Horror franchises have existed since the days of the Universal Monsters. You get the right setting, the right villain, or even just the right weapon, and you can launch a series of films. Friday the 13th took a standard slasher scenario and turned it into 12 entries and TV series. Saw started as a low budget indie horror film and became a 7 film juggernaut, with a new entry coming out later this year. But, every once in a while, a studio’s attempt to create the next great horror franchise doesn’t register. For whatever reason, these guys only got one chance to claim their spot in the limelight, only to stall out after one entry.
In 1994, nothing was more hi-tech than CD-ROM’s, with their massive 700 MB of storage power. Brainscan took advantage of that by telling the tale of the Trickster, an angular faced, mop-topped demon character who emerged from a CD-ROM video game. Edward Furlong’s Michael plays the game and hypnotic suggestions cause him to kill people around him. The mayhem escalates until the Trickster takes over, but is banished by the power of love, although Michael is then shot and killed by a policeman. This all turns out to be part of the game, and no one is actually hurt, and the film ends with the notion that the Trickster is still around, ready to influence anyone who plays the game. The film was released theatrically and was both a critical and financial disappointment, and the Trickster became as forgotten as the technology that he emerged from.Rumpelstiltskin
After his success with Leprechaun, director Mark Jones turned his talents towards another diminutive villain with Rumplestiltskin. The film was a reimagining of the classic fairy tale, with the titular character being freed from a small figurine, and then tries to claim the film’s heroine baby as his own. It plays like a blatant cross between Terminator and Leprechaun, although it does feature some decent makeup FX work by Kevin Yagher. The film had a modest theatrical release, but only managed to bring in a mere $300,000 against a $3 million budget. Needless to say, any plans for future installments became as big of fairy tales as the ones the character was based on.
Based on the his novella, Cabal, Nightbreed was Clive Barker’s directorial debut. Everything about this film screamed franchise, from it’s fantastic setting to its assortment of unique characters that gave the Star Wars cantina a run for its money. The movie tells of Aaron Boone, who discovers an underground civilization of monsters, and discovering that not only is he one of them, but he just may be their prophesized savior. Horror director David Cronenberg plays the disturbing villain, and the entire film feels like the first entry to a series, with the ending setting up several storylines to be followed up in later films. Unfortunately, some questionable marketing and unfavorable reviews led a pretty disappointing box office, bringing in less than $9 million against a budget of $11 million, and the franchise was pronounced dead. The storyline was continued, however, in the form of a comic book series.
Super hero movies have been the biggest things in cinema for at close to 20 years now. Back in 2005, at the fever pitch of the original Spider-Man series, Marvel dipped their toes into the horror realm with Man-Thing. Based on the Marvel character, the film tells the story of a swamp creature that kills with his touch, as well as being able to control swamp plants. Although the comic character is portrayed as a hero of sorts, the film version is played for scares, and kills indiscriminately, attacking the villainous and innocents just the same. The film’s disastrous test screenings caused them to dump the film directly to the Sci-Fi Channel and was only released theatrically in a few countries overseas. All in all, the film only made $1 million against a budget of $30 million, and any future plans were immediately scrapped.
1989 was peak horror movie franchise time, and no franchise had more power than A Nightmare of Elm Street. So, who could blame anyone for trying to enlist Robert Englund to create a new franchise with a pre-existing name value? The film tells the classic phantom story, albeit with enhanced makeup effects and gore. Robert Englund puts on another ton of makeup to play the Phantom, in an effort to create an icon that could possibly compete with Freddy himself. The producers were so confident in the film, they not only wrote a script for a sequel that would bring the character into present day, they shot bookend scenes for the film that would directly lead into it. However, the film’s disappointing $4 million box office and overall critical drubbing, the sequel was shelved.
1989 strikes again, with another Elm Street alum attempting to launch another horror villain franchise. Freddy creator Wes Craven unleashes Horace Pinker, a TV repairman who is electrocuted, gains the ability to enter other people’s bodies and possess them, and then later is also able to turn into electricity and travel through power lines and enter TV shows, actually interacting with the characters in those shows. His opponent is a psychic young man who may or not be his son, who is assisted by the ghost of his girlfriend. Yeah. It’s weird. That didn’t stop if from making a good amount of money at the box office though, earning $16.5 million against a $4 million budget. Although a treatment for a sequel exists, Wes Craven moved on to more meta adventures with the Scream series, and Horace Pinker became just another single entry villain.