It’s pretty easy for horror franchises to run longer than most other film series. All they need is a new group of victims, er, actors for each sequel. That means there are multiple horror franchises that could be an entire Halloween scary movie marathon on their own. But why spend a whole weekend watching Hellraiser movies if the series has more crappy straight-to-video sequels than good ones? Luckily for you, we’ve got an unhealthy obsession with horror flicks and have narrowed down the 10 best horror franchises worth bingeing this Halloween.
Even the series that aren’t perfect have some interesting diversions. Unfortunately, classics like Halloween, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre aren’t quite strong enough to excuse some of their later sequels (even though I do love Busta Rhymes kickboxing Michael Myers at the end of Halloween: Resurrection.) But we include remakes and TV series, so if you’re planning to binge for Halloween, better get started now! Also take note of how many of these franchises had a final chapter that was not, in fact, the final chapter.
- Scream – If Scream had only been a trilogy, it might have been just edged off this list. The original pays off all the classic horror franchises with its trivia (who was the killer in the original Friday the 13th, eh?) and name dropping famous directors. The sequel addressed sequelitis but perhaps doesn’t get enough credit for taking the teen horror onto a college campus. Fans may criticize Scream 3 but it makes sense to me. Where else could a self-referential horror movie go but to the Hollywood set of itself? After over a decade, Scream 4 kind of wasn’t worth the wait although Neve Campbell gets some great heroic moments. It was revitalizing Scream as a brand new MTV original series that proved the heart of this franchise still beats, and bleeds.
- The Universal Monsters – Okay, I can’t speak to every Curse of or Son of sequel, but the breadth and interconnectedness of these early black and white horror movies makes them legendary. You’ve got Bela Lugosi as both Dracula and Ygor in later Frankenstein sequels and the Monster in his matchup with The Wolfman, whom Lon Chaney played five times in addition to The Mummy. Boris Karloff did three Frankensteins and some other appearances in other monster films. They were crossing over even before Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but, of course, that was the most legendary mashup. Honestly, where you close this franchise could be up for grabs. If you make it through Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy you’ll have covered three or four decades!
- Psycho – The fact that this is even a franchise is groundbreaking. Who would ever have the balls to make a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho? And when they did, it was actually good! So was Psycho III, which Anthony Perkins also directed as more of an ‘80s slasher paying homage to iconic Hitchcock tropes. While Psycho IV was a letdown and rightfully went straight to cable, I will defend Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake. It is the only example in film history where you get to see the exact same movie re-enacted by different actors. Even remakes don’t use the exact same shot list. I actually haven’t seen the 1987 TV pilot but certainly the current Bates Motel series redeems the franchise with its modern day retelling of Norman and Norma Bates.
- Jason – Friday the 13th has been the longest-running single horror franchise with the most consistent quality. For any Jason Goes to Hell misstep, there was a Jason X comeback. My entree into Jason was actually Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, so I’ll always have a soft spot for it. A Jason movie was always good for some gratuitous camp counselor nudity and new, inventive kills. If you watch them all in a row, what might be most striking is how distinct each film was. They get a bad rap for being interchangeable, but each one has something, whether it’s a gimmick like 3D or Jason Takes Manhattan, or a strong antagonist like Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) or Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln). This is the only franchise to boast two erroneous “Final Chapters” (parts four and nine) on its way to 12 films and still counting.
- Saw – The brilliant longevity of Saw is that for every sequel, they can have a new crop of sinners who can fall into Jigsaw’s carefully planned traps. What I admire about the Saw films is that even in the lesser sequels, they at least still tried to have a mystery and a moral. It would have been much easier to just have a bunch of new traps to kill people, but they always tried to find a new story about John Kramer (Tobin Bell), and new characters who had serious lessons to learn. You’d think by part V I would be onto the trick but the twist endings kept surprising me. I think by part VI they might have been rushing to do one a year, but now they’ve had plenty of time after Saw 3D/The Final Chapter (ahem), so Saw: Legacy will have plenty of time to get it right!
- Evil Dead – This franchise came back to life just recently with a remake and a TV series. The anchor of this franchise has to be Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, the insanely slapstick riff on its own predecessor. Ash (Bruce Campbell) went camping with his friends in the woods and unleashed the deadites. By Army of Darkness he was transported to medieval times to fight them there, and now he continues the fight in the present every week on Starz. Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness feel like the truest incarnation of director Sam Raimi’s devilish humor with Campbell’s Charlie Chaplin-esque antics. The remake has its relentlessness and the series seems to give the fans exactly what they want, with perhaps more gore per episode than one of the entire movies.
- Living Dead – George Romero kept telling the tale of survivors barricading themselves off from undead zombies and damned if it wasn’t a unique take every time. Night of the Living Dead was the classic of in fighting and prejudice in a house. Dawn of the Dead may be the masterpiece of the series with an entire mall full of supplies to play with and its subtext about consumerism. The underrated Day of the Dead took a military and scientific perspective. Decades later Land of the Dead dealt with the 1% before there was even a label for it. I’m cool with Diary of the Dead (the found footage version) and Survival of the Dead (the Hatfield and McCoy version) too. The offshoot Return of the Living Dead is worth a look and some of its sequels are good too. Of course, there’s Shaun of the Dead set in the same world as Romero’s zombies. Even only on the strength of Night, Dawn, Day and Land, the Dead films by Romero always mixed compelling drama with gruesome scares.
- Chucky – Chucky was the first horror icon over whom I could really feel ownership. Freddy, Jason, and Michael were already well underway when I became brave enough to watch horror movies, but I got in on Chucky from the beginning. The first three Child’s Plays may have earned a spot on this list regardless, but the magnitude of Bride of Chucky make him top three material. Right after Scream made horror movies funny again, Chucky made the most brilliant self-referential sequel. Bride was of its time with Martha Stewart jokes and of its genre with references to all the other horror greats. Seed of Chucky ran with that and the latest, Curse of Chucky, had the best of both worlds. It showed Chucky could still be mean and mysterious, but remember all he’s been through in Bride and Seed. Can’t wait for Chucky 7!
- Final Destination – Final Destination is arguably the best idea for a long running horror franchise ever. It doesn’t even need a single recurring actor to be the killer, although Tony Todd’s appearance in several of the films is appreciated. Final Destination movies are all about how real things could kill you. Maybe it would take an astonishing coincidence, but it could happen. Every time, a premonition saves the protagonist and his or her friends from death, but death gets them eventually. The deaths can be sudden and shocking like the bus, or elaborate payoffs that make us feel unsafe anywhere. In my eyes, there has not been a bad Final Destination movie. Fans bash on The Final Destination but I love the deaths by tow truck, swimming pool, and lawnmower. Plus, it fits my rule of the final chapter never being the final chapter because there was one more. I wish they’d keep making these.
- Freddy – A Nightmare on Elm Street was always my favorite horror series (even the cheap syndicated Freddy’s Nightmares TV show had some good episodes) and it has only grown in my estimation as I matured. First, the idea of a killer in the dream world where you could be more powerful yourself appealed to my youthful fancy. The idea that you couldn’t trust your parents also appealed to my rebellious teenage self. But now I realize it wasn’t just Freddy’s one-liners or elaborate nightmares that stuck with me. It was the idea that Freddy was going to use your greatest fears against you, and in the end it wasn’t going to be the person you thought was strong who would prevail against Freddy. The martial artist or comic book superhero were no match for Freddy. It would usually be the person nobody thought much of, who was under everybody’s radar, and usually a girl. They were the dreamers strong enough to defeat Freddy. That is a powerful message.