Four play

Recently, a buddy of mine wrote a (cracking) blog post about movie threequels. Which, it seems, is a topic that everybody has an opinion on. Alien 3 has its lovers. Spider-Man 3 its haters. But in light of Scre4m hitting cinemas earlier this month, my brain began to ponder the subject of fourquels. The result is this meandering post – a blatant fleecing of Stephen’s threequel blog. Or maybe a belated sequel…

Fourquels are tricky things, no question. If an emergent franchise does the impossible and creates a decent first follow-up (see Friday The 13th Part 2, Aliens), it’s almost always let down by a dreary threequel (see Friday The 13th Part 3, Alien 3). Which is where the fourquel comes in. Slowly, of course, because many fourquels take their bow a fair amount of time after their disappointing predecessors – Scre4am took 11 years to arrive after a fan-dividing trilogy-closer, Alien: Resurrection took five to recover from Fox’s Alien 3 meddling.

But are fourquels actually any good? When even the brains behind them know a third sequel is pushing things (see F13: Part 4, which attempted to put a lid on Jason Voorhees forever, then failed miserably), isn’t it time to call it quits and move quietly along?

Some are undeniable stinkers. Case in point A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which not only had the audacity to re-cast fresh Final Girl Patricia Arquette (introduced in Part 3) with a saucer-eyed soap opera reject (and then ingloriously kill her off), but insisted that we believe Freddy Krueger could be raised from the dead by a quantity of flaming dog piss. Dream Master is a fine example of fourquels that are travelling on the same beaten track as their predecessor(s), but are now squealing along on flat tyres.

And who could forget the hilariously unfortunate Jaws 4: The Revenge, which maintained that a sea-dwelling fish could not only hold grudges, but also set out in search of bloody vengeance? Fishy isn’t the word.

The fourquels that come off best (and “best” is all relative here) are the ones that seek to reboot and rejuvenate. Alien: Resurrection, armed with Buffy’s Joss Whedon on scripting duties, endeavoured to take the character of Ripley (who had little to do in Alien 3 except hate herself) in a kick-ass new direction. Yes, it failed in other areas, but by exploring new avenues in a tired concept, it at least gave the franchise a boost.

The same can be said of Halloween 4: The Revenge Of Michael Myers. With Jamie Lee Curtis long gone, Revenge effectively stirred up a Carpenter-esque mood while giving us one of the cutest ever little Final Girls (thank you, Danielle Harris). Yes, it was as subtle as a knife in the gut, but at least it respected the original. Sadly the same can’t be said of the atrocious Halloween 5 and 6, both of which are the definition of hackjob (there’s a fivequel discussion in there somewhere).

One the best horror fourquels tumbled along with 1998’s Bride Of Chucky, which revamped (quite literally, in the case of Jennifer Tilly) the killer doll franchise and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Okay, it was ‘hip’ and ‘in’, with clever references (hello Pinhead) and better humour than horror, but it effectively gave the Child’s Play series a shot of sugar that it was desperately craving.

The minus column, of course, almost entirely eradicates the plus. Die Hard 4 (explosive mess), Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skulls (saggy mess), Resident Evil: Afterlife (pure ugh), Critters 4 (no Leo), Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (Nuclear Man), Terminator Salvation (McG)…

Does the world need fourquels? They’re often rightly held up as examples of diminishing returns, but those occasional tarnished gems at least help keep the discussion interesting. With Mad Max 4 (Fury Road) and a possible X-Men 4 both on the horizon (producer Lauren Donner’s been teasing us about the latter for years), it seems Hollywood still isn’t ready to throw in the towel when it comes to profitable franchises. The fourquel lives on…

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