The Best And Worst Of Every Major Horror Franchise

Exploring Iconic Horror Franchises: From Saw to Hellraiser

In recent years, horror movie franchises have evolved beyond the realm of comic-book movies, with chilling tales of terror captivating audiences worldwide. From masked killers to sinister creatures, these franchises have left an indelible mark on the genre and pop culture. Let’s dive into the dark recesses of horror history and explore some of the most iconic horror franchises, highlighting their best and worst aspects.

Saw (2004 – Present)

Kicking off in 2004, Saw, directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, introduced a fresh and twisted take on horror, ushering in the rise of the “torture porn” subgenre in the early 2000s.

The Best Thing: The Innovative Puzzles

At the heart of Saw’s appeal were Jigsaw’s elaborate and mind-bending puzzles. These challenges tested victims’ morals and pushed them to their limits, leaving audiences eagerly anticipating the next twisted puzzle. Each movie sought to outdo itself with gruesome and shocking set pieces.

The Worst Thing: The Convoluted Mythology

As the series progressed, the plot grew increasingly complex, especially after the death of John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell) in the third film. Writers had to get creative to fit him into the subsequent narratives, leading to a convoluted mythology. This intricate backstory and interconnected plots left both new and longtime fans with confusing webs of characters and timelines.

Halloween (1978 – 2022)

Halloween, directed by John Carpenter in 1978, tells the story of Michael Myers, a masked killer who terrorizes the town of Haddonfield on Halloween night.

The Best Thing: John Carpenter’s Music

One of the most significant highlights of the Halloween franchise is John Carpenter’s haunting piano melody, which became synonymous with the masked killer. This iconic score set the stage for one of the most influential slasher films in history.

The Worst Thing: The Many Differing Timelines

The Halloween series has seen various reboots, sequels, standalones, and alternate continuities, resulting in a confusing and frustrating timeline for casual and die-hard fans alike. Navigating the chronology can be challenging without a guide.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 – 2022)

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974 and directed by Tobe Hooper, is a low-budget slasher set in rural Texas, revolving around a family of cannibals and their sinister activities.

The Best Thing: The Sawyer Family

The terrifying and deranged Sawyer family, led by the chainsaw-wielding maniac known as Leatherface, remains the enduring legacy of this franchise. Their grotesque and unpredictable nature sets them apart in the horror pantheon.

The Worst Thing: Leatherface’s Character Inconsistency

Though Leatherface is an iconic horror figure, his character’s portrayal suffered from inconsistency across the franchise. Different films depicted him as a mindless brute or showed glimpses of vulnerability and complexity.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984 – 2010)

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, released in 1984, revolves around the vengeful apparition of Freddy Krueger, a former child killer terrorizing teenagers in their dreams.

The Best Thing: The Iconic Dreamscapes

A Nightmare on Elm Street revolutionized horror with its dream-based terror, blurring the line between reality and nightmare. Freddy’s invasion of victims’ dreams led to unforgettable and imaginative horror sequences and incredibly gruesome kills.

The Worst Thing: The Evolution to a Comedic Tone

As the franchise progressed, it gradually shifted from bone-chilling horror to a more comedic approach. While Freddy’s dark humor initially added to his sinister charm, it eventually diluted the terror and alienated some die-hard horror enthusiasts.

Child’s Play/Chucky (1988 – Present)

Created by Don Mancini, the Child’s Play franchise centers on the notorious serial killer who transfers his soul into a “Good Guy” doll named Chucky using a voodoo ritual.

The Best Thing: Writer/Creator Don Mancini

Don Mancini’s creative vision brought the possessed doll, Chucky, to life with a wicked sense of humor. His ongoing stewardship of the franchise keeps it fresh and engaging, making it one of the best scary doll movies.

The Worst Thing: The Shift in Focus to Chucky as a Lead

As the franchise evolved, Chucky took a more prominent lead role, which somewhat reduced the tension present in earlier films. However, the recent TV series found a more balanced tone, earning praise from fans.

Friday The 13th (1980 – 2009)

The Friday the 13th movies, beginning in 1980, introduced the iconic villain Jason Voorhees and his vengeful mother, who targeted camp counselors for her son’s supposed drowning.

The Best Thing: The Iconic Villain, Jason

Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked killer with his signature machete, has become synonymous with the franchise and a pop culture icon, making Friday the 13th a classic in the slasher genre.

The Worst Thing: Lack of Compelling Franchise Leads

The franchise struggled to create compelling lead characters that could match Jason’s fearsome presence. Tommy Jarvis, portrayed by different actors, was the closest to a recurring lead, leaving some films with lackluster protagonists.

Alien (1979 – 2017)

Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is one of the best sci-fi movies ever, introducing audiences to the perfect killing machine, the Xenomorph.

The Best Thing: The Xenomorph

Designed by H.R. Giger, the Xenomorph with its sleek, biomechanical design and acidic blood became a symbol of extraterrestrial horror and one of cinema’s most iconic creatures.

The Worst Thing: The Prequels (Prometheus and Covenant)

Critics were divided over the prequels’ departure from the original films’ horror roots and the focus on the Xenomorph’s origins, leading to some dissatisfaction among fans.

The Conjuring Universe (2013 – Present)

The Conjuring universe, starting in 2013 with James Wan’s first entry, dramatizes the real-life cases of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The Best Thing: Strong Initial Core Films (Conjuring 1 & 2)

The first two Conjuring films set a high standard for the modern horror genre, expertly crafting scares, engaging characters, and effective storytelling. The clap sequence from the original remains memorable and chilling.

The Worst Thing: Weak Spinoffs of Varying Quality

While The Conjuring films thrived, some spinoffs struggled to maintain the same quality and scares. The universe’s expansion led to some Conjuring movies not living up to the standards set by the core entries.

Paranormal Activity (2007 – 2021)

Oren Peli’s low-budget found footage flick, released in 2007, follows a young couple terrorized by a demonic presence haunting the protagonist, Katie, since childhood.

The Best Thing: The Low-Budget and Real-World Approach to Found Footage

Paranormal Activity revitalized the found footage subgenre, proving that a clever premise and a low-budget approach could achieve massive box office success. It remains one of the best-haunted house movies of all time.

The Worst Thing: The Lack of Time Between Sequels

Quick turnarounds between sequels led to diminishing returns, affecting the freshness and impact of subsequent Paranormal Activity films.

Psycho (1960 – 2017)

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 original Psycho and its subsequent series delve into the twisted life of horror villain Norman Bates, the disturbed innkeeper of the Bates Motel.

The Best Thing: Anthony Perkins’ Performance

Psycho’s enduring legacy owes much to Anthony Perkins’ iconic portrayal of Norman Bates. His unsettling and nuanced performance made Bates one of the most memorable villains in cinematic history.

The Worst Thing: The Gus Van Sant Remake

Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot color remake of Psycho faced skepticism and failed to capture the essence of the original. Critics found it unnecessary and lacking the tension and brilliance of the first film, unable to match Perkins’ portrayal.

The Evil Dead (1981 – Present)

Sam Raimi’s 1981 debut film, The Evil Dead, and its subsequent series revolve around the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, a mysterious book causing mayhem among cabin inhabitants.

The Best Thing: The Series’ Cinematic Evolution

The Evil Dead franchise has undergone a remarkable evolution, starting as a low-budget cult classic and transforming into a polished, action-packed horror-comedy series, returning to its horror roots with recent installments.

The Worst Thing: The Treatment of Female Characters Early in the Series

The first movie received criticism for its treatment of female characters, subjecting them to brutal violence and degradation. Notably, a disturbing scene involving a demonic tree drew considerable backlash.

Scream (1996 – Present)

Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s 1996 slasher film, Scream, breathed new life into the genre with its self-aware and meta approach to horror.

The Best Thing: The Self-Aware Meta Tone

Scream revitalized the slasher genre by cleverly breaking the fourth wall. Characters were well aware of the rules of horror movies, and the franchise’s witty writing and humor set it apart from traditional slashers.

The Worst Thing: Scream 3

Rushed into production, Scream 3 is considered a low point for the series. Critics found its plot weaker, with over-the-top moments and an underwhelming villain reveal, falling short of the first two films’ high standards.

Hellraiser (1987 – 2022)

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, starting in 1987, centers around the Lament Configuration, a mysterious puzzle box opening a gateway to a dimension ruled by sadistic beings called Cenobites.

The Best Thing: Clive Barker

Hellraiser’s horrifying and twisted world is a credit to Clive Barker, who created the novella “The Hellbound Heart,” on which the franchise is based.

The Worst Thing: Miramax/Dimension’s Involvement

From the ’90s to the 2010s, Miramax and Dimension Films produced numerous direct-to-DVD sequels with questionable creative decisions. This resulted in lackluster entries, diminishing the franchise’s potential for consistent quality.

In conclusion, each major horror franchise boasts its own set of strengths and weaknesses. From Saw’s innovative puzzles to Hellraiser’s sinister Cenobites, these franchises have scared and captivated audiences for decades. As horror enthusiasts, we continue to embrace these iconic movies and eagerly anticipate the fear they will bring in the years to come.

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Stevie Flavio
Film Writer


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