Prequels are becoming almost as common as sequels in 21st Century Hollywood, especially when it comes to Superhero and horror movies. Many are obvious cash-grabs, designed purely to capitalize on a franchise’s established legacy; films that offer little or nothing to a series’ core mythologies or, worse, dilutes them (I’m looking at you, Alien: Covenant).
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Below, in no particular order, are 15 horror movie prequels that do their predecessors proud. Have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section! Are you a fan of horror movie prequels? Did your favorites make the list? Are there other successful genre prequels out there that deserve a shout-out? Let’s discuss!
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011, 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.
Paranormal Activity 3 isn’t just an example of a highly successful horror movie prequel, it’s my personal favorite installment of the entire franchise. You can watch it as a stand-alone, or even watch it before the rest of the franchise for insight into what turned Kristy and Katie from sweet young ladies into pawns of an insidious coven. Toby’s been with them the whole time!
The Thing (2011, Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.)
Official Synopsis: After Norwegian researchers discover an alien ship buried in the ice, paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) joins the team at the isolated Arctic outpost to investigate. She finds an organism that appears to have perished in the crash eons ago but, in fact, is about to awake. Freed from its icy prison, the insidious life-form goes on the attack. Paranoia spreads like wildfire among the crew as they fight to survive against a creature that assumes the shapes of its victims.
Granted, it pales in comparison to John Carpenter’s The Thing (released in 1982)—but so do 99% of horror movies that hit the market. The worst thing about 2011’s The Thing is that they dumped CGI FX over amazing practical creations forged by Studio ADI. But once you put that fact aside, it’s a capable prequel, one that both honors the source material and merges perfectly into the front end of Carpenter’s seminal creature horror.
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.
The fact that Final Destination 5 is a prequel, not a sequel, is the big twist of the film, but even without pulling the rug out from under viewers, it’s a great film. Back in 2011, I was all set to hate it, but I genuinely love it. The bridge collapse intro is the best opening disaster since Flight 180 in the first Final Destination movie, and the return of Tony Todd as Death’s emissary made for a perfect conclusion to the franchise—one that ends exactly where it began.
Amityville II: The Possession (1982, Directed by Damiano Damiani)
Official Synopsis: Soon after the Montelli family buys a house in the Long Island suburb of Amityville, unsettling events begin to occur. Mysterious demons seem to infest the house, preying on abusive father Anthony (Burt Young) and ferociously religious mother Dolores (Rutanya Alda), who calls on family priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) for an exorcism. Teenage Sonny (Jack Magner) is drawn furthest into madness, abusing his younger sister, Patricia (Diane Franklin), and eventually exploding in a horrific fury.
Perhaps the very first significant horror movie prequel, Amityville II: The Possession is less overtly terrifying that 1979’s Amityville Horror, but more disturbing on many levels. Despite changing the family’s surname, it’s a somewhat faithful reimagining of the real-life Defeo murder of 1974—the events that proceeded the Lutz family’s infamous residency. Supernatural tropes mix with religious blasphemes for a compelling and devastating watch.
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Annabelle (2014, Directed by John R. Leonetti)
Official Synopsis: John Form (Ward Horton) thinks he’s found the perfect gift for his expectant wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis): a vintage doll in a beautiful white dress. However, the couple’s delight doesn’t last long: One terrible night, devil worshippers invade their home and launch a violent attack against the couple. When the cultists try to summon a demon, they smear a bloody rune on the nursery wall and drip blood on Mia’s doll, thereby turning the former object of beauty into a conduit for ultimate evil.
The Annabelle doll was the unexpected scene-stealer of 2012’s The Conjuring, so it made perfect sense giving her a spinoff all her own. 2014’s Annabelle explains where the doll came from before arriving at the apartment of 2 nurses. It’s a chilling retro with elements of cult horror reminiscent of The Manson Family.
Annabelle: Creation (2017, Directed by David Sandberg)
Official Synopsis: Former toy maker Sam Mullins and his wife, Esther, are happy to welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their California farmhouse. Years earlier, the couple’s 7-year-old daughter Annabelle died in a tragic car accident. Terror soon strikes when one child sneaks into a forbidden room and finds a seemingly innocent doll that appears to have a life of its own.
Not only is Annabelle: Creation another incredible prequel spawned from 2012’s The Conjuring, it’s technically a prequel of a prequel! In this installment, we learn about the infamous devil doll’s physical creation and the young child she’s named after. Annabelle: Creation is also connected to The Nun, yet another prequel to 2012’s The Conjuring, hitting theaters in 2018.
Hannibal Rising (2007, Directed by Peter Webber)
Official Synopsis: After witnessing the violent deaths of his parents at the end of World War II, young Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) flees to his uncle’s home in Paris. He learns his uncle is dead, but the man’s mysterious Japanese widow, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li) welcomes him nonetheless. An aptitude for science helps Hannibal gain acceptance to medical school, where he hones the skills he needs to exact revenge for the atrocities he witnessed.
Hannibal Rising offers a compelling backstory for Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, one that goes back to his youth in post-World War II Europe. It explains how he acquired his taste for human flesh, and how his motivations have more to do with revenge than hunger. Gaspard Ulliel is engrossing as young Lecter; it’s easy to imagine him growing into the familiar fiend played by Anthony Hopkins.
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Red Dragon (2002, Directed by Brett Ratner)
Official Synopsis: Ex-FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) is an expert investigator who quit the Bureau after almost losing his life in the process of capturing the elusive Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). After a series of particularly grisly murders, Graham soon realizes that the best way to catch this killer, known as the Tooth Fairy, is to find a way to get inside the killer’s mind. For Graham, that means confronting his past and facing his former nemesis, the now-incarcerated Lecter.
Many Silence of the Lambs fans don’t know that Hopkins was the 2nd actor to play Lecter in film; the character first appeared in 1986’s Manhunter (although his name was spelled Lecktor), portrayed by Brian Cox. Red Dragon is a remake of Manhunter, one that returns Hopkins to the role of Lecter and features Edward Norton as the detective who finally landed Hannibal behind bars. The film takes place s few years before the events of Silence of the Lambs.
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Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006, Directed by Jonathan Liebesman)
Official Synopsis: Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and her friends (Matthew Bomer, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird) set out on a road trip for a final fling before one is shipped off to Vietnam. Along the way, bikers (Lee Tergesen, Cyia Batten) harass the foursome and cause an accident that throws Chrissie from the vehicle. The lawman who arrives on the scene kills one of the bikers and brings Chrissie’s friends to the Hewitt homestead, where young Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) is learning the tools of terror.
Not only is 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre a top-notch reboot, 2006’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is an excellent prequel, one that maintained the aesthetic and intensity of its predecessor. The Beginning also explains how Uncle Charlie Hewitt (played by R. Lee Ermey) became “Sheriff Hoyt”.
Leatherface (2017, Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury)
Official Synopsis: A violent teen and three others kidnap a young nurse while escaping from a Texas mental institution. Pursued by a vengeful sheriff, the disturbed young man embarks on a murderous rampage that shapes him into a legendary killer known as Leatherface.
Completely ignoring 2003’s remake and 2007’s prequel, Leatherface bills itself as a true prequel to Tobe Hooper’s seminal Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974. It’s about as different from Jonathan Liebesman’s prequel as night is from day, but both offer compelling backstories for America’s first horror icon. Unlike 2007’s The Beginning, Leatherface adds depth and scope to the original story; it also leaves the door opened for more prequels, and the potential to see how Leatherface devolves in the decade before 1974.
Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015, Directed by Leigh Whannell)
Official Synopsis: When teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) senses that her late mother is trying to contact her, she seeks help from gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). However, Elise’s tragic past makes her reluctant to use her abilities. After Quinn is attacked by a malevolent entity, her father (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elise for help. With support from two parapsychologists, Elise ventures deep into The Further — where she finds a powerful demon with an insatiable craving for human souls.
Killing modern-day Ghostbuster Elise Rainier (played by Lin Shaye) in Insidious: Chapter 2 left producers with 3 options for continuing the franchise: Replace Rainier with a new lead-psychic, make Rainier a ghost in future sequels, or go the prequel route. They chose the latter; Insidious: Chapter 3 tells us how Elise began her crusade against demons, and how she met her sidekicks Tucker and Specs (played by Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell respectively).
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016, Directed by Mike Flanagan)
Official Synopsis: In 1967 Los Angeles, widowed mother Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) unwittingly invites authentic evil into her home by adding a new stunt to bolster her séance scam business. When the merciless spirit overtakes her youngest daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson), the small family must confront unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.
Mike Flanagan’s feature film follow-up to Oculus proved he’s a rising star in the horror genre. Ouija: Origin of Evil is one of those rare follow-ups that actually surpasses the original in every regard. It has the look and feel of The Conjuring universe with some of the best scares since 1973’s The Exorcist.
Freddy vs Jason (2003, Directed by Ronny Yu)
Official Synopsis: Two horror icons face off in this supernatural movie. Disfigured serial killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who attacks his victims in their dreams, has lost much of his power since citizens of his town have become less afraid of him. Enlisting the help of fellow violent murderer Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger), Freddy orchestrates a new killing spree. However, when the hockey-mask-wearing psychopath won’t stop chopping up Freddy’s intended victims, the two ghouls start to battle each other.
Admittedly, I may be exploiting some gray area here, but Freddy vs Jason is, technically, a prequel to 2001’s misguided horror/sci-fi Jason X. You gotta love anything that hits the “undo” button on Uber-Jason and those outer space shenanigans.
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.
Killing Viktor at the end of Underworld 2 was a bad move, objectively, as Bill Nighy’s portrayal of the Vampire king was the X-Factor that made the franchise successful in the first place. So, making Underworld 3 a prequel was a smart decision from a practical standpoint (as it gave Nighy more time to shine), but it’s also the most compelling chapter of the bunch. Romeo and Juliette has never been reimagined in a way so pleasing to genre aficionados.
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Bates Motel (2013-2017, Created by Anthony Cipriano, Carlton Cuse, and Kerry Ehrin)
Official Synopsis: After the death of her husband, Norma Bates buys a motel in the picturesque coastal town of White Pine Bay, giving herself and teenage son Norman a chance to begin anew. Shy Norman is reluctant at first, but with the help of his mother — with whom he shares an intensely close relationship — the boy begins to open up to others and make new friends. Some locals, however, aren’t as friendly and welcoming to the Bates, who discover that because White Pine Bay isn’t as peaceful as it appears, they are forced to do whatever it takes to survive. The drama series, from executive producers Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and Kerry Ehrin (“Friday Night Lights”) and inspired by the seminal 1960 horror film “Psycho,” explores the formative years of Norman Bates and how his complicated bond with his mother forged a serial killer.
While there is a movie prequel to 1960’s Psycho, A&E took the concept to new heights, giving young Norman Bates a backstory that spanned 5 seasons. The relationship between Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his mother (Vera Farmiga) is disturbingly complex, and the show’s final season brought the story into the front end of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece while adding fresh, modern elements. If you’ve never checked in to Bates Motel, the series is a delicious binge-watch for horror fans.