Most horror fans discover the genre through the major monsters. If it’s not the major monsters like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface and Chucky then it will be the classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Wolf Man. And there are even plenty of fans who sharpened their teeth on the Saw and Final Destination franchises. But there are many largely overlooked franchises that really do not get the love they deserve. Today, we are shining the spotlight on five franchises that rarely get the love they deserve.
Released during the mad rush of slasher films of the early 1980’s, Sleepaway Camp offered a different sort of slasher than what people were used to. It’s a quirky, sleazy, sort of horror comedy that—while entertaining—has an uncomfortable tone from beginning to end. Its biggest surprise came when the killer was revealed to be the young female protagonist, who was then revealed to actually be a boy. Two sequels followed later in the decade. Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3 were very different and very cheaply made but maintained the same quirky sense of humor and outrageous death scenes. And since then, there has been a lost fourth film released and Return to Sleepaway Camp came out in 2008.
Pumpkinhead is one of the great movie monsters, period. Even if the sequels never equaled the impact of the first, even if they got cheaper as they went along, the creature was always a highlight. The whole story has such a rich mythology to it that it’s a shame the sequels never truly had the budget with which to further explore it. But at least the SyFy Channel original films Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes and Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud were respectful of the original film.
Fans who are nostalgic for the Hammer horror titles or love German Expressionist cinema like Nosferatu should check out Subspecies. It’s sort of a combination of those two great eras of vampire cinema, which were very different and make for an interesting juxtaposition. It’s clunky by today’s standards, but that’s because it was clunky by the standards of the time in which it was released. It’s a feature from 1991 that feels like it was made decades earlier, not only in terms of location and atmosphere but in its camera work and pacing as well. While hammy, it provides an interesting story over the course of the first three films. However, the fourth is almost unwatchable.
After Gremlins came Critters and while it gets a lot of flak for being a ripoff, the two movies could not be more different. This one is a total throwback to the ’50s monster movies with an ’80s rock-and-roll sensibility. The little alien porcupine monsters have a distinct look that makes them both frightening and cost effective, given that they’re little more than hand puppets. As a franchise, Critters is one of the few with continuity between almost every film. The only one that doesn’t carry on directly from the last is Critters 3. And the fourth, while dull, even gives the whole thing an almost tragic ending. While the first is great, the second—which is the film debut of genre film legend Mick Garris—might actually top it!
It’s amazing how long-running the Puppet Master series is when virtually no one aside from die hard horror fans have heard of it. Now, of course, people will accidentally come across it in the 8-Movie packs at Walmart, but for the longest time these features were out of print. The first was made just as the video market was taking off at the dawn of the 1990’s. It had great rental success and that was surely enough to sustain it for the first two or three sequels, given the fact that they were not made for very much money. But there are eleven Puppet Master movies to date. There has never been a theatrical entry and the franchise somehow survived through the death of the video era. It has spawned comics, statues, Halloween costumes and even an action figure series. Yet you would be hard pressed to run across a horror fan who has ever seen more than one of the movies in the entire franchise. It’s a shame, because the first couple are great low-budget slashers and the third crafts a legitimately compelling story. The fourth and fifth are perfect dumb, Ray Harryhausen-style B-Movie fun. After that, however, I’d advise all but the most curious to stay away.