Top 10 Horror Sequels

Editor’s Notes: The Purge: Anarchy opens in wide release today, July 18th. Read Adrian’s review (5.0 / 10.0).

When people think of horror sequels, there’s always a temptation to denounce them as inferior films. True, it is easy to start citing examples of lesser films in franchises like Friday the 13th or Saw. But, as your mind meanders through the doldrums of lackluster installments, you might be surprised to find hidden gems made even more precious by their dreary surroundings.

Usually for a horror sequel to transcend its nature it must do one of two things: either it profoundly extrapolates themes from the original into new and terrifying places; or it exists in part to destroy the original (often this destruction comes at the hands of the original’s creator; i.e. the sequel and the original must both be directed or written by the same person).

Some people say the horror genre suffered from its obsession with sequels and prequels and remakes, oh my! However, we forget that’s how the genre first began. The legacy of the Universal monsters, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, the Wolfman, were all born of not one film, but many.

Sequels can be classy. They can sip champagne and entertain at parties just as well as any original work so long as they aim to do so. The problem is when they show up uninvited and are just there for the free food. You know who they are (fake cough)…Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013).

In honor of the approaching horror sequel The Purge: Anarchy, here’s a list of sequels that not only kept the party alive, but brought down the entire house.

10. Jaws 2 (1978)

“Don’t tell me that I don’t know what a shark looks like because I’ve seen one up close. And you better do something about this one, cause I don’t intend to go through that hell again.”

Before sequels were the hot new thing, there was a little film that came out and coined the phrase, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” Those ominous words have become nearly as famous as its predecessor’s “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” It’s a testament to the sequel’s integrity.

All the major players from the first film returned for Jaws 2 except Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss. Meh, who needs ‘em? As long as we’ve got John Williams, then we’re good.

If, at its core, the first film is a simple story of man vs. beast, then the second is similarly straightforward. Another shark stops in for a bite to eat at the sunny shores of Amity. However, instead of the second half of the film being about hunting down the shark like in the original, Jaws 2 flips the formula and delivers a second half where a bunch of young kids (two of which belong to our hero, Officer Brody), are trapped at sea, and worse, are being hunted by the shark.

It dwells on the terror of the first film. There are no exciting barrel chases or humorous camaraderie, there’s only a deep ocean and the hungry monster that lives there. Oh, and apparently it loves the taste of children. It certainly takes a darker plunge into the water’s depths than the original, but it’s still an enjoyably harrowing descent into the jaws of a mindless eating machine.

9. Scream 4 (2011)

“This has never been about killing you. It’s about becoming you.”

Everyone knows the Scream franchise is the horror king of being self-aware. However, the fourth installment takes it to a new level. Not only are the characters of the film aware they’re in a slasher film, but they’re aware of being aware since the slasher film they’re aware of is already intensely self-aware. The resulting film is a prime example of a sequel and seeks in part to destroy its predecessor.

The theme of the new devouring the old (not only in culture, but in every aspect of life) is one of the more terrifying ideas to be found in this fun and frightening filmic feast (I was a little indulgent there, but I was also appropriately self-aware of it). The killer in the film embodies this cannibalistic impulse. In an effort to avoid spoilers, this next part is going to be a little vague. Once the ghost face comes off, it’s revealed that two youthful teens are to blame for all the madness. The brain of the operation basically confesses that she doesn’t know how to exist without becoming our lead heroine, Sidney (Neve Campbell). As she puts it, there simply is no other option. Sidney must die for the next generation to take their respective places in the world.

To a large degree this is not only an attack on today’s youth culture, but also an attack on the current state of horror. Scream 4 consciously shows us exactly what has gone wrong with the relationship between sequel/prequel/reboot and their originals. They seem to seek the destruction of the very films that spawned them, if only as a desperate attempt to validate themselves. It’s a dangerous motivation for moviemaking, but not necessarily a bad one. When done smartly, the destruction can be surprisingly enjoyable, such as Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) or Bride of Chucky (1998). Unfortunately those examples are few and far between.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

“It’s just something the kids say to keep the boogieman away.”

Some people look at Nightmare 3 as the moment that killed Freddy Krueger. Before this film, Freddy was a frightening figure of fear, and after, he became a jesting jokester of…jests (sorry about the poor alliteration). Despite the cardinal sin of demystifying the boogieman, this installment does manage some remarkable feats. What stands out chiefly amongst them is its well-crafted story and actual characters. That’s right folks, you heard it here first, we’ve got an 80s slasher film sequel that invested in real character development. Act now while supplies last!

It takes the premise of the first film (Freddy hunting the children of Elm Street in their dreams) and flips it. What was once terrifying is now fun. The characters are no longer victims of their subconscious, they are empowered by it. When they fall asleep, one kid imagines himself as a wizard, the other a dangerous punk rocker, and another an incredibly strong muscle man. They become whatever they believe they can be, as if powered by pure optimism, and must do battle with the insidious fear that lives in all of us – the fear that quite literally eats our dreams, Freddy Krueger.

The result is a uniquely optimistic horror adventure. That’s not to say it doesn’t have blood and gore and screaming. It has all those things as well, but it certainly marks a departure from the original intent. It’s kind of like a merry-go-round version of the first film, only there’s a man with razor fingers waiting by the edge in case you fall off. How thrilling!

7. The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)

“I don’t cry.”

As far as unplanned, unnecessary, uncalled for sequels go, The Rage: Carrie 2 is a shockingly compelling film. Partly, this may be due to the fact that expectations are significantly lowered when walking into a film that’s a sequel to (at that time) a 23-year-old movie. However, to call it a full sequel is a bit misleading. Technically it is a follow up to the first film, but it’s also at least 30% a remake.

Basically the story is the same. A teen outcast is humiliated in front of the popular kids and she murders them all with her telekinesis. But this teen is not a fragile little 70s flower, oh no, she’s a toughened 90s rebel, making her fall all the more tragic. When the foundation is harder to crack, it just means the wrecking ball will have to be twice as big. A bucket of pig’s blood just won’t suffice. Instead, the popular kids videotape our telekinetic teen losing her virginity to a boy she thought she loved, then they play it for the whole world to see. On top of that, her dog gets hit by a car and her best friend commits suicide. Basically, she’s dragged through hell and comes back with a fist full of flames.

It’s easy to chock these films up purely as teen angst revenge stories, but that alone does not do them justice. If it did, we wouldn’t still be talking about them. Bigger themes regarding the self-destructive nature of vengeance and the vicious social creation of “the other” help give them a timeless, almost fable-like quality. The Rage: Carrie 2 easily slips into this prestigious category.

Who knew the horrors of high school has such enormous implications on the rest of our lives… I mean, who knew?

6. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987)

“Give me back my hand!”

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn not only slaps its predecessor in the face, it also pulls its hair, steps on its toes and pokes it in the eyes with a silly cartoon “boink!” sound. It’s not satisfied just destroying the original film, it wants to dismember it. And it does just that… spectacularly.

The sequel seems to hold so much contempt for the original film that it actually retells the story of The Evil Dead (1981) like a slapstick routine from hell. Once it has sufficiently buried any expectations for a serious horror film, that’s when the fun really begins. Evil Dead II is a sensational celebration of imaginative horror gags. If ever there were a film that embodied the thrill of a funhouse, this would be it. There are rubber ghouls popping up around every corner, bodily fluids being sprayed left and right, and eyeballs shooting through the air. It’s impossible not to be possessed by its sense of devious delight. Whether it makes you laugh or scream, or some uncomfortable mix of both, you will no doubt be recruited to join the ranks of the Deadites.

It seems an appropriate time to give an honorable mention to the equally inventive third installment in the Evil Dead franchise, Army of Darkness (1992). As it is a collision of genres – horror meets sword and sorcery epic – it seemed more appropriate to include Evil Dead II on this list since it is far more horror centric. I couldn’t very well include both. After all, I’m not writing a “Top 10 Reasons Why Sam Raimi is Amazing” list… though, now that I think about it, I could certainly do that.

5. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

“What’s the matter kid? Don’t you like clowns?”

The Devil’s Rejects is to House of 1000 Corpses (2003) what The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is to Last House on the Left (1972). That is to say, leaps and bounds beyond. The Devil’s Rejects has all of the stylized grotesquery of its predecessor, but adds to the cocktail a healthy dose of genuine emotion. It proves that you can go for the heart and the jugular at the same time.

But let’s not get too warm and fuzzy. After all, it is a film about a sadistic family murdering their way across the country. And by sadistic, I mean removing people’s faces, molesting them with guns, and beating them to death with sticks. With a resume like that, one assumes we most likely won’t be looking favorably upon these characters. It’s a safe assumption. They’re up to some pretty repulsive things. However, and this is the brilliance of The Devil’s Rejects, we’d be assuming wrong. Somehow by the end of the film, despite all the blood they’ve spilled, we see the humanity in the Firefly clan. They care about each other, so we care about them.

In a cinema landscape that’s obsessed with stories with clearly defined heroes and villains, The Devil’s Rejects is a refreshing reminder that life is not that simple, as much as we want it to be. Things would be easier if we could label people who do monstrous things as monsters – they’re bad, we’re good. But good or bad, it’s all part of being human. Perhaps the film’s most disturbing moment isn’t when someone is nailed to a chair, or when someone else is splattered by a truck, but rather, when we realize monsters are people too.

4. The Exorcist III (1990)

“I have dreams of a rose, and falling down a long flight of stairs.”

Similar to The Rage: Carrie 2, The Exorcist III initially seems like a bad idea. Why make a sequel to a classic film so many years after the fact? Did the disastrous Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) teach you nothing? How many times must you fall on your face to learn not to do that? A great deal, apparently, and for once we can be thankful for it.

The third installment in The Exorcist franchise is an unsettlingly calm look at the idea of evil and the way it ripples through our lives. It’s not just a cash grab like the prequels. Within the first few shots, which feel like a dream of the original film, it’s clear this isn’t just an arbitrary sequel. Not to mention the fact that it also happens to be written and directed by William Peter Blatty (who also wrote the original).

It takes what the first film did and meticulously examines it, much like its lead character, Lieutenant Kinderman played by George C. Scott, would do. Familiar themes of the fragility of faith and the infectious nature of evil resurface as the lieutenant investigates a series of murders linking back to the infamous exorcism that took the life of Father Karras.

Lastly, it also boasts one of the most beautifully constructed jump scares of all time. It’s… like… really… (quieter) really… (barely a whisper) really… SCARY!!! Did I get you?

3. Psycho II (1983)

“I don’t kill people anymore.”

Speaking of unwanted sequels to classic films…

It seems most people would write off Psycho II as an audacious misadventure – an offensive mistake that should have been aborted at conception. Strangely, I feel like I’m about to deliver a pro-life argument, which is something I never thought I’d do. Most of the vicious judgments about the film attack the idea of the sequel rather than the sequel itself. If you actually take the time to view this film as a film, you’ll find a smart, suspenseful mystery, but more importantly, a love letter to Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, it’s so touching in its admiration for the master of suspense that you’ll think it was a Brian DePalma film.

The story picks up 22 years after Norman Bates, played again by Anthony Perkins, was committed for psychiatric treatment. Guess what? He’s cured! However, when he returns to the motel, the murders start up again. But the plot isn’t as simple as that. Is Norman behind the killings or is it someone else, someone with an axe to grind (or knife to slice)? The film keeps the mystery alive until its operatic finale when it’s finally revealed if mother has returned or if her little Norman has finally grown up.

It’s striking how respectfully the film deals with mental illness. Knowing it came out about 30 years ago, one can’t help but admire the empathy it elicits between the audience and Norman Bates. When other, more belligerent characters call him a “psycho” or a “loony”, you feel how much those words hurt and you almost want Norman to don a dress, grab a knife and tell those violins to be at the ready. Luckily, the film is more restrained than that.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

“I’ve got a real good eye for prime meat. Runs in the family.”

When Tobe Hooper returned to Texas with a fresh chainsaw to rev, everyone expected more screaming, more meat hooks, and more cannibalism. Well, they got more, a lot more. If the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is a look into the abyss, then Texas Chainsaw 2 is that abyss. It plays like a macabre vaudeville routine, dancing on a stage of blood with a toothy smile spread across its face. Laughter and screams become inseparable and soon you feel just as mad as the characters you’re watching.

It all starts normal enough, or at least in a relative sense of normal. The lead heroine, named Stretch, becomes the focus of the chainsaw family, which starts her descent (quite literally) into the bowels of their circus hell. Once Stretch is trapped inside the maelstrom of their insanity, which is made of equal parts murder, mayhem, and good old fashion capitalism, she loses herself and ends up on the top of a fake mountain, dancing that familiar chainsaw dance… apparently it’s all the rave nowadays. Oh, and meanwhile Dennis Hopper, who plays a vigilante lieutenant obsessed with the family, engages in an epic chainsaw fight with Leatherface. And more than one character dons someone else’s face… And it’s kind of a comedy.

Texas Chainsaw 2 is truly an impossible film to define. People expected more of the same, but what they got was a colorful nightmare splashed with extreme violence and outrageous humor. It would seem Tobe Hooper wasn’t worried about bad taste, but who would when human flesh has such an irresistible flavor?

1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

“We belong dead.”

Taking the number one slot for best horror sequel is James Whale’s masterpiece Bride of Frankenstein. The film is considered just as classic as its predecessor, boasting legendary scenes like the Monster’s visit with the hermit in the woods and of course the birth of the bride herself, not to mention the outlandish Doctor Pretorius.

The film still resonates because of its compassion for the outsider. James Whale, who himself was an outsider as an openly gay man in early 30s Hollywood, latched onto the theme of “the other” and dramatized the persecution of the Monster in such a way that you can’t help but feel his pain as the torches and pitchforks of the mob hunt him down. The Monster never asked to be a monster, he just is. We can all relate to the fear of being ostracized, of being unloved. In the end, the Monster is even rejected by his own bride, and so he buries them both in the rubble of their gothic castle. It’s a romantic tragedy delicately draped in the horror of wanting love and acceptance, but receiving none.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this film has been so embraced by horror fans. Who is the horror genre made for if not the outsider? People who think society is a sweet slice of pie don’t stumble upon a film like Hellraiser (1987) and think “Oh joy, finally a movie I can relate to.” Horror is reserved for those who, like Frankenstein’s Monster, have tasted something bitter in their slice and are searching for films to connect with, films that tell them they aren’t alone. On a positive note, though the Monster suffers, we don’t have to, for if the lasting legacy of Bride of Frankenstein says anything, it says that a lot of other people hate pie too.

So when you’re feeling like that crust tastes a little stale, don’t be discouraged, just check out some of the films on this list and let us know your own favorite horror sequels below. Just don’t say Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996), ’cause I think you’re alone with that one.

If you're looking for something not quite as scary check our our list of family friendly Halloween movies.

About the Author

Horror Film Critic. Am I obsessed? Maybe. I prefer the term “passionate”; it has a less creepy stalker kind of vibe. Not that I have anything against creepy stalkers being that my genre of choice is and forever will be the depraved, demented and deranged dwelling of horror. If you're looking for films that don’t sugarcoat things, that reveal people at their ugliest, that aren’t afraid to spill a little blood and have fun doing it, then look no further!