When a horror franchise spawns sequels, they usually follow a set of rules. Take the Saw franchise, for example; They’re movies about a maniac with a murder bathroom and a mad on for Rube Goldberg contraptions. You couldn’t all of a sudden have a sequel where Jigsaw is a circus clown who flies a commercial airliner. It just wouldn’t fit! That would be like the maniac from Hatchet left the swamps to spring break in Utah.
That’s why most horror movie sequels stay close to the source material and work within the established guidelines. However, sometimes a filmmaker takes on the helm and does the complete opposite. They might mean well. Maybe they start saying things like “I want to change things up!” Other times it’s just a paycheck, and they could care less about the project.
Whatever the reason may be, you have horror sequels that stick out like a sore thumb. The black sheep of the franchise family. The rebels that spit in the face of your rules, man. Sometimes these movies are pretty good, other times they defecate on everything you know. And when these sequels change, these are the most egregious rules a horror franchise can break:
Let’s Change The Bad Guy!
One of the biggest moves you can make in a horror movie is outright getting rid of the iconic villain. How could they do something that crazy? A Nightmare on Elm Street movie without Freddy Krueger is like cereal without the milk! The whole reason a franchise (usually) works is that it has a recurring bad guy. The bad guy is the star of the show!
Exhibit A: Halloween
The Halloween franchise is one of the oldest, most beloved slasher series of them all. Most of the movies focus on Michael Myers, a brutal serial killer in a William Shatner mask. When he’s not chilling out in an insane asylum he’s enjoying his favorite hobby: Stabbing people while being chased by Donald Pleasance*. That has been the standard practice through seven movies, a remake, and a sequel to the remake. Except for…..
* If you are reading this after the year 1995, please substitute “Donald Pleasance” with “Malcolm MacDowell.”
The Rule Breaker:
Halloween III: Season of the Witch came on the heels of its wildly popular predecessors. The first three films in this series were all produced by horror master John Carpenter. However, when the third movie came around, he decided that he would no longer do another film with Michael Myers. Sure, he wanted to do another Halloween film, but with an entirely different story.
Halloween III was all about killer Halloween masks created by a druidic cult. The only man standing in their way is a boozy, lecherous divorceé doctor played by the talented Tom Atkins. It has robot people, exploding kid heads, and all manner of insanity.
Sadly, this movie didn’t fare very well, and people were clamoring for more Michael Myers. The studio acquiesced and the status quo was restored in the next entry. Sadly, every Halloween movie after the fact has been abject garbage, so perhaps they were onto something with their killer Halloween mask movie.
Exhibit B: Friday the 13th
For those living under a rock for the past 36 years, first, let me welcome you to the Internet. Second, let me explain the Friday the 13th franchise. Most of the movies follow Jason Voorhees, who goes around Camp Crystal Lake murdering anyone who gets in his path. He does this to avenge his mother’s murder, who’s killed for avenging Jason’s drowning when he was a child. Jason can’t be killed because… reasons. He also wears the most jaunty little hockey mask.
The Rule Breaker:
In 1984, Paramount Pictures thought they had run the Friday the 13th gravy train into the ground and decided that it was time to kill off Jason Voorhees for good. In Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter it appeared to be the case when the character Tommy Jarvis (played by Corey Feldman) hacked Jason Voorhees to death with his own machete.
The movie made a lot of money, and they decided that Friday the 13th would continue, but with a different killer. What followed was Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning, which catches up about a decade later and follows an adult (and mentally disturbed) Tommy Jarvis (not played by Corey Feldman). With a Jason Voorhees copycat on the loose, the movie tries to recreate the “whodunit” plot of the original Friday the 13th movie while also parodying what the franchise had become.
It’s chocked full of absurd characters, literal toilet humor, nudity, and buckets of blood. Fans reacted poorly to it, and Paramount opted to resurrect Jason in Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives, where Tommy Jarvis (played by yet another actor) accidentally brings Jason back to life. Oops.
Let’s Rewrite An Unrelated Script!
Sometimes a movie studio needs to pump out sequels to keep the rights to a horror franchise. Making a movie just to keep the rights can be a costly affair. Thank goodness movie studios buy a ton of movie scripts that never get made! Why write an original story when you can just infuse franchise elements into a pre-existing yet unrelated script?
Exhibit A through Z: Hellraiser
Based on Clive Barker’s novella “The Hellbound Heart” the Hellraiser franchise follows the misadventures of people who manage to solve a puzzle box called the Lament Configuration. See, this puzzle box opens a doorway to Hell and you become the tortured plaything to the Cenobites. “Pinhead” is the leader of the Cenobites.
The Rule Breaker:
Pretty much every Hellraiser movie after the 4th film. In 1996, the Hellraiser franchise became a property of Dimension Films and they pumped out Hellraiser: Bloodline, a generation-spanning film that told the origins of the Lament Configuration. Fans didn’t like it because it took place in outer space.
Horror movies faced a resurgence in the early 2000s, and Dimension became interested in making a big budget remake of the original Hellraiser. The problem? The rights to the characters were running out. The solution: pump out movies as quickly as possible. To do so, they recycled unused and unrelated scripts. At first, they worked hard at integrating the franchise elements, but near the end, you could tell they were just winging it:
Hellraiser: Inferno –
A morally ambiguous police detective tries to hunt down a murderer called the Mechanic. The gumshoe then comes across the puzzle box and ends up living his personal hell. Hilarity ensues. Pinhead makes an appearance at the end of the movie.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker –
A man tries to secretly murder his wife and uses the puzzle box as his way to get away with it. Unfortunately, his wife is Kristy Cotton, the girl from the first Hellraiser movie and she turns his deadly plot against him.
Hellraiser: Deader –
A reporter investigates a death cult where people cheat death with the puzzle box somehow. Oh look here’s Pinhead! Roll credits.
Hellraiser: Hellworld –
Fans of a video game based on the Hellraiser franchise win a chance to party with the developer of the game. Enjoy 15 straight minutes of actors pretending to be hardcore gamers, also Pinhead something, something.
The movies got so bad even Doug Bradley stopped reprising the role of Pinhead.
Since then, Dimension has been rushing direct-to-video sequels every few years to keep the rights in the desperate hope they can get a remake going. 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations is a much-maligned follow-up, mostly due to its rushed production, and lack of Doug Bradley. To its credit, Revelations was written by a guy who has made some Hellraiser fan films, and more in theme with the original Hellraiser film than any of the sequels. Thankfully, Dimension Films has figured out that recycling available scripts for a horror franchise is not the best tactic. Now if only they can learn not to rush films into production to maintain movie rights. With Hellraiser: Judgement coming out next year, we’ll have to wait and see.
This concludes the first part this look back at horror sequels that broke all the rules. I’ll be back later this month with another bunch of notable rule breakers. It’s all downhill from here folks!