For most of the history of the blockbuster or franchise era, the idea of “the trilogy” has been the be all and end all. Now, admittedly, that’s been extended to four parts for money purposes, but that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, rare was the movie series that reached a part four. The genre where it became the most prevalent is the horror film, and moreover the slasher movie where teenagers get knifed or machete’d or otherwise demolished. Some of these part-fours are better than others, but in all the biggest franchises they represent something of a shift, a change in the way things had happened up to that point, whether they continued in a positive way or not. For this, I’ve decided to look at five of the most popular series and what happened in their fourth installments, for good or ill. Chronological? Sure, let’s go chronological.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Soooo, I think it’s safe to say they were incorrect when it came to naming this movie, but Joseph Zito’s sole contribution to the hockey mask saga is actually, I would argue, the best of the whole bunch, which now number 12 including the 2009 remake. As a rule, I don’t really care about Jason Voorhees and I think the Friday the 13th movies are schlock to the Nth degree, but of any of them, this fourth part actually does the best job of capturing what people really enjoy about the series while still being a scary, bloody, and compelling film. Young Corey Feldman is our hero, the horror-obsessed Tommy Jarvis who makes masks and things for himself to wear. It’s a perfect character for such a franchise, and for what they thought and planned to be the last entry, having a fan of the genre be your protagonist. Jason is still human/mortal but he is a behemoth who can breath through walls and is pretty much unstoppable. He’s also got a fantastic death scene accompanied by some phenomenal gore effects by Tom Savini, who also thought he was putting the franchise to bed with this movie and gave it his all. If the films had really ended here, it would have truly gone out with a Ch-ch-ch-ch Ah-ah-ah-ah.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
It really is unprecedented how successful and popular Freddy Krueger became in the 1980s. Like, stupid popular. He had his own TV show, which was really nothing more than a Tales from the Crypt clone, and he was on toys, lunchboxes, t-shirts, bedspreads (for irony’s sake), and all manner of other merchandise. After the third film in the series, with the subtitle The Dream Warriors, ended up doing quite well and got some pretty good reviews, a fourth in the franchise was a no brainer. The Dream Master was directed by Finnish director Renny Harlin and represented his first big American hit, leading to another sequel, Die Hard 2: Die Harder a couple of years later. Harlin was eager to prove himself and so Freddy’s nightmare creating in the fourth movie features some of the most complicated practical gore effects of the whole series. It’s also where Freddy’s one-liners truly became a staple of the series. That gallows humor accompanied him and in fact grew and grew as the movies went on. It’s not the best of the franchise, but it’s certainly the most successful and profitable of the bunch and maintained an already strong following for the burned claw-haver. Plus, an on-land, needle-gloved Jaws reference is pretty darn astounding.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Whereas the first two franchises I mentioned were in full force when their fourth parts were made, this one was all but dead in the water. Though it’s certainly thought of as an under-appreciated gem now, Halloween III: Season of the Witch was a huge bomb that confused a lot fans who wondered why the William Shatner-masked murderer wasn’t anywhere to be seen save for someone watching the first film on television. The idea was to make different Halloween-set horror movies under the banner title, but after that debacle, that idea went away. It was six years before Moustapha Akkad was able to do another film starring Michael Myers and his Ahab, Dr. Sam Loomis (the great Donald Pleasence) and it had to land with audiences if it was going to make the franchise something viable again. Luckily, the movie did that, largely by making it a great deal like the original Halloween by John Carpenter whilst also incorporating new backstory elements (like a niece!) and a definite ’80s aesthetic. The violence is a little more violent and maybe Michael does a few things that a regular man of nominal strength couldn’t do (like impale a girl with a shotgun), but in general, they stuck to what worked: a guy in a mask with a knife and a dream. Behind the original, I think this might be one of, if not the very, best of the sequels and without it, we certainly wouldn’t have any other Halloween movies, which may or may not be a good thing.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Up to this point, the three part-4s have been successful, both as movies and as a part of the series; now we move to the sweltering heat of The Lone Star State for what is very likely one of the worst horror movies ever made. After its initial film festival screenings, it was deemed so horrible that it was shelved for three years and only returned to the public eye in 1997 (heavily recut, mind you) because of the new found success of its two young stars, Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger. That’s right, two people who were in this pile of garbage now have OSCARS. It’s a real roadkill-to-riches story there. The film follows Leatherface of the titular chainsaw and yet another family of cannibalistic murderers terrorizing poor kids. McConaughey played Vilmer, the surrogate replacement for Hitchhiker, Chop Top, and Viggo Mortensen from the previous three films, and Zellweger plays one of the prom-bound young ladies who falls in with them. This movie is gross to watch, both in tone and content. They ripped off a lot of the best images from the original and also did weird things like waaaaaay up the cross-dressing nature of Leatherface. Kim Henkel, the co-writer of the brilliant original, wrote and directed this. It’s pretty clear he was trying to cash-in and the result was a mess…a bloody, I-need-to-take-a-shower-please mess.
Saw IV (2007)
Nobody thought Saw was going to be much of anything besides a very good direct-to-video horror movie, but James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s little indie film ended up getting a theatrical release and became a phenomenon which helped make torture porn a thing we have to talk about. But, by time it came to do the fourth film, a lot of things had to change. Pretty much all of your main and side characters had been killed off after the third movie, and anyone who wasn’t died at the beginning of this one because they didn’t really want to do it anymore. So what do you do? Bring in new investigators with very little chemistry or depth and make a guy who was little more than a bit player in the last film the new lead villain. Because of the twisty nature of the movies, it could easily be explained that he was there the whole time and people will accept it. I mean, all people really wanted to see where “characters” getting horribly murdered onscreen in huge, impossibly-built contraptions that no meager police officer could have had the time or money to create. Wan and Whannell had no influence on this one, and director Darren Lynn Bousman could only do so much. That’s what happens when you rush movies into production to come out every year. As a result, Saw IV was the beginning of the end for the series’ quality and it trudged along for a further three films before dying a much needed 3D death.
So there are five gamut-running horror movie part-4s. Which are your favorites? Do you agree with my assessment of these? Let’s talk it out in the comments below!