How To End a Legacy Franchise

Here there be SPOILERS for damn near everything (but mostly Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Scream, and Friday the 13th)

I got the idea for this month’s blog after going to see Halloween Ends. Which…should be indicative of what I thought of that one. But that’s another post entirely.

I’ve talked before about how we’re in the era of high-budget sequels, requels, reboots, and remakes starring the horror pantheon. And if what goes up must come down, around 12 movies in, the question has to be asked: how do we get off the ride? Is it even possible?

How do you finally put a horror legend to bed when his whole thing is that he can’t die? From a practical perspective, it’s pretty difficult, given the canonical quasi-immortality of most baddies. The disaster that was Jason Goes to Hell shows how sometimes, it’s best to leave well enough alone when it comes to getting technical about just how these dudes live through bullets, machetes, and getting hit real hard with sticks. (Yes, I’m still salty about that mob scene in Halloween Kills. Come on guys. At least check his pulse or something. You’ve been living in Haddonfield for years.)

But ignoring all that and simply focusing on the story and what we owe to the original creators, to the fans, and to the characters themselves, the question still stands: is there ever a time to end a franchise, and if so, how?

Let’s take a look at a few attempts.

Halloween has a lot of examples of which endings work and which don’t, because multiple timelines “end” different ways. The latest is perhaps the most final, but according to Screenrant, a clause prevents Myers from ever being officially killed—so we might get a retcon a la H20. Which feels pretty disingenuous—same as it did in Resurrection.

Just from a story perspective, we leave Halloween Ends with a pretty final conclusion. I mean, there’s not a lot of coming back from getting put through a trash compactor. However! We’ve had “it’s the wrong Michael!” before (although I think the fact that we saw his face was supposed to put the kibosh on that). Also, since Laurie still has the mask, someone else could take it up. Which is too Scream for comfort.

Friday the 13th gives a reasonably satisfying (if ridiculous) conclusion with Jason X, although the remake might make one question if a new timeline is going to start. Almost any sequel would take place before Jason X and possibly discount it canonically—or come up with a reason Jason got cryogenically thawed prematurely, then returned for the events of the 11th film. But we’ve got around 450 years to play around with there. And though we’ve been waiting for quite some time, we might have something to look forward to in 2023.

Elm Street got meta with the storyline—which works pretty well with a metaphysical monster like Freddy. He was allegedly finished off in The Final Nightmare, but then we had Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and the remake so… Currently, Craven’s estate owns the rights to Freddy, so it’s possible he could return.

Elm Street probably took cues from Scream, which is still going strong. Scream is the baby of the family, admittedly, and is uniquely qualified for infinite sequels given the recyclable nature of the villain. But, if Never Campbell or Courtney Cox ever bowed out, the future of the franchise would be pretty dark.

Ultimately, finishing off Myers or Krueger or Voorhees just isn’t a smart financial move, so it won’t happen. And we can debate until the cows come home whether that’s a bad thing or not. In a world with Avengers movies that multiply like rabbits, are we slowly draining the creativity out of our society one remake at a time? Or is there nothing new under the sun, so full steam ahead with new interpretations?

Doesn’t matter. Halloween didn’t end in 2022, that’s for damn sure. Even if Moustapa Akkad hadn’t granted Mikey legal immortality, someone would have bid high enough on the rights. Or just waited for our masked abstinence-only sex educator to enter the public domain. Same with Jason and Freddy and Leatherface.

So if we can’t end these stories—and we certainly can’t seem to—then how do we keep them new? Eventually, the original timeline runs out of steam, no matter who’s slashing their way forward. The end came for Freddy, and for Michael (and then again for Michael…and again…and again), and it’ll come for Ghostface, too.

We can remake, although the novelty wears off after one. Remaking sequels is just a bad idea, because no one is going to watch a high-budget 2022 Dream Warriors. You can reboot, like Halloween, which buys time, but that top winds down too. You can move formats, though I have yet to see a TV series spinoff actually work.

So what’s worth it, when it comes to prolonging a horror saga?

First of all, I think every big franchise deserves a remake of the first film. Just for fun—to see what we can do with new special effects. Purists will hate it, newcomers will enjoy it, and kids who wouldn’t be scared by the 80s classic will get some legitimate spooks from the new one.

If we leave the remake in its own little canon-bubble, what come next? I think the best thing to do after that is assess what you have to work with. Friday is falling apart, with different directors molding the rules of the universe until they accidentally created a black hole. New timeline time. Or, alternate universe.

Scream, on the other hand, is fine for direct sequels. And “sequel” can be a loose term. The Conjuring universe does pretty well with loosely-connected threads in a big canon. This model can be adapted to suit classics, although it only makes sense to keep the title characters in the films (otherwise you Season of the Witch-level confusion. And that film would have worked, if it had been the second one. But that’s another blog post too.)

For sequels, the secret is to stop thinking in a linear manner and realize that stories can go left, right, up, down, in on themselves, back in time, into another world, and more. Look how great it worked for Into the Spiderverse.

Maybe I just have no taste. But I’ll be going to Friday the 13th VX when I’m 90, and I’ll probably blog about it, too. These stories can keep going almost infinitely—writers just have to get creative.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is not in the nature of a slasher to stay dead for long.