The fourth film generally marks a significant leap, one that sees the trilogy enter the dark realm of the franchise; territory that, for the most part, becomes a road filled with diverging paths. If trilogies are, like Randy from Scream says, “all about going back to the beginning and discovering something that wasn’t true from the get go,” then the fourth entry is about moving ahead, expanding on what we believe we know, and ultimately; that there are no rules. For some franchises, the fourth film sees the return (Halloween), the end (Friday the 13th), the origin (Hellraiser) and the heroes’ journey (A Nightmare on Elm Street), though what these all have in common is their differences. There’s no longer a formula to the madness, or a horror equation, one that feels the necessity to give a sum for all its parts. This is the fourth entry in a horror film, and it’s one that tells fans that the worlds we’ve come to know aren’t as limited as one, two, and three. With the release of Insidious: The Last Key, the latest entry into the world that James Wan introduced back in 2010, I take a look at a few of the more under-appreciated fourth entries in some of horror’s most reputable franchises.
#3: Land of the Dead
Following last year’s death of George Romero, it’s become even more fascinating to look back at his trajectory within the sub-genre he established with Night of the Living Dead. Not only was he the Godfather of the Modern Zombie, taking leave from the Haitian voodoo inspired zombie, but he was a visionary that saw further into the depth of humanity than most directors working in horror. This is evident in Land of the Dead, Romero’s step from trilogy to franchise, offering up a world that lives outside the confines of a deserted home, a shopping mall or a military bunker. This is the future of the living, a world now amassed with zombies that have placed humans at the bottom of the food chain.
What’s left of the population now reside in outposts set up around the country, surviving off supply runs and each other. Except in the heart of Pittsburgh, where the wealthy reside in a luxury tower called Fiddler’s Green, bordered by a river on two sides and guarded with an electric fence. It’s the lifestyle of the rich and the famous, and within our political climate, a Trump Tower reigning over denizens with a feudal like grip. In discussing his final zombie film, 2009’s Survival of the Dead, Romero said “It’s mainly about tribalism, which I think is what is screwing the world up – tribalism, nationalism, religion -people taking sides. All of my zombie films have had a little touch of that…” Looking back now, amidst a severely split nation where what side you’re on can mean friend or foe, the divided ideals that scour the earth for food in Land of the Dead mean that much more, showing just how socio-politically astute George Romero really was.
#2: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Originally titled The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and shelved for almost two years due to Colombia Pictures insisting that it arrive after the release of Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire – a film that finds Renee Zellweger dealing with a much more hospitable family – the fourth entry in the franchise continues to tell us that the saw is family! Directed by the original films Kim Henkel, who wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay with Tobe Hooper, the fourth member of the chainsaw family is a bit of a bastard child, one who doesn’t quite want to be like their siblings, but damn if they admire them! Curiously titled The Next Generation to symbolise a new generation of horror fans or perhaps the family itself, which is no longer the Sawyer family that terrorised Texas in Hooper’s first two instalments, Henkel’s only directorial credit is a downright spectacle of shoestring recklessness.
Running on a budget of $600,000, The Next Generation takes Matthew shit-kickin McConaughey in a post Dazed and Confused roll that sees him hootin’ and hollerin’ while chewing up every last bit of scenery that stands between him and roadkill. Before McConaughey could sell a Lincoln, he could damn well sell the smell right off a skunk with how charming he is, and as Vilmer, this generation’s Chop-Top, he does not disappoint. Playing off him is Renee Zellweger, who is equal parts Carrie White and Sally, our original final girl, spending most of her screen time on the run from Leatherface, who busts down doors and screeches like a mix between the WWF’s Mankind and Divine. At one point, a man with no sideburns arrives in a limousine, only to expose his pierced stomach nipples just to tell us that we aren’t out of the backwoods yet. Sure, The Next Generation probably should never have been conceived, as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film that transcends generations, but it sure is one sick mule that kicks more than it does neigh.
#1: Bride of Chucky
After being honourably discharged from Military Academy, and propelled from a funhouse, Chucky didn’t really have anywhere to go. After all, manufacturing on the Good Guy dolls had ceased, and after a trilogy of reproduction, it became a little played out. Luckily for us, Don Mancini, the writer behind each film in the now seven film franchise, had ideas for future films from the get-go. In discussing the trajectory of characters he created, Mancini told Arrow in the Head that “As a writer, it’s great to be able to revisit these characters and see where they are in their lives, and how they’ve been affected by past traumas.”
Enter Tiffany, Charles Lee Ray’s ex-girlfriend played by Jennifer Tilly, who still hasn’t quite gotten over her now plastic love interest. So what does any love-sick bachelorette do? They murder a police officer in order to get their hands on the remains of their pint-sized boo, who isn’t looking too good after being cut to bits in the previous instalment. Putting thread and needle to use, Tiffany stitches her boy toy back together again before reciting the voodoo ritual that gave Charles Lee Ray his newfound hatred for dolls, reviving a pissed off and ugly Chucky. What ensues is a road trip from hell, as Chucky and Tiffany – now murdered and revived into a female dolls body – hit the road in search of an amulet that was buried with Ray, one that will allow them to transfer bodies with their neighbours, played by Nick Stabile and Katherine Heigl.
It’s a bonkers plot, that’s made even more bonkers by the fact that Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly play two of the most convincing love birds since Harry met Sally. They bicker and quarrel for the better half of the film, and somehow they do it better than most on-screen couples, all the while strutting around in dolls that would make the Garbage Pail Kids shudder. Don Mancini, who crafted genuine scares when he first brought the distraught Good Guy doll into existence 10 years prior, has shown that he’s a jack of all trades, taking a film from a beloved trilogy into franchise territory. In doing so, he’s created Bride of Chucky, a near perfect love potion of horror that somehow blends insanity and absurdity, with a little dash of romance.