Just when you thought it was safe to plan a road trip through the Lone Star State, along comes "Texas Chainsaw 3D," a sequel/remake/something or other that resurrects the previously sputtering "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" series and allows ol' Leatherface to once again run amok with his (very loud) weapon of choice.
As "Texas Chainsaw 3D" attempts to prove once again that you just can't keep a good horror icon down, we take a look at some of the most popular horror franchises out there -- for better, and worse.
What started off as a moody existential thriller quickly evolved (devolved?) into little more than a series of increasingly gruesome and creative kill scenes as survivors of some sort of mass accident find themselves being picked off one by one as the Grim Reaper looks to set his master plan back on its grim course. One could write a pretty nifty thesis on the film's central premise of having Death Itself as the inescapable villain (and one with a rather macabre sense of humor), but why bother when there are naked girls getting microwaved by runaway tanning beds? There are five installments in the series to date, with the last two bringing the murder and mayhem in 3-D.
None of the sequels in Wes Craven's highly influential meta-horror series came close to matching the sheer excitement and uniqueness of the 1996 original, but the "Scream" movies always managed to maintain a certain amount of amusement (and cleverness) as they eventually ended up deconstructing themselves when there wasn't really anything else about the horror genre left to poke with a stick (or stab with a knife, as it were). "Scream 4" (2011), released 11 years after "Scream 3," probably wasn't really necessary, though it deserves points for adapting the series' decidedly '90s characters — and premise — for the world of Twitter, Facebook and cell phones that can take pictures.
The first chapter in the tragicomic saga of serial killer turned malevolent plaything Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) is actually quite scary, which is certainly not the case with the series' many sequels (both unintentionally and, later, very much intentionally). Before Chucky screamed "I'll be back — I always come back!" with equal amounts anger, exhaustion and self-awareness in the admittedly delightful "Bride of Chucky" (1998), he was a full-blown movie monster whose small size and benign(-ish) appearance made him all the more frightening ... and dangerous. Still, why keep it dark when you can do things like give Chucky a doll of his own (voiced by Jennifer Tilly) and have them engage in uber-protected sex. They're both completely made of rubber, after all? Absent since 2004's "Seed of Chucky," Mr. Lee will be making a comeback this year in the direct-to-DVD release, "Curse of Chucky."
2. 'Evil Dead'
Here's what happens when a bunch of college students go into the woods with a camera, a few bucks and enough imagination and creative energy for ... well, at least three movies so far. The original "Evil Dead" (1982) is a nasty piece of work, which gave way to Sam Raimi's love of slapstick comedy for the second installment, "Evil Dead II" (1987), a gonzo showcase for star Bruce Campbell's astonishing ability to endure being the director's human punching bag as he battles various demons in a lonely cabin in the woods. "Army of Darkness" (1993), while arguably the weakest installment, is also possibly the funniest as it takes the action to medieval times and gives Campbell some of his best one-liners. A remake will hit theaters in April and looks to be emphasizing the horror and gore galore over the laughs ... to the point that they didn't even bother having a "new Ash."
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968) changed everything as it unleashed the zombie hordes upon an America already sick with racial tension, political strife and the Vietnam War. "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) topped it as it attacked our indifferent consumer culture. "Day of the Dead" (1985) was the amusing battle cry of an old hippie who doesn't like living in Reagan's America. "Land of the Dead" (2005) showed us that he didn't like Bush much, either. And "Diary of the Dead" (2007) proved that the old man was actually aware of things like, you know, YouTube. Even when George Romero isn't at his best in this series (particularly with the lukewarm sixth installment, "Survival of the Dead"), he's always got something a lot more interesting on his mind than most other horror directors at the top of their game.
The initially innovative "Saw" series ended not so much with a roar but a sputtering whimper as it chugged and coughed its way toward its seventh (!) (and most wretched) installment, "Saw: The Final Chapter" (2010). "Saw" (2004) was an old-fashioned morality tale tricked out with modern-day torture porn aesthetics, and a rather clever one, at that; unfortunately, the legacy of serial killer and avenging angel Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) became increasing cheap-looking, moronic, senselessly violent and mind-numbingly cruel with each sequel, spiraling into a needlessly convoluted puzzle of a plot that ended up being both unsatisfying and inconsequential. "Saw: The Final Chapter" made even hardcore fans of the series glad that it was finally all over — you sense that the producers just didn't care any more after realizing that their audience had since become distracted by the "Paranormal Activity" movies.
The first "Hellraiser" (1987) was a nice try but no cigar, a murky horror fable about a woman's decomposed ex-lover lurking about in the attic after an unfortunate run-in with a bunch of demonic chains or something that probably would've been a stronger film if someone besides writer Clive Barker had called the shots on it. And then "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" came out a year later, starting a landslide of awful sequels that eventually involved the Cenobites throwing CDs at their victims and the evil Pinhead (Doug Bradley, a good sport for a lot longer than he should've been) in outer space. Actually, the "Hellraiser" stories became mildly interesting when the series started going direct-to-DVD, though unfortunately Dimension never wanted to shell out the cash or hire a decent director to make them reach even a quarter of their potential.
The first film, featuring an ever-glaring and considerably bearded James Brolin and an admittedly quite hot Margot Kidder, was horrible. The 2005 remake was horrible. All of the sequels were horrible. And, worst of all, the "true story" that all these "Amityville Horror" movies are based on was revealed (a long time ago) to be a bunch of hooey conjured up by George and Kathy Lutz during a night of too much wine ... and yet people still seek out the house at 112 Ocean Avenue with the hope of catching a pair of red eyes in the upstairs window. To any producers contemplating yet another installment in this rotten series, to quote the house itself: "Get out!"
Okay, before you get all nostalgic or something for the 1984 original, we ask you this: Have you actually watched the movie in the past, like, 20 years or so? It's horrible. It was horrible back when it first came out, too; we just didn't know any better — that's '80s cinema for you. Stephen King's tale of murderous bumpkin kids worshiping a cornfield entity known as He Who Walks Among the Rows is even more laughable than it is tasteless, with the youngster thespians all looking like they're about to crack up at any second (except for poor John Franklin as the screechy-voiced Isaac, who apparently thinks he's doing a community theatre production of "Richard III"). Linda Hamilton comes across as vaguely pissed off, as if she can't wait to get back to L.A. and onto the "Terminator" set, while R. G. Armstrong milks his cameo as a hayseed mechanic for all it's worth, whimpering in fear at the very wind itself. There have since been about three dozen sequels, though we have no idea why.
"I have not come to play with fruit; I just want me magic flute!" says the evil Leprechaun to the cross-dressing Miss Fontaine (Lobo Sebastian) in "Leprechaun in the Hood" (2000) before engaging in a hate crime that comes across as a rousing session of gay sex to any clueless passer-by thanks to the rather erotic-sounding screams of pain coming from the poor victim. Hooray! For the record, "In the Hood" is the fourth installment in this wretched series chronicling the murderous exploits of a rhyming pint-sized Irish folk creature which, admittedly, at least paid Warwick Davis's rent for several years; the first movie, released in 1993, is something that Jennifer Aniston either wishes she could erase from her resume — or flaunts with shameless pride. Chances are she's just forgotten all about it entirely, though.