The crazy sequel-prequel-remake mania in horror cinema

We are living in dark times, desperate measures, clutching at cinematic straws. Well, not us per se, but the insidious Hollywood machine. The 80s weren’t this bad, but we felt it. It had begun in earnest during the latter part of the 70s, but it went a little crazy during the 80s, then in the 90s it escalated a little more. Now, in the new millennium, sequel/prequel/remake mania has reached critical mass.

Actually one can argue it began in the 60s with the James Bond franchise, followed by the Pink Panther series and assorted other cartoon-esque characters and their hi-jinks adventures. But it was the blockbuster that was Jaws (1975) that spawned the real monster. Three years later Jaws 2 (1978) came out with the tagline “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water!”, hmmm, how oddly prophetic. The movie was a shadow of the original. Then came Jaws 3-D (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987). No comment.

At the same time another horror movie was also capitalizing on the sequel formula of success. The Omen (1976) was followed by Damien: Omen II (1978). Less vacuous as Jaws 2, Omen II maintained the arc of the story, the villian now older and more powerful, whereas Jaws 2 was roughly the same, except with another shark (actually I’m protecting a guilty pleasure, I know).

And then there was Halloween (1978)’s sequel Halloween II (1981), with the tagline, “More of the night He came home!” Halloween II holds a fond place in my horror heart as it was the first truly adult movie I saw at the movies; it was rated R16 and I was only 13 (and lied about my age at the box office). When I saw Halloween a year or so later on VHS I was impressed at how the sequel picked up literally straight after the first film, even re-telling the final moments of the first movie at the start of Halloween II to re-fresh audiences memories.

Sure, Halloween II isn’t anywhere near as chilling and creepy as the original, but it’s a damn sight better than most other sequels, which brings me back to the point of this post, the griping. As a rule of thumb sequels generally suck. There are of course exceptions to this rule; Dawn of the Dead (1978), Aliens (1986) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) to name a few. I’m not saying these films are better than the originals, but they are impressive in their own right (actually, I think Hellbound is better, and I know a lot of people champion Aliens as better than Alien, but as sensational as it is, I’m not one of those contenders).

The sequel and the remake are about making money. It’s never been about the story or the art. I don’t care what anyone says. George Lucas will argue that the Star Wars series is all about the story; The Journal of the Whills to be precise (the name he gave to the entire saga, mentioned at the beginning of the novel of Star Wars), but let’s face it, Empire Strikes Back is impressive, but it’s no New Hope.

Take the Friday the 13th series, or the Nightmare on Elm Street series, or the infernal Saw series. Apparently every Saw movie has made more money than the predecessor, and executive producers are planning to make Saw V and VI back to back. I saw the first one, it was okay, novel premise and dénouement, but the sequel was dire. I haven’t ventured into the third or fourth. Perhaps I will just to be a glutton for punishment.

Sequel-mania won’t go quietly. It will rage hard long into the dark night. Taking down as many of us as it can. Then we have the disease that is remake-itis. Or if the producers fancy themselves as “filmmakers” then it’s a “re-imagining” or “re-envisioning”. This is a pandemic in Hollywood. And it seems to have singled out the horror genre. What did the horror genre do to warrant such injustice?! Oh, the humanity!

But I’d be a hypocrite if I went the whole hog on this one. I love David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly (1986) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is a masterpiece. I’ve enjoyed some of the recent remakes; Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004), Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Franck Khalfoun's Maniac (2012). And no doubt I’ll enjoy some more to come, although I’m really not looking forward to it. The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades. It should be dark dammit! The list is long, I won’t go into it here, suffice to say some of my very favourite horror movies have either already been remade or are in pre-production.

Not to mention the numerous remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Body Snatchers (1993), The Invasion (2007).