that changed everything from horror to the way we watched movies. Based on a classic novel by Robert Bloch, Psycho opened the door to more serious, engaging suspense films.
Then, twenty-three years later, they decide to make a slasher movie out of the second one. And the third. And the fourth.
Oh, and keeping with the theme, there’s also Bates Motel (1987), a movie set at the titular motel that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Psycho except for the location.
Not to mention the by now inevitable remake, this time a shot-for-shot one done in 1998 by outsider art weirdo Gus Van Sant. Thanks, Gus. We’re touched.
Saw (2004) ranks so high on this list for a very simple reason: how convoluted can one plot even get in the first place?
The first movie, although the main twist is pretty easy to peg, has a unity of concept that actually works pretty well. The second movie, OK, we’ll buy what it says. But then it goes into the realm of the insane, where you have to have seen all six previous movies to understand what the hell’s going on in the latest one. One example: a character reads a letter in one movie, and goes into a psychotic rage, and we don’t learn who wrote it until the NEXT movie, and we don’t learn what it says until the movie AFTER the next movie! This really happens!
It seems like every Saw movie reveals something else that Jigsaw planned ahead for- to a degree generally reserved for people who can see the future. Forget being prepared, this guy must have spent most of his time running statistical analyses and outsourced the trap building to China or something. And how many people pissed this guy off, anyway? Every movie seems to introduce somebody else who treated him like crap, or somebody we’ve been previously introduced to by the series like crap, and tie it into his backstory or the events of the previous movie somehow. We’ve seen X-Men continuity less involved.
It gets to the point where you can’t really pay attention to the movie because you’re too busy trying to puzzle out what actually happened. It’s so involved even the video game has continuity points. Since when did understanding a movie’s plot involve so much work?
We can’t wait for the reboot. We bet it’s not actually a reboot; the twist is they pretend it’s a reboot, but it’s really not.
1. Friday the 13th
There’s a lot we can say about Friday the 13th (1980). There’s just literally no place they haven’t taken this franchise, and if it’s a stupid idea, well, so much the better. How much abuse can one character take?
Let’s start with the original, which stars Kevin Bacon’s Speedo-covered butt and Tom Savini’s admittedly awesome gore effects. If you don’t like being spoiled, tough, because we’re ruining the ending. It turns out the killer isn’t Jason at all, but Jason’s mom; who, after her idiot son drowned in a pond, apparently developed both a split personality and an abiding hatred of nubile 18-year-olds. Yes, the defining character of the franchise doesn’t even show up in the first movie. But it gets worse!
Then there’s Part 2 (1981), which features a Jason who has somehow actually survived, wearing a sack over his head. Yes, the defining character of the franchise isn’t wearing his defining outfit. But it gets worse!
Finally, we’ve got Part III (1982), which actually establishes the Jason formula of hockey mask, machete, and idiot teenagers. You’d think we’d be all clear, and for two movies, we are. Then we’ve got A New Beginning (1985), which, spoiler alert number 2, doesn’t even actually feature Jason, just a Jason impersonation who apparently was so lazy that he heard the circumstances of Jason’s mom dying and said, ‘Yeah! Let’s roll with that!’
Parts VI, VII, and VIII actually feature Jason stalking and killing teenagers. Let’s make a note here: the circumstances the franchise has been famous for occur in four movies out of seven. That’s a ratio of, let’s see here, a little under 60%. Then we have attempt number two to end the franchise, which explains that Jason Voorhees is not, in fact, an individual but rather able to possess people via some sort of worm…thing. And that he has a sister and a niece nobody ever bothered to mention or talk to, despite the fact that he’s been popping up and murdering people for the better part of a decade at this point.
The tenth movie, Jason X (2002), launches him into space, and at least has the courtesy to realize how utterly ridiculous it is. Then, they finally delivered on Freddy vs. Jason (2003), which, we admit, was more awesome than it had any right to be.
Then they rebooted the franchise.
We hear the next one is called The Final Friday. Honest.
by Dan Seitz