Horror franchises are like the monsters who populate them: Just when you think a horror series is dead, it'll rise from the grave in some new, grotesque-yet-unintentionally-ridiculous form.
Yes, like a serial killer who's been buried underground for years, most horror sequels stink to high hell. Mostly because they fall back on the same gimmicks to try to squeeze a little more cash out of the franchise. So we wind up seeing movies where...
When horror sequel writers begin running out of ideas, they'll often resort to throwing the antagonist in new, wholly unexpected settings. One particularly crass plot device places the monster in the midst of city-dwelling African Americans, thus fusing the yin and yang of what terrifies white folks.
One problem with this approach is that the writer must first drag the monster out of its element and shoehorn it into the inner city. In Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (a.k.a. the lowest grossing F13 flick), it took the entire movie to chronicle the Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events that transported Jason from Crystal Lake to New York City. By the time he actually arrived in the Big Apple, the damn movie was basically over.
Similarly, the Children of the Corn franchise only made it to the third movie before throwing out the series' entire premise (demonic children in rural Nebraska killing adults). In Children of the Corn: Urban Harvest, the murderous tykes moved to Chicago and enrolled in an inner city school deserving of a #1 Coolio single.
The Worst Offender:
Leprechaun. We're not suggesting that the Leprechaun films are anything but stupid, but shit, when it comes to overkilling a lousy gimmick, Leprechaun leaves everyone else in the dust.
The fifth film, Leprechaun in the Hood is about gangsta rappers rising in the ranks of the music industry while being pursued by a marauding fairy of the Irish peasant tradition. It's perhaps the most bizarre instance of genre-bending in modern cinema. A Tyler Perry movie about Madea battling minotaurs would've made more sense.
Leprechaun in the Hood was such a great idea that it got its own sequel, Leprechaun: Back 2 Da Hood. Presumably the correctly spelled title of the original just wasn't black enough.
Like the inner city, the cold, dark vacuum of outer space gets the average filmgoer all aquiver. The upswing of the intergalactic approach is that you rarely have to bother explaining how the villain got there in the first place. After all, space by its nature is vast and unfathomable. You could totally get drunk and just wake up there.
In Jason X, the ridiculously big-budget 10th Friday the 13th movie, a space-faring civilization of horny teens stumbles upon Jason Voorhees's frozen corpse. Apparently the Earthmen of the past got sick of Jason's resurrection antics and cryogenically preserved him. Even in the distant future, the guy still had it out for innocent campers.
If studios don't want (or can't afford) an all-out space opera, the least they can do is find a way to incorporate cyberspace into the film. In 2002's Halloween Resurrection, Michael Myers picked off teenagers through the course of a Big Brother-style webcast. A single Internet viewer eventually guides the teens to safety--oddly, the film never explains why he's the only person on the Internet watching the webcast.
The Worst Offender:
Hellraiser. It's the only series with a space episode and an Internet episode, thus proving that a movie studio will try to feed you the same shit sandwich twice.
It only took four movies before they decided to fire Pinhead into space in Hellraiser Bloodline, directed by Alan Smithee. By the way, "Alan Smithee" is a moniker that Hollywood directors use when they're so ashamed by a film that they don't want their name on it.
A few films later, and we got the straight-to-DVD Hellraiser: Hellworld, the dreaded online installment in which teens used their superior websurfing abilities to evade the denizens of Hell. And in a result that surprised absolutely nobody, it spelled the end of the franchise.
With some exceptions, the most notable of the dead-teenager franchises showcase non-supernatural villains. It's easy to understand why--horror stories rooted in reality are simply scarier. We're afraid of Michael Myers because men just as evil--shit, worse--have existed in the real world. He's just really strong and really good at killing people. You know, the way you imagine the hobo on the subway might be.
But when your franchise approaches the double digits, writers start to have a problem. Most of these films end with the killer being killed. It's the very first job of a sequel writer to explain how the killer survived his last mortal wound. When such explanations reach the point of ridiculousness, Hollywood employs a special group of writers to fix the problem once and for all. They're called "hacks."
"What if Crystal Lake WAS AN INDIAN BURIAL GROUND? BOOM, Saturn Award."
Michael Myers was perhaps the first of the horror icons to be granted sudden and inexplicable superpowers. In the sixth Halloween film (1995's Halloween: The Curse of Mike Myers) it was revealed that Myers was the victim of an ancient druid curse that makes him (A) obsessed with murdering his family, and (B) impossible to kill. Given that these were the only two components of his personality, it neatly summed his entire character motivation in one fell, totally retarded swoop.
In 1994, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre followed suit in its fourth installment, The Next Generation, in which Leatherface and his redneck clan were revealed to be mind-controlled puppets of mysterious men-in-black who were aliens or some Illuminati-esque group. How does a group of chainsaw-wielding cannibals terrorizing hillbilly Texas advance the conquest of mankind? Better question: Why was Leatherface a transvestite in that film?
Thanks to the Bucket Bros. for the screencap.
The inexplicable superpowers gimmick never, ever catches on, as the next installment retcons it exactly 100 percent of the time. The sequel inevitably steamrolls the previous celluloid abortion out of existence, and the studio prays that you don't notice.
The Worst Offender:
Friday the 13th. Most of the time the supernatural card is used as a quick patch-up, whereas the F13 franchise picked up that ball of stupid and ran with it until they hit the sea and waded to Madagascar.
We can forgive the fact that Jason Voorhees was once raised from the grave by a lightning bolt. This was born out of laziness, not complete off-the-wall madness. But when the franchise hit nine movies, some intrepid writers decided it was time to offer at least a perfunctory explanation for his immortality.
So, in 1993's Friday the 13th Part IX: Jason Goes to Hell, it was revealed that Jason was an immortal demon-worm who can leap between bodies, an ability it took him nine films to discover.
Of course, this followed Jason Goes To Manhattan For 10 Minutes And Doesn't Really Do Much Of Anything When He Gets There, so no one cared.