Sequel Overkill: When Is Enough, Enough?

G’Day folks.  Rhiannon Irons, a.k.a Ahlephia here with what I hope will be another debate inducing article.  This time I take on sequels.  So feel free to leave me a comment and let me know where you stand.  When is enough, enough?


Sequels.  All movies these days seem to have them and the horror genre is renown for producing them.  Scream has three sequels, four movies in total.  Psycho not only has a remake but also has three sequels with Anthony Perkins returning as Norman Bates in each one. (Fun Fact: Perkins directed Psycho 3Halloween has seven sequels, a remake, and a sequel to the remake.  Friday The 13th has twelve films in total including a remake and a battle against another horror villain in Freddy Vs. Jason.  Now there’s talk of bringing back the Saw series which will take that franchise up to eight films.  So when is enough finally enough?  When do sequels go from being fun, and part of the story that you can’t live without, to something that you would rather poke your eyes out than go and see?  Do multiple sequels destroy the franchise?  Are they simply overkill?


This is a topic that has bugged me for quiet some time.  Anyone who knows me knows that when I collect movies, I must have the entire series even if I think certain sequels are shit.  Example: I hated Scream 3 with a fiery passion.  I didn’t care much for Scream 2 after Randy died, and Scream 4 was a waste of film in my honest opinion, yet I own all of them.  I have spent many waking hours in search of the complete collections and yet, I very rarely seem to enjoy all the sequels.  Of course, like everything, there are exceptions to this rule. (In my case, while I love Halloween and it’s my favourite movie, the Psycho series is one I can watch in its entirety and love each of the sequels equally)


So at what point does a sequel become a mind-numbing event in which we would much rather gouge our eyes out than go and see?  A few possibilities spring to mind.  1) The original director/writer leaves, 2) the original hero/heroine dies, 3) a new sequel is pumped out every year, 4) terrible writing and 5) when the franchise begins to lose money.  It seems, however, that the latter reasoning is why Hollywood stop producing sequels.


Let’s jump into our time machine for a minute and head back to the late ’80’s.


Friday The 13th is forever embedded in horror history as one of the greatest franchises and it stars one of horrors most prolific serial killers, Jason Voorhees.  But by Part 8 – Jason Takes Manhattan, 1989 – the franchise began to lose money.  Jason wasn’t pulling the crowds into cinemas like he use too.  He was still popular, but the theatres weren’t getting bums on seats, which in turn didn’t cause much of a profit.


Paramount, who owned Friday The 13th, saw their money making machine lose steam and palmed it off to New Line Cinema, who was having pretty good success with their own franchise, Nightmare On Elm Street.  (Fun Fact: New Line Cinema is often referred to as ‘The House That Freddy Built’)  With Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees now owned by the same corporation, it was only a matter of time before Jason would return.  Realising that Voorhees was floundering, New Line didn’t release anything new for four years.  Four years passed until Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday was released on unsuspecting movie goers in 1993. (By this stage Freddy’s reign of terror was over. His popularity dipped, quite possibly from producing a sequel every year and by turning him into a wise-cracking character due to poor scripts.  Audiences were sick of seeing the beloved dream demon so Freddy got shelved)


By waiting those four years before releasing Jason back into cinematic history proved to be a power play for New Line, and their newly adopted son of horror rewarded them.  (Fun Fact: In 1994 Freddy returned, making one more appearance in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare which also proved to be a power play as the film was quite successful)


In 2001 Jason returned with Jason X.  The film featured Jason Voorhees slicing and dicing his way through space.  Yes, you read that right.  I said space.  With a budget of $14 million, the movie only grossed just over $16 million.  So if waiting between sequels worked for Jason Goes To Hell, why didn’t it work for Jason X?  Simple.  The writing was atrocious.  I mean come on, Jason in space?  I’ve heard of monkeys in space, but Jason?  I will say this however, horror fans are very loyal.  They will always pay to see their favourite bad guy no matter how bad the film is.  But after nine movies, regardless of however much time has passed, Jason just couldn’t pull the audiences like he use to.


That’s when someone had the brilliant idea of teaming him up against New Line’s other ultimate icon, Freddy.  In 2003, the nightmare rang true as Freddy and Jason duked it out on the big screen.  According to Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) Freddy Vs. Jason was the most successful Nightmare film he had been a part of, financially.  Remember, while there was only two years between Jason X and Freddy Vs. Jason, nine years had passed since Freddy come to play.


Producing back to back sequels within a year of year other can prove costly for a franchise.  Halloween 4 saw the return of Michael Myers in 1988.  Rather than chasing Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael had his eyes set on his niece, Jamie Lloyd played by a very young Danielle Harris.  Now, I won’t lie, Halloween 4 has its faults (Fun Fact: During the school chase, Michael appears behind Dr. Loomis with blonde hair) but over all, it’s not a bad film.  And ladies, three words for you: Sasha Jenson topless.


You see, according to John Carpenter, Michael died at the end of Halloween 2 in the explosion in Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.  So when Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch hit cinemas, it tanked.  People associated Halloween with Michael Myers, the same way they associate Friday The 13th with Jason and Nightmare On Elm Street with Freddy.  Hence why many people tend to consider Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers as the official third film of the franchise.


In 1989, Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers hit cinemas.  For me, I think this is one of the weakest film in the series with the other one being part 6, Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers.  Apparently I’m not the only one to think this with Moustapha Akkad, producer of the Halloween series, stating that they were, quote, “Drunk off the success of Halloween 4, we began production on Halloween 5.”  He even went on record in the Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror documentary to state that maybe they shouldn’t have rushed part 5 out they way that they did.  Financially, part 5 was a downer.  As for Part 6, that was butchered by bad writing in an attempt to finally understand what makes Michael tick. (Fun Fact: Paul Rudd stars in Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers as Tommy Doyle and is listed in the credits as Paul Stephen Rudd)


Still with Halloween for a moment, it’s quite interesting to see that out of all the films up until the remake in 2007, the highest performing ones don’t give a reason for Michael being the way he is.  He was just Laurie’s brother who had a serve case of rage on October 31st.  Nothing more, nothing less.  And on a related note, while part of me wants to know why Michael’s bat-crap crazy, I think the ultimate fear with him is not knowing the reason why.  And it’s not knowing the reason why that has lead to his ultimate success.


Saw has fallen victim to the sequel army, pumping a new one out every year from its debut in 2004.  (Fun Fact: In 2003 James Wan and Leigh Whannell actually filmed a short which lead to the creation of Saw)  The storyline diminished, and the gross-out fact launched from a three to a seventy-three.  So why did it suddenly take a down turn in profits?  Bad writing wasn’t to blame, although I could probably make a case for it.  Rather it was the greed of the studio that killed Jigsaw.  It’s almost like when something is successful, executives start seeing dollar signs and the next thing consumers know, we’re looking at part seven, eight, nine, thirteen.  If there was some time between the Saw sequels, then maybe there would be just cause to light a fire under Jigsaw’s ass and create an eighth instalment.  But at this point, no one really wants to play another game.


I took to Twitter to ask when is enough, enough and are sequels overkill, and got some not so surprising answers.  @joelhuntergun says “If done right, with a good storyline and plot, then no, sequels aren’t overkill.  But if done for a quick buck, then Boo!!!”  His response was echoed in many conversations I’ve had.  Even our very own pzomb got involved in the conversation stating “It depends on the quality of the story writing.  Saw, for example, died after part 2 but came home strongly for the last two.”  When asked if he thought that pumping a sequel out every year was an intelligent thing to do, pzomb said “Rushing them out yearly is a mistake – it often lessens the quality.”


Truth be told, most sequels are perfectly fine.  They add a little more to the story as a whole, and doesn’t take away from what had come before it.  But when yearly meetings at box office occur, then it’s a guarantee that the series is going to die.  People will become bored with the run of the mill storylines.   They’ll become bored with the killer/s and above all, a bored audience eventually equals no audience.


Want to keep your franchise going?  Leave a couple of years between your sequels.  Get some good writers on your side.  Don’t give in to an absurd storyline (Jason in space).  Stay true to your original concept.  If the first film is a success, don’t spit on it.  People liked it for a reason.  Replicate it, give it some more depth, a few more surprises and your audience will come back.  But above all, if you notice a sudden down turn in profits, bad reviews, empty cinema chairs, then it’s time to put down the weapon and step away……….for a few years at least.

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  1 comment for “Sequel Overkill: When Is Enough, Enough?

  1. January 10, 2012 at 1:36 AM

    This was a great article! You made for very good and valid points. Fun Fact for you: the only horror series that followed your guidelines and had the same director, same actors, and great writing that added more depth and surprises to the series was PHANTASM. I own all four and they are, without question, the best horror films ever in the genre. You should write about that series for your next article.

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