Why We Love Horror Franchises

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Every genre has its own form of franchise. For comedy we have things like Police Academy, for action/adventure we have Indiana Jones and for fantasy/sci-fi there is of course Star Wars and Star Trek. But no other genre does it quite like THE genre, horror. There are numerous examples of these from old school slashers like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare to newer ones like Saw. But what draws us to these? What is it about them that keeps them coming and us going out to see them? Some claim that laziness, lack of originality or just downright greed is the reason. I think it goes deeper than that.

For me, beloved franchises bring a sense of familiarity. When you get to know your villains (typically the one constant that remains throughout) you know what to expect. And just like picking up the newest novel by your favorite author, settling in to watch the latest installment in your favorite series is like going home. And even if the sequels are less than stellar, you feel the need to watch and collect them anyway.

Jason, Michael, Freddy, Pinhead, etc. become members of you family. And the ones who have been around a long time bring to mind memorable moments from your past. Let’s take a look at my favorite, for example. I have seen just about every Friday the 13th in the theater and even though some of them pretty much suck, I will continue to do so as long as they keep coming out. I remember watching Part 3 in 3-D. I was just as excited about that as I was about Jason X (before I saw it). Now do I think that all the films are worthy of the original? Absolutely not. Did that make me love Jason any less? Absolutely not. Coming up when I did in the late seventies and eighties, this was what horror was all about. And you could practically set your watch, or your calendar, by the release dates. I knew that each year I would get to see Jason wreak havoc on some suspiciously unsuspecting oversexed teens in new and exciting ways. I thrived on it. I would wait impatiently for the release, reading every Fangoria issue I could get my hands on in the meantime.

But Jason wasn’t the only one. Especially in the eighties the market was rife with serial killer films with kickass soundtracks, boobs, beer and marijuana smoking. Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger were right there along with him. I was always partial to the quiet menace that was Jason, preferring his slice and dice technique over Freddy’s wisecracks, but I would watch them all with glee. Then you have the more prolific series like Puppet Master who I think are now at 37 or something and whose later installments were direct to video. But the list goes on. Hellraiser was always good for gore and Leprechaun…well honestly I never got the draw to those. I really like the first one but when he started going to space and the ‘hood, well, I sort of bailed on that one. But the fact that they keep coming out means somebody keeps watching them.

And now we have Jigsaw. I am sure you are familiar with the ad “If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.” As much as I keep wondering how far they can possibly take it without losing the charm, I have to admit it gets me excited to have a fresh franchise.

Probably the most interesting aspect surrounding these long-lived titles are the fan loyalty. You get to know your favorites and if someone attempts to break canon, you know it right away. And you get pissed about it. There are certain things your character would never do as well as things they will always do. And the smart writers and directors know better than to cross the fans. For instance, Jason would never hurt a child. At this point you may be willing to argue that he threw down with Tommy Jarvis in Part IV. To this, my answer is that Tommy was on the verge of being a teen himself and also posed a threat to Jason. Skip V because that wasn’t Jason at all and we come to Part VI which finds him back at camp, this time with kids all around. He pointedly ignores them (the innocent) and focuses only on the counselors (the sinners), true to his form.

These favored ones then rise to icon status. Freddy’s glove and Jason’s hockey mask (even though he didn’t get it until Part 3) are as well known as the light saber and Indy’s battered fedora. They are the trademarks and they are part of the villains themselves. Who is Leatherface without his chainsaw? Would Romero ever have a running zombie? Of course these are merely rhetorical questions. We know the answers. That is why we are fans and that is why they will always be around.

Humans are creatures of habit. Most of us like our little routines and get thrown by a wrench in the works. This holds doubly true for horror fans. As much as we crave the titillation that comes from something we have never seen, there is comfort in knowing what lies in wait. So while I clamored to see Cloverfield and was pleased with the outcome, I will always have a loyalty for a familiar face (or mask)…as long as it’s done right. And I will be the first in line to watch my favorite bad boys take out the next batch of horny kids on the make, preferably with Alice Cooper playing in the background.

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