There are few genres that can boast as many long-running series as horror. From Jason to Michael, Chucky to the Leprechaun, almost all the horror icons that were big deals in the 80s and 90s are still around today.
With that said, reinvention is the key to longevity, and that’s just as true for horror films as it is for Madonna. As a result, many of today’s horror franchises had to go through some seriously weird phases to stay relevant, leading to some of the strangest horror movie franchise instalments of all time.
20. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
The set-up for almost all Friday the 13th movies is the same: Jason Voorhees is at Camp Crystal Lake and has decided to spend a pleasant summer weekend slowly killing off the teenagers hanging out there.
1989’s Jason Takes Manhattan was the first movie in the 13th franchise that broke this formula, by setting the movie on a graduating class’ party boat headed towards the city.
Most of the film is pretty formulaic, with Jason killing engineers and teenagers in a similar way to usual.
With that said, the weird parts are truly weird – from Jason standing in front of his own billboard, to him punching the head off a boxer (in the only instance of Jason punching anybody, ever).
There’s even a fatality on the boat’s spinning dancefloor that is actually pretty hard to watch, and for once the film’s token dog actually survives.
To be honest, the franchise could only get weirder if said dog returned to hunt down Jason with a vengeance in a sort of reverse John Wick. Here’s hoping!
19. Happy Death Day 2U
The first Happy Death Day is a pretty standard slasher, only with a unique premise.
For reasons unbeknownst to her, protagonist Tree is forced to live the same day over and over again, as she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery while being pursued by a masked killer.
She manages to save the day and escape the loop, but never figures out exactly why it happened.
The sequel, 2019’s Happy Death Day 2U, flips this formula in a big way. In the first few minutes, we find out the loop was the fault of a bunch of college nerds who built a quantum time machine in the basement of their university.
This revelation leads to the film going full-tilt science fiction, combining masked murderers with time loops, alternate dimensions and urgent time machine repairs.
It’s interesting and super funny, but definitely not what you’d expect from a contemporary horror movie.
18. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Paranormal Activity is another long-running series that saw diminishing returns as the years went by, but it didn’t go the route of creating standalone premises that pushed the boundaries of believability more each time.
Instead, the Paranormal Activity team just made the lore more and more complex with each movie.
Eventually, this resulted in a fifth instalment that slowly uncovers a family cult, with a crazed grandfather starting a family just to find a home for his favourite demon.
That’s already a weird starting point for a horror movie, but Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones goes even further with it.
This one features creepy psychic sisters who appear to be able to see into the future, and ends with the new protagonist literally walking through time into the past.
All this, and it’s still a found footage movie – talk about a serious genre mash-up.
17. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
For a franchise that regular breaks the top three when it comes to the most famous of horror series, the premise for the Nightmare on Elm Street films is already pretty weird.
Even when you discount the zombie/cult storylines from the later Elm Street movies, the idea of a killer who lives inside your dreams but can kill you in the real world is already a little bit out there.
Freddy’s Dead is the last Nightmare on Elm Street movie in the original continuity, and starts with the realisation that every single adult and child in the town is dead.
Not only that, but the town is surrounded with some sort of force field that Freddy can’t break, so he has to tempt the one remaining teenager to go find some more victims.
The weirdest part of the movie is that it secretly centres around Freddy’s daughter, and has extended flashback scenes where we are led to sympathise with the hard life of this hugely comedic killer.
Add in cameos from the original cast, Freddy driving a bus and the protagonist falling out of a plane through a hole in the floor, and you have some of the weirdest imagery in the whole Elm Street franchise.
16. Leprechaun in the Hood
Some of the horror movies on this list take a lot of explanation for the layperson to understand, but Leprechaun in the Hood is exactly what it sounds like.
In the fifth instalment of the Leprechaun series, the titular Irish trickster has been turned to stone in a basement in Los Angeles.
There, Leprechaun is fortuitously found by two rappers – Mack Daddy O’Nasses and Slug.
Mack Daddy finds a magic flute in the room, and so, of course, the movie follows Mack as he becomes a successful music producer, and begins to get drunk on his own power.
Meanwhile, the Leprechaun comes back to life to menace the whole city – mostly by getting drunk, doing drugs, and hanging out with women who for some reason can’t see that he’s an actual demon.
Oh, and most importantly of all – Leprechaun in the Hood’s Mack Daddy O’Nasses is played by Ice-T.
15. Evil Dead 2
The first Evil Dead movie is regarded as one of the scariest low-budget horror movies ever made.
A completely independent production, director Sam Raimi essentially hired a cabin in the woods and locked his cast in it for a few days, the result being a dark, edgy and gross movie with a few bits of stellar comedy.
However, the movie obviously wasn’t weird enough for its creator, who took its cult success as a chance to make an even stranger sequel.
Evil Dead 2 is the story of protagonist Ash’s transformation into a full-blown action hero.
While he attempts to escape the cabin for the second time, Ash has his hand possessed by a deadite, turns his severed hand into a chainsaw, and is eventually transported into the year 1300 AD.
Ash is then confronted by a group of knights and immediately followed by the same demons that have been pursuing him for two movies now – and that’s only the beginning.
14. Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman
Jack Frost is a movie that a lot of people have heard of, but that very few have actually seen.
That’s why it’s so unimaginable that studio A-Pix Entertainment, Inc were able to make a sequel at all, let alone one that anybody actually cared about.
The storyline of Revenge is just as weird too, given that Jack Frost starts the movie as a bunch of containers of antifreeze and ends it terrorising a whole tropical island.
That’s right: the killer snowman swims across the ocean to haunt the original cast while they’re on vacation.
Jack gets up to all sorts of chaos along the way, of course, almost none of it expected even in a franchise this odd.
In this sequel, Jack makes a model’s head explode, gives birth to hundreds of evil snowball babies and is eventually defeated by a banana allergy.
13. Leprechaun 4: In Space
We’ve already looked at just how outlandish the Leprechaun series can be, but letting the demon loose on 1980s California is apparently not as strange as it gets.
The fourth instalment of the franchise – In Space – sees Lep marry a space princess on a distant planet.
We’re already far away from the humble beginnings of the series, but the plot is even more complicated than described.
The Leprechaun plans to kill the princess and become an intergalactic king on their wedding night, but soon it’s revealed she is also planning to kill him.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, a platoon of space marines at one point arrive to punish the Leprechaun for… mining malpractice?
All this cemented Leprechaun’s status as the protagonist, rather than the villain, of his own franchise in In Space.
12. Jason X
The Friday the 13th franchise is one of the most prolific in all of horror, and as such has established many of the genre’s cliches and hallmarks.
However, in order to stay relevant over the years, the Friday the 13th movies changed from stories of attractive teenagers being chased around a summer camp.
The series has since explored increasingly weirder and more outlandish premises, with maybe the strangest being 2001’s Jason X.
In this film, Jason has been frozen and transported into the future, where science-types plan to study him as humanity’s most invincible man.
Of course, the scientists on the spaceship are clumsy enough to wake poor old Jason up.
From there the film follows a pretty familiar pattern, except with androids, antigravity and liquid nitrogen all being used to aid in the kills.
11. Seed of Chucky
Out of all the horror franchises that have delved into some weird places over the years, none are more famous for it than the Child’s Play series.
Starting with a story in which a serial killer in the body of a doll has to convince a child to give up his own soul and become a ghost, the instalments have only got steadily weirder from there.
Seed of Chucky has become infamous for being the only horror movie to feature an entirely unironic sex scene between dolls.
However, what’s actually way weirder than that is that Jennifer Tilly both voices Chucky’s bride and plays herself in live-action in Seed of Chucky.
This development has led to roughly a thousand jokes about how they’re the same person.
Not only that, but Chucky’s son is a genderfluid neurotic with a heart of gold and an anxiety disorder – and he eventually becomes a live-action child that’s creepier than the doll.
10. Zombieland 2: Double Tap
Zombieland’s over-the-top comedic tone means it almost doesn’t feel like a horror movie, even if zombies are a mainstay of the genre.
However, two things ensure that the franchise meets the mark to qualify as true horror: the gratuitous and hard to watch violence, and the weirdness.
While the first Zombieland is filled with meta on-screen gags and fourth wall breaks, the second, Double Tap, takes things to a whole new level.
Double Tap introduces elements like ‘Zombie Kill of the Week’ and even ‘Zombie Kill of the Year’.
That wouldn’t be that weird on its own, but these segments cut away from the narrative and characters we know completely, and are narrated by a voice that completely distracts from the movie actually happening on screen.
Not only that, but weird alternate-universe versions of the main quartet of characters all show up in the film, with no explanation for how they exist or how they all ended up together.
9. Slumber Party Massacre II
The first Slumber Party Massacre is exactly what it says on the tin: the story of a group of teenagers at a sleepover being picked off by a killer with a power drill.
Following the little sister of a character from the first movie, whose group of friends are also picked off by a killer with a power tool, the sequel keeps all the same beats and even the same tone as the original.
A change in villain, however, takes Slumber Party Massacre II from a simple slasher to a surreal nightmare.
Rather than a quietly deranged serial killer, the villain of Party Massacre II is a leather-clad rockabilly with a greaser haircut and a jacket covered in fringe.
He still kills using a power drill, but that drill is attached to an electric guitar, which the killer actually plays during genuine musical numbers.
The villain is easily the most interesting and hilarious thing about the Slumber Party sequel, but the tone is so jarring compared to the first film that it’s hard to imagine any producer ever sounding off on the premise.
8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
The original Texas Chain Saw massacre is considered to be a masterpiece not just of the horror genre, but cinema as a whole.
However, the many Chain Saw sequels are considered to be muddled, goofy and confusing at best, and detrimental to the audience’s enjoyment of the original at worst.
1995’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is the fourth movie in the series, and has a plot that is just a re-telling of beats from the earlier films. What makes Next Generation strange is the B plot, which is a cop drama and conspiracy theory story both rolled into one, about the FBI knowing about the family of cannibals but letting them continue to exist anyway.
The two conflicting halves of the Next Generation story make this movie feel seriously disjointed, but it’s the cast that help tip the film into weird fever dream territory.
Next Generation stars, as the hero and villain respectively, Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, who were already too famous by the time the movie came out for the release to do anything but embarrass them.
In fact, McConaughey’s agents even tried to stop the movie from being released, calling it “an abuse of the actor’s name”.
7. Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf
The first Howling movie was one of three influential werewolf films to come out of 1981, along with An American Werewolf in London and Wolfen.
It’s a fairly straightforward monster movie, with a journalist being banished to a mountain community, only to realise she’s surrounded by werewolves.
By contrast, the sequel’s plot revolves around the immortal and all-powerful werewolf queen – who for some reason is also a Wiccan with pagan witch powers.
Rather than being an all-American movie, the cast of Your Sister Is a Werewolf all have to travel to Transylvania to face off against the monster monarch, even though that’s the well-known hometown of vampires, not werewolves.
The werewolf queen is somewhere between weirdly sexualised and gross, but is not scary at any point during the movie, so much so that fans have agreed as a collective not to include the sequel in their understanding of the franchise.
Best of all though, this movie features a completely phoned-in performance from horror legend Christopher Lee, who seems to know exactly the flop he’s starring in throughout.
6. Halloween: Resurrection
It says a lot about the longevity of a franchise when it makes it to the eighth instalment without going straight to a video release.
However, the weird premise and even more obvious stunt casting of 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection makes it clear that the producers were at one point willing to do almost anything to keep the series going.
Resurrection begins with the death of the iconic Laurie Strode, before replacing her with a cast of teenagers on a reality show, who have to investigate the house of Michael Myers while wearing webcams.
Obviously Myers arrives and takes the horror from fake to real, while the horrified cast and crew have to fight for their lives.
What’s less obvious, though, is why Paul Rudd lookalike Ryan Merriman is there playing a webcam-obsessed college student, especially since his character is given exactly nothing to do.
The rest of the cast is no less weird, since the film’s reality show host characters are played by Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks, with Rhymes being an expert in karate for some reason.
In one hilarious scene, Rhymes even screams at the real Michael that he’s ruining the game show, which is only funny because it’s so surreal.
5. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Most people remember the original Gremlins movie as a heart-warming family romp, with a cute critter that looks like a Furby with overgrown ears.
However, both Gremlins movies fall into the category of horror-comedy, and the first is actually darker, with less slapstick violence and more genuine terror.
With that said, while the first movie is definitely scarier, the second is far more fast-paced and cartoonish, and that results in a whole lot more weirdness for the audience.
The New Batch starts to get really weird in a scene where the gremlins guzzle chemicals in a science lab.
This results in themed gremlins, such as the genius ‘brain gremlin’ and the literal ball of energy that is the ‘electric gremlin’.
Neither of these gremlins, however, are as terrifying or memorable as the iconic lady gremlin, with her grotesquely oversized lips, terrifyingly wide stare, and uncomfortably flirtatious attitude.
4. Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave
Return of the Living Dead is a movie that already sounds like it’s part of a killer franchise, even if the sequels have garnered very little attention or even awareness over the years.
Most of the Return sequels are simply zombie retread movies, with good to middling special effects but very little to offer from a story perspective.
This makes the fifth instalment in the franchise, Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave, unique – because the 2005 film’s premise isn’t just memorable, it’s downright ridiculous.
Rave to the Grave follows a group of college students who discover that the new party drug on campus is turning people into zombies.
These creatures stagger around in crop tops and mini-skirts while their flesh is literally falling off.
Unsurprisingly, this instalment marked the end of the Return of the Living Dead franchise, even if visually it’s definitely the most fun to look at.
3. Waxwork II: Lost in Time
Creepy movies about waxworks have been around since the silent era, but it’s become harder and harder to make the premise relatable and scary over the years.
The 1988 dark fantasy horror movie Waxwork, which took the classic concept of ‘people being murdered and turned into wax’, also threw in The Phantom of the Opera and a borderline immortal villain.
That already strange concept is turned all the way up to 11 in 1992 sequel Waxwork II: Lost in Time, which sees the victims of the first movie going back to the dreaded wax house in order to gather evidence for a court case.
While they’re there, the characters discover a chessboard, which leads to a dimension where characters like Godzilla, Dr. Jekyll, Frankenstein and even the Xenomorph exist in real life.
And who uses this chessboard? Real-life angels and demons, for some reason.
That’s only the beginning, though, as it’s eventually revealed that the chessboard is mostly used by God and the Devil, who play out literal biblical battles in multiple dimensions. What’s that got to do with waxwork figures? Essentially nothing.
2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
It’s a little known fact that the Halloween franchise was actually supposed to be a horror anthology series, with each instalment focusing on an entirely different scary story in a completely unconnected universe.
The directors only made the second Halloween movie Michael Myers-themed out of an obligation to the studio, intending never to return to the character again.
Obviously that didn’t happen, but the filmmakers did manage to make exactly one anthology movie before returning to the story that remained for the rest of the franchise.
The story of Season of the Witch focuses on an evil factory owner who makes cursed Halloween masks, which are capable of turning a child’s head into bugs if the kid is unlucky enough to watch or listen to a commercial for the masks on Halloween night.
The factory owner’s motive is that he is attempting to harness the power of Stonehenge to kill children out of a sense of pure evil.
It’s a weird one considering that Stonehenge is an English heritage site, and the owner runs a Halloween brand called Silver Shamrocks.
1. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: The Initiation
Lots of horror movie franchises change and mutate over time, but none have managed to change quite as much as Silent Night, Deadly Night.
The original film focuses on a child who witnesses his parents’ murder at the hands of a crazy person in a Santa costume, who then grows up to be a festive-themed serial killer in his own right.
By the time the fourth film rolled around, however, the Santa costumes and sleigh bells had been done away with completely.
Instead, the 1990 sequel’s villains are a cult of feminist witches who literally want to bring about the death and enslavement of all men, by sacrificing a pre-teen boy in a satanic ritual.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, the plot revolves around a woman being indoctrinated into the cult by weird alien bugs, and being followed around by Ricky from the previous movies, who seems not to know why he’s there or who he is.
Ricky is not related to any of the other characters, and never even has a clear name or role, except to grab creepy bugs, stare unnervingly at the protagonist, and eventually die.