Written by Jamie Rogers
Everybody loves a good horror film. They're a great way to have some fun, get scared, and a tried and true way to get your significant other to hold you tight. But what happens when a horror film is successful? What happens when a film of such low budget fun gets such huge box office numbers? Well, like anyone could tell you, the studio demands a second instalment. Now, nobody likes a bad horror sequel; they often muddle their predecessor’s plot, and spoil the unique freshness of the original. And yet, nearly everyone who saw the first one goes to see it. Guess what happens then? More sequels. We've seen it a million times, the successful horror franchises that just won't die. Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, more recently Paranormal Activity, Saw, Insidious, and so on.
Nearly every single popular horror film has garnered a barrage of sequels, most of which are terrible. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a classic and original film, and it changed the game for slasher films forever. 7 sequels and 1 remake later, no one cares. Nobody wants to see Freddy Krueger back on the big screen ever again, they’re sick of him. Same goes for the Halloween series. What started as the film that set the bar for slasher films everywhere, has now been reduced to the same old tired tropes over and over again that the studios haven't stopped churning out since the original burst into theatres. If someone told you that another Halloween film was in the works (which there is), would you care? I think it’s safe to say you wouldn’t. What this proves is that the more you milk a franchise, the less everyone cares. And the more sequels you release, the more diminished the original’s reputation becomes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, not all horror sequels have been terrible. Scream 2, Evil Dead II, and Saw II are three examples of films often stated to be an improvement on the original. The case with all of those films is that they had production teams that cared about the film that they were making, and not just in it to cash in on sequel fever. There is also the strange but oddly common phenomenon of the rare late sequel that ends up being good. What happens in this occurrence is that a franchise that has been run into the ground has a randomly fun and inspired instalment pop up amidst the tired films surrounding it. What the case is more often than not is that a brand new creative team takes over the franchise and decides to take a look at the franchise from afar, and poke some fun at it. One example of this is Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives, which laughs at the series’ tired clichés and has some fun with the character of Jason, which works wonders. Another example, with same instalment number, is Saw VI. Which, while not a great movie by any means, brings some new things to the table not seen in Saw films before (nor after) it, which makes for a more entertaining film than many of the other instalments in the franchise. These films are very rare and special cases, in an otherwise barren landscape of horror sequels, which makes them all the more enjoyable.
But what about today’s horror sequels? Have we seen any inspired or well crafted horror sequels in the past few years? No, not particularly. Recently we’ve been subjected to many unsatisfying sequels including The Last Exorcism Part II, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, Insidious: Chapter 2, The Purge: Anarchy, and strange straight to DVD sequels to remakes of classic horror flicks like I Spit on your Grave 2 and Fright Night 2. Not one of these films improve upon the original, nor entertain as much as them. But do people see them? Most definitely (except for Last Exorcism 2, I don’t think anyone saw that, ever. I don’t even think it had a US release), which is why these franchises keep droning on and on, the latest being the upcoming Insidious: Chapter 3, which will most likely be nothing more than an uninspired retread of the first two. But, I’m no fortune teller. It may be awesome. It may be better than the first, and a truly original and entertaining horror film, but i find that pretty unlikely, especially since the series has been hit with the loss of director/modern horror mastermind James Wan. You never know though, it might be great. Go see it and let me know. Unless you don’t want the series to continue and decide to gather all of your friends and family to boycott the film at your local theatre, but that still probably wouldn’t do much to stop the film from making millions, because at this point it’s basically inevitable.
The reason these films are so damn successful is because it doesn’t cost very much to make them, and every single blood thirsty horror craving teenager who cares not about the quality of a film but how much it can scare them will scramble to the theatre to see it. But wait a minute, aren’t horror films usually rated R? How can teenagers, the genre’s prime demographic, go see the film? They could ask their parents to take them, but more often than not, teenagers don’t want to go to the movies with their parents, and would rather be with their friends. Plus, their parents might not approve of them seeing an R-rated movie, because they’re restricted for a reason, right? Well, the studious thought of that too, and have found a rather irritating way to make the most possible money off of gore crazy teenagers as they can, and that is by toning down horror films significantly to snatch up a PG-13 rating. This epidemic started back in the late 90s/early 2000s, when a few horror movies that had acquired PG-13 ratings with no ulterior motives came out and were extremely successful, such as The Sixth Sense and The Ring. Hollywood took notice of this immediately, and realized what they had to do. Suddenly, a slew of PG-13 horror films flooded the box office: The Grudge, The Last Exorcist, Cloverfield, all of their sequels, etc. Over the years, this epidemic has gotten worse and worse, with more and more mainstream horror films getting PG-13 ratings. In fact, nearly every big horror movie that has acquired it’s MPAA rating at this time has gotten the rating of PG-13 (Insidious: Chapter 3, the Poltergeist remake, Woman in Black 2, etc.), and I can only assume that even more will receive the PG-13 treatment as time goes on, until Hollywood gets its balls back.
Now, you may be wondering, why is it such a big deal that Horror movies are striving for PG-13 ratings? Well, simply enough, the films feel neutered and restricted (no pun intended) from their true potential. Movies that should be awesome gore fests are ruined by quick and jarring editing which prevents you from seeing anything too graphic, and sometimes having odd coloured goop come out of demons and whatnot, because, as M. Night Shyamalan’s mess of a film ‘The Village’ told us, red is the bad colour. It takes away most swearing, and basically all nudity, which leaves the films feeling rather tame and mild. Forcing filmmakers to make their film PG-13 can be very restraining for them, as they can’t let their creatively twisted minds work to their full potential, which is criminal in the art of filmmaking. It’s no coincidence that today’s R-rated horror films (The Conjuring, Sinister, Unfriended) are far better than those that get the PG-13 rating.
In conclusion, horror sequels have never been anything special. They’ve always been about cashing in again and again on the same old stuff. But recently, they’ve become even worse, with the travesty of the studio’s goal to have all their horror films be rated PG-13, and an overall increase in laziness and unoriginality. To finish off this piece, I’d like to give you the advice to avoid as many horror remakes and sequels as possible, because together, maybe, just maybe, we can convince Hollywood that we don’t want the same stuff being forced upon us on a yearly basis, and that unique, original, R-rated horror films (see: Oculus, The Babadook, You’re Next, etc.) are a far better way for them to spend their money.