Do belated horror sequels ever really work?

Ben Bussey
UK Movies Writer
Will ‘Jigsaw’ succeed in rejuvenating the long-dormant ‘Saw’ series? (Credit: Lionsgate)

This coming Thursday (26 October) sees the release of ‘Jigsaw,’ the first entry in Lionsgate’s notorious ‘Saw’ franchise since 2010’s ‘Saw 3D,’ AKA ‘Saw: The Final Chapter’ (or not, as the case may be). While the gory series dominated the horror genre for much of the 2000s, it remains to be seen whether the audience is still there after a reasonably lengthy gap, particularly given how horror trends have developed in the years since.

This naturally raises the question of just how well other prominent horror franchises have fared in reviving themselves after a similar period of non-activity. Many have tried, but have any really succeeded?

An important distinction to make here is that we’re referring specifically to direct sequels, continuations of existing horror franchises, as opposed to outright remakes. Perhaps we can class such films as reboots, but this popular yet ultimately quite vague term tends to imply ripping up what went before and starting anew. This isn’t really the approach that ‘Jigsaw’ is taking, picking up years after the events of the original series and continuing the same essential chronology, as is more or less the case in the other sequels we’ll touch on here.

So, did any of these films really breathe new life into their long-dormant properties, or were they simply cases of dead horses being flogged one time too many?

Scream 4 (credit: Dimension Films)

Scream 4 (2011)

Picking up 11 years after the hugely influential 1990s slasher trilogy ended, ‘Scream 4’ reunited core trio Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette with director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, and teamed them up with a new, younger ensemble including Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere.

Hopes had been high that the film might launch a second ‘Scream’ trilogy, but it proved only a middling success both critically and commercially. Sadly, it also proved to be Craven’s final film before his death in 2015.

‘Scream’ has subsequently been rebooted as a TV series.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (credit: Dimension Films)

Halloween H20 (1998)

We should admit straight away that we’re breaking our own rules a little by including this one. This seventh entry in the ‘Halloween’ series arrived only three years after previous instalment ‘Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers,’ but as by that point the franchise had descended into direct-to-video hell, this 20th anniversary entry was widely regarded the first ‘real’ Halloween movie in over a decade, not least because it brought back original leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis.

While this updating of the classic slasher for the ‘Scream’ generation inspired mixed feelings among fans of the 1978 original, it certainly succeeded in bringing ‘Halloween’ back to the forefront of the popular consciousness, where it has arguably remained: all subsequent entries in the series (though deeply flawed) have been high-profile theatrical releases.

The franchise’s profile is likely to only ascend further, as Curtis recently confirmed she’ll return once again for another ‘Halloween’ in 2018.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (credit: Colombia Pictures)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

Another sequel made on the 20th anniversary of the original, this fourth instalment in the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ franchise is best remembered for giving early roles to future superstars Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellwegger – both of whom, by all accounts, would prefer to see it expunged from their CVs.

Though made and first screened in 1994, ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation’ wound up sitting on the shelf until 1997, whereupon it was released to largely negative reviews and poor box office. Six years passed before the franchise was revived by Platinum Dunes’ ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ remake.

Freddy Vs Jason (credit: New Line Cinema)

Freddy Vs Jason (2003)

New Line Cinema killed two birds with one stone with their ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’/’Friday the 13th’ crossover movie. Though the project had been mooted since the late 1980s, and was teased by the final scene of 1993’s ‘Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday,’ it took another decade to gain momentum.

While both fan and critical opinion were mixed, ‘Freddy Vs Jason’ proved an unexpected commercial success, topping the box office and earning almost $115 million worldwide off a $30 million budget. ‘Freddy Vs Jason Vs Ash,’ a proposed follow-up bringing the ‘Evil Dead’ hero into the mix, was vetoed by ‘Evil Dead’ creator Sam Raimi; and by the end of the decade both ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ had been remade.

As such, ‘Freddy Vs Jason’ essentially marked the end of both franchises in their original form – something original Freddy actor Robert Englund recently confirmed.

Curse of Chucky (credit: Universal)

Curse of Chucky (2013)

The ‘Child’s Play’ series had been on pause since 2004’s divisive ‘Seed of Chucky,’ and the signs didn’t look good when it was announced the seventh instalment ‘Curse of Chucky’ was going direct to home entertainment. Happily, series creator Don Mancini’s film proved to be a major highlight for Chucky, sidestepping the wisecracks of most of the sequels and returning to the sparse, Hitchcockian approach of the original 1988 killer doll movie.

‘Cult of Chucky,’ the eighth film in the ‘Child’s Play’ series, was recently released to home entertainment after screening at several 2017 film festivals, where it was widely praised.

Psycho II (credit: Universal)

Psycho II (1983)

Speaking of ‘Hitchcockian’… if there’s one horror property that would surely seem untouchable, it’s Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic ‘Psycho.’ Nonetheless, in the early 1980s Hollywood had the tenacity to attempt a sequel – and, to the surprise of many, it wound up a very good film in its own right.

Though conceived as a low-budget, made-for-cable feature which would cast Christopher Walken as Norman Bates, original star Anthony Perkins insisted on reprising the role after being impressed by the script, which builds on the world Hitchcock presented, whilst updating it for the grislier aesthetics of the time.

‘Psycho II’ was enough of a success to spawn two further sequels in 1986 and 1990, before Gus Van Sant’s controversial ‘Psycho’ remake in 1998.

‘Jigsaw’ opens in UK cinemas on Thursday, 26 October.

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