Is Insidious This Generation’s Greatest Horror Franchise?

In the ever-changing world of horror, it’s a new age (a new dawn of the dead, you could say). And like it or not, when all the dust has settled, all screams have died down, and all the blood mopped up, ‘Insidious’ will be remembered as the defining horror franchise in this generation.

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From the director-writer team of James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the multi-chapter story of demons, possession, and astral projecting mediums has all the working parts a horror series needs. But there’s more to it than that – ‘Insidious’ is a franchise that’s perfectly crafted for horror fans.

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The box office numbers speak for themselves. The first film, released in 2010, grossed over $97 million worldwide, while 2013’s ‘Chapter 2’ pulled in just shy of $162 million. ‘Insidious: Chapter 3’ has so far made $109 million, with its DVD and Blu-ray release due this month.

But us real movie fans know that box office isn’t necessarily the measure of true cinematic glory. Arguably, the franchise’s most significant achievement is its influence over the genre. The creative and critical success of ‘Insidious’ has kicked off a whole cycle of supernatural chillers that trade on high tension and huge scares. Following in its wake are films such as ‘The Conjuring’, ‘Annabelle’, ‘Mama’, and ‘Sinister’. You just need to look at the other franchises to see just how influential ‘Insidious’ has been.

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They’ve tried to reboot ‘the slasher’. So far it hasn’t worked. Word on the street (Elm Street, anyway) is that even the reboots are getting rebooted. ‘Paranormal Activity’ had its moment, and its camera tricks undoubtedly work, but for a series so concerned with the illusion of reality, it suffers from the same problems of believability as all found-footage does (i.e. who the heck is editing this together?). And then there’s ‘Saw’, which certainly made itself some money, but is far too much about the blood and guts to hone a talent for actual scaring.

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This, of course, is the most common criticism leveled at the ‘Insidious’ films, that they are the main proponents of “cattle prod” cinema, which instead of building tension and atmosphere to earn their scares, such as in classics like ‘Halloween’, instead just shock you from behind with a big jump and sudden clang of the piano.

And it’s true, they don’t have the patience and slow build of past horrors, but that’s not what this is about. The original ‘Insidious’ movie, which tells the story of comatose boy troubled by a Darth Maul-like demon, is made for fans who already know the tricks, tropes and techniques – it thrives on your knowledge of expecting that next big scare, then has immense fun peering through windows and around corners, trapping you into tight spaces where you just know there’s something lurking outside the camera lens’ edge. It’s playful horror, dependent on the audience’s willingness and love of being scared.

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The sequel has just as much fun, tapping into the expectations that come with a good horror sequel, with the mantra of bigger, badder, and bloodier is better. The scares are bigger, the set-ups more ridiculous and in its pursuit of being as OTT as possible, dishes out the most obscenely horror-tastic monster possible – the ghost of a transvestite serial murderer who likes to do his killing while wearing a black wedding dress. But it also has smarts, transforming the first movie’s hero (Patrick Wilson) into a possessed murderer.

Now, ‘Insidious: Chapter 3’, the directorial debut of the series writer Leigh Whannell reigns everything in, creating a more reserved story (with all scares still in tact, of course) that works to tie the events of all three films into a tight and coherent story. It’s a refreshing change from the endless number of endless franchises. The style of its scares might have been a huge influence on modern horror, but if it can resist the temptation of umpteen more sequels, its well-structured story-arc should be too.

There’s a myth that just because a film or franchise is mainstream or hugely popular, it’s less credible or worthy of artistic recognition. But what’s wrong with being popular? The ‘Insidious’ movies aren’t trying to reinvent horror; they’re a celebration of what we love about the genre in the first place. There’s no pretention, no messing about – it’s about the scares, pure and simple. And why else do we watch horror in the first place?

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‘Insidious: Chapter 3’ is out on DVD and Blu-ray 12 October.

Picture credit: Gramercy Pictures, Alliance Films

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