“Why We Need ‘Franchise’ Horror”
When one thinks of the term ‘franchise’ in connection with Horror films, it usually has a negative connotation. It brings to mind the 1980s, the endless Slasher film sequels that defined Horror in that decade. Critics scorned them; Horror ‘snobs’ mocked them; but the fans ate them up. They helped transform the genre, from something the major studios didn’t want to be associated with, into something of which every studio wanted a piece. Along the way, the big three franchises—Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street—took Horror mainstream, where it has remained ever since.
For those who believe that Horror franchises were recent developments, they in fact have been part of the genre since the Golden Age of American Horror. The great Universal Horror films of the 1930s and ‘40s were the first Horror franchise, and would come to define the term ‘Horror’ for a generation. More importantly, it helped make Horror one of the dominant genres of film throughout the 1930s, and well into the 1940s.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Toho Studios in Japan showed the power of the franchise with Gojira, and the films that it spawned. The greatest Creature Feature of the Sci-Fi era of the ‘50s, Godzilla, King of the Monsters and its sequels came to symbolize the motion picture franchise to a generation of moviegoers.
By the start of the 1980s, the Horror franchise became the standard of genre success. A box-office winner virtually guaranteed a sequel; a successful sequel and you had a franchise. The sequels seldom equaled the quality of the first, nor did they need to. It was enough that they had a built-in fan base, a loyal audience who would be there despite the inherent flaws of the movie in question. Of course, not every movie was deserving of such longevity; not even every film that did become a franchise earned it—or does anyone really believe that we needed eight (yes, EIGHT) Leprechaun movies?
The majority of movie critics hated the franchise films, and not without some justification. Horror fans, however, needed them for a myriad of reasons. Just as the Universal Horrors did in the ‘30s and ‘40s, the franchises helped to fuel the growth of the genre, driving it to unprecedented profits at the box-office. They, by virtue of their notoriety, drew people into the genre, people who had never considered Horror movies before that. They made studios more willing to greenlight Horror projects. And, despite the opinions of critics, despite their flaws and problems, despite their repetitive nature, we loved them.
We loved them, often for the same reasons others hated them. We viewed their repetitiveness in the same light as we did a Big Mac®, or a bottle of Coke®. They were the same in Colorado as they were in Vermont, or Indiana, or Florida. They were consistent; they were comfortable; they were familiar. Jason Voorhees was Jason Voorhees, regardless of who wore the mask, or whatever group of teenagers he was hunting. It is worth noting that the one film in which they tried to replace Jason with another killer, 1985’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, was almost uniformly rejected by fans of the series. Is it a mere coincidence, I wonder, that 1985 also gave us New Coke?
Recently, the franchise has once again become the ne plus ultra of Hollywood, as studios seek to emulate the success enjoyed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars Universe, and others. Two attempts at movie franchises, however, failed to meet expectations, despite one being highly successful financially, and the other an effort to resurrect the first movie franchise. The latter, Universal’s Dark Universe, failed because, as I’ve previously noted, Universal couldn’t decide whether they wanted the initial movie in the franchise to be a Horror film or an Action movie—and wound up with neither. And as for the former, Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe, while the individual films were profitable, the studio failed to understand either the characters with whom they were working, or what the fans wanted and expected from those characters. In the end, they failed because they forgot the lessons learned from the past. Despite the best efforts of the directors, the producers, and the studios to plan and design a franchise, it’s the fans who will ultimately decide whether or not a film is worthy.
So don’t feel ashamed over your love for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, or Amityville 1992: It’s About Time. Well, maybe the Amityville movie. But the franchise film served an important purpose, as well as demonstrated the health of the genre, when they were produced. And that, in the Unimonster’s not-very-humble opinion, makes them worthwhile contributions to the history of Horror.
Creature Feature © D. Dyszel 2021
Dick Dyszel - Voice Actor