Horror, a genre saturated with spin-offs, sequels and prequels

This week, our cinemas will be graced with a spin-off from the sequel of 2013 horror hit The Conjuring. The new film acts as a prequel to that sequel and is the first of that sequel’s spin-offs, with The Crooked Man to follow. It comes after Annabelle: Creation—a prequel to the prior spin-off—and before The Conjuring 3, the second sequel to the original film.

It’s a bit confusing.

But not as confusing as the timeline in the Saw franchise.

The horror genre is pretty unique for these complicated hydra head mythologies and The Nun is a fascinating contemporary example (check out Aaron Yap’s review).

Most of the big Hollywood studios have scrambled to create shared universes to emulate the wild success of Marvel’s, generally in that ham-fisted corporate way that never works. But New Line appears to have stumbled into the most successful non-Marvel one yet with The Conjuring.

More power to them. These movies aren’t modern masterpieces of the genre like Hereditary or It Follows, but they’re better than most modern horrors. Well, the first one was pretty great, Annabelle was shit and the others pretty much fall in between, quality-wise.

But before you snort disapprovingly too hard at Annabelle, remember The Mummy – Universal’s US$125 million, A-list ensemble catastrophe that was supposed to make their dreaded Dark Universe the biggest thing ever. Jesus wept.

But as comically bizarre as The Conjuring‘s franchise has become, not all such oddities bear fruit quite as nice.

The Halloween series has had a really rough time of it. The 1978 original is a bona fide classic – but it spawned a whopping seven sequels which range from mediocre to absolute shit. The random third one doesn’t even have a connection to the others. The Curse of Michael Myers turned out to be not nearly as scary as the curse of Rob Zombie, who shat out two try-hard Halloweens in the ’00s. All of the above bar the original are being ignored in favour of the upcoming reboot – which, somehow, looks fucking great.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has had a really weird timeline. The original 1974 classic spawned three god-awful sequels before it was remade in 2003. The average remake then had an even more average prequel released a few years later, then there was a sequel to the original that ignored all the other films, then another prequel released last year – a prequel to the original, that is, not one of the sequels or remakes or remake prequel.

Nothing after the original classic really deserves to exist.

And these peculiar modern franchise entries have nothing on just how wacky horror sequels got back in the wild old ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s. I can’t imagine a filmmaker today keeping a straight face while pitching futuristic space slasher Jason X, brain-numbing rap-sploitation Leprechaun in the Hood or the truly insane Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf.

None of these movies represent the better entries in their franchises by a long shot, but it’s awesome that once upon a time you could pop along to the cinema and see most of them there like they were normal movies. They even had the gall to release Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 theatrically, even though it’s only a few measly scenes tacked on to about 70 minutes of the first movie re-edited.

Hell, even crazy crossovers like Freddy vs. Jason seem unlikely now. Split is kind of in the same realm, but it’s more like a weird little shared universe. I don’t think we’re getting Annabelle vs Jigsaw anytime soon… but then, Japan did release a Sadako vs Kayako only a couple of years back.

Chances are The Nun is not going to be a terrific film. But it’s very cool that it exists. It’s the weird sort of movie that could only come from the horror genre – and that’s one of the many reasons why we fans love that genre so much.