Week 3: “The Horror Franchise”
There is no other genre that relies as heavily on the franchise and/or sequel like horror films do. The history of the genre is littered with franchises such as Universal Studios original Dracula, The Wolfman, and The Mummy. Sequels carried on the studio’s legacy with the characters and gave audiences more adventures and stories of their favorite monsters. When Hammer Studios took up the mantle in the ‘60s and ‘70s they crafted new and colorful stories with these same monsters whetting the appetites of eager horror fans. Then of course all bets were off in the ‘80s and ‘90s as the slasher boom became the poster-child for franchise as numerous horror franchises were born and transformed the way in which studios marketed and sold horror films which continues (unfortunately) to this day.
I mention this because the horror franchise is one of the reasons most of us love horror or were first introduced to it. One of my earliest obsessions was the Halloween franchise. I was a huge Michael Myers fan from the beginning and growing up I watched all the films religiously every year (which is one of the reasons why I can no longer watch the films). My other favorite was the Child’s Play films, which I still watch to this day. It’s been wenty-five years and the franchise is still going strong mainly because writer (and now director) Don Mancini has been there since the beginning allowing the franchise to change and evolve with each new generation.
Other more important franchises include A Nightmare on Elm Street, Resident Evil, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream, the Hannibal Lector films, Saw, The Evil Dead, Final Destination, Aliens, Predator, Paranormal Activity, Jaws, Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, The Omen, The Exorcist, Puppet Masters, Ginger Snaps, Subspecies, Cube, Hatchet, Feast, The Grudge, Psycho, Phantasm, V/H/S, Candyman, The Prophecy, and Return of the Living Dead, to name a small few. The less important or more cult franchises include Basket Case, Prom Night, The Howling, Critters, Ghoulies, The Re-Animator, House, Creepshow, Pumpkinhead, The Crow, The Mangler, Children of the Corn, Watchers, Mirror, Mirror, The Stepford Wives, Hostel, Cabin Fever, Leprechaun, and Silent Night, Deadly Night, to name a few (too). In addition to these, there are the failed franchises which only made it to a second film such as C.H.U.D., 976-Evil, 30 Days of Night, The Gate, Alligator, the first remake of King Kong films, The Gate, Demons, The Collector/The Collection, Pet Semetary, Salem’s Lot, Trilogy of Terror, The Last Exorcism, Piranha, Mirrors, Willard/Ben, An American Werewolf in London/Paris, The Descent, Witchboard, Night of the Demons, Fright Night (both original and remakes), American Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Blair Witch Project, The Ring (although a new sequel is in pre-pre-production), and Carrie, to name a few.
This may be a lot of horror franchises but this is still just a small sampling. The reason why so many sequels were produced (many more ill-conceived) is because horror films have always been big business for studios - low cost and big profits. Even though many of the sequels went straight to video (video was booming in the ‘80s and ‘90s and also contributed to the proliferation of the horror franchise) there were always franchises that remained on the big screen and endured because audiences couldn’t get enough of them no matter how mundane and repetitive the sequels got.
Films that killed franchises or “jumped the shark” were plentiful and took the franchise into ludicrous territory alienating even die-hard fans. Films like Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Return of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (aka Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), C.H.U.D. 2: Bud for C.H.U.D., The Stepford Husbands, Hellraiser: Revelations, Jaws: The Revenge, Candyman: Day of the Dead, The Rage: Carrie 2, Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, Piranha 3DD, King Kong Lives, Critters 4: In Space, Leprechaun: Back 2 the Hood, American Psycho 2, and Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, to name a few.
The horror film and most importantly the horror fan relish the continuing adventures of their favorite monsters. It is rare that a franchise hinges on a heroine. The names Pinhead, Chucky, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Candyman, Norman Bates, Hannibal Lector, Leatherface, Jigsaw, The Tall Man, Herbert West, Damian, Fred Kruger, and Ghostface are what draw audiences in from one film to the next regardless of the quality of each subsequent film. I love the Child’s Play films because I’m a fan of Chucky (and I’ve even read the novelizations and comics as well). I watch the Alien films because I love the aliens and how they change from film to film (and likewise I’ve read many of the books and comics as well). The villains are the draw for these films as any fan can attest.
Franchises are an important way for us fans to continue to enjoy some of our most (in)famous icons. As long as we continue to watch and support these films then studios will continue to produce then. This is not always a great thing as we’ve come to realize as sequels usually lose their punch and become more sanitized. Not every film in a franchise can be gold. Sometimes we have to settle for bronze but isn’t that better than having nothing at all?