‘Tis the season.
Just like their antagonists, horror franchises are hard to kill. Because of their modest budgets, any successful horror movie will most likely get a sequel followed by more sequels and the eventual reboot/remake and possible crossover. Not that we’re complaining. They only keep getting made because we keep watching them.
While it’s hard for any series to maintain a level of consistency, one thing’s for sure: the first movie that kick-starts a horror franchise is usually and undeniably the best. In most cases, that first outing is a stone cold classic that brought something fresh to the genre. Even when the greed from changing copyright holders over the years eventually sucks the life out of a series to ridiculous proportions, you can still find plenty to enjoy. Unless we find venture out into space, because those are the absolute worst!
And what’s a horror franchise without the iconic mascot for it to become synonymous with? From legends of old like Michael Myers from the Halloween series, to Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th,” and Freddy Krueger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” or the new kids on the block like Jigsaw from “Saw,” every series needs a central antagonist to change with the times and for people to dress up as during Halloween.
Because some horror franchises end up living on the home video market, we’ve counted not only the theatrical releases of a franchise, but also TV movies and direct-to-video ones as well.
11. Leprechaun (7 Films)
The Leprechaun series is one of the silliest, campiest and funniest horror franchises around. It’s centered around a vengeful leprechaun played by the brilliant Warwick Davis, who, after his gold is taken, goes on a murderous rampage to get it back.
Mixing horror and comedy, the series doesn’t follow a chronological storyline with each entry being a standalone story, which works into the series’ favor. Its best asset aside from Davis’ performance is its self-aware campiness and cheesiness that makes it an absolute blast to watch.
Beginning in 1993 with the original and best of the bunch, “Leprechaun” starred a young and pre-“Friends” Jennifer Aniston. While the body count is on the low side, it makes up for it with plenty of gore and wit. It’s where we’re first introduced to the malevolent Leprechaun, who at one point pogo-sticks on a lung while singing a limerick. Yep, it’s that type of film. And while Aniston is embarrassed by it, the film has gone on to be a cult favorite.
From then on, the Leprechaun fell in love in the sequel, went to Vegas in the third, went into space in the fourth, and faced off against Ice-T in the hood and returned back to the hood again in the sixth. Then there was the WWE’s origin reboot, which traded Davis (whose absence was felt) for one of its superstars, Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl.
With seven films to date and an eighth coming out in 2019, the Leprechaun series shows no signs of coming to an end. There’s still so much untapped potential for what they can do with the series because after all, money makes the world go round and it’s the root of all evil.
10. Child’s Play (7 Films)
Child’s Play is one of the most consistent horror series. True, it has some questionable and head-scratching moments, but unlike its peers, there isn’t a downright terrible film in the series. That’s mainly because its creator Don Mancini has been involved with series from the get-go, writing every film and directing the last three entries which maintained a level of continuity. While everyone was chasing trends and sending their villains into space, the Child’s Play series stayed true to itself, but was also versatile.
The murderous and diabolical Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) stands as a horror icon next to the best of them. A notorious serial killer whose soul is transferred into a Good Guy doll in order to avoid the afterlife, Chucky is always on the quest for a human vessel.
From the straight-laced horror of the original in “Child’s Play” where a young boy receives a Good Guy doll for his birthday, only to become convinced that the doll is alive to the disbelief of the adults around him until it’s much too late, to the more developed sequels that introduced more comedy and more of Chucky’s iconic personality, and to the hilarious domestic woes of “The Bride of Chucky” with the brilliant Jennifer Tilly in tow.
Chucky has gone through a number of reinventions that always worked one way or another. But in “Seed of Chucky,” things got pretty weird with Tilly not only voicing Chucky’s wife Tiffany, but also playing a real-life version of herself who’s trying get a part in rapper Redman’s biblical epic. The latest two entries, however, injected a new life into the franchise with “Curse of Chucky” and particularly “Cult of Chucky” returning us to the more serious horror of the early works.
With a remake of “Child’s Play” on the way, one that doesn’t involve Don Mancini, it’ll be interesting to see what outsiders do with everyone’s favorite murderous doll, but based on past experiences with other series’ remakes, hopes aren’t too high.
9. Saw (8 Films)
James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s “Saw” was a breath of fresh air when it first hit cinemas in 2004. It was a low budget, gritty, serious, and violent horror film that also had some complex themes with some interesting twists and turns along the way. In its heyday, the immense box office success of the film and series spawned a number of imitators and gave rise to the “torture porn” genre that was everywhere, and not just in horror films.
This unique freshness came with its genius premise where instead of just hunting and killing his victims, Jigsaw/John Kramer makes his victims play a game. He traps them in situations where their will to live and endurance for pain offers them a chance to survive. Through creative devices like the reverse bear trap, the acid barrel trap, or the ice block trap, victims have to work together and face their inner demons to make it out of Jigsaw’s games alive. And if they do… they’ll definitely become better people.
While many horror franchises have tried to be versatile and reinvent themselves in many ways, the Saw series plays it the same throughout. There’s little to distinguish the films from each other, but what’s interesting is the mythology of the series. The continuity is unparalleled; even if it starts defying logic, the more it keeps going.
Wan’s original is still undoubtedly the best. Whether it’s because of its low budget or Wan’s smart directing, the original doesn’t revel in its violence or torture just for entertainment’s sake like its sequel and imitators. Jigsaw is still very much a mystery with his creepy voice and haunting visuals adding to the bleak atmosphere. It’s a thrilling watch with multiple interlocking stories and a race against time. It truly is the horror film of a generation, much like “Halloween” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (8 Films)
While no one can imagine a world without any of the sequels to the films on this list no matter how bad they got, the world wouldn’t miss much if the sequels to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” didn’t exist. Tobe Hooper’s original is still as fresh and terrifying as it was when it was released 44 years ago. Its Texas landscape is strikingly cinematic and hypnotic aside from its next-to-nothing budget; its atmosphere is unmatched in the genre and Leatherface is still a sight to behold. Even Marilyn Burns’ senseless and annoying screaming adds to its dread, but everything that came after… ?
Sure, the sequel was interesting for how it changed things up with more comedy, satire, and plain old silliness. Its cult following is sure to disagree, but the bigger budget and effects work and more focus on the family hinders it. While Leatherface is an iconic horror villain, he’s far from interesting or complex except when he’s killing people, but the rest of his clan? Even with their fleshed-out personalities, they come nowhere close to being interesting.
The less said about the rest, the better. Not even a young Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey could save what their respective films. The 2006 Michael Bay-produced prequel “The Beginning” had some interesting ideas that it failed to capitalize on, but it was much better than his other produced remake, which became the highest grossing of the series.
And with the latest film, also a prequel getting mixed reviews, the trend continues with movies that aren’t able to justify their existence in what should be a better horror franchise.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (9 Films)
No modern filmmaker did more for horror than Wes Craven (RIP). From classics like “The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Last House on the Left,” to helming two successful horror franchises with “Scream” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Craven was and still is the Master of Horror.
The “Nightmare” franchise has it all. A unique and fresh premise, check; an iconic central character, check; capable actors to be killed off, check; and a skilled director behind the chair, check. With all the silent horror icons and “Halloween” rip-offs of the time, Freddy Krueger and the series was a breath fresh air. A child killer who was burned alive by vengeful parents only to return from the grave to terrorize and kill teenagers in their dreams makes him one of a kind. Not to mention, his appearance with the burned skin, the bladed glove, the striped sweater, and the inventive killings and dream sequences.
And while the series has its share of misfires, it fares better than most with the original being a bona fide classic, and “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” being a close second. “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” was interesting enough, and “Freddy vs. Jason” holds the title for one of the dumbest films ever made (pot-smoking caterpillar Freddy anyone?) which sort of makes it fun to watch.
The 2010 remake starring Rooney Mara took things too far by turning Freddy into a child rapist and doubling up on the bleak and grit. Everything else falls somewhere in between, from downright cringe (“The Final Nightmare”) to so-so (“Dream Master”).
As of late, things have been awfully quiet in Springwood with eight years passing since Freddie graced our nightmares. With the latest “Halloween” installment doing exceptionally well in theatres, maybe it won’t be long until new life is pumped into the series.