Coming off a strong box office opening, Insidious 3 has propelled the Insidious franchise onto the top of the list for most successful American horror franchises. While the films are well made, they owe a great deal of their success to ideas that have been borrowed from older, more progressive horror franchises, namely Poltergeist. Of course, there’s the sour truth that the Insidious franchise really isn’t that good and the news that it’s now the top grossing horror franchise of all time struck me a shocking and appalling.
Thinking back to some of the other, more notable, horror franchises there are many that deserve the type of attention Insidious has gotten. Granted, some of these franchises lost their polish through excessive sequels which majorly missed the mark, but surely they should be considered the better horror franchises over the new king of the genre.
Writer/director George Romero became the undisputed king of zombie horror with his series of seven films about walking corpses who feast on human flesh. Zombie horror has since become a hugely successful and nearly ubiquitous product, but what sets Romero apart from his imitators is his ability to use zombies as a vehicle for social commentary. Some examples are his critique of commercialism in Dawn of the Dead and the exploration of class disparity in Land of the Dead. The series inspired countless other filmmakers and the parody take on many of it’s themes; Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, which is now being aired on the El Rey network, (check here for listings), became a cult horror/comedy franchise in its own right.
Legendary cult director John Carpenter created a new template for the slasher film genre with this 1978 classic about an escaped mental patient who terrorizes an Illinois suburb. The movie spawned nine sequels and was notable for its lack of blood and gore, relying instead on atmosphere and a slowly building sense of dread to create tension. Modern horror fans will likely appreciate the way Rob Zombie’s remake and its sequel crank up contemporary shock tactics to update the franchise for a new generation. Of course, Hollywood isn’t done with the franchise yet, as another film dubbed a “recalibration” of the original film, is supposedly in pre-production.
Freddy Kruger became a household name after Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher pic put a new spin on the genre – a killer who stalks teens in the world of dreams. Robert Englund’s performance as Kruger through nine films is alternately maniacal, sadistic, and hilarious, a creepy and effective portrayal of a child murderer. Most of the sequels struggled to receive the same praise as the original, although 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is notable for its use of metafiction, in which Craven and Englund play themselves and discover that Kruger’s evil is contained by the films themselves. It was also one of the few series that made the leap over to television with the short lived TV series Freddy’s Nightmares, which ran only from 1988 to 1990.
William Friedkin’s supernatural horror, released in 1973, lives up to its reputation as one of the most grotesque and horrifying pictures of all time. The series, which totals five films, features such notable actors as Ellen Burstyn, George C. Scott, Max von Sydow, James Earl Jones, and Stellan Skarsgard. These films set the mold for demonic possession in cinema, influencing notable modern horror movies like Evil Dead, Insidious and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Produced on a budget of less than $300,000 and inspired by the actions of real life serial killer Ed Gein, this cult classic from director Tobe Hooper gave birth to the slasher film craze of the 70’s and 80’s. The iconic villain Leatherface, a chainsaw wielding hulk in a mask made from human skin, is the focal point of all seven films in the series, which concern the capture and mutilation of young people traveling through rural Texas. The highlight of the franchise is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which stands out due to a great Dennis Hopper performance and over the top gore effects by horror legend Tom Savini.
Insidious has earned its place at the top of the box office charts with high production values, a great performance by Lin Shaye, and strong direction from horror veterans James Wan and Leigh Whannell. For horror buffs, though, these older, more revered franchises demand a look for their ingenuity and lasting impact on the genre.