If you’re like us, you’ve probably spent a good (possibly unhealthy!) chunk of your October watching lots and lots of horror movies. But if you watch too many, you’ll start to notice a pattern. Horror movies seem to be the genre most prone to sequelizing and rebootinating — there are five Wrong Turns and six Leprechauns, for Chrissakes — and the results are seldom worth a damn. The logic is easy to understand; with horror, the genre itself (rather than big-name stars or mind-blowing special effects) is the marketable element, so once the connection has been made, it’s easy to go back for seconds. And horror movies are constructed accordingly, with doors left open for sequels and series. Most are just awful. But some aren’t; occasionally, the ingenuity and inventiveness of a good chiller will return in its follow-up. So, as you’re putting together your Halloween DVD stacks, allow us to help you separate the pop from the pap; our dozen horror sequels that (contrary to expectation) are not terrible are after the jump.
Dawn of the Dead
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead revolutionized the horror genre, but it sure didn’t feel like it for the filmmaker—though efforts like The Crazies and Martin have since gained cult success, he couldn’t match the audacity and impact of his initial effort. So a decade after leaving that Pittsburgh farmhouse, Romero got back in the zombie biz, with equally memorable results. Dawn of the Dead replicated the original film’s unflinching gore and pervading sense of dread handily; it also substituted the original film’s occasional touches of ham-handed melodrama with surprisingly sharp social satire, the film’s shopping mall setting allowing Romero to take a well-timed poke at consumerist culture.
Halloween II/Halloween IV
Few sequels are as faithful to their originals as Halloween II: it picks up at the exact moment its predecessor left off, with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) shocked to discover that, in spite of a fall from a balcony and several bullets fired at close range, escaped killer Michael Myers is still at large. The narrative then, logically, follows poor Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) to the hospital, where her attempt to recoup from her wounds is interrupted by Michael showing up to wreak a little more havoc. The amped-up gore factor is dispiriting (the original film is notable for the restraint of the bloodletting, particularly compared to the countless slasher films it begat), the synthesized version of the theme is vintage ’80s cheese, and the characters aren’t nearly as likable this time around. But thanks to the heavy chunk of returning personnel — not only Pleasance and Curtis, but also co-writer/co-producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill — Halloween II holds up pretty well, with plenty of good scares and a satisfying conclusion.
That was supposed to be the end of Michael Myers, but after the belly-flop of Halloween III, series producer Moustapha Akkad sought to re-ignite the franchise. Carpenter and Hill bowed out, but Akkad knew that all he needed was somebody who could shuffle and kill menacingly in a painted-over William Shatner mask. So he was off and running, the Halloween series, like the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, becoming yet another endless series of slasher movies with a seemingly unkillable antagonist. Most aren’t worth your time. But the first of those films, Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers, is a strong and worthwhile entry, smoothly mirroring the story and style of Carpenter’s original, and finding nearly Curtis-level protagonists in the form of Ellie Cornell and little Danielle Harris. The latter went on to become something of a 21st century Jamie Lee, popping up in oodles of horror movies — including Rob Zombie’s otherwise undistinguished Halloweeen remake/reboot/mansplain.
Damien: Omen II
Halloween II is a textbook example of the sequel that gives you more — in that film’s case, more gore. This is pretty standard playbook for horror follow-ups; whatever it was you liked in the first one, let’s crank that up. In the case of the sequel to the very scary The Omen , the narrative jump from childhood to teenage years meant that director Don Taylor couldn’t recapture the creepy-kid stuff that made the first movie so memorable. But he could amp up the intensity on what became the series’ signature motif: ingeniously executed kills (usually, in a foreshadowing of the Final Destination movies, executed by everyday objects and Rube Goldbergian accidents), scored to that distinctive wailing-chorus music. The first film gave us an unforgettable sequence with an unfortunately airborne piece of plate glass; Damien topped it, with a scene that will rattle in the head of any viewer who ends up in a bumpy elevator.
But sometimes the best way to pull of a horror sequel is to change the game — instead of attempting to replicate or crank up the horror elements, some filmmakers veer off in a new and unexpected direction. That was the course taken by director James Cameron when he took on a sequel to Alien in 1986; instead of trying to match the claustrophobic intensity of Ridley Scott’s inimitable 1979 original, Cameron expanded the scope, and brought his newfound finesse as an action filmmaker (this was two years after the original Terminator) into play, turning Aliens from a sci-fi/horror into a big, loud, thrilling hybrid of science fiction, horror, and all-out action. In the case of Don Coscarelli’s sequel to his 1979 film Phantasm (released nine years after the original), the backing of a major studio meant a considerable budget uptick — from $300K to three million — and the expected upgrade in quality of special effects and production elements. But he too gave it a faster, harder, more action-heavy edge, to great effect.
The Evil Dead II/The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
A dose of action isn’t the only way a sequel-maker can throw a curveball. When Sam Raimi was charged with following up his breakthrough film Evil Dead in 1987, he could have cranked out a standard-issue, bigger-budget imitation to that influential cabin-in-the-woods shocker. Instead, he reinvented the movie as a mash-up of gross-out horror and slapstick comedy, introducing the oddball sense of humor that would become the series’ (and the filmmaker’s) signature. Director Tobe Hooper pulled a similar stunt when he finally, after a dozen years of offers, made a sequel to his 1974 smash The Texas Chainsaw Massacre — a film, he insists, was intended to play as dark comedy as well as horror. Audiences were apparently too busy getting the shit scared out of them to giggle much, so Hooper made his sequel more explicitly comic (and gorier too, sometimes for comedic effect). It’s a very different kind of Massacre, not entirely successful, but certainly a different and daring move on the part of its unpredictable creator.
Bride of Frankenstein
James Whale’s 1931 film of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is, without question, a classic of the genre, moody and atmospheric and indisputably iconic. But it also is plagued by the clumsiness of early talkies, and Whale occasionally (and inaccurately) presumes that we’re more interested in the good doctor than his terrifying monster. When Whale filmed Bride of Frankenstein four years later, he was working with more stable technology — but more than that, his storytelling had grown smoother and more confident. The emphasis this time is on the monster and his ready-made bride, while the film’s touches of humor (and much-discussed gay and religious subtext) have made it a lasting favorite among not only horror fans, but mainstream audiences as well.
Psycho III/The Exorcist III: Legion
Following up an iconic horror classic is no easy task, as Psycho II’s Richard Franklin and Exorcist II’s John Boorman found out the hard way. Resistance was high for those films, both in terms of expectation and audacity — how dare anyone presume to follow Hitchcock’s classic, or Friedkin’s smash? The actual quality of both films was a secondary concern; both have things in them to recommend, but neither could come close to replicating their predecessors. But something interesting happened after that: with the second parts taking the hit from audiences itching for a fight, the third film in each series was free to take some chances and carve out something new. Psycho III found star Anthony Perkins — who, try as he might, had been unable to make the audience see him as anything but Norman Bates — surrendering to the role, not only starring in the film, but directing as well. Having lived with the role for over a quarter century, he crafted a fascinating and sympathetic portrait of his tortured protagonist; he also put together several admirably Hitchcockian set pieces (the bit with the motel ice chest is a doozy). Exorcist author William Peter Blatty also had his own ideas to get across in his underrated 1990 Exorcist sequel; having steered clear of Exorcist II, he was here able to adapt (writing and directing) his novel Legion, an indirect sequel with its own style. Part police procedural, part murder mystery, and part supernatural thriller, Exorcist III is its own beast — and all the better for it.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
The second sequel to Wes Craven’s 1984 hit has, as we showed you yesterday, a pretty decent cast: a young Patricia Arquette plays the lead, while Laurence Fishburne crushes it in a key supporting role. (And did we mention Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor appear as themselves?) But there was plenty of talent behind the camera too. Craven co-wrote the screenplay (it was the only Nightmare sequel, aside from the meta-movie wrap-up New Nightmare, that he had a hand in); among his co-writers were a young Frank Darabont — who would go on to write and direct The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist —and director Chuck Russell, who would later helm Jim Carrey’s The Mask. Together, they worked up a surprisingly inventive picture, its dream sequences crisp, inventive, and plenty scary.
Those are some of our favorite horror sequels — what are yours? Share your recommendations in the comments!