Craven’s Quandary or: When Is A Sequel Too Late?

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed legendary horror director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm St; The Hills Have Eyes) to promote this week’s release of his new film Scream 4. To get myself in a ‘Craven’ frame of mind before I spoke to him, I rented and watched his 1988 film The Serpent and the Rainbow.

As much as I enjoyed the original Scream when it was released, it marked a turning point in Craven’s career where he became a little more mainstream. The Serpent and the Rainbow is a perfect example of pre-Scream Craven. It’s nasty, gory and a little bit psychadelic.

It features a youthful Bill Pullman as a scientist investigating the biological origins of the zombie myth in Haiti. Although it was inspired by a true story, it soon veers into fantastic territory, and features some really cool trip-out scenes with Pullman, aswell as some famously gruesome set-pieces that wouldn’t be out of place in a modern ‘torture-porn’ film.

Craven was clearly excited to talk about the often overlooked film, and theorised that it’s lack of box-office success could be attributed to audiences finding it a little too exotic at the time of its release. It’s particularly interesting to consider the film in the context of the current zombie explosion – it went places over twenty years ago that the genre is only now getting around to revisiting. So if you enjoy a decent horror and you’ve never seen The Serpent and the Rainbow, it is very much worth renting.

A very bad thing happens to Bill Pullman in The Serpent and the Rainbow

But it was Scream 4 we talked about mostly, and it got me thinking about late-coming sequels – films that arrive long after the momentum of a franchise has mellowed.

Despite the title of this blog entry, Craven obviously had no quandaries when it came to making Scream 4 (I just liked how ‘Craven’s Quandary’ sounded) – the impression he gave me was that another Scream film was always an inevitability, and it was simply a matter of waiting for the time to be right.

I wholeheartedly subscribe to the theory that once a film is released, it’s makers must relinquish ownership of it to a certain degree, and that in one sense it becomes the property of the audience.

So as fans, when it comes to these kinds of sequels, there is a constant battle between our nostalgiac desire to see the characters again and our sense of whether or not the integrity of the story would be undermined by another entry in the series.

I was pretty skeptical when Sly Stallone announced a fourth Rambo movie, but I absolutely loved the film that resulted. It nicely balanced the potency and legacy of the Rambo character with a kick-ass-in-its-own-right movie. How he went straight from the highs of Rambo to the lows of The Expendables, I’ll never understand.

The fourth Lethal Weapon is classic example of a late-coming sequel made for all the wrong reasons. Enormous audience goodwill for the characters was squandered in a film that had nothing new to add, and actually managed to undermine the badassery of previous entries in the series.

I was excited to see last year’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but I only really enjoyed it as a chance to see Michael Douglas do his Gordon Gecko thing again, and he wasn’t even the focus of the film.

Probably the most famous late-coming sequel in recent years was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Film fans of a certain age would be lying if they denied they were excited to see Harry back in the fedora, but boy, that movie was all kinds of wrong. (First complaint: What kingdom? There was no kingdom! Second complaint: The monkey men. I could go on…).

I don’t think the idea of another Indiana Jones was flawed in principle, they just happened to make a crappy one. I’m even open to the idea of yet another entry, if only to make up for Crystal Skull’s terribleness.

On a certain level, I’m aware that a fifth Indiana Jones film is probably a bad idea, but my nostalgiac desire for it overrides this concern. So yeah, audiences may not be the most level-headed advisors when it comes to these decisions, but heck, I still think it should be up to me.

One sequel I have a range of mixed emotions about is the planned Midnight Run follow-up, which appears to still be in the scripting stages. Although it made little impact when it was released in 1988, Midnight Run‘s reputation has grown steadily over the years to become one of the best-loved action comedies of the 80s.

As grumpy bounty hunter Jack Walsh, Robert De Niro gives his finest ever comedic performance. And Charles Grodin is his deadpan best as the screwy mob accountant Walsh is tasked with taking across the country. The chemistry between the pair is something quite wonderful, and the film gets me in the gut every time I watch it, which is why I’m so cautious/excited about a remake.

De Niro has long since become a caricature of himself, and I question whether or not he would be able to dial it down enough to become Jack Walsh again. I’m ready at this point however to say the film shouldn’t be made at all if Grodin isn’t involved in some capacity. It would be nice if Yaphet Kotto returned aswell.

But despite all my misgivings, I do want to see this film. I know I’m putting my untarnished love for the original at risk, but it is that love that drives my desire to revisit the story.

John Carpenter’s 1981 sci-fi horror The Thing is another film whose reputation was formed in the years after it’s release. This year sees the release of another movie called The Thing, which appears to be a prequel, with none of the characters from the original. I suppose we should be grateful it isn’t called The Thing: Full Throttle.

A sequel some might describe as a bad idea, but I have nothing but total enthusiasm for, is the planned third Bill & Ted film . The first two films in this series have aged remarkably well, especially when compared to other ‘dude’ comedies (cough, Wayne’s World, ahem). I love that Keanu Reeves is happy to return to the role that arguably overshadowed his entire career. San Dimas High School footballs rocks!

One long-gestating sequel rumoured over the years that I would also definitely see is a third Gremlins film. There’s nothing solid suggesting it will happen at the moment, but the amount of goodwill director Joe Dante has built up in me through both this films and his amazing website Trailers From Hell makes me excited for anything he does. His fanboyistic love for movies comes through in everything he does, and as the website shows, he’s possibly the world’s greatest living genre film historian. Plus, Gremlins 2 is an overlooked gem.

In an era when a film’s name recognition factor is often the deciding factor in whether or not it will get made, it’s fair enough to presume we’ll be seeing more and more sequels to films we never thought would warrant one. What older films would you like to see a sequel to? Which franchises should be laid to rest? Is it more respectful to ‘re-boot’ a franchise than to make another sequel? Please sound off in the comments below!