Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On Sequels

I'm not a fan of sequels. Film or book, sequels are generally made for the sake of the almighty greenback...or are they? You can't put a blanket statement like that on anything or else white heterosexual males would all be serial killers, right? Right. So I suspect there are a lot of reasons for sequels, as there are a lot of reasons for people to start killing.

Having grown up just after the horror movie heyday of the 80's and watching all of those shitty sequels on VHS in the early 90's, I became well acquainted with the method of rehashing the same old shit on a shoestring budget to cash in at the box office. Sure, some of those sequels aren't total shit, but let's face it, most of them would have been better left on the cutting room floor. If it wasn't for my love of horror I wouldn't have watched every Friday the 13th, Halloween, or A Nightmare on Elm Street film, but of course I watched them all and still do from time to time, so maybe there's something there. Why not milk a good franchise, right? Wrong.

What I'm tired of is a horror film doing well (or even just okay) and promptly there's a sequel in the works, even though the film itself was wrapped up neatly in the end and would have stood alone nicely in the annals of horror film. I ask myself: why? Why was there another film after Saw and Hostel? (Strangely enough I thought Hostel 2 was better than the first--whaddya know!) Why was there a sequel to the Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity? Wishmaster, The Omen, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Descent, Jaws, The Hills Have Eyes, and so many, many more should not have had sequels. These are just off the top of my head, though there are much better examples out there. Then I have to ask myself: Did A Nightmare on Elm Street really need one, much less seven sequels? Probably not, though I'm a sucker for Freddy and pretty much like every one of them with the exception of that ridiculous Freddy Vs Jason flick. But...the first is the best and would have remained more terrifying a film had Freddy not turned into a bad one-liner.

I think maybe I'm just getting older and more ornery and it bugs me to see so few original ideas, always waiting for the summer string of sequels to hit the theaters, uninspiring, tired and pulling in far too much cash from what can only be described as a sheep-like or desperate populace. There are something like five Saw films, five or six Final Destinations, and Paranormal Activity is well on the way. But, in retrospect, I suppose it's been this way at least since the slasher films of the late seventies and eighties, and it will continue in the name of supply and demand. I mean, why try to adapt a wonderful book or come up with something fresh, or even a twist on an old trope, right?

But what about books? How do sequels fare when it comes to the written word, and why are sequels so popular? I couldn't tell you from experience, because I can count how many sequels I have read on one hand. I'm not including a numbered series of books such as King's Dark Tower series, but sequels along the lines of Jack Ketchim's Off Season, Peter Giglio's Beyond Anon or Stephen King's Dr. Sleep. I have noticed a trend towards the trilogy, particularly in zombie fiction (a sub-genre I'm bored to death with). Perhaps that means the author has an epic story that can only be told in three parts. In many cases that falls under the same category as King's Dark Tower series (not that he really knew where it was going from the beginning back in the early eighties!). Like film, I can assume that the popularity of a story can merit the author penning a sequel for the sake of their fans. It's something I don't understand. I've read stories that I enjoyed so much I wished they would never end, but when I finish a book like that I don't yearn for a sequel. I say leave it be. Don't stir the ashes looking for a few pieces of charred wood for a smaller, less comforting fire. It's not that sequels don't work, they can, but I think more often than not they fall short and I'd much rather see fresh ideas. That being said, for the first time in my life I am looking forward to reading a few sequels: the aforementioned Beyond Anon by Peter Giglio, Kayla Undead by Bryan Smith, and Dr. Sleep by Stephen King. Perhaps these books will shift my view of novel sequels. I'll get back to you on that.

Guts and good cheer to all!

Robert Essig

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