With the third Paranormal Activity movie scaring up record success at the box-office and well on its way into the horror history books, inquiring minds and cinema bookies are all asking the same question: how much longer can this supernatural horror money train last?
Let’s face it, horror films are among the cheapest to produce and most profitable out there, and a well-timed franchise can help studios willing to exploit them rake in fortunes with relatively little investment. It’s a formula that seems pretty simple on its face: match an unstoppable killer against endless victims, rinse, and repeat as often as necessary. But finding just the right combination has eluded most who have tried their stab at entering the genre, pun certainly intended.
Here are five iconic horror franchises that did just that, at least for a good while, racking up nearly as many sequels as their films’ body counts, before the creative wells dried up. Interestingly, every franchise on this list has ventured into the third-dimension towards the end of their lifecycles, or will soon (as with the upcoming Halloween 3D), leaving many to speculate if the arrival of those 3D glasses is the cinematic equivalent to flashing lights signaling that it’s closing time at the bars; you don’t have to go home, but you sure as hell can’t stay here.
Top Five Exhausted Horror Franchises
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Perhaps the king daddy of all the exhausted horror franchises, A Nightmare on Elm Street is considered one of the most iconic and best-known series in film history, having spawned several sequels, television shows, videogames, rap videos (yes, plural), novels, and even an infamous talking pull-string doll for the kids. Not bad for a child serial-killer who was torched in a furnace, but like Freddy Krueger himself, you can’t keep a good sociopath down.
Freddy’s place at the top of the list should really be shared with his brother-in-carnage Jason Vorhees, as the two become inseparable during their domination of 1980s horror, which would eventually climax in the hotly-anticipated Freddy vs. Jason (indeed, the highest-grossing entry in either franchise). Thanks to the imitable gifts of Robert Englund, our razorblade-gloved killer would soon transform into a real joke machine, as Freddy would opt for increasingly creative – and hilarious – methods to obliterate the sleep-challenged children of Elm Street and beyond. Like a few of its horror brothers on this list, the franchise was rebooted in 2010 by music video director Samuel Bayer, perhaps best known for his Nirvana’s hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, and the new incarnation of Freddy even made a cameo in the hit revival of the Mortal Kombat videogame series; an irony if there ever was one.
Best Franchise Moment: Freddy completes his transformation from scary supernatural killer to funny supernatural killer in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, considered by many the best in the series. After cameos by Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor, Freddy emerges from the television set and picks up Jennifer, shouting “Welcome to the prime time, bitch!” as he smashes her face into his television body.
Friday the 13th
For better or worse, the Friday the 13th franchise and its hockey mask-covered, machete-wielding killer Jason Vorhees, has become one-half of the fated slasher team, along with Freddy Krueger, that’s come to represent the genre as a whole. While the pair was eventually paired in 2003’s smash-hit Freddy vs. Jason, the two had been forever linked in pop-culture thanks to their never-ending films, comic books, videogames, television shows, and even music video appearances. Yup, America loves a good serial-killing psychopath series done well, even when the original killer was really the deformed child’s own mother.
Subsequent chapters saw Jason becoming the real star, exchanging his original tattered bag for the iconic hockey mask we all know and love, and it’s no secret that many of his better kills have been sans-machete. The franchise was rebooted in 2009 by director Marcus Nispel, the industry’s go-to man when it comes to rebooting dead franchises, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Conan the Barbarian, among others (see below).
Worst/Best Franchise Moment: Jason, freshly thawed from being cryogenically frozen in a Crystal Lake facility and transported to a science center in outer space in the year 2455, finds two naked hotties out camping and looking sexy, then proceeds to bang a victim-filled sleeping bag against the other.
I’m not sure if John Carpenter meant for his original 1978 film to become one of the defining horror film franchises of all-time, but that’s what happens when you’ve got an iconic William Shatner mask-wearing maniac like Michael Myers, one of the most recognizable music themes ever, and a career-making start for Jamie Lee Curtis. It might have been low in the bloody horror department, but Carpenter proved that he was a master in evoking real terror using strategic lighting and camera angles; both concepts that are sadly absent from 2007’s idiotic reboot by Rob Zombie.
While the franchise side-stepped its Mike Myers connection in the strange third chapter, things soon got back to their exploitive selves in the fourth and future chapters, establishing Myers as a true equal to his fellow pop-culture superstars Freddy and Jason.
Best Franchise Moment: Every time John Carpenter’s iconic piano Halloween theme music plays.
The most recent franchise on the list is, like its fellow exhausted horror series Final Destination, more representative of where the horror genre seems to be trending these days. With a greater focus on the actual killings and less time wasted on the paper-thin personalities of the interchangeable victims, the various Saw films may have done their best to mimic the mythology-making timelines and history of its forefathers, but it’s always been its best when it keeps to the task at hand.
While the franchise was able to occasionally attract legitimate actors into its den, most notably Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, the real focus – and rightfully so – has primarily been the domain of Tobin Bell as the iconic (and sometimes hoodie-wearing) Jigsaw and his creepy Billy the Puppet as they slaughter their hapless victims in increasingly creative fashion.
Best Franchise Moment: Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon in the original film, upon realizing the real purpose for the hacksaw left for him is.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 low-budget was an unlikely candidate for a future movie franchise, but it had all the elements that would become staples in the genre: hapless horny teens, creative deaths, and a truly killer hook – a masked madman wielding a chainsaw. A true superstar was born in Leatherface, who would become the prototype for his slasher brethren like Jason Voorhees and Mike Myers. And like many of the better splatter films out there it used the “based on true events” hook to further blur the fine line between reality and capitalization. Oh, and the whole redneck cannibal thing didn’t hurt, either.
The franchise was rebooted in 2003, courtesy of former music video director Marcus Nispel, who would soon go on to reboot/defile several other franchises, including Friday the 13th, Frankenstein, Conan the Barbarian, as well as the upcoming remake of The Fly.
Best Franchise Moment: The final chase scene in the original film, which Sally outruns Leatherface and escapes in the pick-up truck, leaving him to flail his chainsaw wildly against the orange sky.