One of my first columns for Badass Digest was about the Saw series, and how it was the only major horror franchise that ever stuck to one continuity/mythology from beginning to end. No reboots, no “we ignored the last sequels and pick up where part 1 left off”, no simply lazy entries that just assumed no one cared. And thus, it’s also the only major horror franchise that you really can’t go out of order when you watch them. You might get the gist of that film’s particular story, but the reveals and twists won’t be as interesting (in some cases they won’t even make sense) unless you were well versed on what came before. But what about the other series? Strong continuity or no, does it pay off to watch them in sequence? Or can it actually be beneficial to watch some of the later entries first?
I got to thinking about it the other night when a friend asked if he needed to see Psycho II in order to follow Psycho III, of which I was hosting a midnight screening. Since most folks use any excuse in the book not to come out for a midnight show, I thought it was very cool not only that he showed up to support my endeavors, but did so at the expense of potentially spoiling the fun of a superior film. I said “not really” and gave him the 2nd film’s final “twist”, but Psycho III actually does a decent job of summing up the events of that one (and then rewrites them again at the end anyway).
And in some ways it actually kind of helps not to be too familiar with the 2nd film, because one of Psycho III’s problems is that it’s only supposed to be a month later, yet Norman is noticeably older and the Bates Motel has somehow completely fallen apart in just a few weeks – there’s a tumbleweed blowing through the parking lot that rivals any western you’ve ever seen. This oversight always distracted me, and made it harder to buy into the film’s “immediate follow-up” approach – without having seen Psycho II, it wouldn’t be an issue (though I guess you might be a bit puzzled why Norman was being defended by the local police, or even out of the institution in the first place).
The age factor also hurt Halloween II a bit, as Laurie somehow got a lot older and changed her hair color in the hour or so in between Michael’s disappearance at the end of H1 and her arrival at Haddonfield Hospital. But if you can get past that (not too hard since she spends most of the movie laying in a bed doing nothing), I IMPLORE you never to watch the original batch of Halloween movies out of order, even if you already know the big reveal from H2’s third act. I actually saw Halloween 4 before either of the others, so the fact that (spoiler, I guess?) Laurie was Michael’s sister was something I already knew by the time I got around to watching the first two films, slightly ruining the original film’s creep factor. One of the great things about the first film was the idea that he had no motive and was, to quote Dr. Loomis “purely and simply evil”. However, John Carpenter (who has claimed that he wrote the sequel drunk; I don’t think he’s joking) took a cue from Empire Strikes Back and made them siblings, which forever changed the course of the series, turning Michael from a simple embodiment of evil into some Druid pawn that was trying to wipe out his family in order to fulfill some prophecy. Yeah, scary.
There are two exceptions. Since Halloween III takes place in a different universe, I’d say it’s best to wait until you feel that the series has gotten completely terrible before checking it out – the “No Michael Myers? Fuck you!” attitude that hurt the film in 1982 will become a “No Michael Myers? Awesome!” feeling after you’ve suffered through the Dimension entries. Also, Halloween Resurrection should not be viewed by anyone, but I guess I could argue that if you haven’t seen ANY of the others you might possibly want to start there and watch it as a modern, “hip” slasher movie, without the constant reminder of how it pisses all over a franchise in every frame. It’s your best chance of enjoying it, though that probably still won’t happen. Then there are Rob Zombie’s contributions, but since this is about continuity the remakes don’t apply as they have their own timeline to worry about.
Michael Myers’ closest cinematic rival is Jason Voorhees from the Friday The 13th movies, and those don’t really have any value in going in exact order once he gets the hockey mask in F13 3D. As with Halloween I actually saw the fourth film (the “Final Chapter”!) first, which is a great place to start since it’s the best one, but it also allowed me to enjoy Part V (The New Beginning) more than most – I had no real appreciation for the character yet, so the “fake” Jason didn’t bother me. For all I knew, he was a different guy in every movie (sort of like how “Ghostface” from the Scream movies is actually like 6 people at this point), and thus I wasn’t put off by the “impostor” as longtime fans of the series were. But thus, like many, this kept me from ever fully enjoying the original Friday The 13th on its own merits, as I was always in the “Where’s Jason?” mindset that wouldn’t have existed had I gone in order. Ditto Part 2, which is one of the last I ever saw and thus had trouble getting around the lack of the hockey mask. On the other hand, seeing how he got it in Part 3 was a much cooler moment for me than anyone who saw it when it first came out, as it was a “Holy shit! The first appearance of THE mask!” type thing, not unlike when a comic book will go back and show you how Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton or whatever.
And to be fair they do try to offer some semblance of continuity throughout the series; it’s mostly when you think about the DATES that things get really screwy (with Jason Takes Manhattan having to take place sometime around the year 2000 or so). So there’s no real pro or con to watching any of the later entries out of order, long as you know that everything after the opening sequence of Jason Takes Manhattan is ignored. Hell the movies don’t even take PLACE in order anyway; Jason X came first but all of it (even the pre-space bit at the beginning) occurs sometime after the events of Freddy Vs. Jason, making it the rare film that spoiled the outcome of a movie that didn’t exist yet. At that point, all folks seemed to care about was Jason being up and about, killing folks – returning characters or any of that stuff went out the window once Tommy Jarvis left the lake for the last time.
Ditto for Nightmare on Elm Street. 3-5 form some sort of loose trilogy that is best experienced in order, but Part 2 breaks the rules set by the original film and is then ignored forever (justifiably so with regards to Freddy, but it’s still worth a look due to its insane homoerotic approach to the material). Freddy’s Dead (the 6th film) ignores pretty much everything in the mythology and sort of makes up its own shit (and doesn’t bother explaining Freddy’s resurrection in the first place), so it’s probably best to watch that one before you’ve gotten too attached to the character if you want any chance of enjoying it. As for New Nightmare, which I quite like, that one takes place in the “real world” so again it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the others as long as you know that Freddy Krueger is an iconic monster from a series of horror movies.
Hellraiser is unique in that it’s the only major franchise that never had a creative rebound – it more or less just gets worse as it goes along. Friday the 13th part 6 and New Nightmare are considered to be among the best in those series, but Hellraiser was a constant downward slide. Maybe you can slide one movie over a place but otherwise it’s pretty much universally agreed that the first two are the best, the last two are the worst, etc. And there’s not a lot of continuity after part 3 either; if anything you should mostly watch the series BACKWARDS so it’ll just get better as it goes. Ditto for Child’s Play – the story/continuity doesn’t matter much. Chucky’s goals are the same in every movie and apart from Andy in the first 3, there are no continuing or re-appearing characters.
Also there is no continuity whatsoever in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies so again, it doesn’t matter. There was never an “origin” for Leatherface in the original series (again, we’re ignoring the remakes here), and each film introduced new family members with no explanation of where they came from or how they hooked up with Leatherface. Thus, there’s no real harm in watching, say, the 3rd film first (ironically, this is one of the only above series I actually DID see entirely in order), and/or saving the best (first) for last. I should note that the upcoming Leatherface 3D takes place in the original continuity, not Platinum Dunes’, which is unprecedented as the original canon is usually considered “dead” once the remakes take over. If it works, it’d be interesting to see if the original Halloween or Friday The 13th series can be revived, ignoring their less than stellar remake series (though in the latter’s case I still want a sequel as Derek Mears was an awesome Jason and thus putting him in the old-school series would just be confusing, I think).
Of course, if you’re not a die-hard horror nerd then none of this matters. I’m not going to pretend that a good chunk of the audience for these movies doesn’t care about learning things out of order - if Dream Warriors is your first Freddy film, I’m sure someone will explain who that girl is that shows up at the end of Act 1 (“It’s Nancy, from the first movie!”). I stand by the fact that Saw IV is totally impenetrable without seeing the previous films, but for the most part the only harm can occur if you actually take these movies kind of seriously and thus give a shit about their ongoing story threads. Ideally you’d watch any series in order, but as I’ve pointed out a few times above, there are occasions where being less OCD about it can result in enjoying a certain sequel more than those who had been around since the beginning.
Speaking of which, I know it’s not horror, but I’m curious how many kids will be seeing Phantom Menace next week as their first Star Wars movie. Wonder how they’ll take to the original trilogy if they see them AFTER the bloated prequels. Too bad horror never got a big epic series like this, with a rich continuity that could be reverse engineered… hey, wait a minute! *Writes "Saw: The Early Years"*