The History of 5 Forgotten Horror Franchises
The horror genre, for better or worse, is built on the franchise. While people may claim to hate horror sequels and sequels in general, there is no denying that the vast majority of horror movies recognized as classics have had some form of sequel or remake over time. Even The Exorcist, one of the, if not THE greatest horror movie of all time… has two sequels (Exorcist II: The Heretic and Exorcist III) and two prequels (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and Exorcist: The Beginning).
The slasher genre is easily where this is most prevalent with Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and Jigsaw combining for a total of 37 movies, sequels and remakes, between them to date. This doesn’t even count Ghostface, The Tall Man, Pinhead, or Angela from Sleepaway Camp. But that’s not what I’m writing about today. Instead, I wanted to talk about the “forgotten” franchises; the ones that may have slipped by the mainstream horror fan. My criteria for this list are very simple: being generally less well-known, and having more than 3 movies total in your franchise. This is by no means a complete list… that would take forever. Instead, I just chose 5 franchises that either always seem to slip by the side when people discuss the idea of franchises or franchises that people might not realize are as extensive as they are. Many of these sequels are generally thought of as less than the originals, and, being completely honest, I haven’t seen the vast majority of them though I do own a fair few site unseen. However, it’s still good to know about them for completeness’ sake.
1) The Howling - Number of Movies: 6 sequels and a reboot
The interesting point with franchises of a certain length is that they usually tend to lose “canon” at some point along the line. For example, we have The Howling.
- First, we have the 1981 original in which Dee Wallace plays a news anchor being hunted by a serial killer and werewolves.
- Then, we have 1985’s Howling II: Stirba Werewolf Bitch, aka Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. Here, the sister of Dee Wallace’s character in the original (played by cult action star Reb Brown) ends up in Transylvania battling a werewolf queen (Sybil Danning) with the help of Christopher Lee and one of his sister’s friends.
- And then it starts getting weird and completely unrelated: Howling III: The Marsupials, is a 1987 Australian film about a completely unrelated group of people dealing with a cult of Australian Werewolf/Maruspial hybrids (inspired by an actual animal, the thylacine or Tasmanian wolf).
- Then, the series began to go direct-to-video with 1988’s Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, a combination vague prequel and more faithful adaptation of the original source novel.
- Two years after that, Howling VI: The Freaks would hit with a werewolf getting captured by a traveling freakshow.
- Then 1995 brought Howling: New Moon Rising, an attempt to take story threads from the previous sequels and bring them together into a new movie about a man connected to Howling’s IV-VI (he also wrote, produced, directed, and edited).
- Finally we have The Howling: Reborn, a complete series reboot, thus technically opening the door to restart the whole thing again.
2) Children of the Corn - Number of Movies: 7 sequels, 1 remake, 1 further sequel
Most horror fans know of the original 1984 Children of the Corn (Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton get captured by a child cult in Gatlin, Nebraska who have designs on sacrificing them to “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”) with opinions varying wildly. Myself, I like the film, but the effects in the ending threaten to wreck it. But that’s not where the series ended… not by a long shot. This is stunning considering just how similar some of these plots sound and the fact that the entire series, particularly the first movie, began loosely based on a single Stephen King short story. Surprisingly, there’s also a fair few famous actors with these films on their resumes:
- 1994 brought Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice, the last in the series to get any substantive theatrical release. Basically, it’s the story of a nearby Nebraska town and the children of it who get possessed by the successor of Isaac, the cult leader from the previous film.
- 1995 gave us Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, notable for being the debut film role of Charlize Theron. Basically, two of the children from the cornfields are adopted into Chicago foster care and don’t fit in at first. In response, they grow special magic corn (I am not making this up) that grows amazingly well…and turns people who eat it into followers.
- 1996 saw the release of Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering, featuring performances by Karen Black and Naomi Watts. A wrongfully murdered child preacher tries to get vengeance on his killers by possessing the children of the town with the spirits of other dead children.
- 1998 brought Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror, featuring performances by Eva Mendes, Kane Hodder and the late David Carradine. You can probably guess how this goes as most of these follow the same basic structure: group of teens get stranded in the fields and must contend with a cult led by a leader possessed by He Who Walks Behind the Rows. There’s more to this one than that, but that is still the same general structure.
- 1999 brought John Franklin back to the role he originated in Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return. Also appearing in this: Stacy Keach and Nancy Allen. Basically, Isaac supposedly has been in a coma since the first movie, is woken up by the return of the original cult’s first child, and decides to work toward the fulfillment of a prophecy while this new woman tries to discover secrets from her past.
- Then came 2001’s Children of the Corn: Revelation, bringing Michael Ironside into the fold. Basically, a woman heads to Nebraska when she can’t contact her grandmother and finds that the apartment where she should be is on land that’s been taken over by the cult.
- In 2009, The Syfy Channel stepped in with a made for TV remake.
- Much like The Howling, the series continues with Children of the Corn: Genesis, costarring cult actor Billy Drago and Barbara Nedeljakova (aka that woman from the Hostel series). It is rumored that yet another movie is in the works.
3) Dawn of the dead - Number of Movies (technically): 6 overall films
Okay, stay with me here. There is no actual “Zombie” franchise. None of the movies are related to each other. Instead, this is a case of 6 movies that were marketed in one way or another to cash in on one film: Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Lucio Fulci’s Zombie as we know it is actually Zombi 2 in Italy, an in-name-only sequel to Zombi, the Dario Argento cut of what we know as Dawn of the Dead. And yes, THAT is when things get confusing and, much like many European horror films of the time, VERY unofficial sequel-y and VERY varying in quality:
- Zombi 3, made in 1988 and directed in part by Lucio Fulci and in part by Bruno Mattei, is an official sequel to Zombi 2… that has absolutely nothing to do with it. In essence, a body infected with a chemical weapon is cremated by the military, causing a viral contagion to be released into the atmosphere and infect an island populace. Soldiers and tourists then must keep them out of an old hotel.
- Zombie 4: After Death (yes, now with an E) is actually the American title of a 1989 Italian movie called After Death, directed and written respectively by Troll 2’s own Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi. It has ZERO relation to the prior three films. Basically a woman returns to an island nation where, as a child, her parents and other researchers were killed by a horde of zombies created from a curse spawned by the murder of a voodoo priest.
- Think you’ve got it? Wait, it gets more confusing. Zombie 5: Killing Birds was the American title of yet another unrelated Italian horror movie, this one being Killing Birds, a Claudio Lattanzi movie from A YEAR PRIOR, 1988. You’d probably think this would be about killer birds. Um…sort of? Actually, it begins with a man being killed by a bird after going on a rampage caused by finding his wife being unfaithful. Fast-forward, and a group of college students head down to the same area in Louisiana to hunt a rare species of woodpecker… and run into a zombie horde.
- Finally, we have Zombie 6: Monster Hunter, a movie that was promoted for a while as a sequel to the Zombie series which, as we’re quickly seeing here, was barely an actual series in the first place. Still, we’ve come to expect this by now, right? Wrong. This time, we’re looking at a film only called Zombie 6 on video boxes for a short while that was actually an Italian film by Joe D’Amato called Absurd… that was made in 1981. Yes, 7 years before “Zombie 5” and 8 years before “Zombie 4”! Oh, but wait, it gets better…because guess what this movie DOESN’T have: ZOMBIES! Instead, this is more of an Italian ripoff of Halloween. But it was legitimately sold on VHS as Zombie 6…thus it must be included.
*It is possible to find a Zombi 7 (a movie called Zombie 90: Extreme Pestilence) and a Zombi 8 (Night of the Seagulls, a film from the completely different Blind Dead series) on IMDB. However, these films were never marketed in that way and are believed to only show up in this way because fans of internet critic The Cinema Snob changed them in an attempt to force him to review them. Of all the ones discussed here, this franchise may be the only one that is legitimately dead.
4) Prom Night - Number of Movies: 3 sequels, 1 remake
Prom Night was an early film in the slasher boom that starred Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen. Released in 1980, it told the type of story one expects from a slasher: a mysterious killer is hunting a group of kids who inadvertently murdered someone years prior. The anniversary of the killing, of course, happens on the titular Prom Night. But Prom Night is different from other slasher franchises… because the only real connection between the stories is Prom Night, 1957.
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, from 1987, is a Canadian cult classic that co-stars Michael Ironside. This time around, the story’s about a bitchy popular girl inadvertently murdered during prom in the 1950s. She uses supernatural powers to torment her killers 30 years later and even attempts to possess some of them in an attempt to gain the rightful crown of Prom Queen she lost all those years ago.
- Three years later came 1990’s Prom Night III: The Last Kiss. This one is more of a horror comedy, intended to be a spoof of the previous film. It has a similar plot with Mary Lou returning from the grave again as a ghost, and trying to cause her boyfriend to murder for her. (The version of this available on DVD in the US is an edited TV cut)
- Then, in 1992, there was Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil. Here, a priest murders two sinful teenagers on the night of prom in 1957. The killer manages to escape from where he’d been held thirty years later and finds a new group of teenagers to torment.
- And of course, lest we forget, the series had a remake/reimagining in 2008 that was generally panned about a girl being stalked by an obsessed teacher who escaped from custody.
5) Psycho - Number of films: 3 sequels, 1 made for TV movie spinoff, 1 remake
Yes, just as I mentioned with The Exorcist, there was money to be made in Psycho sequels. We all know what it began with: the 1960 Hitchcock classic “Psycho” telling the tale of a woman’s night in a motel, the motel’s caretaker, and the caretaker’s doting, psychotic mother. Considering that there were 2 other books besides Robert Bloch’s original, the fact that there were sequels shouldn’t be too surprising. That said, you guessed it: none of these are adaptations of Bloch’s other two books:
- 23 years after the original release came Psycho II, written by Tom Holland (later of Child's Play fame). Basically, it’s the story of Norman being released from mental health care after 20+ years and trying to move on with his life, free of his inner demons. While this seems to work at first, he soon begins to hear “Mother” once more and fears he may be slipping back into the old ways. But is this really the case or is there more to his past than even he knows?
- 3 years after that, in 1986, Psycho III was released (after the surprising success of Psycho II). This time, the film not only starred Anthony Perkins but was also directed by him. In it, Norman continues working the counter at the Bates Motel and also caring for “Mother”. This time, though, he has to deal with a drifter, a nosy reporter, and a new guest who he just might be falling in love with… in addition to Mother’s homicidal urges.
- A year after THAT, the TV movie “Bates Motel” premiered, a spin-off of the Psycho series about the character Alex West, Norman’s asylum roommate who he left the hotel to in his will. West was originally committed for murdering his stepfather. As West tries to reopen the hotel, he has to overcome challenges that might be due to hauntings caused by the ghost of Mother. The movie was intended to be a pilot for a series that was never picked up (seeing what happened when NBC remade Carrie, they have a history of that). It’s never been legitimately released on R1 DVD.
- Psycho IV: The Beginning was a 1990 prequel and sequel, directed by TV horror maestro Mick Garris. It ignores “Bates Motel” and finds Norman rehabilitated again, married, and expecting. However, he fears passing on his insanity and thus calls a radio show to discuss matricide and tell the story of his past.