Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: How Should A Long-Running Horror Franchise Handle Continuity?

October 5, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

So this week I thought I’d talk about continuity for a little bit. It seems timely, now that we know the upcoming Halloween reboot will (once again) ignore everything but the first two films. Jamie Lee Curtis will be back and has a new daughter named Karen, played by Judy Greer. That definitely confirms that Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) and John Tate (Josh Hartnett) will not be involved. Personally, I just hope it’s good.

I’m always excited for more Halloween movies, or any staples of franchises getting new entries. I don’t really understand the people that get mad when Hollywood makes another sequel to something. Or gets mad about anything Hollywood does, really. No one’s making you watch it, it’s not taking away from anything you want to see. Just don’t go. I don’t understand why the Madea movies are popular, but I just don’t go to them. They’re not for me so I don’t bother.

But that’s not the argument I’m making this week. I’m not even really making an argument, I guess. I just wanted to look at the way different franchises have been handled in regards to continuity over the years and let you decide what the right approach is. After all, Halloween is not the only franchise (horror or not) to jettison continuity like this and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

That’s the first approach and Halloween is probably the best known for it. After all, it made a big deal in 1998 with Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, a movie that ignored the third through sixth films in the series. Of course then, it was still easy to pretend it could be a part of the same series. I remember Internet fan communities at the time (on Angelfire pages, even) saying that Laurie gave up Jamie and went into hiding with her son in order to protect her. Didn’t make much sense with John right there, but it was an attempt to keep the series flowing properly.

Fun fact, an early draft actually had Jamie Lloyd mentioned with Laurie finding out about her death and throwing up later.

But after Halloween: Resurrection, the series would reboot again. This time it would ignore everything and start fresh with Rob Zombie’s remakes. Of course, depending on how those movies are depends on your point of view, but from a box office perspective, Zombie’s Halloween II didn’t do nearly as well as the remake so it put the franchise on hold.

That’s not to say there weren’t attempts, as there were plenty, but it’s hard to keep a series going after a remake when a lot of people didn’t like the remake. So I can sympathize with what David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are doing. The continuity is jumbled anyway, might as well disregard a series of decent to awful sequels in favor of two movies that are beloved. Maybe the original Halloween II isn’t as loved as the first, but it’s tied directly to it.

Of course, Halloween isn’t the only franchise with a bizarre continuity. For that you only have to look at the Leatherface movies. That’s a movie series that reboots with every other movie. Think about it. The first and second films are related, but then Leatherface finds a new family (and ignores the existances of the others) in the third and fourth. After that’s the remake and its prequel, which obviously ignores the first four films.

After that, it goes into Texas Chainsaw 3D. In addition to being an absolutely terrible film (“do ya thing, cuz”), it also ignores the sequels and the remakes to pick up right after the original. I mean, right after too, as the movie opens moments after Marilyn Burns escapes from Leatherface with a posse gunning down the Sawyer family. Yes, they cast Bill Moseley as Drayton Sawyer and kept him alive for all of five minutes. Did I mention Texas Chainsaw 3D sucked?

And now we have Leatherface, not only the second movie with that title but the second attempt at a prequel. No idea if it’s good because I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve learned to take each movie as its own thing because there is no real continuity with this series.

So yeah, you could go with rebooting the continuity whenever you feel like like Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or, you could do what Chucky is doing.

If any franchise had the proper motivation to completely reboot, it would be Chucky. To a lot of fans of the killer doll, Seed of Chucky and its completely comedic direction was something the franchise couldn’t come back from and a remake was necessary to keep it going. Or, perhaps preferably, Chucky should have just stayed dead. Nevermind the fact that Child’s Play always had jokes in it and Chucky is only scary if you’re a kid, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Seed didn’t do well financially and a lot of fans hated it, so it would have made sense if the next film ignored it (and Bride, since apparently the Internet hates that now) or just reboot entirely. And when Curse of Chucky‘s trailer hit, it looked like that’s what they were doing. After all, Chucky lost his scars and it looked like an attempt to take the killer doll seriously again. But no, Tiffany and Andy show up and the scars are hidden by makeup. It was a nice bait and switch, which showed that unlike the other horror franchises, Chucky wasn’t embarrassed by its less than popular movies and would keep going with the same story.

Not to spoil a whole lot, but that continues in Cult. Check out my review here.

Not many franchises in the horror genre have done what Chucky has done. Phantasm has had the same characters and the same continuity, but those movies could have changed everything around every time and it’d be fine. Phantasm was never meant to make sense. The Alien series did it too, although the spin-off/crossover series with the Predator franchise seems to be ignored by both continuities.

The third option is the Hellraiser route. The first four films in that series had a steady continuity, and they were all connected one way or another. Hellseeker also connected to those, but the rest of the series were loosely-connected films that just happened to feature Pinhead. It became more of an anthology series. Which probably makes sense, as Pinhead’s already tried to conquer the world and went into space. Might as well move him back to the shadows and see what stories you can tell in that universe. Hellraiser: Judgment, whenever that gets released, looks to be doing the same. I’m just glad we never got that PG-13 remake that was rumored a while back.

So there are many avenues for a franchise’s continuity to explore and it’s possible the ones above will change that approach later on. Then there are the films that have only been remade but haven’t had the chance to continue in any other form. Friday the 13th has had a mostly stable continuity before the remake, if you don’t count the fact that he’s not a body-hopping demon as portrayed in Jason Goes to Hell. Until the remake, the Nightmare on Elm Street series was a lot like the Chucky movies. The only oddity was New Nightmare, but that was never intended to be anything more than an alternate universe tale.

How do you think a long-running horror franchise should handle continuity? Should it constantly reboot when the story goes in a poor direction? Should it keep the same continuity throughout, or should it be a series of loosely-connected films bearing several of the original’s elements? The obvious answer may be the second one, but then you’d have to also accept the awful sequels and their choices in regards to canon. It’s a tricky question, but at least there are franchises doing different versions.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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