AS All Hallows’ Eve approaches, it’s time to don your spookiest costume, carve a pumpkin and visit strangers’ houses demanding food, because I’m about to perform a scary autopsy on Halloween film franchises.
Last week I reviewed the original Halloween film series which introduced serial slasher and horror film icon Michael Myers to the world. Beginning with the original John Carpenter classic in 1978 and concluding with a whimper in 2002, a total of eight films were unleashed upon cinema audiences at around the same time of the year, Halloween.
Several years later, the torch was passed to a ventriloquist’s dummy named Billy with a penchant for riding tricycles.
In 2003, Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Wannell managed to convince American backers to fund a low budget horror film to be shot in just 18 days. On October 29 the following year, the movie grossed over $100 million at the box office from a budget of $1 million. Welcome to the Saw franchise.
The Saw films centre around John Cramer, a genius engineer who is dying from cancer. After an attempt at suicide fails, he reassesses his existence and finds a new purpose, testing others to value their own lives with deadly physical challenges. Cramer then takes on a new moniker, Jigsaw.
Just like the Halloween series, the original film is the best, with a killer (pun intended) twist at the end. The subsequent six sequels, including a final instalment in 3D and all released on the Friday before Halloween, vary in quality.
What remains consistent throughout the series is the cleverness of the deadly challenges placed on unsuspecting (and not so innocent) victims which usually result in painful and bloody deaths. Most of the challenges involve lethal mechanical devices which are a testament to Jigsaw’s maniacal but brilliant mind. They also suggest he had a lot of time on his hands.
Also impressive is the layering of the storylines. With Jigsaw killed off in Saw III, the filmmakers had to come up with a smart way to keep his legacy alive. There are various apprentices, as well as a brilliant conceit which has two of the sequels taking place simultaneously. This is not revealed until the end of Saw IV (oops, spoiler alert).
By the time Saw 3D was released in 2010, audience enthusiasm for the franchise had waned and producers announced that there would be no further entries (for now). Of course that paved the way for a new Halloween film franchise. Enter Paranormal Activity.
If you’ve ever harboured an ambition to be a security guard in a big building, then this is the series for you. Mostly consisting of security camera footage, the movies focus on the premise that setting up cameras when you suspect your house is inhabited by demons is a good idea, not getting the hell out.
Paranormal Activity 4 is currently in cinemas now, with a fifth instalment due next Halloween.
I’m not a huge fan. I like my horror franchises to have an element of logic. I can accept Michael Myers surviving every attempt to send him back to hell, and a genius Jigsaw who had the foresight to plan and build extra deadly challenges just in case he was killed, but investigating a haunting in your own house by installing video cameras and then editing the footage into a movie after you have been slain by your homely demon? Don’t be ridiculous.
Happy Halloween everyone.