Happy Halloween! This time of year, horror fans often indulge in marathon viewings of their favorite scary movies. For our holiday Roundtable, we thought it would be fun to list off our favorite horror movie franchises.
To be clear, we’re defining “franchise” as any movie series with at least two entries. A horror movie without any sequels is not a franchise on its own.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Although it’s a franchise dragged down by more than a couple lousy installments, I’d absolutely still point to the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street‘ series as a favorite. With more traditional slashers, the formula can be awfully limiting. I mean, I’m a ‘Friday the 13th’ fanatic as well, but there’s only so far you can take “Guy in a hockey mask stabs campers.” You either wind up basically remaking the same movie over and over, you have to risk upending the established structure, or you just go nuts and launch the guy into space.
One of the phenomenal things about the ‘Elm Street’ series is that it lends itself to more imaginative approaches. Instead of continuing to raid a tool shed and lop off different parts of teenaged Red Shirts, Freddy Krueger can… oh, I don’t know, stomp some poor bastard in an 8-bit videogame, rip out another’s ligaments like puppet strings and lead him to his death, or – why not? – whip ’em to death with wet towels in a gym? This is a series that really lets its filmmakers indulge every demented, outlandish idea that courses through their minds, empowering these movies to go places that no other horror franchise ever could.
Everything about the concept of Freddy is brilliant. I’ve never gone camping and have never stopped for BBQ in some Texan stretch of the middle of nowhere, but I absolutely sleep and dream, and the idea of being attacked when I’m at my most helpless really unnerved me when I first discovered the ‘Elm Street’ series. Freddy rightfully ranks among the genre’s most iconic killers with his gruesomely scarred face, razor-edged glove, fedora, and red-and-green sweater. While the murderers in most slashers are dead silent, Freddy prefers instead to toy with his prey, infusing the series with a cacklingly dark sense of humor that further distinguishes it from the rest of the pack. This is a franchise with a premise that should never have to die, and that’s why I’m a little baffled that Freddy was dormant for so long and why the reboot got damned near everything wrong. Oh well. At least I still have the earlier movies on Blu-ray.
I’m not a big fan of horror flicks. I love something tense and scary, but I’ve never cared for any type of slasher flick or movies that substitute blood and gore for a good story and/or character development. With that in mind, my pick for this week’s topic may seem more thriller than out-and-out horror, but I’ve enjoyed almost all of the Hannibal Lecter movies, first and foremost Jonathan Demme’s ‘The Silence of the Lambs‘.
Even before ‘Silence’, I was a big fan of Michael Mann’s ‘Manhunter’, although I suppose it’s not technically considered part of the official series, since Anthony Hopkins doesn’t play Lecter in that film. (It’s Brian Cox and the spelling has been changed to “Lecktor.”) I am, however, one of the few who enjoyed Brett Ratner’s ‘Red Dragon‘, which is both a remake of ‘Manhunter’ and a sort-of official prequel to ‘The Silence of the Lambs’.
I was not of fan of ‘Hannibal’, as neither the ending of the original novel nor the changed ending of Ridley Scott’s movie felt very satisfying to me. (Losing Jodie Foster was also disappointing.) The less we say about ‘Hannibal Rising’ the better; it’s an awful movie created from an awful book.
In case you’re wondering, I have yet to catch up with ‘Hannibal’ the television series, but I hear it’s worth the trouble.
The main problem with horror movies is that when a studio sees a success on its hands, the property immediately has to get milked for all its worth. This tends to create a cash cow with very little entertainment value. One of the only franchises that hasn’t gone this route is ‘Evil Dead‘. The cult trilogy from the twisted mind of Sam Raimi is still a blast to watch from start to finish. Even the recent remake, which sadly lacks the chiseled chin and impeccable one-liners of Bruce Campbell, is surprisingly entertaining for a reboot. To me, ‘Evil Dead’ is the best all-around franchise that began strong and ends on the same note (so far, that is).
When I was little, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ was the movie my family would rent that I could never finish. We rented ‘The Omen’ when visiting my small-town relatives only to find when we went to return the tape that the video store had burned to the ground overnight.
The one franchise that I gobbled up on tape, DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray is ‘The Evil Dead‘. The three movies are all endlessly rewatchable, and I can pick exactly how creepy or funny I want a movie to be by choosing a specific one of the three. There’s no Halloween that isn’t well served by viewing an installment of ‘The Evil Dead’. Not only is the set-up a font of endless horror stories, Bruce Campbell’s Ash is iconic as the smarmy everyman just trying to find the end of the tunnel.
This is a hard topic. Because I love the first one so very much and because the two entries are so drastically different in tone and style, I’m going with the ‘28 Day Later‘ franchise. For ‘Days’, director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland went back to the zombie genre’s roots and focused on making the “infected” truly terrifying again (which is what ‘Night of the Living Dead’ did with a completely different tone that was more fitting for the time in which it was made). Boyle made an absolutely beautiful film. I give ’28 Days Later’ full credit for the zombie overkill out there these days. While ‘The Walking Dead’ may be better known now, it wouldn’t exist without the identical intro that ’28 Days Later’ started with.
‘28 Weeks Later‘ took a smart approach by not trying to be a carbon copy of the first one. Instead, it’s more of a standard zombie flick. While we didn’t get to see the outbreak occur in the first movie, ‘Weeks’ offers it up as the infection spreads through London once again. From that moment on, the movie is anxiety-inducing. My favorite scene is the blacked-out tube station through the lens of a night vision rifle scope. It’s brilliant.
Now that it’s on my mind, what happened to ’28 Months Later’?!
As I write this, I’m currently in the middle of reviewing the ‘Exorcist Anthology‘ box set, so it’s my inclination to choose that series. Truth be told, however, only two of the five movies are any good, and that’s a very poor success rate. Aside from the original classic, I find the stories behind the productions of these movies more fascinating than the movies themselves.
The ‘Alien‘ series remains the only horror franchise where I have genuinely liked all the entries. Yes, that includes the much-reviled ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien Resurrection’. I saw ‘Alien 3’ twice during its opening weekend and have always felt it to be very underrated. ‘Resurrection’ is the weakest of the bunch, but I really dig director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s funhouse atmosphere, and that underwater scene is incredibly cool. [Note that I am intentionally excluding the awful ‘Alien vs. Predator’ spin-offs and the excruciatingly terrible prequel/spin-off/reboot/shitstorm-of-incompetence ‘Prometheus’ from my categorization of the ‘Alien’ franchise. I do not consider those to be legitimate ‘Alien’ movies.]
What are your favorite horror franchises? Tell us in the Comments.