13 Days of Horror: Day 6 – Horror Franchises

‘Franchise’ is a title banded about the film world to describe a number of films in a series that can span decades, but the defining difference between a franchise and a series is usually the profit involved – a series is planned, whereas a franchise capitalises on the success of an original film that may never have intended to produce a slew of sequels. Films in a franchise are  not necessarily sequential and not always canon, as the producers or studios will hire anyone to change the course of the film’s history in order to secure the continuation of the franchise.

The one thing that stands out with each horror franchise, and in the majority of instances the reason why these franchises exist is the antagonist that leads the film. Each successful franchise with its high number of entries invariably features an iconic anti-hero whose name is synonymous with horror. Jason, Michael, Freddy, Leatherface, Jigsaw, Pinhead – it is the killers over the characters that ensure the popularity and success of each franchise.

Paranormal Activity Franchise

My appreciation for franchises is a bit of a juxtaposition – I love them but I hate them in equal measure. My love is usually centered around a fascination with the characters, the antagonist and where the story might be going; my hate is most definitely centered around the fact that the original has been completely spoiled by the poorly considered, quickly produced sequel and successive franchise entries that continue only because we as the audience continue to pay to see them. Think about it: at least six of the top ten horror franchises (by entry) have an original, unique first film that was never intended to be a potential franchise. It’s somewhat comforting to know that despite the regurgitated sequels, the original films haven’t been tainted by them and still manage to stand alone as unreserved classics.

It’s hard to track the popularity of a franchise based on its financial success due to inflation as well as the fact that some franchises (Paranormal Activity and now Saw) are continuing and don’t currently have an end. Rather, it’s best to list franchises by number of entries, as after all this is the best way to track just how successful franchises are.

FILM

ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

Friday the 13th

12

Halloween

10

Amityville Horror

9

Hellraiser

9

A Nightmare On Elm Street

8

Saw

7

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

6

The Exorcist

6

Paranormal Activity

5

The Omen

5

Crystal Lake

Friday the 13th is undoubtedly the most recognisable horror franchise, with Jason Voorhees being the poster boy for the slasher sub-genre and the leader of the franchise anti-heroes. The fact that the original film, produced in 1980, was produced solely to profit off the back of other successful horror slashers says everything about the fact that there are 12 entries in the series. Friday the 13th is also successful for the fact that the killer changed from the Mother to the Son in order to ensure the continuation of the franchise. The films make no bones about their intentions – there are no existential crises to explore, no subtext surrounding the killer vs victim scenes, no attempt at explanation for why the fuck Camp Crystal Lake hasn’t been condemned with a nuclear bomb. Despite them lacking even an ounce of creativity (all the ingenuity mustered is concentrated into the most elaborate way that Jason can kill someone – post-coitus of course…) the films just kept coming as audiences’ diet and desensitisation to bloody horror kept them trailing behind Jason for most of the 80’s.

Jason

Most – if not all – of the most successful horror franchises started as a low budget, low release idea that quickly garnered success. The success does not have to be critical for the dollars to start rolling in the eyes of producers intending on blowing it up into a franchise because it’s the revenue gained. These low budget horrors – like A Nightmare On Elm Street which earned back its $1.8m budget during its opening weekend, and Saw that earned 100 times its budget over the course of its release – were never intended to be a series and certainly never intended gain such traction at the box office, but it’s the box office that ensures this film won’t stand alone. Saw filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Wannell were told after the phenomenal success of their first film that the sequel would be happening with or without them, such is the power of the studio machine. So, deciding to maintain artistic integrity over their little gem they lent their craft to ensure that at least the story would continue in some way that was respectful to the original. The Saw franchise went on to produce an astonishing six sequels, with another now planned despite the supposed ‘end’ to the story…

Billy the Puppet - Saw

But that’s the thing about franchises – there is never really an end to the story. And that’s my problem with them – every story has to end. True, the lives of the characters continue post-celluloid but that’s exactly where they should remain, in the minds of the audience. Yet when a franchise has shown box office potential (and that is all that matters to the producers – not the fans, not the original creators – just the money) the producers will find someone who has a way of continuing the franchise for as long as audiences will bear to part cash to see them. Friday the 13th (and now Saw to an extent) are prime examples of this. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was the fourth and planned final entry in the series, released in 1984. Jason died at the end, but the producers attempted to continue the franchise with a new antagonist in mind. This didn’t work and though the film was successful it didn’t garner the financial success they had come to expect so Jason was brought back to life in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning – if there’s money involved, they will always find a way to keep him alive. Halloween is another perfect example of this, as filmmakers attempted to delve behind the mask and irrevocably altered Michael from a feared human to an inhuman Samhain baby with demonic intentions. Frequently when filmmakers delve in and out of franchises at the producers behest the canon is not adhered to, and just like Halloween, when H20 was released in 1998 it completely ignored every entry since Halloween II in 1981. This is another difference between a franchise and a series – a series is a continuation of a story; a franchise does whatever the fuck it wants.

Halloween Franchise

The recent success of Paranormal Activity, another low budget film that has cut swathes through the horror film and developed four sequels since its release, only proves the continued success of franchises. The intimacy and the genius of the original film will always be lost as franchises continue; there’s not one beginning film that has been improved by the sequels that follow it. Despite my love for a good franchise as I like to see the same story told in different ways (a la Paranormal Activity) it is impossible to improve on the original and as we continue to entice the antagonist with our cinema ticket purchase we inevitably sully the creativity of the original.

Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones

TOMORROW: The Saw Franchise

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