Setting the example for a genre of film is an arduous journey. A lot of creativity goes into crafting something unique that will stand on its own for a long period of time. That one unique idea and film will be referenced and examined by others so everyone can appreciate it. But after that creation is completed, a firestorm of sequels, copycats, and remakes are always right behind it.
This is never more evident than in the horror genre of film. When one movie does very well at the box office and fans and critics alike hail it as the next great thing, other film studios and directors want to cash in on it. Look at “Halloween” in the late 70s. It spawned the slasher genre and hundreds of inferior products were made. There were some films that stood out, but the great majority of the films were made just for monetary purposes.
“Scream” in the mid 90s did the same thing as self-aware horror films became the norm. In the early 2000s films like “Saw” and “Hostel” created the torture porn genre of horror. But the most recent trend, which seems to be slowing down, is “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity” handheld camera craze.
While some sequels are known to equal the craft of its predecessor (“The Godfather Part 2” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy come to mind), most sequels don’t even come close. But why is there always failure it seems in the sequels to horror films, especially slasher films? Why are the sequels and remakes to “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Halloween” failures?
In the coming weeks the remake of “The Evil Dead” will be released, and its marketing campaign is built around the idea that it will be the scariest film anyone will ever see. Based on the viewing of the red-band trailer, the marketing firm for the film thought gory meant scary. The film looks like a rehash of the first, except with more blood, guts, and higher quality make-up. The first film was a tongue-in-cheek horror film that used gross-out gags, but it had a jovial feeling to it. The new one just looks like a gore fest with nothing new to say or do.
An over usage of violence is what tends to be the biggest problem with all sequels, remakes and rip-offs. The filmmakers think being over-the-top in gore and visual butchery will make up for the shoddy pacing, bad jump scare setups, and mediocre acting and characters. They tend to forget that horror comes from sympathy with the main characters and suspense. If the audience doesn’t care about them, why would they be scared?
Take for instance “Halloween 2,” the first sequel to the original “Halloween.” The film upped the gore and the blood from the first one and replaced the likeable characters with cardboard cutouts that had targets on their back the whole time. It wasn’t a matter of thinking “I hope that person doesn’t die.” It was thinking, “When does that character die?” The film made the protagonist from the first film, Laurie Strode, into a cowardly character. She barely says a word and the entire time she is running from Michael Myers instead of actually fighting him. All of her strength was stripped from her.
It’s a stark contrast to the first film because Laurie fought back in the film. It is true that when she first encountered her dead friends, she was chased and she ran away. But that chase scene worked because the audience had grown to like the character after seeing her interact with other people and the children she was babysitting. She was a normal person. That’s why it was so much more satisfying to see her fight off Michael Myers because she wasn’t only trying to protect herself, but also the children she was caring for. The second film took all of this away and she just ran around looking for someone to help her instead of looking towards herself.
The second film also replaced Laurie’s friends with people that don’t really have any sort of back story. The other characters in the film were just there to be killed in more brutal ways. There was barely any blood in the first film, and the filmmakers thought they should make up for that fact by creating ghastly deaths. One woman gets her face burned off in a hot tub, while another person slips and falls in a massive pool of blood. Senseless gore in movies doesn’t create horror.
One major reason why horror filmmakers want to create more gore is because the biggest demographic that watches horror films just wants to see the dismembered bodies and abhorrent visuals. Horror sequels are made for the fans, and the filmmakers assume that all they want is more, more, more. But that only works for so long. Diminishing returns always happen with sequels. The first ones might make more money that the first, but eventually after the audiences aren’t given anything new they stop watching. Look at the trajectory of the “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity” franchises. “Saw” started off strong, but at the end no one cared. The last “Paranormal Activity” film came nowhere near the expectations for it and it bombed. Just because you up the ante it doesn’t make it a good bet. People eventually call your bluff.
Creativity and uniqueness spawns a lot of success, but copycats always follow. Almost immediately after the first idea, people are already looking for the next great thing. Just look at basketball. The greatest question of the last 15 years is who is going to be the next Michael Jordan? In film, it’s who is going to be the next Martin Scorsese or Spielberg? What is the next “Citizen Kane?” Once something great is made, there will always be an immediate copycat with an inferior product that promises to be bigger and better right behind it. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it tends to be. At least it’s easy to see through the copycat.