Thursday, September 3, 2009

Franchise Fun

With the recent success of The Final Destination and the subsequent announcement that Halloween 3 (or 11, but who’s counting?) will be made, it seems the era of the horror franchise is being resurrected like, well, a Romero buried zombie digging his way out of a wormy grave. While the Jigsaw readies his costume for this year’s trick-or-treating and the behemoths of the 80s sharpen and shine their knives for glossy reboots, I figured it was time to take a quick glance at the current horror series returning to theaters.


Status: Monopolizing Halloween for the past 5 years, this infamously R-rated series will make its sixth outing next month
Killer Key Features: twist ending, gravely voiced villain, bicycle riding puppet, elaborate traps for morally flawed character actors, MTV quick editing
Fresh Faced Pre-Fame Victims: The cast tends to be composed more of dimming stars from the 90s than ingenues, but do credit the original for a heavily featured pre-Benjamin Linus, Michael Emerson
High Points: Whether it suits your taste buds or not, few could deny the impressive execution of the first film’s big reveal; Part IV breathed a little new life into the series by featuring the first likable hero
Low Points: The weakest work of Cary Elwes’ career; an increasingly mean spirited attitude most prominent in Part III; the convoluted plotting of Part V to essentially do little more than set up the next installment

Jaws Jump: When a VH1 reality show plays casting agent, the signs aren’t good
Influence: Credit does go to Saw for making studios allow their horror films to maintain hard R ratings, but providing an opportunity to smart fare like Hostel has also sullied horror’s reputation with messy drudge like Captivity. Whether you get off on torture porn, roll your eyes at Jigsaw’s exploits, or believe (as I do) that Saw is a decent, if underwhelming, collection of quick thrills, it certainly has made a lasting impression on modern theatrical releases.

Final Destination

Status: Producers have claimed that the recently released The Final Destination is indeed grammatically honest, but its huge opening weekend could certainly cause Death to overlook a few more accidents, only to then do some makeup work with wacky yet non-supernatural methods that would make Rube Goldberg seethe with envy 
Killer Key Features: massively violent opening scenes, luckily educational Googling, the number 180, sharp objects impaling their way through eye sockets, gentle breezes, 
Fresh Faced Pre-Fame Victims: Sean William Scott, pre-Heroes Ali Larter
High Points: Part 2’s opening pile-up remains one of the most terrifying car accidents in cinema history; The tanning bed dual homicide cleverly gave Part 3 a macabrely funny kick; Part 4’s NASCAR collapse captured the terrifying possibilities of lax building codes and frantic mobs
Low Points: A few two many explosions in the otherwise favorite Part 2, the general lack of depth to leads in any of the films
Jaws Jump: A 3D gimmick is certainly one way to deliver the same formula while still putting popcorn stained bottoms into the seats

Influence: On the surface, 1999’s Final Destination seemed like any other outing with pretty people in peril but due to high production values, a great concept, and an excellent sense of self awareness, each entry has packed enough humor and scares to leave audiences--especially the dedicated horror crowd--thirsty for more. While not a huge cash cow in the Saw league, the series has been profitable enough and yet thankfully, the creators have been responsible to not rush into each production. I only wish more franchises would take a few lessons from Death’s messy mistakes.


Status: Despite a disappointing opening weekend, a third/eleventh film (depending on your numbering system) is slated for a summer 2010 release, this time sans two-time director Rob Zombie 
Killer Key Features: October 31st, slutty babysitters, very large kitchen knives, trenchcoats, scores featuring heavy use of minor keys
Fresh Faced Pre-Fame Victims: Jamie Lee Curtis making her mark as the nerdiest scream queen; Paul Rudd fighting a satanic cult in the best-forgotten Part VI

High Points: Carpenter’s masterful camerawork and even more impressive original score; Part III’s attempt to reinvent the franchise bombed but has since developed its own following; Rob Zombie’s first half of his reboot nearly succeeds at innovating a tired genre
Low Points: Much like the fifth F13, Halloween V cheats the dark ending of Part 4 and follows it up with nothing worth watching; Tyra Banks’ offscreen death and Bustah Rhymes mean kung fu moves in the Big Brother-meets-the-Internet dreck in Resurrection; Zombie’s messy followup not knowing what kind of film it wants to be
Jaws Jump: The Halloween series is one of the most uneven of any major franchise and is best separated in pairs of two, where every other entry tries to find a new hook. Chapter 11 will finally resort to what feels like a last resort: 3D
Influence: The 1978 Halloween is, in many ways, the birthplace of the modern slasher, expanding on Hitchcock’s Psycho with a careful borrowing of 1974’s Black Christmas. Norman Bates may be the grandfather of 20th century villains, but consider Michael Meyers as the oldest child that had to go out and pave the way for others to follow. 

Nightmare On Elm Street

Status: The upcoming remake will mark Freddy’s 9th outing to Elm Street, but for the first time, a new hand (Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley) will don the rusty glove for an April release.
Killer Key Features: Christmas sweaters, boiler rooms, nightmares, use of the word ‘bitch’, surprisingly abundant availability of “stay awake” pills in typical households
Fresh Faced Pre-Fame Victims: Patricia Arquette, Laurence “Larry” Fishbourne, Breckin Meyer, Jack Sparrow
High Points: Tina’s savagely violent wall death in the original; the surreal imagery of Dream Warriors; Part 2‘s underrated gay analogy, undeservedly panned by just about everyone; the Kafkaesque kill of Part 4; death by hearing aide in Part 6
Low Points: Freddy’s open mike night comedy routines in Parts 4-7; lazy character development; the smart idea but boring execution of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Jaws Jump: The entrance of a child actor to any film can be detrimental. When said actor is put in a potato sack and cast as the unborn spawn of a heroine and/or demonic dream monster, the results are enough to make Part 5 the real beginning of the end
Influence: Did YOU have a Freddy notebook for math class in the first grade? Quite possibly, because while Michael gets the respect and Jason has the numbers, it was Freddy, with his janitor-meets-Sinatra style, that made merchandising a horror film a new market in itself

Friday the 13th

Status: The only franchise here to come one film behind The Land Before Time, a sequel to the ahem, reboot (if merely calling what’s simply another sequel a ‘remake’ means reboot, that is) is already in development
Killer Key Features: machetes, boobs, hockey masks, uptight surviving females, woods
Fresh Faced Pre-Fame Victims: Kevin Bacon, Crispin “So You Think You Can Dance” Glover, Corey Feldman, Kelly Hu
High Points: The twist of Part 1; the burlap sackhead of Part 2; some kickass and completely ridiculous kills in Jason X

Low Points: Aside from Parts 1-12, minus 11? Part V had a particularly sleazy haze, while my personal favorite (as a guilty pleasure), Jason Takes Manhattan, is laughably horrendous (yet wonderfully worth a watch for reasons I can’t explain in just a few lines)
Jaws Jump: By Part VII, Jason required a gimmick so telekinesis, tourism, soul-jumping, outer space, and the world’s best almost buddy comedy followed
Influence: Like Freddy, pop culture hasn’t quite been the same since Jason sliced  through his first non-virgin. The massive juggernaut that was (and still is) Friday the 13th can’t be dismissed. Browse through any 1980s catalogue of horror movies and note how many feature final girls, masked villains, and tepid sex. Jason wasn’t necessarily an innovator, but his persistence--both in the story and as a franchise--continues to fester its way into modern culture. 

...of the Dead

Status: After the ho-hum box office and fan-fueled distaste for George Romero’s Diary of the Dead, America’s favorite ponytailed director announced he would continue his series with a sixth film, Survival (not surprisingly) of the Dead.
Killer Key Features: shambling corpses, wooden acting, satirical undertones that become progressively more obvious
Fresh Faced Pre-Fame Victims: Tom Savini, genre favorite Ken Foree
High Points: the super savvy observations of 70s consumer culture in one of the greatest horror movies of all time; everything about Night; Day‘s opening shuffle

Low Points: performances that shoot dialogue out like BB pellets in Day; Land’s incongruous crispness; Diary’s stiffness
Jaws Jump: Although Bub is a lovable lug of a corpse, the humanization of the undead was continued a little too obviously in Land, which in turn made the return to newness of Diary feel that much more stale
Influence: Eh, nothing special. Just responsible for inspiring a few hundred zombie films, musicals, books, video games, comic books, Facebook applications, rock musician monikers, get the point


Status: Ten years after the mild success of Scream 3, announcements have been made detailing the development of a fourth entry. Writer Kevin Williamson is working on the script, while a cast is mysteriously being collected. As of now, Courteny Cox, David Arquette, and Jamie Kennedy (because what else has he got to do?) are scheduled to return, with Neve Campbell’s presence still in the air.
Killer Key Features: trendy haircuts, teenagers with SAT acing vocabulary, stabbings, impressive cameos, squinting
Fresh Faced Pre-Fame Victims: While most of the leads were already semi-famous for television work, the series did help to give early breaks to Liev Schreiber, Portia De Rossi, and Emily Mortimer

High Points: The original’s opening was a tribute to 80s horror fans who knew the answer to Ghostface’s trivia; Rose McGowan’s garage-squished death was refreshingly visual for a studio film; Part 2’s script, with its witty cinema references and sequel-savvy wit
Low Points: Part 3’s overly Hollywoodizing felt pretentious, while most of the humor landed flat; the sparing of Dewey not once but thrice was clearly a cowardly plot move inspired by saddened test screening audiences
Jaws Jump: The attempts to tease us with a supernatural spin in Part 3, along with the convoluted, impossible to get ending, showed that the series was clearly in need of some new style
Influence: With theatrical horror undergoing a quiet hibernation in the mid 1990s, Scream successfully revived the slasher genre by welcoming new audiences while saluting loyal fans. Sadly few followups left much of a lasting impression on old or new audiences (although Final Destination and The Faculty maintain some well-deserved love). Young actors previously employed with the WB network (and currently for the CW) should certainly make daily blood sacrifices to Kevin Williamson for providing reliable employment opportunities for years to come. 

Personally, I prefer more unique stand alone films, but tradition is tradition and we all know we’ll fork over our cash for a few (or most) of these upcoming installments. Share which ones you’re excited for and which need to go the way of the Wolfman--oh wait. Scratch that. Just leave some comments.

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