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10 Unconventional Movie Sequels

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The Hangover Part II opens today, part of this summer’s endless parade of sequels — though, as we mentioned yesterday, this one is less a sequel than a scene-by-scene remake, following the structural format of the original Hangover as closely as possible without literally re-enacting it in Bangkok. Presumably, director Todd Phillips was just playing it safe. Not all filmmakers make that choice — and many don’t really have that choice, due to actors and other creative personnel who aren’t contractually obligated (as the Hangover boys were) to return. After the jump, we’ll take a look at ten movie sequels that were a little bit less conventional.

Fierce Creatures

1988’s A Fish Called Wanda was a giant international hit, reigniting the career of writer/star John Cleese, winning an Oscar for co-star Kevin Kline, and firmly establishing Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the sexiest women in cinema. Those three, and their co-star Michael Palin, had such a good time making the original that they wanted badly to re-team, but Cleese was afraid of the enormously high expectations that a Wanda sequel would come with. As a kind of compromise, he wrote Fierce Creatures, a kind of sequel that’s not a sequel: it had leading roles for the quartet, similar to their Wanda characters, but with different names and relationships in a different setting. There were occasional references to the earlier film, down to Cleese’s Rollo accidentally calling Curtis’s Willa “Wanda” in the final scene. Though Cleese’s ingenuity and disinterest in repetition is admirable, and Fierce Creatures is a charming though uneven effort, it was neither a critical nor box office hit when it was released in 1997.

Life During Wartime

Todd Solondz’s controversial 1998 film Happiness inspired a lot of responses: outrage, praise, bewilderment, laughter. One thing anyone didn’t expect it to provoke was a sequel. His 2010 release Life During Wartime mirrors the original film structurally, and returns to most of the characters. But Solondz, never one for conventional casting choices (his 2004 film Palindromes featured ten different actors — of varying race, age, and gender — playing his 13-year-old heroine), recasts the story entirely. Not only that, but he often makes no attempt whatsoever to match up the old actor to the new one; the role of Allen, the obscene phone caller memorably played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Happiness, is this time played by Michael Kenneth Williams, best known as Omar on The Wire. The result is slightly disorienting for viewers, especially those unaware that it is, in fact, a sequel (this writer, somewhat embarrassingly, spent a good portion of the first hour wondering why Solondz was so blatantly repeating himself).

Halloween III

The horror genre, as we will see, is one most frequently challenged with finding inventive ways to continue a movie “brand,” since actors and filmmakers often see scary movies as a stepping stone to bigger and better projects, and are usually loathe to return. However, Halloween co-writer/director (and Halloween II co-writer/co-producer) John Carpenter was still fully engaged with the series at the time of its third installment, subtitled Season of the Witch. But he and collaborator Debra Hill would only agree to make a third film if it broke from the story of Michael Myers, the unstoppable killer of the first two — in fact, they reportedly envisioned turning the Halloween series into an anthology of scary stories related to the holiday. For Halloween III, writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace moved the series from Haddonfield, Illinois to Santa Mira, California, where the Silver Shamrocks Novelties factory is manufacturing jack-o’-lantern masks designed to kill those who wear them on Halloween night. There are occasional nods to the first films (including an uncredited voice-only appearance by star Jamie Lee Curtis), but not enough for fans, who rejected the anthology notion; it died (as did Carpenter and Hill’s involvement) with the third film. But the series didn’t; six years later, the film’s original producer, Moustapha Akkad, resurrected Michael Myers for Halloween 4.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

We’ve discussed Book of Shadows before, in our list of unnecessary sequels, but one must give credit to director Joe Berlinger (co-director of Paradise Lost, Brother’s Keeper, and several other fine documentaries) for at least trying to do something other than a mindless retread when Blair Witch Project directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez declined to turn out the quickie sequel that distributors Artisan so badly wanted (they’re credited as executive producers). With the three primary characters out of circulation for a follow-up, Berlinger (and co-writer Dick Beebe) could have presumably made a prequel; instead, they decided to incorporate the Blair Witch phenomenon into the sequel, using actual news clips and response to the first film as the set-up for their story, which followed a group of young tourists and fans to Burkittsville, Maryland. Audiences and critics rejected the film outright, but hey, points to Berlinger for trying to do something different.

Troll 2

Many of the films on this list fall under the heading of “sequel in name only” — none more than this 1990 turkey directed by Drake Floyd (actually, Italian director Claudio Fragasso). Originally titled Goblins, American distributors rebranded it Troll 2 after the 1986 film Troll (itself one of the brief surge of Gremlins rip-offs, such as Munchies and Critters) — in spite of the fact that not only was it entirely unconnected from that film, but it didn’t even have any trolls in it. Details, details. The resulting film is jaw-droppingly terrible, but its unbelievable badness gained it a cult following in recent years, resulting in a wonderful documentary (2010’s Best Worst Movie ), and, of course, talk of a new sequel. The title? Troll 2: Part 2.

Jaws 3-D

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was a monster hit in 1975 (the highest-grossing film of all time until Star Wars, two years later), so naturally, Universal was antsy for a sequel. Spielberg passed, of course, but co-stars Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton were roped in for 1978’s Jaws 2 — not a great movie, but not a bad one either, furthering the story of the Amity shark with some decent thrills and another first-rate Scheider performance. But the actor was absolutely uninterested in the inevitable third installment (“They knew better than to even ask”), and attached himself to Blue Thunder in order to ensure his unavailability. With none of his cast mates biting either (ha ha), Universal shrugged and moved the story to SeaWorld, with Dennis Quaid and John Putch playing Sheriff Brody’s sons Mike and Sean. The film made money, but less than half of Jaws 2’s considerable gross. Apparently audiences weren’t just interested in the shark — or the idea of seeing the shark in 3-D, which made a brief comeback in the early 1980s with films like Jaws 3-D, Amityville 3-D, and Friday the 13th Part III in 3-D. It proved, again, to just be an irritating fad. Thank God we learned our lesson, eh?

Jason X

Unlike the Jaws series, the Friday the 13th movies have proven imminently sequel-able, since audiences didn’t flock to them for a particular star or filmmaker. They were there for Jason, the serial killer hero/villain — and, conveniently enough, he wore a mask that allowed him to be played by just about anybody. The series saw him “killed” (Part 4: The Final Chapter), replaced (Part 5: A New Beginning), resurrected (Part VI: Jason Lives), and even made into a tourist (Part VII: Jason Takes Manhattan). But none of the films were quite as ill-conceived as Jason X — which, contrary to its title, does not concern his conversion to the Nation of Islam. Instead, James Isaac’s 2001 entry, the tenth film in the series, sends Jason into outer space and into the future, where his cryogenically-frozen body is unthawed and let loose on a space ship on its way to “Earth Two” in the year 2455. No, seriously.

The Exorcist III

Nobody was all that satisfied with The Exorcist’s 1977 sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic — least of all William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original novel and screenplay. His idea for a follow-up centered on the secondary character of Lieutenant Kinderman, played by Lee J. Cobb in the original film; Exorcist director William Friedkin and Warner Brothers liked the idea, but the project eventually fell apart, and Blatty wrote it as a novel instead. That book, Legion, was a bestseller when it was released in 1983, so Blatty went about adapting it into a screenplay, deciding to direct it himself. Cobb had died in 1976, so George C. Scott was cast as Kinderman; Jason Miller (as Father Karras — or is he?) was the only major cast member from The Exorcist who appeared in the film, which studio executives retitled The Exorcist III over Blatty’s objections. Taken on its own terms, it’s a pretty tight little thriller, using the events of the first film as context and background for its own police procedural story, coming at the Exorcist legacy from an intriguing right angle.

The Color of Money

Martin Scorsese’s sequel to Robert Rossen’s The Hustler hit theaters more than a quarter-century after its predecessor, with only one of the key players intact — but probably the most important one, star Paul Newman. The sequel was prompted by the 1984 novel by Walter Tevis, who also wrote the original Hustler novel, but Scorsese and screenwriter Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland) mostly punted that narrative in favor of a new story. “I just didn’t believe this guy, Eddie Felson, who was such a hustler, such a self-destructive, thickheaded guy, would ever stop,” Scorsese explained. So he and Price worked up a narrative that turned “Fast Eddie” into a something like Bert Gordon, the character played by George C. Scott in The Hustler — the manager of the talented player, played this time by rising star Tom Cruise. The Color of Money is a very different film than The Hustler; Scorsese’s hyperkinetic style is a sharp contrast to Rossen’s more stately, kitchen sink approach. But it works — both as a continuation, and as its own, stand-alone entertainment.

The Godfather Part II

In many ways, Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up to The Godfather is the very definition of a conventional sequel — same writer, same director, much of the same cast, continuing the same story. But Coppola was never one to play things safe, so he devised a structural curve ball: the narrative would be augmented (and complimented) by flashbacks to young Vito Corleone — played by Marlon Brando in the original film, and here by Robert DeNiro — coming to power in New York at the turn of the century. Though the flashbacks only account for about a quarter of the film’s running time, they were perilous; Coppola risked losing his audience within the picture’s labyrinthine chronology, or forcing them to constantly lose and regain their focus on the parallel story threads. The risk paid off, though; the warm flashback sequences make the self-destruction of the Corleone clan that much more operatic and tragic.