Every year, like clockwork, we enter the season of endless faux scares. Nothing symbolizes this trend more than the line-produced, thoughtless, poorly created horror movie franchise.
This year, it’s the upcoming “Paranormal Activity 4,” another entry in a franchise that has always existed solely by the success of a gimmick. The found-footage angle has been beaten into the ground and there’s only so much longer I can pay money to play Where’s Waldo with the special effects.
“Paranormal Activity” certainly isn’t the only franchise to have to deal with this stagnation. The “Saw” franchise, which blossomed out of a first impressive and grotesque entry rapidly became a victim of diminishing returns. Before that was the slog of the semi-self aware 1990s horror films, namely “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”
The horror franchise has always been one of the types of series that’s most likely to fall apart on repeated examinations. Where action films can evolve and create bigger and better spectacles, horror films are forced to attempt to surprise viewers who consistently know what they’re paying for and quickly become resistant to change.
Nowhere is this more evident than in 1986’s “Halloween III: Seasons of the Witch.” John Carpenter, who had lead the franchise through a pair of movies featuring Michael Meyers slaughtering sexually active teenagers, decided to create an anthology series. The movie, which featured a cursed mask company killing children, was a wild attempt at creating a separate kind of film and was a critical and commercial failure. People wanted what they had already seen and Carpenter was crushed.
It’s not easy to start a new series that is capable of defying expectations. Viewers, for better or worse, actively seek familiarity, wanting little more than they wanted last year, warmed over. Compounding the problem, the only horror films out this year that aren’t part of a franchise are the one’s that find cheeky fun in pointing out the flaws of the genre, namely Joss Whedon’s “Cabin in the Woods.”
Horror can be fresh, terrifying and inventive when not tethered to convention. Recent films such as “The House of the Devil,” “Attack the Block” and “Insidious” have all proven that fresh scares can be pulled from the stone. The problem is finding studios and audiences that would be willing to pay up for not knowing what’s on the other side of the darkened room.
Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or jackson. email@example.com.