When The Shit Hits The Fan

Before he was interviewing movie stars or producing podcasts, horror fandom stalwart Tom Elliot was sharing his thoughts on the genre with the GeekPlanetOnline community. From grim 1970s slashers to modern CGI murder, if you need the opinion of a gorehound then Tom is your man...

Does any genre of film have a sequel rate as high as horror? There are definitely some non-horror series’ that rack up the sequel count in other genres. James Bond; Police Academy; Dirty Harry; The Pink Panther to name a few, but these seem to be series’ that take off (and sometimes crash) within their genre rather than being typical of them. Horror on the other hand embraced the sequel since its early days.  

Some would, and do, use that as a stick to beat horror with, proclaiming sequels to be nothing but cheap cash-ins on runaway successes. I can’t entirely disagree with that, but there’s a quote that I always remember from the book Crystal Lake Memories, which charts the entire Friday the 13th series from start to finish (pre remake) that always sticks with me, and re-affirms the belief that I’ve always had, that horror sequels, as numerous and cheap as they may seem sometimes, should never be written off. Unfortunately, Crystal Lake Memories is 310 pages of nothing but quotes, and I can’t find the exact one to recount it word for word, but the general gist of it is that yes, the movie business is run by the suits signing the cheques, but don’t forget there’s still that group of creative people “in the trenches” trying their best to make a great movie. So yes, sequel-dom is littered with bad movies, but sometimes these people triumph. 

So which horror franchise has had the most instalments? 

I’d be surprised if even most horror fans know the answer; I’ll be equally surprised if by the end of this column somebody doesn’t pull some obscure series that nobody has ever heard of out of the bag that trumps my answer. Just to simplify things a little then, let’s stick to British and American horror series, and let’s forget those puny series that couldn’t get beyond five instalments. And for the sake of simplicity, remakes don’t count; the films all need to exist within the same continuity. 

We might as well start at the beginning. People who claim Hollywood is only about shafting them with sequels and remakes these days can take comfort in the fact that Hollywood was shafting people, with sequels and remakes, since way before they were born. Universal Studios pretty much created the horror franchise with its early monster movies of the thirties and forties, and was pitting monster against monster long before Freddy and Jason went head to head.  

Count Dracula narrowly survives a five instalment staking, by there being five sequels to the Bela Lugosi starring Dracula (1931). Dracula’s Daughter (1936); Son of Dracula (1943); House of Frankenstein (1944); House of Dracula (1945) and the comedy Bud Abbot & Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). The last one may be a questionable inclusion, but considering it saw the return of Bela Lugosi to the role of Dracula for the first time since his original iconic performance, and also features another classic monster, Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot/The Wolfman, we’ll let this one go. (Universal Dracula - 6) 

The Wolfman himself doesn’t manage to dodge the five instalment silver bullet despite his best efforts, by getting his hairy mug into everyone else’s sequels. After The Wolfman (1941), Lon Chaney Jr. reprised the role in Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943); House of Frankenstein (1944); House of Dracula (1945) and then finally in the previously mentioned Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).  

Perhaps the most famous of the Universal Monsters, Frankenstein’s monster, racks up a respectable eight appearances. Following Frankenstein (1931), Boris Karloff reprised the role of The Monster in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939) before passing the role on in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942); Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943); House of Frankenstein (1944); House of Dracula (1945) and again turning up to meet Abbot & Costello in 1948. Interestingly, both Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. both had a turn at playing The Monster once Karloff had vacated the role. (Universal Frankenstein - 8) 

Universal Studios would also produce an Invisible Man series that spanned five instalments and a Mummy series that it could be argued spanned six films. 

While it’s not my era of expertise (you’d have to see my podcasting partner Matt Dray for that), I do have an appreciation for the Universal Monsters, and how could a horror fan not? It’s fascinating to watch horror iconography being created before your eyes. I don’t watch these films nearly as much as I should, but when I do they charm me all over again. If you’re interested in the Universal Monsters, I’d recommend looking for The Monster Legacy DVD Gift Set that includes all of the Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein series in their entirety, plus a small collectable bust of each.  

Moving on to the fifties, the British studio Hammer revitalised the classic monsters for a new generation, and turned out to be no slouches when it came to churning out the sequels. Peter Cushing stitches together a series of Frankenstein films in which he pulls off the feat of being the star of the show throughout as Doctor Frankenstein, instead of the Monster taking centre stage as he did in the Universal films. Hammer’s Frankenstein series begins with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and continues with The Revenge of Frankenstein (1959); The Evil of Frankenstein (1964); Frankenstein Created Woman (1967); Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969); The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974).  (Hammer Frankenstein - 7) 

Can Hammer’s Dracula take the sequel crown from the misshapen head of Universal’s Frankenstein’s Monster when Christopher Lee sinks his teeth into the title role in Dracula (1958)? The Lee-less sequel Brides of Dracula (1960) still features Peter Cushing as Van Helsing but after a pause of eight years Lee is back, and the sequels flowed like blood from a virgins neck with Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966); Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968); Taste The Blood of Dracula (1969); Scars of Dracula (1970); Dracula AD 1972 (take a guess); The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) and a final appearance of the Hammer Dracula, this time played by John-Forbes Robinson in The Legend of The Seven Golden Vampires (1974) takes the series to nine instalments. (Hammer Dracula - 9) 

For Lee completeists, there’s one more title you may want to add to your collection. Christopher Lee was famously unhappy with Hammer’s reluctance to use Bram Stoker’s original novel and dialogue in their films, so also played the Count in a 1970 film directed by Jesus Franco. It’s an at times more faithful version of the Dracula story, but isn’t without its flaws, as a curiosity though, it’s well worth a look. 

It looked like the seventies would be notable for being the end of Hammer’s beloved series’, rather than being the start of any of its own. The series following Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ends up as barbecue before it can reach the five instalment mark. But then, a distant shape on the horizon brings a new challenger. (Thankfully 80’s horror franchises have much less grandiose names than their predecessors, so I’ll refrain from listing them so completely) 

John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) so very nearly takes Dracula’s crown with an eight instalment series that begins with the original film in 1978 and ends with the unfortunate Halloween Resurrection in 2002. I say unfortunate, due to the series wasting the opportunity to end on a high, when Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role as Laurie Strode in Halloween: H20 (1998) and brings the series, and her story to what would have been an excellent close, by finally despatching Michael Myers.  

It could be argued that part three breaks the “in continuity” rule because it doesn’t feature Michael Myers, except in a scene where some characters are watching the original film! But seeing as even with this instalment intact, Dracula is still the prince of darkness, we’ll let Halloween have this one. (Halloween - 8) 

Unfortunately for Dracula though, a franchise that began by trying to cash in on both Halloween’s style and the trend for using important calendar dates as film titles decapitates the count with a well aimed machete blow. Sean Cunningham’s 1980 slasher Friday the 13th spawned a series that drowns the opposition, by being the first to break into double figures. The tenth instalment Jason X (2001) was then followed by the monster mash that fans had been hypothesising about for years Freddy Vs Jason (2003). High art the Friday films are not, but they are a fascinating look at how a horror franchise can start as one thing, and gradually evolve over time in sometimes ridiculous, but more often than not entertaining directions. After all, who can really take a series of eleven films, where the fourth instalment is called “The Final Chapter” seriously? (Friday the 13th - 11) 

Freddy Krueger does his best to claw his way into the lead, but can’t best his biggest rival Jason Voorhees in the sequel stakes. Despite being an 80’s pop culture phenomenon the Nightmare on Elm Street series can only muster an eight movie run that begins in 1984 with the original, and ends in 2003 with the aforementioned Freddy Vs Jason. Freddy’s descent from nightmarish bogeyman, to embarrassing clown is well documented. The “final” film in the franchise Freddy’s Dead is an especially excruciating watch. (A Nightmare on Elm Street – 8) 

Perhaps the most tragic misuse of a horror series is the mishandling of Hellraiser. If ever there was a series that cried out for its mythology to be explored over a series of films it’s this. After a four film theatrical run, the series went straight to DVD for a further four films. Doug Bradley, the man under the Pinhead makeup, has always been fiercely proud of the character and remained in the role until the eighth, and to date, final instalment Hellworld. A short lived plan following the release of Freddy vs Jason to combine the universes of Halloween and Hellraiser went to the public vote on the official Halloween website. The fans voted no, but what they weren’t told, which could have significantly changed the outcome, was that Hellraiser creator Clive Barker had agreed to write it, and Halloween creator John Carpenter had agreed to direct. Think what you like about the compatibility of these two franchises, but quite frankly, that was too interesting a possibility to pass up, but pass they did, and the film was never made. 

The inevitable remake is on the cards that will hopefully breathe new life into the series. Unfortunately, it’s been mired in development hell for the past two years, with no end in sight (Hellraiser - 8) 

It’s not only the big horror franchises that are in the running for the most instalments though; there are plenty of series that strangely have existed under the radar for years. The adaptation of Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (1984) spawned seven sequels. The low budget horror production company Full Moon created a nine (so far) film series with its Puppet Master films. Joe Dante’s The Howling went on to become a seven film series, including the bizarrely titled Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Howling 3: The Marsupials. The original 1979 Amityville film also became an eight film series, mostly dwelling in the direct to video doldrums, and the Warwick Davies starring Leprechaun films currently stands at six instalments. 

So who wins the battle of the sequels? Surprisingly, it’s none of the above.  

The 1998 film Witchvraft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft_(film)#Sequels) went on to become a thirteen part series, with the final(?) instalment being released in 2006. Due to the rarity of some instalments, DVD’s of some parts fetch high prices on eBay by collectors of such trashy fare.  

Witchcraft is my holy grail. I know it’s going to be terrible, but the prospect of a whole new thirteen film franchise to explore is too big a draw to resist. 

How can a series that few have ever heard of rack up so many instalments? It must purely exist on straight to video shelves and late night cable TV channels, yet it survives. IMDB is filled with bad reviews and low scores for each film, yet it carries on. Nobody seems to know these films, and the ones who do don’t like them. Who are the Witchcraft fans?  

The development of series over time is a constant source of fascination to me, the creative decisions that are made for better or for worse; not always successful, but always interesting. With this in mind, consider this column an introduction to a regular feature within That Horror Thing where I explore the world of the horror franchises. I like to use the column to explore the genre, so true to form, I won’t be looking at the big mainstream series, but the ones that exist just under the radar… maybe even one day, I’ll get to Witchcraft.



Do you know any UK/US horror series that can beat Witchcraft’s 13 instalments? Please post it in the comments below and I might just obsess over that one too! 


(Bad Horror Puns in Above Column – 12)