Trailers for The Visit are enough to send chills down your spine — a couple of kids visit their grandparents for a weekend at a remote cabin in the woods, only to find that things are a bit eerier than they initially appear. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan returns to his creepy campfire story roots with the film, which is more in the vein of The Sixth Sense and The Village than more recent efforts like The Last Airbender. Though the internal consistency of Shyamalan's films has been criticized on occasion, he's known for his brutal twist endings. (I managed to get through the first 20 years of my life without spoiling the end of The Sixth Sense, but I admit that's a rarity.) His films are more often recognized for their creepy, unexpected conclusions than for their longevity — though the aforementioned Sixth Sense ascended into the ranks of horror-thriller classics, he has never made a sequel to any of his films. Today's horror movie industry seems to almost demand a franchise, though, which makes me wonder, will The Visit have a sequel?
Let's talk about that twist. (Serious, serious spoilers ahead. Stop here if you haven't seen the movie, or plan to!) The children show up at their grandparents' house, a creepy secluded country house — the kind of house that really only exists in horror movies. Their grandfather tells them not to leave their bedroom after 9:30 p.m., and when they, obviously, ignore his warning, they spot some even creepier happenings like their grandmother projectile vomiting and clawing at the walls. After a whole film of tension, the brother and sister finally get their webcam working again (it was conveniently damaged at the beginning) and their mother reveals that the people her children are staying with aren't really their grandparents. Their supposed grandparents are mental hospital escapees who murdered the kids' real, benevolent grandparents (they volunteered at the hospital). It's not totally clear what the escapees wanted with the children, though.
In the end, the kids vanquish the evil faux-grandparents and their mother comes to rescue them. It wraps up quite tidily, with a body count of just five. Like the best horror films, the indicator of tension is in the suspense more than the actual blood and gore. But there's no lingering curse or supernatural power that can transgress generations à la The Omen or The Ring, or a powerful being like Sinister. Nothing that would outlive the deaths of the main antagonists. So it's unlikely, in the end, that The Visit — scary and crowd-pleasing as it is — will have a sequel or spawn more spin-offs.
Still, some of the most iconic horror franchises of the past few decades have had humble origins in just one film, without the necessary expectation of a follow-up, so nothing is a given. Here's a rundown of a few of the best.
The Omen (1976)
The original Omen was written in 1976 by David Seltzer. He created a novelization of the film, but elected to drop it after just one installment. It could have foundered there, but it was taken up for three subsequent installments, three documentaries, and an upcoming A&E spinoff called Damien.
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Based on the novel of the same name, the Hannibal Lecter character has inspired fear and devotion in horror fans for years. First seen in The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of the cannibalistic serial killer has led to three sequels, an unauthorized musical adaptation, and the cult favorite television series Hannibal. But Silence of the Lambs was not the first in the franchise, incidentally — it was preceded by Manhunter. It made sense for this particular franchise to continue, since it was based on an existing series by Thomas Harris whose potential hadn't been fully exploited by The Silence of the Lambs alone.
Scream was originally conceived as a satire of horror genres, though based in part on the true story of the Gainesville Ripper. It might not be an obvious leap from wrapping up one serial-killer story line to full-blown franchise, but the late Wes Craven maintained the spoofiness of the first film through three subsequent installments (and it's now the premise of a new MTV series).
One of the most recent horror franchises around today, Saw is also one of the most prolific. But its future was not guaranteed — shot on a shoestring budget over 18 days, Saw's sequel didn't get the go-ahead until it proved itself at the box office (joining Scream as the one of the most profitable horror films, probably due to its low budget). Nor were the writers Leigh Whannell and James Wan particularly interested in a follow-up till their debut's impressive showing, according to an interview with IGN.
Though its American counterpart is what led to the horror phenomenon The Ring is today, the franchise got its start as a Japanese horror film simply entitled Ring, based on the novel of the same name. The 2002 American film was a remake of the original, and in addition to the Japanese made-for-TV film, television series, two remakes, and the American franchise that it inspired, it also paved the way for other Japanese-to-American horror franchise transitions. Like The Silence of the Lambs, The Ring was ripe for a sequel since its source novel was part of a series.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Films based on resolved murders might not seem the most logical to translate into the series, but that means nothing to the filmmakers behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The original film from the ’70s was based in part on murderer Ed Gein. In addition to the remakes, sequels, and peripheral story lines that came from the original film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has also been credited with revolutionizing the slasher genre.
Though The Visit doesn't seem plotted for a sequel, horror auteurs have found ingenious ways of keeping their concepts and characters going for more films than audiences might initially imagine. These long-lasting horror franchises show that, though a film might have humble beginnings, its box-office performance often has more effect on its prospects than the storyline itself.
Images: Universal Pictures (2); 20th Century Fox; Metro-Goldwyn Mayer; Dimension Films; Lionsgate; Toho; Bryanston Pictures