After more than a decade of silence, the Scream franchise returns to theaters on January 14th. The new film, simply titled Scream, is not only the first of the movies not directed by the late Wes Craven (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett step in for the horror icon), but it is also the fifth entry in the series.
For some moviegoers, a series with five or more films is a sure sign of diminishing returns, further evidence that Hollywood has run out of ideas and only recycles the same tired stories. But for horror fans, fifth entries have proved to be some of the best in the series. Fifth movies can be the point where the franchise perfects the premise, where beloved characters return, or when filmmakers break with the formula and take things in a surprising new direction.
To be sure, not every fifth movie is a winner. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) trudge along well-worn plot paths; Leprechaun in the Hood (2000) and Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) are interesting failures, while Tremors: Bloodlines (2015) is a low point in the series.
But fifth entries have also included real classics, such as the slick and mean-spirited remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), the monster-mash classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), and Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus (2012). That said, even those movies pale in compression to these top five fifth entries in horror franchises…
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
As the subtitle suggests, the fifth Friday the 13th film resets the series, returning to the whodunnit approach of the first movie. Set years after Jason Voorhees definitively died in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), A New Beginning follows Jason’s killer Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd) to a halfway house for troubled children. When people start dying after his arrival, Tommy becomes suspect number one.
Director Danny Steinmann takes a hands-off approach, which results in a rambling, but highly entertaining Friday the 13th movie. Steinmann allows space for his actors to make some wild choices, which means that we get scenes in which the biker Demon (Miquel A. Nuñez Jr.) duets with his girlfriend Anita (Jeré Fields) from the inside of an outhouse before getting offed by Jason.
The movie certainly has its problems… mostly a killer reveal that makes no sense. But really, the movie’s biggest issue is its placement, coming between the perfect slasher film that is The Final Chapter and the metatextual comedy of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Still, if taken for what it is, A New Beginning remains a memorable ’80s slasher.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn–Part 2 (2012)
From its genesis, the Twilight franchise has been the subject of ire and resentment from gatekeeping horror fans who don’t like variations on vampire mythology and from viewers put off by its tone of aching earnestness. And, to be fair, the sparkly vampires are certainly unique, as are the series’ lore and its presentation of sexual anxiety. But it’s the fact that the movies approach every aspect of the story with such heartbreaking, unrepentant sincerity that makes them such a blast to watch.
Nowhere is that more evident in the series fifth and final entry, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn–Part 2. The movie pits the newly undead Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire husband Edward (Robert Pattinson) against the Volturi, the vampire Illuminati lead by Aro (a delightfully off-kilter Michael Sheen). The Volturi have come to judge Renesmee, the infant daughter of Bella and Edward, who was born with the hunger and power of a vampire, but no adult restraint.
A lover of romantic oddities, director Bill Condon indulges not only the central conflict but also the oddities of Twilight lore and the sincerity demanded by fans. The movie includes an absurd sequence in which all the central characters die by grisly means such as decapitation, and also a subplot involving a werewolf who falls in love with a baby. The whole thing ends with an extremely long extended credit sequence that gives character shots and title cards to nearly every character who appears in the franchise. It’s a love letter to the entire series: the good, the bad, and the very weird.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
When Godzilla first hit Japanese shores in 1954, he was a villain, the horror of atomic energy made scaly flesh. But throughout most of the 36-part, multi-decade, trans-corporate franchise in which he stars, Godzilla is closer to a hero: the devil we know who battles the Kaiju devils we don’t.
1964’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster most clearly signals that change. Helmed by original Godzilla director Ishirō Honda, the movie marks the first appearance of King Ghidorah, who will go on to become the big bad of the Godzilla franchise. Warning humanity of the coming of Ghidorah is Selgina’s Princess Mas Dorina Salno (Akiko Wakabayashi), who claims to be possessed by an entity from Venus. The Earth’s only hope for survival is Godzilla, who is too busy battling Rodan to help—unless Mothra can convince them both to turn their anger against the three-headed monster.
While not as tense as the original Godzilla nor as overwhelmingly bonkers as Destroy All Monsters (1968), Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is still a ton of fun. Unlike too many other kaiju films, all of the human characters have compelling arcs, thanks to an assassination plot involving the Princess of Selgina. The monster designs from special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya are all wonderfully goofy, even if the King of the Monsters sports a strangely stubby snout.
Seed of Chucky (2004)
Few film franchises have had a tonal shift as extreme as the Child’s Play series. What started as a straightforward slasher flick about a killer doll became a wild comedy with its fourth entry, 1998’s Bride of Chucky, and even transitioned into an excellent TV series in 2021. Seed of Chucky continues in the comedy vein with a movie that’s both deeply indebted to horror stories of the past and refreshingly progressive.
The titular seed is Glen/Glenda, a non-binary living doll voiced by Billy Boyd, who brings Chucky (Brad Dourif) and Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) back to life. A sensitive soul who just wants to be accepted by their parents, Glen/Glenda is horrified at Chucky and Tiffany’s insistence on holding them to a specific gender and by the duo’s murderous tendencies. Parenthood drives Chucky and Tiffany to become a real family by transferring their souls into the actress Jennifer Tilly (playing herself), her chauffer Stan (Steve Lawton), and the child Tilly has been carrying, thanks to artificial insemination with Chucky semen.
As that plot summary suggests, Seed of Chucky has a lot going on, and it sometimes collapses under the weight of post-Scream self-reference and jokes that don’t quite land (i.e., when Chucky kills “Britney Spears” by running her off the road). But Chucky creator Don Mancini, taking the director’s chair after writing all the previous entries, gets the important stuff right: the kills are memorable, Chucky and Tiffany are a delight, and the movie manages to explore gender identity with more insight than most Hollywood releases (especially slashers).
Final Destination 5 (2011)
Seed of Chucky may have brought something new to the Child’s Play series, but Final Destination 5 earns the top spot for perfecting its core premise. Since its first outing in 2000, the Final Destination franchise has always had a deliciously compelling premise. Each movie begins with a teen who receives a premonition of a disaster in which they and their friends brutally die. After they manage to escape their grisly fate, Death hunts down the survivors, offing them one by one in improbably complex, Rube Goldberg-esque scenarios.
The victims in this entry are young employees on a company retreat. When Sam Lawton (Nicholas D’Agosto) gets a premonition of carnage during a bridge collapse, he, his friends, and their boss escape, putting them on Death’s hit list. Although none of the characters have very much depth, every actor is game, especially comedian David Koechner as the jerky boss Dennis, P. J. Byrne as corporate bro Isaac, and the always-welcome Tony Todd, returning to the series as undertaker William Bludworth.
Fundamentally, Final Destination movies are defined by their bizarre and elaborate kills, and 5 has the most memorable of the entire series. A gymnast’s routine starts with a malfunctioning fan and an upturned screw and ends with the athlete crumpled in a broken, twitching pile; elsewhere, a routine laser surgery session goes wrong in an eye-popping manner. Director Steven Quale shoots every scene deftly, teasing the viewer with the series’ best setups, payoffs, and misdirects.
So, does Scream (2022) belong in the top five? Are there any entries that I missed? Is Tremors: Bloodline a secret masterpiece? Let us know in the comments.
Joe George‘s writing has appeared at Think Christian, FilmInquiry, and is collected at joewriteswords.com. He hosts the web series Renewed Mind Movie Talk and tweets nonsense from @jageorgeii.