Halloween Treats: Surprisingly Good Late-Series Horror Sequels

The horror genre is easily the most prolific when it comes to sequels. Unfortunately, quantity rarely means quality, and most horror franchises tend to see diminishing returns with each lackluster entry. So it’s always a treat to stumble across a late-series entry that’s actually better than would ever be expected. So if you’re looking for some such treats this Halloween, here are a few you can check out.

Final Destination 5

The unique thing that sets apart the Final Destination films from other horror fare has also been its downfall. In the first FD, the idea of turning Death itself into a supernatural slasher (determined to right the scales in his favour when a teen’s premonition saves him and his classmates from a plane explosion where they would have surely perished), was original and exciting. But with each sequel simply repeating the same conceit with different characters, it quickly became old hat – not only to audiences, but to people within the movies themselves. The characters in the fourth installment don’t even bat an eye when they find out Death is stalking them, they just dutifully move the action along from one high-concept deathtrap set piece to another.

So it was surprising that when Final Destination 5 came out, there was some obvious effort on the filmmaker’s part to kick the quality back up a few notches. And it worked. Suspense oozes out of every deathtrap sequence and the signature opening catastrophe was stellar – second only to the highway pile-up of FD 2. The collapse of a huge suspension bridge is well staged and choreographed and the special effects are incredible (and personally, a little jarring – since the bridge that was used in the film is Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver, which is just a mere 5 minutes away from where I live, and I always think of it collapsing whenever I drive over it now).

Another plus is that the film tries to mix up the whole “Death is killing the survivors in the order they should’ve died” by adding in a ghoulish twist – that the survivors may be able to avoid death by Death by killing someone else in their place. And to top it all off, the 3D work is handled very well, with set-ups designed specifically for 3D filming – no muddy, post-conversion 3D here.

Saw VI

I liked Saw. I did not care for Saw II. And I have no idea why I saw every subsequent Saw film even though I’m not a fan of torture and the copious flashback reveals made each film just more and more muddled. I guess I just kept hoping that one of the sequels would at least be able to hold up to the first one. Thankfully, it finally paid off with Saw VI.

Sorry, you'll have to wait - this ride's all full.

Sorry, you’ll have to wait – this ride’s all full.

Instead of deadly games master Jigsaw or his minions selecting immoral or damaged souls to “learn the value of life” by placing them in deathtraps (which is about as morally righteous as Jason Voorhees narrowing his victim list to only trespassing campers and annoying teens), this time the action is centered on a person whose day-to-day life involves playing god with people’s lives. A health insurance agent whose personal selection policy favours the healthy over the ill has resulted in the deaths of a number of individuals who were denied coverage and treatment (including Jigsaw himself). After being kidnapped, he awakens to find himself trapped in a deadly funhouse of terror traps along with six of his coworkers and associates, who are strapped to a literal carousel of death. He now has to make his way through the funhouse by juggling the fates of the lives of those six just as he juggled with the lives of every sick person who he denied coverage. And just for an extra kick in the ‘nads, he is being observed by the wife and child of one such man who recently died.

Hmm…a Saw film that is actually comments on a current and controversial topic (health care)? And does so while offering some great suspense-filled set-pieces? Yep, there you have it – Saw VI, the best of all the Saw sequels.

Halloween: H20

How many times do I have to tell you - we have no more candy!

Go away – we have no more candy!

I’ve already mentioned the film officially known as Halloween: Twenty Years Later in a few previous posts, so I’ll just sum it up quickly: this seventh installment of the Halloween franchise disregarded sequels 4-6, brought back ultimate final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and had her face off once again with the murderous, masked Michael Myers in a direct follow-up to the first two Halloween films, which is easily the best sequel since Halloween II. With a focus that leans heavily on suspense-over-gore that was the original film’s trademark, the only quibble here is that it’s too short. The set-up seems a tad rushed and an extra 10 minutes before the final act would have been welcome. But no deal breaker is this! I’ll take a brisk Halloween: H20 over the other late sequels or either of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes any day.

Honourable (Video Game) Mention

Silent Hill Downpour

SHDPThe survival horror franchise that is Silent Hill has seen many ups and downs since it’s high-water mark of Silent Hill 2: Shattered Dreams. When subsequent installments like Silent Hill: The Room and Silent Hill Homecoming didn’t do much to thrill fans or critics, not much was expected from eighth entry Silent Hill Downpour.

Gladly that was not the case. In a serious effort to bring back the creepiness and chills that have been missing from the survival horror genre, Silent Hill Downpour wrapped its single-protagonist main story in the pseudo-open world setting of the town of Silent Hill itself – complete with a number of optional side quests and stories to explore. This side quests, which involve solving mysteries connected to the macabre history of the town, is what actually provides most of the chills of the game, and it was just great to see Silent Hill (the town) being treated like an actual character instead of just a backdrop. Sure there were a few shortcomings with the game itself, but again – we’re talking about Silent Hill and about surprisingly good late-series horror entries, and that means that the box next to Silent Hill Downpour is the one to check off.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Advertisements

The Three 3-D Three-Quels of the Early 80s

In between its 50s heyday and its current-day renaissance, 3-D films briefly came back in vogue in the early 80s. This period was only punctuated by a handful of films, the most notable of which all happened to be the third installments of popular horror franchises. So let’s take a little look back on this trifecta of third dimension terrors and the mark they made on pop culture history.

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)f13iiiskinnyposter

Opening weekend: $9.4 million
Total domestic gross: $36.6 million

In the early 80s, advances made in 3-D technology, along with the release of a couple of quickie, low-budget 3-D flicks, caught the attention of the major motion picture studios. Frank Mancuso, Jr. got the ball rolling at Paramount and soon movie theatres across North America were being upgraded to support the next generation of 3-D films. Originally, Star Trek III was slated to be given the inaugural 3-D treatment, but when that plan fell through, Friday the 13th Part III ended up with the honour.

It proved to be a wise decision, because even though the expensive 3-D process resulted in a bigger budget than the typical slasher films of the day were given, the box office results were worth it. Friday the 13th Part III not only opened at #1, but it also became the film to finally dislodge E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial from the top slot. It also greatly improved of the box office results of Friday the 13th Part 2 and helped set the franchise on its path to longevity.

Its success also prompted other studios to take notice, and soon its formula for success was being implemented on other familiar franchises – albeit with drastically different results.

jaws3dposterJaws 3-D (1983)

Opening weekend: $13.4 million
Total domestic gross: $45.5 million

Whereas the addition of 3-D to Friday the 13th Part III was generally seen as nothing more than a fun enhancement to the film, the 3-D aspect of the second Jaws sequel was generally regarded as a “gimmick” to lure viewers into theatres. Basically, Friday the 13th Part III could stand on its own without the 3-D effects, but Jaws 3-D was seen as a poorly written and directed film than relied heavily on its 3-D effects. This might not have necessarily been a problem however, if the effects were well done. Unfortunately, while Friday the 13th Part III had a number of practical effects and props designed for it, Jaws 3-D relied more on a number of post-production effects that were hardly convincing on their own, and then made worse due to the murky 3-D conversion process.

(top) Friday the 13th Part III's eye-popping practical fx and (bottom) Jaws 3-D's murky, cut-n-paste post-production fx

(top) Friday the 13th Part III’s eye-popping practical fx and (bottom) Jaws 3-D’s murky, cut-n-paste post-production fx

Still, as a gimmick, it did the trick and pulled in some respectable box office numbers. And while it ended up raking in more than Friday the 13th Part III, it didn’t mirror that film’s feat of improving on its previous franchise entry. Coupled with the poor reception it received critically and its dismal and cheesy effects, the most successful film of the 80s 3-D revival also signaled that the end of this era was near. And in just a few months, the last major 3-D film of the 80s would confirm it.

Amityville 3-D (1983)

Opening weekend: $2.3 million
Total domestic gross: $6.3 million

Just as with Jaws 3-D, the third Amityville film appropriated “3-D” directly into its title, making dual use of the numeral 3. However, due to a potential lawsuit from The Lutz family (whose history with the iconic, supposedly haunted/cursed New Jersey house provided the basis for the first two Amityville films), the makers of Amityville 3-D had to actually add a disclaimer to the film’s advertisements that stated it was not a sequel to The Amityville Horror and Amityville II: The Possession.

amity3dposterUltimately, that proved to be of little consequence to the film’s reception. The 3-D effects were called out for being blurred, murky and headache-inducing while the film itself struck out big-time with critics (it currently has a 0% rating on the aggregate rating site Rotten Tomatoes). The Amityville franchise was already faltering before Amityville 3-D hit the theatre, and even though it opened at #1 just like Friday the 13th Part III and Jaws 3-D, its  take was so meager that its total domestic gross didn’t even come close to the amounts those films pulled in for just their opening weekends.

The new age of 3-D was now most certainly as dead as any of the hapless victims featured in this triumvirate of 3-D terrors, and it would take over 20 years before 3-D would again make a significant mark on moviedom.

Nowadays, the improvements in the 3-D process has resulted in many films of a quality that is leaps and bounds beyond those of the 80s. However, that doesn’t stop many a genre lover from looking back at this era and these films with endearing nostalgia for delightfully silly effects viewed through cheap, cardboard, two-toned glasses.

No Star, No Sequel? No Way!

The powers that be in Hollywood are always quick to green-light a sequel for any surprise hit movie. And once that course has been set, almost nothing will deter them from reaching their golden goal of potential box office big bucks – not even something like the star of the original film not returning for what should theoretically be his follow-up film. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at three different examples of sequels that had to cope with an MIA star and how they turned out.

Teen Wolf Too (1987)

Teen Wolf was a quickie, low-budget flick with rising star Michael J. Fox playing a high school basketball star who suddenly finds out teenwolftoohe is afflicted with a family curse that turns him into a werewolf. It also ended up becoming the surprise hit of the summer of 1985 when the filmmakers held off releasing it until after Fox’s next project came out – a little movie called Back To The Future. When that film blew up at the box office, Teen Wolf was then hustled out to cash in on Fox’s sudden popularity. And it worked. The film, which had a budget of $1.4 million, ended up making over $33 million domestically (in 2013 dollars, that’s roughly $75 million).

With that kind of profit margin, a sequel was pretty much a sure thing – well, for everybody except Fox. And what no one seemed to realize (or wanted to admit) was that Fox – not the story – was the reason for the film’s success. But the filmmakers just trudged on and figured they could tell basically the same story as before and lightning would strike twice. Jason Bateman was swapped in for Michael J. Fox (playing his cousin) and college boxing was swapped in for high school basketball. The only thing that couldn’t be swapped in was a decent box office. Teen Wolf Too fizzled on arrival in 1987 with a total box office take of just under $8 million.

Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)

There’s no doubt that playing Annie in Speed was Sandra Bullock’s star-making role, but the film itself was supported on the very sturdy shoulders of stoic Keanu Reeves. So, when the non-stop action thriller got the go-ahead for a sequel, it was a no-brainer to craft a story that brought both stars back for another thrill ride. Except, Reeves didn’t find the follow-up to be all that thrilling. After reading the screenplay, he backed out of trading a runaway bus for a runaway ocean liner, leaving Bullock to do all the heavy lifting herself.

speed2Not that there was much for her to do though, since Speed 2 was clearly written to be another adventure starring Reeves’ cop Jack Traven with his now-girlfriend Annie along for the ride, she was pretty much regulated to  running around and looking cute and/or worried. So did the producers order the screenplay be rewritten and maybe beef up Bullock’s part? Nope. While they did shift her name to the number one slot on the poster and credits, they didn’t make any substantial story changes. Basically,  they just crossed out “Jack Traven” wherever it appeared in the script and replaced it with “Alex Shaw” – then tacked on an opening scene that explained that Annie was no longer with Jack, but was now with Alex, who happens to be an L.A. cop (like Jack) and also happens to be a dangerous risk-take (…like Jack). Hmmm. Then they tapped the not widely-known, but economically-priced Jason Patric for Reeves’ empty star slot and hoped for the best. Well, they didn’t get it. Even though it debuted at number one, the film quickly sank – with its $44 million domestic take not even equal to half of the original’s $125 million haul (nor half of its bloated $100 million+ budget – although it would eventually break even with its worldwide gross). Seems that without Reeves and with a very unspeedy-looking ocean liner as its centerpiece, most viewers simply preferred to stay ashore.

Journey 2 The Mysterious Island (2012)

You have it to give it to those savvy movie marketers. I hope whoever thought up titling this sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth got a big bonus, because having it read as both a sequel (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) and a stand-alone film (“Journey To The Mysterious Island”) is some straight-up “Step Up 2 The Streets”/having-it-both-ways realness right there.

In the first Journey, Brendan Fraser played the father figure to his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) – the son of his late brother – and journey2they went on, well, a journey to the center of the Earth. When Fraser was unable to participate in the sequel, Dwayne Johnson was brought in to play Hutcherson’s latest father figure – his stepdad – and they went on, well, a journey to a mysterious island.

Unlike Teen Wolf and Speed, the main draw of the original Journey wasn’t the stars, but the story’s adventurous title location. So, when Journey 2 offered up a new and interesting location for Hutcherson to continue his adventures, audiences hardly seemed to care that Fraser was sitting this one out and The Rock was pulling dad-duty instead. And its worldwide box office of $335 million tends to support that idea.

I guess the real lesson to be learned here is when your star can’t return for the sequel, don’t get cutesy-cheeky with the title (Teen Wolf Too) and don’t get punny (Speed 2: Cruise Control) just get creative (Journey 2 The Mysterious Island). Even better – apply that lesson directly to the sequels themselves, not just the titles.

Nonsensical Sequel Titles 2: Franchise Fiascos

So, my last post on nonsensical sequel titles , along with the current crop of films raking it in at the box office, got me thinking of another little problem I have with sequel titles – this one  has to do with sequel titles in specific film franchises (and you should also note that I’m adhering to proper sequel titling etiquette with this post – since this is a follow-up, and not a continuation, of my previous post there is no “Part II” in the title, just a regular, sequel-indicating, traditional “2”).

Now this probably speaks to the OCD side of me, but I really like it when the movies in a film franchise all maintain a similarity across all their titles. Whether it be the basic sequel numbering (as in Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3 and Scream 4) or a recurring titling structure (as in the follow-ups to 1968’s Planet of the Apes –with each film prefacing the original title with either Beneath The…, Escape From The…, Conquest Of The… and  Battle For The…), what can I say, I just love consistency.

But don't even get me started on how Halloween III is the most non-sequel sequel of any film franchise

But don’t even get me started on how Halloween III is the most non-sequel sequel of any film franchise

Now, I only find it mildly irritating when there’s just a superfluous inconsistency in franchise titles. I mean, it irks me that the Halloween franchise went from numbering their sequels with Roman numerals, to standard numeric figures, to dropping the numbering altogether, but it’s not really that big of a deal (and I do appreciate that they were at least consistent in their progression of changes).

However, when the title changes are inconsistent from film to film and choices are made that makes the titles actually stop making sense, well that’s where I have a bigger problem.

I’m pretty sure I was the only kid who was disgruntled way back in 1988 when Rambo III came out…and not because of anything to do with the actual film, but with the title. I mean, yes – everyone knew that technically this was the third movie with Sylvester Stallone playing John Rambo – but the first movie was called First Blood and its sequel was Rambo: First Blood Part II. So if the third film isn’t going to have “First Blood” as part of  its title, then “III” should not be a part of title either. Call it Rambo’s Revenge, Rambo: Still Killin’ or whatever…but calling it Rambo III would imply that there was a Rambo II, which there was not (not to mention a Rambo, which actually does exist, now — albeit as the fourth movie in the series. *sigh* I know.)

RamboSo, this brings me to the example that got me thinking about this all over again. One of the biggest current franchises is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to inconsistent sequel titling. It’s like the makers of these films have a big hat filled with scraps of paper on which are written words from the first film’s title, some numbers and maybe a random location or two, and whenever they make a new film they can only pull a certain number of scraps out of the hat before they have to make a title out of their selections. Yes, I’m talking about the Fast and the Furious franchise.

Now, just take a moment to look at this collage of titles here. It’s like some messed up version of the Sesame Street standard “One of these kids is FastFurdoin’ his own thing” – except it’s all of the kids, and they should know better and they’re not setting a good example for others.

Let’s break it down and see when and how logic leaves this franchise’s titles:

The Fast and the Furious – first film, so nothing wrong here

2 Fast 2 Furious – unintentionally amusing, but actually works, given the film (and moreso if the franchise is going to go the non-traditional sequel titling route)

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – kind of odd to refer back to the original title now, but it does the job to indicate that the film belongs to the F&F franchise but might not be an out-and-out sequel. Lack of a “3” is in line with the non-traditional sequel titling.

Fast & Furious – ooookay, things are starting to get shaky. Title loses a couple of  “the”s  and swaps in an ampersand for “and”, making it all right in line with the off-putting recent trend of sequels just modifying the name of the original film, like they’re trying to hide the fact that they are actually a sequel (see also: The Final Destination, the aforementioned Rambo, The Wolverine). Still, marks for being consistent in avoiding the traditional sequel numbering though.

Fast Five – Actually kind of genius. Shortens the title even more (since at this point audiences know what the franchise is) and by spelling out “Five”, it manages to convey it’s the fifth film while still avoiding the traditional sequel numbering.

Fast & Furious 6 – Good lord, here’s where it all blows up. Someone decided “screw creativity” and that now, six films in, would be a good time to fall back on the traditional sequel titling and numbering. The thing is, “Fast & Furious 6” used as a title would logically indicate that it is the fifth sequel to a film called “Fast & Furious”. But, since the franchise’s title was never officially shortened (as it would’ve been if they had released the fourth film as “Fast & Furious 4”) “Fast & Furious” only refers to the fourth film, not the franchise (which is still “The Fast and the Furious”)…thereby making Fast & Furious 6 this year’s Rambo III – a sequel title with no immediate predecessor.

Of course, just like Rambo III, everyone knows that this film is the latest installment of a popular franchise, so it’s not like this is having a negative effect. What it is doing though is sending out yet another message that filmmakers care less about logic and sensibility when it comes to titling their sequels – they just want to get their films out there with the least complicated, most recognizable branding they can (which of course, isn’t really a shocker).

Am I being nit-picky? Absolutely. I can’t help it, but I just find it to be a problem that something as simple as title consistency just gets brushed aside with so many big money-making franchises.

However, if they decide to title the next installment Mo’ Faster, Mo’ Furiouser, then I’m all in – consistency be damned!

Nonsensical Sequel Titles

PROBLEM: In terms of box office business, sequels are bigger than ever. However, in the rush to get their latest money-making franchise film out the door and on the screen, some filmmakers have apparently not bothered to notice (or care) that the titles of their sequels don’t actually make sense.

At its most basic, making a sequel and slapping a number after a film’s title indicates that the film carries over elements of the original film to tell a new story that is either: influenced by the events of the original film, follows characters from the original film and/or depicts events very similar to those in the original film.  Seems straight-forward, enough, right? Well here are some examples that show how sometime a few little tweaks to movie title can cause a whole mess of problems for its sequel.

The Hangover Part II and Part III

Now, when a film has “Part__” after the title, logic would indicate that it is a direct continuation of the story started in the previous film. For example, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the second half of the story that was begun in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. So, that brings us to The Hangover. With the title of the film depicting a single event, the only way for The Hangover Part II and The Hangover Part III to make sense as titles is if all three films dealt with the events of the same titular hangover.

If they had kept it simple and gone with just adding a “2” and “3” all would be well…but this was probably done from a marketing standpoint in hopes that adding “Part” to the titles would help distract from the fact that they were really nothing more than your basic, unnecessary carbon-copy sequels.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

In trying to add a bit of creativity to sequel titling, this one ended up becoming one of the best nonsensical sequel titles out there. Since the events of this film take place the summer AFTER those of the first film, then this should really be called I Still Know What You Did The Summer Before Last. If the producers didn’t want to go the traditional numbered sequel route, they could have just called it I Know What You Did THAT Summer – or even better, take the idea they chose but cut it off: I Still Know What You Did.

The Last Exorcism 2

Ugh. Just…no. If the first film was about  a “Last Exorcism”, then that means by all indications there should be no more exorcisms! You gotta be a little more creative in the title department if you are going to make a sequel to something with a title that  indicates a certain finality. I mean, even the people behind the Friday the 13th  films knew to do this, when they followed up the fourth film in the series Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter  by slapping A New Beginning after the title of the fifth one.

The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia

I can’t even with this one…it’s a mess and makes my head hurt just reading it. SO many things wrong, I have to make a list:

1) This is not a sequel to The Haunting in Connecticut
2) This does not involve ghosts from Georgia moving to Connecticut
3) It is not about ANY haunting in Connecticut
4) It doesn’t involve anyone leaving Connecticut and moving to Georgia
5) It IS about a haunting in Georgia
6) Fun fact: During production it was called The Haunting in Georgia

Obviously, the makers of this film were not sure if audiences would make the connection that a film called The Haunting in Georgia would be similar to the similarly-titled The Haunting in Connecticut. But instead of say, adding a tag-line like “from the makers of The Haunting in Connecticut”, they probably had a conversation along the lines of this:

“Screw it, just slap a number after Connecticut. Problem solved, connection made.”

“Well, technically it’s not really a sequel”

“Then…tack Ghosts of Georgia on it. Boom. Done.”

“But…that doesn’t even make sen–“

“I said DONE!”

So there you have it – some fine examples of an enduring pop culture problem – the complete disregard for sensible sequel titles. There are of course many more out there, and surely more to come, so a sequel to this post might just be in order someday.