With the release of Scream 4, this weekend we will surely see some debate about what are the best and worst Scream sequels. In the scheme of things, Scream only has four movies, which in a horror franchise is small potatoes – if a horror film works it usually gets a numbers of sequels and nowadays reboots (and sometimes sequels or prequels to those). For those that think this is something new, just look at the old Universal monster movies. They were made until the well ran dry and then they appeared with Abbot and Costello. But what’s the worst of the more recent sequel-crazy horror films? Take a look…
The Franchise: Friday the 13th
Series Total: 11 Films, including one reboot
- Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Though the Friday the 13th series was fairly basic in terms of plotting – in that what normally happened was that teens would smoke pot, have sex, and get killed – the films can be satisfying in a low-rent sort of way. And though previous films could disappoint by being edited mercilessly by the MPAA, or have terrible acting (actually most did), or go too supernatural, the thing that makes Jason Takes Manhattan worse than Jason Goes to Hell (the closest competitor) is that the title promises an awesome movie. Jason Vorhees, wandering around the streets of New York, perhaps going into a 42nd street grind house that would play one of his films, that sounds like a kick ass flick. Instead, the film spends more than half its time not in Manhattan (on a boat), and when Jason does hit the big city, it’s mostly Vancouver, Canada substituting for the Big Apple. Like Bart Simpson and friends sneaking in to see Naked Lunch, this was a terrible mislead. Make no mistake, Jason Goes to Hell is pretty bad, but it was done a couple years after the fact and by a different studio. It’s bad but not disappointingly so.
The Franchise: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Series Total: 6 Films, including a remake and a prequel to the remake.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
The first two Chainsaw movies were made by Tobe Hooper. The first is an indisputable masterpiece that had influence over both Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott. The second film is a fascinating mess of a movie that is charming but was in theaters less than two months after principle photography was completed. The third film was chopped to bits by the MPAA, and the fourth film was basically a remake of the first (but with Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey). The remake lacked the brilliance of the first and yet managed to be effective just the same. The reason why the sequel to the remake is the worst of the lot is because it’s a prequel. Not only is going through the motions (which pretty much all but the first two were), it has the unenviable task of not having a satisfying ending. And at the end of the day, who wants their monsters explained to them? The reason why the demented cannibalistic hillbillies in the first couple films are terrifying isn’t because of the economic crises that may have led them to dine on human flesh. What’s scary about them is precisely that we know nothing about them. The problem is that this film does a horrible job of mythologizing. It’s insulting that it wants to tell us how Leatherface came to be Leatherface, but then when he finally does pick up a chainsaw, it’s just sorta there. Woo-wee.
The Franchise: Nightmare on Elm St.
Series Total: 8 Films, including a remake.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Arguably the remake is the worst film of the lot, but it isn’t exactly a sequel. The problem with Nightmare 4 is that by this point the filmmakers and cast had embraced the fact that Robert Englund’s Freddy Kruger – with his over-exposure at that point – was no longer scary. So instead of making a horror film, in the fourth film Freddy shows up like a comedian to deliver bon-mots before he kills the secondary cast members. Though the next two films were not much better, this was the straw that broke Freddy’s back and turned him into James Bond (by director Renny Harlin’s own admission), and then turned each kill and their make-up effects into the only reason to watch the film. This is doubly disappointing because the second film is interesting (if terribly flawed), while the third film got the series back on track (and may be on par with the first in terms of quality). The fourth film may have been the only direction left to go, but down is not that much fun to watch.
The Franchise: Halloween
Series Total: 10 Films, including a remake, and a sequel to the remake.
- Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Most of the big 1980′s slasher icons were spared the Scream treatment. This is partly because they had worn out their welcome, and/or were seen as old hat. But Scream did lead to Halloween H20 (probably because Miramax owned the franchise), which brought back Jamie Lee Curtis as a mother trying to protect her son from the loosed Michael Myers. The film was played serious, but more than winked at its predecessors and the genre itself, and for the most part (at least at the time) was harmless fun. The follow-up became more invested in modern times, with Busta Rhymes acting as a TV show producer trying to create an internet reality show that leads to Blair Witch ripping-off. Though it’s hard to argue the fifth or sixth film are much better, they do not feature a character using karate on Michael Myers and living to see the next day. It also killed off Laurie Strode in the pre-credit sequence. F this movie.
The Franchise: Alien
Series Total: 4 Films, and one upcoming sort of prequel
- Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Other than Friday the 13th (which peaked with its fourth or sixth entry), every film on this list starts with the best film of the franchise, and like those other three, Alien is the sort of film that not only terrified audiences, but inspired film makers and inspired others to want to be filmmakers. As we will be seeing this weekend, with a lot of fourth films in four-film series there’s an audience who think the worst is the third film, and those who see a progressive downhill slide. But where the third film in the Alien franchise is inarguably flawed, David Fincher brought a singular vision to the material that was somehwat undone by having a bunch of same-y looking bald guys running around sewer tunnels in the third act. But his vision of despair is a complete thought. The problem with the fourth film is that between Joss Wheadon’s script and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s direction, the film wants to be anything but a horror film, even if it runs through the motions of the Ten Little Indians-style killing off of supporting cast. The most horrific thing about the movie is saved for the final act, when there’s a half-human, half-alien creature that strikes a note of terror more in being a mutant bastard. Whatever the film wants to be is totally at odds with the whole, and while it tries to deliver more familiar notes than Alien 3, in doing so it becomes the least interesting of the lot. Like Scream 4, or which ever “return to form” sequel you can think of, the apology tour ends up needing an apology tour of its own.
To be fair, there’s other horror franchises, from the Night of the Living Dead films, to Chucky, to Saw to Paranormal Activity that could easily make this list. As for the Saw films, the author must note he’s only seen the first. Some things…