Sequels get a bad wrap. They always have. Audiences are often underwhelmed by the second entry, or third, or even the seventh entry in a film franchise. In a one-off film, characters go through a major developmental arc, but sometimes it’s more difficult to do that twice. While the great sequels change the character arc entirely, like Terminator 2 and The Godfather: Part 2, not all films can do that. Otherwise it wouldn’t be special. Most sequels have to try to advance the character through new situations. Not too new, or else it loses the feel of the original. Too similar and it feels like a retread. It’s a sticky situation.
When it comes to horror, it’s even more difficult. Horror movies get roasted by critics on the daily. While almost every animated film that has ever been made is rated on par with the greatest movies of all time, a horror movie getting a positive rating is cause for celebration. When a horror sequel is released, critics have a scowl on their face before they’ve even sat in their seats. They need to be blown away in order to impressed at all. That’s why you have the really good, and then pretty much everything else.
But not me. That’s not the way I watch horror. I like horror movies, and I like horror sequels, so I give them the benefit of the doubt. There are a few things I look for in a sequel. I want the atmosphere to be similar to the original. I want to see some throwbacks to what’s come before, nods to the greats and twists that tease my expectations. Here are 15 of the best horror sequels.
15. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
Call me crazy, but once you got a taste of the Cenobites in Hellraiser, you needed more of them. That’s why I actually prefer Hellbound: Hellraiser II to the first film; it gives me more Pinhead, more of the other freaky Clive Barker characters and more of their world. There’s a lot of buildup and anticipation in Hellraiser that I feel isn’t quite satisfied by the end. The second film gets to pick up where that one left off and run with it, giving you more of what was scariest in the first. Sure the plot meanders a bit and much of the scare tactics are focused on gross-out techniques, but I don’t care. It still relies on gore less than many of the more modern horror franchises. Plus, its atmosphere is about as weird and stylish as it gets. Not only does this movie surpass the original, I think it makes the original better by giving us a little bit more information about who the Cenobites are and what they want.
14. Paranormal Activity 3
Paranormal Activity is a film franchise that suffers badly from revisionist criticism and film fans looking backwards. Because found footage was beaten to death from lesser films, Paranormal Activity often gets lumped into a pile it doesn’t belong in. It’s easy to say that scares aren’t frequent enough or that nothing happens in the film when you’re watching it for the third time, but that’s not where its strength lies. It’s in the anticipation, the unknown scare that hides in each drawn-out scene. If you know that only a door moves in a delayed cut, and that makes you think less of the film, shush up. The rest of us who can appreciate the film for what it is still enjoy it and there were several plot lines that were left open from the original Paranormal Activity, something that Paranormal Activity 3 looks to conclude. We get some much needed backstory, as well as a better idea of, not only what is going on, but why it’s going on. This prequel might not be as scary as the first, but it still has some great tension and a few jumps scattered in there.
13. Final Destination 2
Here’s a tip before you watch this. It is not the most frightening horror movie you’ll ever see. If you go in expecting it to take itself as seriously as The Exorcist, you’re gonna have a bad time. Since most critics expect a horror movie to reduce them to tears, any film that is a little silly or a little fun is ridiculed, and Final Destination 2 got it bad from these folks. Don’t let them turn you off from it. Sure, the first film had a cool but somewhat illogical premise and ran with it, making a more serious flick than it probably should have. The second one is less about the overall premise and more about the fun realizing it. When Roger Ebert said that “perhaps movies are like history, and repeat themselves, first as tragedy, then as farce,” he was right. The difference is that he saw this as a problem, where I see it as a triumph. Just because a movie is horror by genre doesn’t mean we can’t have a laugh in between frights.
12. Troll 2
The sequel that isn’t a sequel. I will never be one to accept that people think The Room took over Troll 2 as the best worst movie ever. It’s unacceptable. Troll 2 is magnificent. If you haven’t seen it, buckle up. It’s a riotous good ol’ time and will make you feel like you can do anything you set your mind to. So what does this film have to do with the original Troll? Nothing, absolutely nothing. In fact, there aren’t even any trolls in the film, they’re goblins. Troll 2 thought it would be obscure enough that it could just play off the success of the earlier film without anyone being the wiser. Well, the film blew up. It has since become a cult classic with showings all over the world. The acting is about as subpar as it can get and the script involves some truly head-scratching moments. Nevertheless, it is and should be in every horror fan’s collection.
11. The Devil’s Rejects
There’s a lot of shock value in The Devil’s Rejects, but there is also a lot of great writing and performances as well. Rob Zombie’s return to the Firefly family from The House of 1000 Corpses is much improved and better organized. Horror fans have long admired the villains in their films, often deriving a sense of personality strictly from their actions. We only saw through other’s eyes. Zombie’s sequel flips that story, changing the villains to antiheroes, providing them with motivations and meaning. Watching the film makes viewers uncomfortable, and routing for the antiheroes makes them feel even worse, a perfect reason why the film should be considered a romping success. While the gross-out value will continue to push people off and force them to denigrate they film, largely because they don’t like the way they feel, it should be viewed as one of the better sequels made in horror.
10. Scream 4
Coming out 11 years after the lauded Scream 3 (a movie that I liked, though it was definitely the weakest in the set), Scream 4 came out to mixed reviews. This entry is a commentary on modern horror and the evolution of the genre, a commentary that many felt was heavy-handed. However, there’s a problem with the critics. They don’t like the horror genre, they never really have, so how can they judge a film that gently critiques the genre they so harshly critique? It’s a question that hurts my brain to consider. Either way, Scream 4 does, admittedly, rest on its tried and true formula, if it didn’t it wouldn’t be a Scream movie. I do feel though, that the film would have been much, much more successful had it ended 10 minutes earlier, subverting the entire meaning of the film. Regardless, Scream 4 is a welcome addition to one of the better horror franchises ever made, and one that honors the films that have come before it like all good horror should do.
9. Conjuring 2
I think that James Wan, the director of The Conjuring and Insidious films, is one of the best at creating a horror environment. Even if The Conjuring 2 doesn’t quite match the first film in scares, the feeling is very similar, very eerie and a lot of fun to immerse yourself in. As always, the sounds and chords used throughout are perfectly suited to Wan’s haunted house settings. The returning cast for this sequel are superb once again, and it brings the story into an acceptable shape. Though it saddens me to have to write this, just because people don’t faint while watching it doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. We have been desensitized. We are not watching The Blair Witch Project for the first time thinking it might be real. The Internet has set fire to that world. We’re watching Vera Farmiga here, Mrs. Norma Bates, we know she’s not a real life ghost hunter. You need to be able to let yourself go and revel in having your skin crawl. Let the dark mood wash over you or else you’ll miss completely the fun of it all.
8. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
In 1994, ten years after Nightmare on Elm Street was released, the seventh film in the franchise, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, brought audiences a really neat, closer look at the characters and the villain we’d come to know so well. The film was also one of the first full meta-horror films, a genre that is now one of the most popular (see Scream, Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil). Returning was Heather Langenkamp, playing herself, Robert Englund, playing himself and Freddy Krueger, and Wes Craven, playing himself. The film is a cool experience and it brought new life to a franchise that had, by all accounts, become a little bit stale. We’re happy to say that some critics even liked this one.
7. 28 Weeks Later
The sequel to 28 Days Later followed the formula of what a sequel needs to be, perfectly, to a tee even: bigger, scarier and even more gruesome. This one is fast paced and action packed, whereas the first was much more cerebral. Which one you’ll like better is a matter of preference, brain or brawn really. Even in a time where zombie movies and TV shows dominate the airwaves, this duo of films stands up extremely well to the competition. For any fan of horror, the third and final film to this franchise that has been looming just out of reach for a decade will be met with a huge audience should it ever get made. We can always hope, right?
6. Scream 2
I’ll never understand why the Scream franchise isn’t heralded as one of the best of all time. If you go into Scream expecting to be scared stiff, you’re going to be sadly disappointed when you leave. If you go in expecting to learn about the horror genre and the different tropes that have been constantly utilized in the past, you’ll love what you see. Scream was one of the earlier and best meta-horror films made, and Scream 2 uses what was built in the first and runs with it. The film uses the expectations of the audience that have been cemented over 30 years of horror and slasher films and plays with them. It rewrites steadfast rules, tricks your anticipations and has fun while doing it. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself seriously, but still comes out with a story, an acceptable conclusion and a lovable cast. Though it doesn’t best the first entry in the series, Scream 2 comes awful close.
5. Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors
I absolutely adore this film. When Patricia Arquette won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Boyhood, I felt that I could finally put out the torch I had been carrying for her acting career for the 24 years following Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors. Arquette is unbelievable as the main protagonist in Dream Warriors, the third installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. After an absence from the second film, Heather Langenkamp reprises her role as Nancy as well, which tickles my fancy. The rest of the cast hilariously overact and have some brutal flaws for Freddy to manipulate in the dream world, which makes for some excellent sequences. After a small deviation from the game plan in Freddy’s Revenge, the series returns to its roots with this sequel, easily one of the top three films in the historic collection.
4. Friday the 13th Part 2
Even though Friday the 13th is one of my all time favorites, Friday the 13th Part 2 is the quintessential Friday film because it’s Jason’s first appearance. Sure, it covers ground covered in the first film, that’s the point. Critics coming back 30 years after the film’s release and criticizing it for being too similar to the first film make me tremor with anger. Here’s a tidbit of information that will help you understand these movies: Jason’s mom, Pamela Voorhees, murdered the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake because they weren’t watching Jason and he drowned. Then 21 years later, Pamela returned to kill more counselors because of her sheer hatred for them all, especially those who fornicate on the job. Now, Jason returns to kill camp counselors because of his own death and his mother’s. Friends, it’s a cycle. If you can’t grasp that, you shouldn’t be critiquing it. You don’t see me criticizing Finding Dory because I hate fish.
There’s something beautiful about the combination of the two first movies in this series (Alien and Aliens). Like all of the greatest sequels of all time (of which Aliens most certainly is), there is a fundamental change in the story or the genre. In this case, it’s the genre. While Alien was an atmospheric horror movie, Aliens is much closer to an action movie. But don’t let that fool you. There is still enough horror and fear in this sequel to keep it on this list. There’s not as much of a horror house element to Aliens as there is in Alien, but there’s still uneasiness around every corner. Plus, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is a mammoth in Aliens, much more comfortable in her dominant role than her character was in the first, though that’s half of her charm. Plus, like most horror films, Aliens is filled with archetypal characters, people who represent groups of people rather than individuals, so Ripley stands out as if she’s glowing.
2. Dawn of the Dead
I could go on about Dawn of the Dead and its satirical look at consumer culture like everyone always harps on. But, at the end of the day, Dawn of the Dead is just a really fun zombie movie. I’ve always thought, and don’t hate me for saying this, but Night of the Living Dead hasn’t aged all that well. I mean, it’s still a very good movie and what it did for cinema can never be discounted, but it feels ancient today. Then you look at Dawn of the Dead, which came out only 10 years later and it has a much more modern appeal. I’m not just talking about color here, either. I’m talking about technique, acting and approach. Obviously there was a much larger budget, better technology and a better grasp on what they wanted to accomplish, but there’s something else at the core here. Like George A. Romero had figured it out the second time around.
1. Evil Dead II
Making a silly movie and hoping people accept it for what you intended it to be is a difficult game to play, but one that Sam Raimi played and hit out of the ballpark. Evil Dead II is essentially a slap-stick remake of the more straightforward horror movie Evil Dead. The effects are overdone, the acting is campy and the premise is a sillier version of the first installment, but it’s a monumental success. Bruce Campbell seems like he was made for campy performances, just about as good as you can get. There’s still enough horror in the film to make viewers uneasy, but it always loosens up the mood with hilarity around every corner. People often get confused with dark comedy, when to laugh and when not to. Stop overthinking it. If it looks silly and makes you laugh, laugh. There are no rules.