The 6 Baffling Mistakes Every Horror Franchise Must Make
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...
The Killer Goes "Ghetto"
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.
The Killer Goes To Space/Cyberspace
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.
The Killer Gains Superpowers
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.
The Unrelated Sequel
Hollywood has a huge number of unfilmed screenplays lying in the slush pile and no way to market them. Make no mistake, studios want to film your shitty movie... if they have a better than good chance of tripling their investment.
This is why, quite often, you'll see seemingly random stand-alone horror scripts crowbarred in as sequels to an established franchise, the film makers just doing a quick rewrite to cram in the existing characters instead of whoever the original writer had in there.
Hellraiser was particularly bad at this. If you saw the last, uh, half-dozen Hellraiser flicks, you would've noticed that they threw out continuity and began offering up any quasi-supernatural police thriller as a sequel. As long as that weird puzzle box pops up and Pinhead drops by for 15 minutes to yammer something evil, then it's a Hellraiser movie, goddammit.
Up until 30 seconds ago, you were watching a romantic comedy starring Greg Kinnear.
One of the most notorious examples of this bait-and-switch was Friday the 13th, which continued well past the fourth film, 1984's misnomered The Final Chapter. Jason Voorhees was killed by a machete through the brain, and seeing that he was just a terrifically durable human being at this point, it'd be impossible to bring him back.
Money, however, speaks louder than story, and soon the studio barfed out a fifth movie about some yutz who simply dressed up as Jason. Fans were understandably apoplectic.
Also, the Internet Gods would never forgive us if we didn't give the obligatory nod to the infamous Troll 2, which was so unrelated to the original Troll that the film's characters never say the word "troll" once.
The Worst Offender:
Halloween. While most franchises will try to somehow tenuously connect their cheat-sequels to the established mythology with familiar themes and namedropping, the producers of Halloween made the baffling decision to make a sequel that wasn't even the same kind of movie.
1982's Halloween 3 wasn't about the ne'er-do-well escapades of Michael Myers, but rather booby-trapped Halloween masks that are magically powered by Stonehenge. Also, there are robots.
Did we mention the masks turn children's heads into spiders and snakes?
There was a little method to this madness. Halloween creator John Carpenter never wanted the franchise to continue past the second movie, and the studio wanted to create an anthology horror series like Creepshow. But when Halloween 3 bombed hard, the studio told Carpenter to take a walk--there would only be another sequel if it was absolutely identical to the first two Halloween films. Nowadays, this is known as "The Saw Method."
The Comedy Sequel
Iconic horror franchises always run the risk of devolving into unintentional self-satire. A lot of filmmakers figure they can just combat this head-on by acknowledging the fact openly (or as they say in the biz, "putting a lampshade on it").
But the fact that a lot of people think that Killer Axe Man 17 is getting kind of stupid doesn't actually change if the film's writers point out that they know it's stupid. This acknowledgment just makes everything stupider. Nevertheless, it happens almost every time; somebody pens a sequel that replaces horror with cute, self-referential jokes.
Freddy Krueger was fairly notorious for the subtle escalation of his clowning as the Nightmare on Elm Street series went on, so much so that people forget that the original film was pretty freaking scary. But the problem was never so explicit as in 1991's A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy's Dead, which attempted to be a straight-up laugh riot and featured bizarre cameo appearances by Johnny Depp, Roseanne and Tom Arnold. It's impossible to take the primal fear of the original Nightmare seriously when Freddy kills a kid by sucking him into a video game.
The sixth Friday the 13th took a similar route, alternating badly between rampant violence and awkward slapstick. The title sequence emulates Jason doing the gun-barrel walk-on bit from James Bond. The next thing you know, Jason's killing people whose faces make bloody smiley imprints on hard surfaces.
The Worst Offender:
Child's Play. It's true that a story about a serial-killing doll is hard to pass off as a genuinely spine-chilling tale. But, there's a fine line here between a "so over the top that it's kind of awesome" B-horror movie, and something like 1998's Bride of Chucky and 2004's Seed of Chucky, which are so ridiculously self-aware that they're bashing you over the head with the kind of "LAUGH, DAMMIT!!!" desperation you usually only see in really bad comedies.
We don't have anything against dick jokes per se--they put bread on the table here at Cracked--but Bride of Chucky took the dick joke to horrifying new levels. The writers make constant references to Chucky's "wood" ("I thought you were made of plastic!") and as for the doll-fucking scenes, we'll let you research those on your own time.
Yes, that is a baster full of puppet semen.
Construction workers know that there's only so much damage a structure can take before you have to knock the building down and put up a new one. This same logic applies to movie franchises. After the sequels go into the double digits and run the gamut of aforementioned tropes, the time has ultimately come for a reboot, otherwise known as the "Ol' Fuck It, Let's Start Again."
Reboots and remakes are different. A remake often works as a loving homage to the original film, whereas a reboot tends to aggressively disown its source material, instantly establishing itself as the new canonical version and asking you to please forget all the prior, shittier films that preceded it.
"Ice to see you!"
There two reasons this is becoming maybe the worst of all of these gimmicks:
One, because it overwhelmingly is the one we're most likely to fall for. Installing a new director, cast and rewinding the timeline to the origin story is somehow supposed to make us forget that all of the creative juice has been squeezed out of the character a decade ago. And we will. The good feelings earned by Batman and Bond reboots have convinced us that somehow you can make Freddy fresh again.
And this leads to the second problem, which is that this will ultimately be more overused than any of the gimmicks mentioned above. In 2003, a Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot opened the floodgates. Since then, Halloween, Friday the 13th and Children of the Corn have seen reboots, and Hellraiser, Child's Play and the aforementioned A Nightmare on Elm Street have reboots in production. In fact, of all the franchises mentioned in this article, the only one no one will touch is Leprechaun.
Seriously, we'll get word on a Troll reboot any minute now.
The Worst Offender:
Halloween because it's the only franchise that they tried to reboot twice.
1998's Halloween H20 accepted only John Carpenter's first two films as canon and brought back Jamie Lee Curtis for the lead role. Although, the film was actually praised by critics as a return to form, the franchise immediately fucked up again with Halloween Resurrection, which performed abysmally at the box office and killed the franchise a second time.
Almost a decade later, Rob Zombie took another bite of the reboot pie with 2007's hugely successful Halloween. And again, Zombie's 2009 sequel utterly failed to deliver. Yes, even a man whose driver's license reads "Mr. Zombie" could not bring Halloween back from the dead.
Maybe he should call himself Rob Necromancer.
Do you have something funny to say about a random topic? You could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow. Go here and find out how to create a Topic Page.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 2.10.2010) to see the new trailer for RoboCop versus the Terminator.