There are a lot of fans for the Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street series. Those are the big three. There are other major franchises like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that one’s a little harder to follow from film to film. Saw has certainly become a major contender and who knows what franchises will be remembered from here. Maybe Wrong Turn will stand the test of time. You just never can predict these things. But for every Children of the Corn, there’s a horror series that actually has an allure that can be developed over more than one film, or at least something of interest that will keep people coming back once or twice. Here are some horror series that fell by the wayside.
5. SLEEPAWAY CAMP-
Sleepaway Camp is one of the best, most underrated slashers of the early 1980’s. It seems really generic and pretty obvious when it starts out. It doesn’t totally try to hide who the killer is, but it kind of does, so the movie has this secondary twist at the end that is what has kept people talking about it for thirty years. The sequels pick up some years later, the killer Angela Baker has been recast with Bruce Springsteen’s sister, Pamela. The sequels become something a little different and don’t really live up to the first one. Parts 2 and 3 become the sort of moral majority slasher that people think Friday the 13th is, where you have sex and die or smoke pot and die. Maybe they’re parodying that. But Angela becomes this counselor who will not tolerate sex or drugs at the camp and kills off people that partake in the activities. But Sleepaway Camp 2 &3 are a lot of super cheesy fun and feature some of the best, weirdest slasher movie kills ever. An interesting tidbit about the series is that original director Robert Hiltzik returned years later to ignore the original and make a direct sequel to the first called Return to Sleepaway Camp which reunited virtually the whole cast. So there are now to movies that are essentially Sleepaway Camp 4. Because the Sleepaway Camp 4 that had begun to film shortly after 3 was cancelled and then finished with old and new footage and released last year. It’s a weird Frankenstein-ish experiment and barely a movie.
4. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD-
Return of the Living Dead is inarguably one of the best 80’s horror movies, as well as one of the best zombie movies and horror comedies of all time. But it doesn’t get enough credit as a franchise, because 2 is a lot of fun and 3 is one of the most underrated zombie movies of all time. Sure, 4 and 5 happened, but we still have a solid first three movies to work with. There’s an element of nihilism, there’s an element of comedy. 2 is the first film done over again and is a sort of parody of a parody for the late 80’s. It doesn’t work as well, and I’m not sure it intends to. The sequences of zombies in suburbia are the only scenes that are different and are naturally the scenes that work the best. Return of the Living Dead 3 is a totally new, totally original story, but it’s no Halloween III. It is respectful to the mythology and adheres to it perfectly while telling a story that is completely, tonally different from the original movie.
3. PUPPET MASTER-
Puppet Master is a series that may have gone on way too long, but it has strong roots. It’s the first movie from the campy Full Moon Entertainment, and it’s also the best. The series is about, essentially, a group of marionette puppets that come to life and kill people. There’s a strong cast in the first film and it builds a sense of mythology around itself. The puppet designs are extremely well-done and the stop-motion effects by David Allen on the first five films are incredible. They really bring the whole experience together. On Blu-Ray the effects look seamless and better than they ever have before. The series is simply not the same without David Allen, and it’s hard to imagine that it ever will be again. But when these movies had some semblance of budget and that effects crew, they were at the forefront of the horror video market.
Pumpkinhead is a major horror icon who needs more love. The first film is astounding. It’s inventive, it’s scary and there’s a lot of real, emotional weight to it. The effects by Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis are phenomenal. It’s a gothic fairy tale for the deep south. And Lance Henriksen carries the whole thing on his shoulder, giving an intense and incredibly emotional performance. Pumpkinhead II is a very different movie and doesn’t totally fit as a direct sequel, but it is fun, it’s just fun in a much campier way than the first. The effects by KNB are not bad at all. Like Return of the Living Dead, Pumpkinhead had two sequels made by the SyFy channel. They’re not great, and they’re very cheap, but they actually stick a lot closer to the story and mythology of the first, and they bring back Lance Henriksen. And they both have their moments, despite all the Romanians trying to portray the American South.
Unlike the other movies on this list, the Phantasm films actually tell a complete story, and a continuing story. It’s a weird story that’s very inventive and develops over multiple films. It feels like a novel series, in some ways, more than a horror movie series and that’s just a testament to its quality. Because of the imagination and inventiveness involved, the Phantasm films never feel as cheap as they really are. The story is long and convoluted, but essentially there is a being called the Tall Man who poses as a funeral director and turns corpses into small dwarf-like zombies in order to use them as slave labor in another dimension, or transplants their brains into deadly flying silver spheres. In each sequel, the Tall Man has dried out a few more times, while Mike (who starts out as a child in the first and grows up through the course of the movies) and Reggie, ice cream truck driver and Mike’s surrogate father figure make it their mission to stop the Tall Man and his minions before it’s too late.