For this article, we’re talking about sequels; not remakes or reboots, just straight-up sequels!
Making a sequel isn’t like making an original feature film. When a movie strikes a chord with an audience, demand for a continuation of the story is a double-edged sword; while it opens the potential for a profitable franchise, sequels come with baggage. Fans establish emotional bonds with films and characters, and if sequels don’t live up to expectations, backlash can be fierce. Just recall reactions to Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Alien 3 for examples; while these films weren’t terrible, the fact that they didn’t meet viewers’ expectations made them pariahs.
With quite a few sequels coming down the pike (Saw: Legacy, Annabelle: Creation, Leatherface, and Jeepers Creepers 3, to name a few), fan expectations will either be satisfied or dashed. But before automatically assuming that mainstream horror sequels are primarily designed as cash-grabs, it’s important to remember that there are more than a few exceptional sequels, ones that are at least as good as their predecessors—and sometimes better.
Have a read and let me know what you think in the Comments section. Do you agree that these sequels are at least as good as the originals? What are some of your favorite horror movie sequels? Let’s discuss!
Aliens (1986, Directed by James Cameron)
Official Synopsis: After floating in space for 57 years, Lt. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) shuttle is found by a deep space salvage team. Upon arriving at LV-426, the marines find only one survivor, a nine-year-old girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). But even these battle-hardened Marines with all the latest weaponry are no match for the hundreds of aliens that have invaded the colony.
Whether you consider James Cameron’s Aliens to be superior to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is really just a matter of taste. Those with a penchant towards claustrophobic Gothic terror will likely prefer the original, while fans of break-neck creature-action will no doubt consider Aliens the better film. Either way, there’s simply no denying that Aliens is fantastic, whether as a chapter in a franchise or a standalone.
Phantasm: Ravager (2016, Directed by David Hartman)
Official Synopsis: Small-town friends Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), and Jody (Bill Thornbury) continue in their quest to stop the evil, dimension-hopping schemes of The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his armada of killer Sentinel Spheres. This time, the fight becomes a multi-dimensional battle across multiple timelines, alien planets, and altered realities, where no less than the fate of Earth is on the line.
I should qualify this by saying Phantasm: Ravager was made especially for Phantasm “Phans” and is such an effective sequel, in part, because of the way it encapsulates the entire “Phranchise” while bringing the decades-long saga to a triumphant and emotional conclusion. This one moved me to tears if you want to know the truth.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007, Directed by Russell Mulcahy)
Official Synopsis: Captured by the Umbrella Corp., Alice (Milla Jovovich) receives genetic alterations that leave her with superhuman abilities. Hiding out in the Nevada desert, she joins forces with former cohorts Carlos (Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Mike Epps) as well as new survivors Claire (Ali Larter), K-Mart (Spencer Locke) and Nurse Betty (Ashanti) to eradicate the virus that threatens to turn every human on Earth into a zombie.
Extinction, the 3rd installment in the wildly successful Resident Evil franchise, is the best in my opinion. The film harkens back to classic zombie tropes first established by George A. Romero while also capturing the apocalyptic wasteland vibe of the Mad Max movies. At the same time, Extinction maintains its futuristic/sci-fi undertones, making it feel both retro and modern.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, Directed by Joseph Zito)
Official Synopsis: A carefree lakeside vacation is interrupted by the re-emergence of killer Jason Voorhees (Ted White). After he escapes from a morgue, leaving bodies in his wake, Jason travels to Camp Crystal Lake where a group of friends is staying. The teens meet some locals: Tommy (Corey Feldman) and Trish (Kimberly Beck), as well as secretive hiker Rob (Erich Anderson). As the group of teenagers engages in drunken debauchery, their numbers begin to dwindle, and pieces of the past resurface.
Corey Feldman’s portrayal of Tommy Jarvis is a huge part of what makes Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter such an enduring classic. The fact that Jason had been presented as nearly indestructible in the previous 2 Friday films made the villain’s “death” harrowing and triumphant.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Directed by Chuck Russell)
Official Synopsis: During a hallucinatory incident, young Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) has her wrists slashed by dream-stalking monster Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). Her mother, mistaking the wounds for a suicide attempt, sends Kristen to a psychiatric ward, where she joins a group of similarly troubled teens. One of the doctors there is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who had battled Freddy some years before. Nancy senses a potential in Kristen to rid the world of Freddy once and for all.
After a couple turns as a humorless specter, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) really came into his own in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Part 3 upped the action, fantasy, and comradery between characters while allowing Freddy to cut loose with a series of classic one-liners, like: “Welcome to Prime Time, bitch!”
Related Article: Freddy Krueger “Dream Warriors” Replica Puppet is the Coolest
Creepshow 2 (1987, Directed by Michael Gornick)
Official Synopsis: This second horror anthology presents more eerie tales based on Stephen King stories. One episode finds a cigar-store Native American statue coming to life to avenge the death of the shop owner (George Kennedy) and his wife (Dorothy Lamour). Another features a group of teens menaced by a blob-like creature. The final installment follows a wealthy and callous woman (Lois Chiles) who hits a hitchhiker with her car and decides to flee the scene, but the victim isn’t inclined to remain dead.
Creepshow 2 is every bit as good as the original. With 3 stories instead of 5, Creepshow 2 spends more time on character development and suspense building with incredible results. While not humorless, the 2nd Creepshow movie is more serious, harrowing, and terrifying than the original.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988, Directed by Tony Randel)
Official Synopsis: Confined to a mental hospital, young Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) insists her supposedly dead father is stuck in hell, controlled by sadomasochistic demons after being betrayed by his evil, occult-obsessed wife, Julia (Clare Higgins). Few believe Kirsty, except the thrill-seeking Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), who is intrigued by S&M and the young woman’s lurid stories. So when Kirsty and fellow patient Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) head to hell for a rescue, Channard and Julia are close behind.
Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 are so similar in terms of aesthetic and execution, they almost feel like two parts of the same film. In addition to reintroducing The Cenobites, Julia, Frank, and Kristy Cotton, Hellbound presented compelling co-protagonist Tiffany and the powerful and merciless Dr. Channard. No other Hellraiser sequel has yet to come close to recapturing the magic of the first 2 movies.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005, Directed by Rob Zombie)
Official Synopsis: After a raid on the rural home of the psychopathic Firefly family, two members of the clan, Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), manage to flee the scene. Heading to a remote desert motel, the killers reunite with Baby’s father, Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig), who is equally demented and intent on maintaining their murder spree. While the trio continues to torment and kill various victims, the vengeful Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) slowly closes in on them.
While House of 1000 Corpses often felt like an inside joke the viewer isn’t in on, The Devil’s Rejects was just as depraved but much more accessible. As opposed to a disjointed collection of scenes, The Devil’s Rejects has a clear story-arch and a unifying look & tone. The only bad thing about The Devil’s Rejects is that it seems to close the door on any future in installments, which is a shame. But seriously, where can you go without Captain Spaulding and the Firefly Family?
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986, Directed by Tobe Hooper)
Official Synopsis: Chainsaw-wielding maniac Leatherface (Bill Johnson) is up to his cannibalistic ways once again, along with the rest of his twisted clan, including the equally disturbed Chop-Top (Bill Moseley). This time, the masked killer has set his sights on pretty disc jockey Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams), who teams up with Texas lawman Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) to battle the psychopath and his family deep within their lair, a macabre abandoned amusement park.
While the tone of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 shifted from straight-up terror to pitch-black-comedy, it maintained all of the relentless depravity that made the original TCM such a classic. While few sequels since have recaptured the winning formula that made the first two films so amazing, it’s worth noting that TCM is one of the few 20th Century franchises to successfully reinvent itself for 21st Century audiences. The next TCM chapter, a prequel called Leatherface, is slated to hit US Theaters in October.
Final Destination 5 (2011, Directed by Steven Quale)
Official Synopsis: During a bus ride with his colleagues to a corporate retreat, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) experiences a horrifying vision: the suspension bridge that they — and many others — are crossing starts to crumble around them. When his vision ends and, almost immediately, starts to come true, Sam takes quick action that saves a number of people, including his girlfriend, Molly (Emma Bell), and his best friend, Peter (Miles Fisher). However, the survivors soon find that Death will not be denied.
Over 5 years after its release, I feel like word still hasn’t gotten out about how amazing Final Destination 5, the final installment in the franchise, actually is. Not only is the opening disaster scene (a bridge collapse) an exemplar of CGI done right, it’s the most thrilling 1st act of the entire series. Those who have seen the film can attest to how perfectly it brings the entire franchise full circle, with a surprise ending that’s impossible to predict. Even the end credits celebrate the full series with recreations of the franchise’s most compelling kills.
Paranormal Activity 3 (Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)
Official Synopsis: In 1988 sisters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) seem to be enjoying a normal, happy childhood at home. But when strange things start going bump in the night, their father, a wedding videographer, decides to use his cameras to discover the source, especially since Kristi appears to be having conversations with an imaginary friend. While the cameras do indeed reveal a flurry of supernatural occurrences, the family is unprepared for the terror that awaits.
The first 2 Paranormal Activity films excelled by slowly building suspense throughout before exploding into a terrifying climax, but the 3rd installment, a prequel, is actually the best. Small innovations like a sweeping camera and a haunted closet go a long way towards elevating the terror to new heights. Learning about Katie and Kristi’s childhood also goes a long way towards strengthening Paranormal Activity’s core mythologies.
Dawn of the Dead (1979, Directed by George A. Romero)
Official Synopsis: As hordes of zombies swarm over the U.S., the terrified populace tries everything in their power to escape the attack of the undead, but neither cities nor the countryside proves safe. In Pennsylvania, radio-station employee Stephen (David Emge) and his girlfriend, Francine (Gaylen Ross), escape in the station helicopter, accompanied by two renegade SWAT members, Roger and Pete. The group retreats to the haven of an enclosed shopping center to make what could be humanity’s last stand.
No disrespect to George A. Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, as the film’s influence on the horror landscape can never be understated, but 1979’s Dawn of the Dead blows it out of the water. Everything about Dawn is more intense and terrifying than Night, from the size of the hordes to the effectiveness of the gore and piercing satirical social commentary. While this isn’t a list of remakes, it’s worth noting that the 2004 reboot of Dawn of the Dead is also A+.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009, Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos)
Official Synopsis: Viktor (Bill Nighy), the cruel king of the vampires, has persecuted the Lycans for centuries. Young Lycan Lucian (Michael Sheen) rallies his people against Viktor and his Death Dealer warriors. With his secret lover Sonja (Rhona Mitra), a vampire, at his side, Lucian leads the werewolves in a final battle to break free of enslavement — or die trying.
Like Paranormal Activity, the best installment of the Underworld franchise is a prequel. Rise of the Lycans (Part 3) takes us back to the very beginning of the war between vampires and werewolves, giving Viktor a much more significant role than in previous Underworld movies. And while I hardly consider myself a softy, the Romeo & Juliet-eque forbidden romance between the clans is a great emotional anchor, one that creates legitimate bonds between characters and viewers.
Related Article: Ranking the “Underworld” Franchise First to Worst
The Purge: Election Year (2016, Directed by James DeMonaco)
Official Synopsis: It’s been two years since Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) stopped himself from a regrettable act of revenge on Purge Night. Now serving as head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), his mission is to protect her in a run for president and survive the annual ritual that targets the poor and innocent. But when a betrayal forces them onto the streets of D.C. on the one night when no help is available, they must stay alive until dawn…or both be sacrificed for their sins against the state.
Each Purge film seems to surpass the chapter that came before it, and last year’s Election Year was the best of the bunch by far. With a 4th film and a TV series in the works for 2018, The Purge is on its way to becoming one of the most successful horror franchises in history.
Related Article: “The Purge” TV Series to Coincide with “The Purge 4” in 2018
Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993, Directed by Brian Yuzna)
Official Synopsis: A teen (J. Trevor Edmond) uses an Army chemical to revive his dead girlfriend (Mindy Clarke) after a motorcycle accident.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Return of the Living Dead; I adore it. I just happen to be one of the few who loves Return of the Living Dead Part 3 even more. Vestron Video just gave this underrated gem a brilliant DVD reissue that’s a must-see, even if you never knew this film existed.