Most horror sequels are pretty terrible–which is why it was refreshing that “Insidious: Chapter 2“–rather than retreading the ground laid by the first film, opted to strike out in its own, oddball direction. With that film out in theaters this week, and today being Friday the 13th, we thought we’d take a look back at some great horror sequels from years’ past and how they affected the horror movie landscape.
13. “Demons 2” (1986)
“Demons 2” is not precisely a good movie, but it is a terribly inventive one from director Lamberto Bava. While the first film saw theater goers at a free horror movie screening attacked by the carnivorous monsters in film, the sequel sees an entire apartment building under attack by toothy demons when the same movie gets broadcast on TV. What works is the way that the demonic presence is allowed to spread, infecting viewers and then those viewers infecting others with bites or scratches, creating little pockets of survivors in their own apartments. Sure, some of it is hokey and a little too silly like the musclebound body builders battling demons in the garage–and yet again, we have a side story about Italian teens driving around aimlessly–but underneath it all is a clever bit of commentary on the disconnection of modern living.
12. “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982)
We debated the inclusion of “Season of the Witch” or 1988’s “Return of Michael Meyers,” which ultimately reinvigorated the slasher series. In fact, “Halloween III,” with its druids and killer masks premise was supposed to be the first entry in a planned series of annual “Halloween” movies that nearly killed the line as a whole. Nevertheless, when boozy doctor Tom Atkins goes searching for the source of the android murdered a hapless store clerk, he uncovers a bizarre and creepy conspiracy that will have you checking the inside of your Halloween mask for the Silver Shamrock label.
11. “Ring 0: Birthday” (2000)
Actually a prequel, “Ring 0” is the rare movie of its type to look at its villain’s past and make them sympathetic. In this case, it’s Sadoko, the videotape-spawned killer from Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu,” back this time in her original earthly form before she became the reason that VHS tapes seem extra creepy now. Far from being a long-haired weirdo, 70’s Sadako was an aspiring actress with a tortured past attempting to escape her family’s reputation (and her own unearthly psychic abilities). Unfortunately, the past is never done with us, and before she knows it, our heroine is caught in a cycle of murder and revenge.
10. “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005)
Rob Zombie followed up his mostly uneven first effort, the grindhouse homage “House of 1000 Corpses,” with a movie that’s one part road trip, another part a grimy, bloody look at human extremes. Taking place after the first film, we see the Firefly family on the run, with Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding fleeing the clutches of vengeful sheriff Wydell. There are no good guys here: Wydell is ready to do whatever it takes to capture and torture those responsible for his brother’s death, even if it means enlisting a pair of murderous bounty hunters. By the time the final scene rolls, as “Freebird” starts to play and the Firefly clan is bleeding out, you start to feel something approaching sympathy for this gruesome brood.
9. “The Beyond” (1981)
Like “Inferno,” this wasn’t a clear sequel to its predecessor–instead, director Lucio Fulci continued exploring the idea of seven gates of hell spread around the world which began in “City of the Living Dead” (1980). Here, yet another small town is caught in the grip of walking, murderous corpses, creepy crawly animals, and lots of dead locals as a new infernal doorway is opened underneath a decrepit Louisiana hotel. New owner Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) finds out there’s more than rotten floorboards in the old hotel which was the site of a warlock’s murder a century ago. Sure, some bits are a little silly (see the creeping spider death) but the final 10 minutes are some of the best and craziest in 80’s horror.
8. “The Exorcist III” (1990)
It’s best you ignore the overblown, locust-filled “Exorcist II: The Heretic” and check out this film written and directed by “The Exorcist” novelist William Peter Blatty. This time out, George C. Scott’s Georgetown cop is on the trail of a serial killer who may have ties to a mysterious patient played by Jason Miller (Father Karras in “The Exorcist”). Sure, it might not have a ton of scares–but its slow build allows “The Exorcist III” to work its sick magic over you, a portrait of mourning and fear that might keep you up at night.
7. “Return of the Living Dead” (1985)
Yet another spiritual successor and not quite a sequel in its own right, “Alien” screenwriter Dan O’Bannon imagines what if “Night of the Living Dead” were a film inspired by real events–and one of those carefully quarantined zombies had somehow gone astray. Don’t let the punk rock clothing, 80’s fashion, Clu Galager, and the bitching soundtrack fool you–“Return of the Living Dead” is nihilistic a zombie movie as you’ll ever see, a movie about people playing foolish games of CYA who end up dooming us all.
6. “Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI” (1986)
The culmination of the Tommy Jarvis saga is one of the best entries in the series. Jarvis (Thom Mathews), first played by Corey Feldman in the fourth film in the series, has seen his life ruined by his continued run-ins with the Crystal Lake slasher. So to get a little payback, he decides to escape from the mental institution where he’s been holed up, and violate Jason’s body. Unfortunately, a stray lightning strike brings Jason back to “life,” making the hockey mask-wearing murderer a rampaging, electricity-powered zombie. It’s the best sequel in the series for one, paying off Tommy’s three-movie arc–he’s a genuinely likeable character. And two, “Jason Lives” allows Jason a host of clever, tongue-in-cheek kills which gave this entry a distinct tone from others in the series.
5. “Inferno” (1980)
While not a direct sequel to his “Suspria,” Dario Argento’s second film in his planned “Three Mothers” trilogy nevertheless explores the hidden world of the three witches who rule all of the world’s misery. This time out, the action moves from a dance school in the alps to a spooky apartment building in New York where music student Mark (Leigh McCloskey) attempts to find out what happened to his younger sister, and what connection her disappearance might have on the strange building where she was living. Whereas “Suspiria” was a dark fairy tale, “Inferno” was a story of urban horror with brief flashes of the supernatural thrown in for good measure–and it’s got a hell of a final scene.
4.”Evil Dead II” (1987)
Sam Raimi’s sequel/quasi-remake is, arguably, the greatest splatter picture ever made, and at the time, the culmination of the Michigan-born filmmaker’s craft. This time out, we learn what happens to Ash after he survives his first encounter with the Deadites, and, well, it’s not good. Partially possessed and terrified, he’s not only got to deal with the Book of the Dead’s missing pages, but his own killer hand in a movie that would be funny if it didn’t shred your nerves so effectively.
3. “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
Director George Romero returned to the zed word, offering up biting social commentary and tons of zombies in this mall-set horror film. Its three survivors figure that making a mall safe will allow them to avoid the spread of the zombie outbreak, but the daily grind, and later, marauders prove to be the biggest challenges to survival. In contrast to the stark black and white of the first film, which was in large part about class and race in the late 60’s, the luridly bright and colorful “Dawn” touched on race and delved more into our obsession with consumerism and having the newest and shiniest things.
2. “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors” (1987)
The second “Elm Street” sequel is remarkable for how it determined the direction for the rest of the franchise, creating some of the “rules” for killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) and more importantly, making the dreams of its protagonists ever-escalating setpieces for the series. Here, the teen residents of a mental institution learn from first “Elm Street heroine Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) how to control their dreams, granting themselves abilities to fight Freddy on his own turf. Visually inventive, it’s also the first entry that sees the franchise make a hard turn into black comedy, with Freddy becoming the quip-happy killer we all know and fear.
1. “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)
James Whale returns in what is possibly one of the greatest sequels of all time, edging away from the pure horror/thriller territory of the first film into dark comedy (that happens a lot with sequels, you’ll find). Boris Karloff is back as we learn that the monster didn’t, in fact die, as we thought in the first film, getting a bride in the process. Unfortunately, it’s not love at first sight, and the lovelorn creature is sent on another rampage.