Sequels are always a mixed bag – especially sequels to horror movies. Even if a horror movie doesn’t scare you, it should at least surprise you. And how do you get something that surprised you once to surprise you again?
I’ve selected some horror sequels that attempt – and mostly succeed – at being something other than just more of the same. Most of these movies aren’t the equal of the classics they’re based on, but they’re worth watching because they try to surprise you again. So if you’re looking for something new or different to watch this Halloween, I recommend giving these sequels a chance (or second chance).
So without further ado, I welcome you to <insert spooky voice here> the Island of Misfit Horror Sequels…
Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives
Well, we have to start with a Friday the 13th movie on Friday the 13th. I won’t lie, this series has never been my thing (sorry, Friday fans), but Jason Lives is a ton of fun.
Why? The people who made it acknowledged how silly this series is and leaned into it. The end result is a charmingly self-aware horror-comedy that’s funny while still letting Jason do what he does to anyone who gets near Camp Crystal Lake. If this isn’t the best Friday movie, it’s right up there. Now let’s move on to something that takes itself more seriously…
New Nightmare is tricky to explain. Set in the “real world” – where the Freddy movies exist and are no longer being made – strange things begin happening to the lead actress from the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Heather Langenkamp (playing herself). As you can guess, none other than Frederick C. Krueger is after Langenkamp and her family as the line between dreams and reality blurs.
New Nightmare is a weighty film, only partially successful at exploring big ideas – such as the need for horror stories and Craven’s concern that, in his absence, Freddy became a cartoon character beloved by fans for the wrong reasons.
Not a complete success – but I’ll take a movie that swings big and misses a few times.
Anthony Perkins returns as Norman Bates, who is released from a mental institution after twenty years. He moves back into the house overlooking the Bates Motel (probably not a good idea) and tries to find some normalcy. Unfortunately, the family of one of his victims has other plans for him. A series of murders begins and all evidence points to Norman, who starts to believe he’s responsible.
Psycho II has one misstep: the laughable way the mystery is resolved. But that doesn’t take away from how good the rest of the movie is. This time around, the suspense comes from rooting for Norman and hoping that he hasn’t gone, well, you know, psycho.
House of Frankenstein & House of Dracula
Now for a double feature suitable for younger viewers. After years of diminishing returns and so-so sequels, Universal Pictures got people back in theaters by putting Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man together in the same film, House of Frankenstein. That movie was popular enough for House of Dracula to be released the next year.
There’s not much plot to discuss here – both films are a series of vignettes designed to give each monster their moment. And House of Dracula is kinda-sorta-maybe the end of this shared universe that ran from the early 1930s and into the 1940s (as with most franchises made before TV and home video, the continuity of these movies is vague at best). And if it is the end of the series, it gives a satisfying conclusion to the trials and tribulations of Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man. Neither movie is a classic, but you’re gonna have fun. And since both movies are just over an hour long, you can squeeze them into a single evening this October.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Another pick suitable for (most of) the family. Despite the original movie’s huge success, Gremlins 2 flopped in theaters back in 1990. There are a couple of reasons why the sequel landed with a thud, but chief among them is this: it’s an unapologetic parody of the original Gremlins, a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon that’s intentionally messing with the audience and thumbing its nose at movie sequels, 24-hour cable television, corporate culture and celebrity moguls of the day like Ted Turner and Donald Trump.
And if you’re in on the joke, this movie is a riot. You could argue that this movie doesn’t have the heart of the original Gremlins. That it’s nothing but jokes. But man, what jokes…
The Thing (2011)
It’s not technically a remake of 1982’s The Thing, despite having the same title. It’s a prequel that takes place right before the ’82 classic, set at another Antarctic base where the alien monster is first discovered. In theory, it’s a prequel story worth telling. The problem is this version copies and pastes so much from its predecessor that it ends up feeling like a remake.
It’s not all bad, though. The cast is surprisingly good, and the computer-generated creature effects – while not holding a candle to the practical effects of the ’82 film – are fun. Best of all, the people who made this movie did their homework. While not as daring or original as some of the movies on this list, it’s impressive to see how well these two films connect together despite being made almost thirty years apart… even if they feel too much like the same movie.
The Exorcist III
I’ve saved the best for last. Written and directed by William Peter Blatty (who wrote the original Exorcist), this sequel shifts focus to a supporting character from the first film, Detective William Kinderman. The movie starts with Kinderman investigating a serial killer. The hitch is these murders could only be committed by one person: a man executed 15 years before… on the same night as a certain exorcism of a certain head-spinning child.
The film suffers from some unnecessary reshoots to jazz up the ending (the studio panicked upon realizing there wasn’t an exorcism in an Exorcist film), but the first hour is genuinely unnerving as Kinderman is forced to accept that supernatural forces are at work. Scares aside, what makes this movie great is Blatty’s skill at creating memorable characters and exploring the themes of good versus evil.
Not only is Exorcist III one of the best horror films of the 90s, most horror fans agree it has the best jump scare of all time. Google “Exorcist III hospital scene” if you dare…
We hope you enjoyed reading this and that you’ll share what you’re watching this October in the comments below.
Jeremy is the Promotions Assistant at HPB Corporate