Thursday, October 11, 2012

Our Favorite Horror Franchises

In the world of horror movies, anything that's worth doing is worth doing seven or eight times. Here are some of our favorite franchises in a genre that's full of them.

Mark Ahn: The Alien Franchise - Let's get the obvious things out of the way. I love the instantly iconic signifiers of this franchise, from the totally realized, lived-in world, to the hyper-futuristic technology (Sentry guns! Powerlifters! Lifeform probes! Synths!), to one of the scariest monsters ever created.

The alien combines aspects of every terrifying fear from my childhood. It crawls around like a turbo-charged spider, able to leap from all sorts of angles and high speed. It could away at you with its acid blood, like some more evil mutation of the Blob. In its facehugger form, it has vampiric qualities, sucking the life out of you and then putting its LIVE YOUNG inside of your chest to burst out of you later, basically making you its rape victim. As if the sexual assault metaphor isn't quite overwhelming enough, then it can also stick a phallus out of its mouth. And it was designed by a guy who looks like, well, this.

Man, I LOVE this franchise.

I love that Ripley is an unabashed badass, and is probably the progenitor for so many of those waifs with shotguns that populate Luc Besson movies and the martial arts sweethearts that live in Joss Whedon's imagination. Sigourney Weaver is probably not everyone's vision of beauty (although she's quite foxy in Ghostbusters), but there was nobody hotter kicking alien ass with a stiff upper lip and a tanktop than Ripley.
I love that the series has covered the range of genre from horror, to action, to science fiction, to a poor parody of itself, to a campy crossover, and almost all the way back to respectable, myth-building science fiction again (although I'd argue that it was more myth-shattering than myth-building). It can't be classified as just one of those things because it's all of those things, and for somebody who likes his genres in multiple layers, it's heaven-sent.

I love that people still love it and still talk about it, even after the first film came out over 30 years ago. There's been talk of a sequel to Prometheus, and even though I grumbled through the silliness of the Alien vs. Predator stuff and Prometheus too, there's still a jolt and a soft spot that I feel for Alien.

Patrick: So, I'm mad at myself for suggesting this list. Mark already picked what is probably the best and Mike is picking the one that's the most fascinating in its consistency, which doesn't leave me with much. The Evil Dead series is good, but that's kind of a cheat since there are only three movies; same goes for Romero's original Dead trilogy...assuming you're willing to ignore the fact that three more movies followed. And we would ALL like to do that.

My affection for the original Nightmare on Elm Street makes me want to pick that series, even though it, too, became boring in its sameness. But since the same thing could be said of pretty much every franchise (again, except for Alien, because every one of those movies feels different than the others), I guess I'll go with Nightmare because if I have to watch the same characters do the same things over again, at least there's a sense of invention in the series that's missing in standard slasher stuff like Halloween and Friday the 13th. The movies were no less formulaic than Ft13th -- a group of teenagers, each with a single defining characteristic, are dispatched in some fashion relating to their one identifiable trait (the innovation here being that the characters do have one identifiable trait, as opposed to the "none" in other '80s slasher movies) -- but at least the "dream" approach gave the filmmakers license to create some wacky surrealist imagery. The visual of a character eating a pizza made up of the souls murdered by Freddy Krueger is incredibly stupid, but I can't say I've seen anything like it in another movie.
Speaking of the filmmakers, the Nightmare series boasts a pretty impressive lineup of directors -- probably the best this side of, once again, the Alien franchise. After Wes Craven, you've got Chuck Russell, Renny Harlin, Stephen Hopkins...and Rachel Talalay. For a while in the '80s, the series was a breeding ground for new talent, and launched at least a couple of careers. Let's not hold Freddy Krueger responsible for the fact that those careers would give the world Lost in Space and Cutthroat Island and Tank Girl.

I'm totally not happy with this answer.

Mike: The Saw Franchise - Picking my favorite horror franchise isn’t that simple. There doesn’t exist a consistently great, or even good, string of horror films. In fact, the only thing consistent with most horror franchises is how awful they remain. Halloween is my favorite horror film of all time, but it may have the most boring franchise under its name. Friday the 13th is kind of fun throughout, but never, ever, good. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies may make up the best franchise, but I’m going to have to choose a franchise that I never thought I’d pick for anything with the word “best” in it: the Saw series.
Patrick and I did a podcast on the first six films (there are a total of seven), so I suggest you go back and listen to that if you want a more detailed analysis. For the purposes of this piece, I’ll simply say that while Saw and its sequels are not necessarily good movies, they at the very least attempt to do SOMETHING with the franchise. The seven movies really tell one giant, crazy story, with unbelievable continuity. It was fascinating to watch a throw-away character in one movie, reappear as a MAJOR FUCKING CHARACTER a few movies later. It’s batshit crazy, and often times ugly, but I give the Saw movies an “A” for effort, which is saying a lot considering the laziness that permeates throughout most horror franchises.

JB: I believe I have answered this already.


  1. Ah, Mike, just when I though we were two pieces of soul pepperoni on the same pizza, ya had to bring up The Saw Franchise. No, actually I do get what you're saying about Saw and since I have totally bought into the "Ambitious Failure" philosophy of Patrick and perhaps F This Movie in general, I can agree that the Saw Franchise deserves to be applauded for at least trying. It's too bad the last one was so awful that it kind of tarnished the whole franchise for me as I was genuinely kinda digging it up to that point.

    Like Patrick, I prefer The Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise to Friday the 13th for all the same reasons. Plus as a kid watching them I took some comfort in his sense of humour and felt like I could reason with him (unlike Jason) and that he might spare me if I laughed at his jokes.

    My personal favourite is the same as Mark's and how could it not be really? A couple of small missteps aside (and I've actually come to appreciate a lot of 3 and 4 over the years) there is no other horror franchise that can boast the kind of overall quality that Alien does, the first especially being a genuine classic period.

    1. I can't argue with you, Sol. In fact, I went to see SAW VII with Patrick right after we did our SAW podcast encouraging people to give the series a chance. 10 minutes into the movie Patick turned to me and said, "I think we made a mistake." It's awful, and hugely disappointing since it followed SAW VI, the best installment in the franchise.

    2. I'd probably need to watch it again to really articulate what it was about Saw VII that so turned me off (Cary Elwes being just one small factor - how is that guy even an actor?) but it just didn't FEEL like it fit with the rest of the AT ALL, which I guess is important if it was supposed to be an attempt to tie the whole series together. I suppose in a sense it did that for me - tied them all together and dipped them in a vat of shit making the entire franchise seem like a big, smelly mess.

      Now that's what I call articulate!

  2. Although I flat out forgot to write something for this, it might have been my subconscious keeping me from pretending that any horror franchise is actually good. The Alien movies sort of count, even if they aren't really horror past the first one. Halloween is a bust because everything after the original is at best unnecessary. I probably would have come up with some bullspit defense of the Paranormal Activity movies simply because — love 'em, hate 'em, or ignore 'em — all three are at pretty much the same level of quality and effectiveness. Plus, they have a consistent mythology that is being built verrrrrry gradually. I figure by the time Paranormal Activity XVII hits theaters in 2024, we'll know why that family has a demon in their closet. And why the demon keeps dragging people into said closet. And where he keeps the subwoofer he flips on before every attack.

    Yep, that's what I was going to choose. You're welcome.

    1. I watched the first three of these over the weekend and you're right, they are consistent and they're all not bad, my only concern is that if each new entry in the series is going BACK in time, is Part 10 going to be like a flipbook of old tin-types or something? I was just willing to accept that someone would set up cameras all over there house and tape everything they do (including sitting around and talking apparently) in 1988, but that's going to get harder and harder to believe as we go further back.

      Nonetheless, I'm interested to see what they do in Part 4...

  3. Have always liked Nightmare on Elm St, but I also kind of dig Hellraiser but only very selectively. I like the mythology that is built around the original, 2 and 4. For some reason that type of world building really drags me into a franchise.
    Must be the result of my jaw dropping when I found out that Freddy was the bastard son of a thousand mad men...Waaaaah!?!

    1. I like the first Hellraiser and I still think the second one is decent in a fascinating, insane way. After that, I have no use for the series. I don't think I've seen them all, though, because there are just so damn many of them I can't keep track.

    2. After 4 they ended up just taking spec scripts, inserting Pinhead at the end and calling it Hellraiser, just to keep the franchise alive. They are pointless.
      If it wasnt for the mythology element I wouldnt rate 4 at all, and 3 kind of cheapens a lot of what came before.

      I am interested in the reboot though, although I hope they dont do a straight remake.

    3. I have a soft spot for "Hellraiser III" because, while it detours from the mythology built in the movies before and after it, I think it still kind-of holds together the same spirit of S&M lite and gore of the prequels. The new civilian characters aren't completely unlikable (Ashley Laurence is a babe even if her acting is 'ehh') and there's at least three WTF! gore/shockng set pieces. It helps that Doug Bradley still plays Pinhead at his menacing/charming/seductive best. Love the character-building flashback of Elliot Spencer (Bradley w/o make-up, looking like Hugo Weaving's cousin) before the cube got a hold of him.

      Even the low-budget of the production (Charlotte replacing NYC, whose police department only has two cop cars? :D) and now-dated CG effects only adds to the charm, IMHO.

    4. I agree about the Pinhead origin stuff, but what I dont like is the trivialisation of the Cenobites. They go from being top order agents of hell who have been seduced by the heights of pleasures and the depths of pain, to being just some guy that Pinehead kills and shoves a video camera into their head.
      It is a mixed bag. Not as bad as the second half of the franchise, but not as consistent as the good (?) instalments.