Insidious fans have had to wait a few years for the franchise’s fourth installment, but with this weekend’s The Last Key, the story of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) finally has its next chapter. In honor of this long-awaited arrival, we decided to dedicate this week’s feature to a look back at some of the (many) other fourth chapters in the horror genre, with an emphasis on the better-reviewed in the bunch. Buckle up for a slew of final chapters and spine-tingling returns, because it’s time for Total Recall!
Two decades after he rounded out his Living Dead series into a trilogy with 1985’s Day of the Dead, pioneering franchise mastermind George Romero returned with the fourth installment, Land of the Dead — and against all odds, the darn thing turned out to be pretty good. Set in the aftermath of the undead apocalypse, this chapter unfolds in a human outpost established in Pittsburgh, and stars an entertainingly eclectic cast that includes John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, and a villainous Dennis Hopper; for fans of the genre, it offered long-overdue affirmation that Romero remained the reigning king of the cinematic zombie. As Manohla Dargis argued for the New York Times, the end result is “An excellent freakout of a movie.”
The Scream trilogy ended on something of a bum note, critically speaking, which left director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson feeling like there was some unfinished business with the franchise that helped reinvent postmodern horror. Roughly a decade after Scream 3 ended its theatrical run, they got their wish with a fourth installment, which picked up where the series left off, subjecting poor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) to the further homicidal hijinks of the Ghostface Killer. While it didn’t scale the same acclaimed heights as the first two entries in the franchise, it still represented something of a rebound; as Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote for Entertainment Weekly, “It’s a giddy reminder of everything that made Scream such a fresh scream in the first place.”
The film that brought Renny Harlin to Hollywood, 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master serves as the unofficial fulcrum point between the stark horror of the first installment and the quip-heavy set pieces of later Nightmares — although franchise mainstay Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) isn’t quite as terrifying as before, there’s still a better balance here between stylish scares and hammy one-liners. Picking up where the third chapter left off, this Nightmare sees Krueger facing off against a young woman (Lisa Wilcox) who can absorb the dream powers of her friends after Freddy kills them — and although it led directly into the next sequel in a series that seemed to be gaining steam just as Friday the 13th petered out, many critics didn’t mind; according to the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum, it’s actually “Consistently watchable and inventive.”
When you’ve built a horror trilogy out of the idea that a killer’s soul can inhabit — and animate — a children’s doll, where can you possibly go? For the Child’s Play franchise masterminded by Don Mancini, the answer was easy: embrace the silliness inherent in the premise and serve up a wacky fourth installment in which the bloody carnage is leavened by a heaping helping of black humor. Although the Chucky movies have never exactly been critical darlings, the pundits couldn’t help but be at least partly won over by Bride of Chucky, which sees our pint-sized killer hooking up with a deranged admirer (Jennifer Tilly) — after he kills her, of course, and transfers her soul into a doll of its own. “This may be hard to believe, but Bride of Chucky is a smart little horror movie,” wrote Mick LaSalle for the San Francisco Chronicle. “The fourth installment in the Child’s Play series has a sense of its own silliness — and a tight plot that provides a clothesline for a string of funny, macabre murders.”
Visually distinctive — and downright chilling in its best moments — the Hellraiser franchise had seen better days by the time it lurched to its fourth installment with 1996’s Bloodline. Makeup artist Kevin Yagher, making his directorial debut, at least had the germ of a solid sequel in Peter Atkins’ screenplay, which depicted the doomed efforts of three beleaguered generations of men (all played by Bruce Ramsay) on their panicked, last-ditch quests to rid the world of the demon Pinhead. It was billed as the final installment in the series at the time, and critics wouldn’t have been sad to see it go — and nor would Yagher, who, hamstrung by budget woes, ultimately opted to have his name struck from the final credits and replaced with the pseudonym Alan Smithee. Still, the end result had its fans. “This ‘Alan Smithee’ is a wuss,” wrote Juicy Cerebellum’s Alex Sandell. “This film isn’t half bad.”
After taking an ill-regarded detour with the series’ third installment, the fourth Halloween brought back baddie Michael Myers — and launched a slew of subsequent sequels that saw the masked murderer stalking subsequent generations of his family while taking on an array of increasingly ludicrous mystical powers. It all started with The Return of Michael Myers, in which the long-comatose villain sparks to life upon discovering he has a niece, then returns to Haddonfield to resume his reign of terror. It’s a steep stumble from the genre-defining terror of John Carpenter’s original, but it has its charms; as TV Guide argued, this Halloween remains “The best of the sequels to Carpenter’s seminal slasher movie.”
At bottom, much of the horror genre basically boils down to beautiful young people trying (often in vain) to escape meeting ugly ends, so when the first Final Destination premiered in 2000, it wasn’t hard to appreciate the brilliant simplicity of its central concept — that Death itself was a ruthless killer, given to claiming its victims in fiendishly clever ways even after they seemingly managed to cheat it. After multiple sequels, however, the fun of watching interchangeable kids meet their maker had started to wear off, and aside from the introduction of 3D, 2009’s The Final Destination had little to offer that fans of the franchise hadn’t already seen. Still, that was just enough for some critics; as Wendy Ide argued for the Times, “That this fourth installment brings no fresh ideas to the mix is not a problem; the added dimension is more than enough to reinvigorate interest in this enduringly and deservedly popular series.”
At this point, we’ve seen Jason Voorhees offed in any number of seemingly permanent ways — not to mention shot into space and sent to Hell — so the idea of any Friday the 13th really serving as the saga’s “final chapter” need to be taken with a boulder-sized grain of salt. But as it reached its fourth installment, the franchise briefly seemed like it could actually come to a close — with members of the creative team ready to part and the studio eager to jump off the slasher bandwagon before it ground to a halt, the fourth Friday was initially conceived as the conclusion of the series. In form as well as function, it’s basically the same as any of its predecessors, with Jason stalking the woods of Crystal Lake as a gaggle of good-looking teens (including a young Crispin Glover) party on, blissfully unaware of the danger until it’s too late. The final act, however, offers one of the more gonzo twists of the franchise to that point, as young horror makeup enthusiast Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) disguises himself to look like young Jason — confusing the hockey-masked maniac just long enough to take a machete to the melon. The critical pans were just as predictable as the series’ return the following year, and all things considered, it probably isn’t the best in the franchise; under the right circumstances, however, it lives up to the assessment levied by Gregory Weinkauf of the New Times, who called it “Some rather amusing crap, actually.”
Unlike the many horror franchises that cranked out sequels on the regular during the ’80s and ’90s, the Phantasm series was the little series that could, inching its way to trilogy status and beyond only by dint of hard work, financial ingenuity, and a steadily growing cult fanbase — not to mention plenty of time between installments. Nearly a decade lapsed between the first and second chapters, with another six years standing between Phantasm II and 1994’s Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead. In comparison, the four years it took to get Phantasm: OblIVion released were a virtual blip — not that the increased speed helped its critical fortunes. Hamstrung by a low budget and an increasingly imposing mythology that could feel bewildering (or downright convoluted) to newcomers, it earned some of the franchise’s worst reviews — and it’d be nearly 20 years before the arrival of a fifth (and supposedly final) Phantasm. Antagony & Ecstasy’s Tim Brayton sounded one of the few positive notes, arguing that OblIVion “[Brings] back the surrealistic creepiness of the original film, and then some.”
Sequels have a way of taking the sting out of even the scariest movies. Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jaws — they all started strong, only to see their follow-ups swiftly subjected to the law of diminishing returns. The Omen is sadly no exception: after the seemingly sequel-ready original terrified audiences, subsequent installments tumbled quickly into mediocrity, and 1981’s Omen III: The Final Conflict put the franchise in limbo for a decade before it lumbered back to life with the made-for-TV Omen IV: The Awakening. Conceived as the first in a potential series of new sequels, this chapter — in which the Antichrist’s daughter is adopted from an orphanage by an unwitting couple — earned little more than scorn from critics like Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic, who deemed it “An alternately boring and unintentionally funny attempt to breathe life into a very dead franchise.” Needless to say, the attempt didn’t work; the Omen series entered another decade-long slumber before returning with the 2006 remake of the original, and it’d be another 10 years until it resurfaced on TV with the Damien series, which was canceled after a single season.