Sequels. The term alone usually brings about a hint of disdain, a bad taste in the mouths of viewers. Sure, people call out for sequels all the time, wanting to see their favorite characters on screen again and again, but usually sequels rarely capture the same magic present in the usually superior original films. But lightning is sometimes captured in bottles. It’s rare, but it happens. In the world of horror films, sequels are incredibly abundant, more so than any other genre really, and generally sequels are the same things over and over…the same packages with different titles and different trimmings. So in this, I wanted to examine and choose sequels in horror film franchises that are actually good…maybe even better: sequels that succeed in being what the original films were and doing their own thing. So here they are…enjoy.
“Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)
Perhaps the first true horror sequel, James Whale’s follow-up to his imaginative and gothic interpretation of Mary Shelley’s novel is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. While neither film truly follows the novel, taking many liberties, it can be the said that the first film qualifies as half of an adaptation, while the second film is the other. Here, Henry Frankenstein (Victor in the novel) is recuperating from his near-demise at the hands of his creation, while the monster made by his hands is believed dead…but only momentarily. The creature is able to escape the wrath of hunters and angry mobs into the countryside, soon finding an old blind man that teaches him to speak basic words and learn simple human emotions. In the meantime, Henry is approached by Dr. Pretorious, an eccentric madman who wants to recreate his young protege’s experiment…but this time, by making a woman. And in order to do so, Pretorious finds the creature and uses him as the leverage. The film became iconic, namely due to its imagery (how can anyone forget the Bride’s lightning-streaked hair?), but the sets, the atmosphere, and especially the acting from the film’s leads, especially Karloff’s turn as the creature, bring genuine and occasionally frightening weight to the classic. Certainly one of the few cases of a sequel outclassing the original.
“Halloween II” (1981)
John Carpenter’s original is generally considered the first in the “slasher” genre (which isn’t technically correct, but it did popularize it) that frightened movie-goers in the late 70s and 80s, but the Halloween series itself isn’t generally well-liked as a whole. But in terms of the sequels, all but one that surrounded series boogeyman Michael Myers, the best is the first sequel, 1981’s Halloween II. Carpenter helped write the story, which was meant to end the story of Myers, and it picked up directly where its predecessor left off. Myers, after shot by his doctor, Sam Loomis, is still at large, and Laurie Strode, Myer’s intended target, has been shipped to the local Haddonfield Hospital. As Loomis struggles to find his former patient and stop his madness, he learns of the dark secret connecting him to Laurie: they’re brother and sister. Meanwhile, Michael continues his bloody rampage, finally zeroing in on Laurie’s location where a final, desperate battle between her, Loomis, and Michael reaches its climax. The mood and feel of the film is genuinely creepy, the gore is amped up a bit, and the music is essentially a synthesized version of the original’s score, but it’s still a decent film. The only other sequel worth mentioning is Halloween 4, which saw Michael’s return after Halloween III’s story of Halloween masks and evil tycoons…right. However, as far as sequels go, Halloween II is one of the few all-around decent ones, especially when stacked up against the excellent first film.
“Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives” (1986)
Admittedly, the Friday the 13th films can easily be called cheap rip-offs of the Halloween films, the first film itself being one in many during the early 80s that sought to copy the success of John Carpenter’s film. After four films, the fourth being called “The Final Chapter,” it seemed that series villain, Jason Voorhees was dead. So in Part V, viewers got a copycat killer…but that proved to be hackneyed and uninspired. Fans wanted the hockey mask-wearing lunatic to return, and he did…as a superhuman zombie. And in Part 6, the absurdity worked. After being resurrected in the style of Frankenstein’s monster with a bolt of lightning, Jason dons his mask and machete and goes on a killing spree, targeting anyone surrounding his home at Camp Crystal Lake, now known as Forest Green to erase the bad reputation and memories surrounding the camp’s bloody history. But standing in Jason’s way is his old nemesis, Tommy Jarvis, the only character in the film series to successful kill Jason…of course, he inadvertently brings him back from the dead here, but at least he tries to correct his mistake. The film is violent and scary at times, but also humorous and satirical of itself and other slasher films of the time, making it a memorable and fun romp.
“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” (1987)
Like so many slashers, Freddy Krueger is hard to kill…originally planned to die for good at the end of the original film, Wes Craven’s creation found life in the ending the producers wanted (and was ultimately left in the film) and, of course, in sequels. The second film strayed a bit too far from the formula with the dream demon possessing a boy and forcing him to kill, so Wes Craven stepped in as writer for the third film to give Freddy a proper good-bye…but we all know what happened there. Either way, this is the best of the sequels in the original series, and with good reason. Here, we’re presented with another group of teenagers stalked by Krueger, but they’re all in a mental institution to cope with their nightmares. You see, they’re the last of the Elm Street children, the kids whose parents burned the child killer years before, and he’s seeking to finish the job. But along comes his original opponent from the first film, Nancy Thompson, now a dream expert, and she is able to work alongside the teenagers to discover the powers they hold within them…and how to use them against the diabolical Freddy. This film was the beginning of Freddy becoming the wisecracking villain most now know him as, but here he was still frightening and devilish, and viewers could truly identify with the heroes as they faced off against him. Imaginative special effects and surprisingly excellent acting flesh out this sequel. And though I wanted to include it, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is kind of a strange animal, not being a sequel in the continuity, though still an excellent film and worthy of a watch.
“Evil Dead II” 1987
Most fans would agree here that the best overall horror film in the Evil Dead trilogy is the second, though I am a bigger fan of the third in the series, Army of Darkness, though I think of it as more of a straightforward dark comedy as opposed to horror. Sam Raimi’s films are twisted, crazy, and outright manic in the ghoulish antics presented, and the gore is so ridiculously violent that it’s funny…and in Evil Dead II, those elements are at their strongest. And thankfully, Bruce Campbell’s iconic hero Ash is at the center of it. The sequel acts as a sort of remake of the first film, at least in the first few minutes, rehashing the major events of the original: Ash goes with his girlfriend to an old cabin in the woods, finds a strange book and a tape recorder, plays the recorder, and all hell breaks loose; the tape contains incantations from the Necronomicon ex Mortis, the Book of the Dead, and when they are read, malevolent spirits come to life in the forest, attacking, possessing, and outright destroying all humans in their way. Ash fights back despite being possessed, losing his hand to the demonic forces, and slowly losing his mind, but eventually crosses paths with the daughter of the cabin’s previous tenants, her boyfriend, and two country bumpkins. And then there’s the undead demon woman in the basement. This sequel is bigger, better, and more outrageous than its predecessor, acting as something of a bigger-budgeted retelling of the original that showcases excellent effects, wonderful filming techniques, and great acting. Plus, this is where viewers got a hero with a chainsaw for a hand. I’d say that would make a sequel great.
“Hellbound: Hellraiser II” (1988)
The Hellraiser franchise is a franchise you either love or hate. It’s one of author Clive Barker’s strange and disturbing worlds, filled with demons, violence, sadism, lust, and deadly secrets…a world brought to life in the first film by Barker himself in his directorial debut. And while most generally consider the first the greatest of the films (I know I do), the sequel is a good film in its own right that retains the same feelings of dread, awe, and horror. Though Barker did not direct, his presence is felt as the original film’s heroine, Kirsty Cotton, is coping with the events of the original that saw the deaths of her father, her deviant uncle, and wicked stepmother at the hands of each other and the monstrous Cenobites, powerful beings clad in black leather summoned by a puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration. She finds herself in a mental institution run by the mysterious Dr. Channard, and soon realizes that Channard is obsessed with the puzzle box and has resurrected her stepmother, Julia, to aid him in his quest to call the Cenobites. But once he unavoidably does, the beings come, led by series mainstay Pinhead, and bring Kirsty and the others into their realm, called Hell, guarded by their God, a geometric figure called Leviathan. And it only gets bloodier and more horrific from there. The first film is an excellent, adult twist on fairy tales and fables, and here those staples are twisted even further, providing a terrifying world populated with scary characters…but as with the first, Pinhead himself is perhaps the most endearing part of the film, nearly Shakespearean in his speeches and elegant in his disturbing appearance. The sequels after this progressively got worse and caused the franchise to lose its identity, but if you’re anything like me, you just watch the first two and pretend no more were made, though Doug Bradley’s Pinhead is the only reason to watch any of the others (aside from the most recent film in the franchise which saw another actor in his shoes).
“Bride of Re-Animator” (1989)
Re-Animator is one of the few horror film series in the list that isn’t made up of more than three films AND doesn’t have a remake under its belt, which thankfully gives it only two sequels to choose from…and the best, arguably, is the first sequel, which takes a great deal of inspiration from Bride of Frankenstein. H.P. Lovecraft’s literary creation was given cinematic life by Stuart Gordon in the original film, which saw Dr. Herbert West as an egotistical, psychotically driven medical student discovering a serum to raise the dead…and nearly wiping out much of the students and staff at the Miskatonic School in Arkham, Massachusetts…even his fate is left up in the air. But in the sequel, it seems West and his partner, Dan Cain, are very much alive and continuing the experiment. But Dan wants to find love, much to West’s chagrin. And in the meantime, a private investigator is after the two men and West’s nemesis, the severed head of Dr. Carl Hill, is plotting terrible vengeance…but none of this stands in the way of Herbert’s newest idea: to create a woman, much like Frankenstein. Here, the chills and laughs are as frequent as the original, and even zanier and more disturbing at times, further cementing West into the realm of horror-comedy, and proving that sequels can be done right and done well.
Did I miss your favorite sequel? Have an opinion? Sound off in the comments.