Everybody loves a good sequel. Beloved characters and settings are given new life and new situations and studios see dollar signs when box office successes are slated for a new go-round. Horror, perhaps more than any other genre, often stretches the limits of their hottest commodities. As sure as Hitchcock booking a pale-skinned, yellow-haired beauty for his leading lady, follow-ups to even marginally successful horror films are inevitable. The question is always, “Will they be any good?”
Every so often, a sequel expands the aesthetic of a preceding work yet still finds itself relegated to a state of oblivion. The Exorcist was a tour de force. The cheesy effects and jumbled script of its first sequel curtailed the magnitude of the franchise, but Exorcist III was actually quite chilling. Fortunately, blu ray and streaming services are allowing overlooked films like The Exorcist III to be rediscovered.
Here’s a modest proposal of some other forgotten sequels that deserve a fresh look.
FRIDAY THE 13th VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988)
The Friday the 13th franchise is among the most profitable in the genre, but not all its entries are regarded with favor. While the farcical tone of the sixth installment served as a high water mark for the series, the seventh film has regrettably faded into obscurity. Picking up where part 6 left off, Jason (Kane Hodder) is condemned to spend the rest of eternity below the murky water of Crystal Lake—until a telekinetic youth called Tina (Lar Park Lincoln) loses control of her mental powers and liberates him from his watery cell.
Hodder imbues the machete-wielding psycho killer with a hulking presence that dominates the frame. Sallow green skin hangs from exposed bone, jagged slabs of grey stone protrude from ashen gums, hands the size of cinder blocks and legs like tree trunks threaten evil at every turn. Tina marks the welcome return of the final girl trope to the series following Jason’s enduring battle with Tommy Jarvis. Plagued by insecurity during the film’s opening act, she transforms into a torch of bravery that nearly eclipses Ginny Field in part II.
She uses her powers to tighten the straps of Jason’s mask around his lumpy, bald head, smashes a chandelier against his face, sets his mottled skin ablaze and brings a cottage roof down atop his skull. It’s Carrie vs Jason amid a backdrop of pure slasher sleaze.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (1993)
A genrefied Romeo and Juliet for the grunge generation by way of zombies and secret government agents, Return of the Living Dead III deserts the tongue-in-cheek humor of its predecessors to create a dark allegory for nonconformity. After losing his girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke) to a motorcycle accident, army brat Curt Reynolds (J. Trevor Edmond) uses a top-secret chemical to bring her back to life.
It’s a darkly romantic freak show that threatens conservative America with unforgiving animosity. The loud and trashy teens of The Return of the Living Dead were driven by chaos and obsessed with death. Director Brian Yuzna leans on 90s vogue to expand the punk nihilism of its prequel.
Julie twists shards of metal into her pudgy flesh; dark blood pops from the wounds. Her lips quiver with a mixture of pleasure and pain. It’s a freakish work of art both darkly disturbing and perversely satisfying. Yuzna’s dedication to the material keeps it from becoming gratuitous. Like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Return of the Living Dead III presents a violent world where authority cannot be trusted and death is the only salvation.
Dario Argento’s legacy as Italy’s maestro of the macabre goes beyond the greasy, sex-obsessed predators that stalk his early pictures. In fact, his crowning achievement is rooted more in fairytale than giallo. The story of an American ballet dancer squaring off against a coven of witches at a European dance school, Suspiria is as fascinating a piece of ghoulish expressionism you’re likely to see. Its sequel, Inferno, is every bit as rich in style and poetic violence as its predecessor.
Like Suspiria, Inferno features a witch, this time The Mother of Darkness, tormenting an American student (Irene Miracle). Also like Suspiria, it has an illogical charm and a visual beauty. The film’s oneiric story allows Argento to go crazy. Every scene develops around grandiose set pieces and is bathed in a baroque arrangement of color.
Fellow master of Italian horror, Mario Bava contributed several optical effects and background paintings for the film. He also directed the most effective sequence in the movie. Rose slips into a water-filled floor beneath the basement of her building. Cloudy, blue water pools around her, air bubbles float lazily toward the surface, light dapples through the hole above, Rose moves with an eerie sense of tranquility. Before she can exit, a lifeless body, nearly devoid of skin and pocked with blood-red boils emerges from the shadowy depths. It’s irresistibly fascinating and beautifully brutal in equal measure.
ALIEN 3 (1992)
John Carpenter suggested fans tune into sequels to see the original all over again. If a follow up deviates from the expected formula, they are oft none too pleased. When first-time director David Fincher opted to kill off three beloved characters in the opening sequence of Alien 3, he sparked a fire seed in the belly of audiences. When he curtailed the level of alien carnage, it grew into a wildfire.
While not the shoot-em-up, popcorn muncher that was Aliens, Alien 3 is a visceral achievement that exemplifies courage and humanity.
After crash-landing on a planet used as a maximum security prison, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) must sacrifice herself to save the inmates from an alien that grows inside her.
Fincher, whose career to this point had been defined by music videos, infuses each scene with a sense of dread. Darkness wraps itself around each frame like a sodden blanket exhausting every bit of hope from the audience and replacing it with apprehension.
Ripley’s decision to sacrifice herself is a spark of light in the gloomy series and would have made for a fitting end to the franchise.
THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)
In the annals of horror, few men are regarded with as much esteem as Val Lewton. Between the years 1942 and 1946, he created a number of psychological horror films that redefined the genre. None, perhaps were greeted with as much affection as Cat People. A moody piece about an illustrator called Irena (Simone Simon) who transforms into a deadly panther when sexually aroused, Cat People struck a chord with audiences to the tune of $4 million. A sequel was inevitable. Despite its title, and the appearance of a few characters from the original film, The Curse of the Cat People actually has little in common with its predecessor—a fact that unfortunately impeded the enjoyment of audiences.
When Irena commits suicide, her husband (Kent Smith) marries his former assistant (Jane Randolf). Their daughter’s (Ann Carter) efforts at school are hampered by unrestrained reverie. When she wishes for a friend, Irena appears to her in a celestial dress.
Eschewing the conventional scares of Cat People, Curse leans on the trappings of fantasy to examine how imagination can foster positive child development. Robert Wise’s assured direction draws you into the whimsical set pieces and fairy tale story. The wind sings songs that stir your emotions, spirits shimmer in the trees. It’s a hauntingly delicate drama wrapped around a wistful ghost story and is one of Lewton’s best.
PSYCHO 2 (1983)
Director Richard Franklin brings a handful of new ideas to the table in Psycho 2, making it a surprisingly satisfying affair for fans of Hitchcock’s masterful original.
Picking up twenty-two years after the events of Psycho, the sequel opens with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) being released from the mental institution and returning home to the motel where his disorder originally took root.
Though not on the level of Psycho, the sequel boasts an eerie atmosphere and a violent arrangement of sanguinary slayings. The image of a steel kitchen knife disappearing into the mouth of a victim and emerging out the back of her neck is one that will stay with you.
Perkins slips comfortably back into the role that made him famous. Americans have a fascination with psychos. They embody some dark part of our collective psyche. Norman Bates twists the tip of his blade into the soft flesh of Marion Crane over and over and yet we sympathize with him. When Marion’s car discontinues its descent into the sticky, brown swamp, our hearts skip a beat. In the sequel, Norman is depicted as a tragic soul. Anger burns deep within our systems when he is wronged.
CREEPSHOW 2 (1987)
Director Michael Gornick’s underappreciated follow up to George A. Romero’s kaleidoscopic anthology seems as relevant today as it was in 1987. In the first of three horrific tales, a wooden Indian statue positioned in front of a general store comes to life to avenge the senseless murders of the stores’ owners. He drives his antiquated weapons into the deplorable villains with aesthetic delight. It’s an audacious narrative whose thirst for controversy can be felt in the dialogue of its white characters. “You’re too good to these people.” The negative view of minorities held by conservative America in the 80s can be felt by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign today.
Story number two witnesses a quartet of rowdy teens succumbing to a mysterious aquatic blob. Their jauntiness and carefree attitudes disappear quicker than their friends beneath the gummy creature revealing their true colors. It’s ugly and brutal and shockingly satisfying.
In the third and final story, an adulterous businesswoman (Lois Chiles) kills a hitchhiker (Tom Wright) with her car while driving home at night. Her guilt manifests via visions of her crimson-stained victim.
Dr. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)
Vincent Price is back as the horribly disfigured musician and biblical scholar, Dr. Phibes, this time seeking eternal life for him and his wife in Egypt. Standing in his way is the beguiling Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry), a man who has used a special elixir to maintain his youthful appearance well into his later years.
More humorous than scary, the movie takes the formula of the first film and amplifies it with a spirited blend of black comedy and gruesome deaths. In one of the more hideously imaginative sequences a man is impaled on a spiked chair before being stung to death by scorpions, his cold and lifeless face bloated into a surrealist sculpture. It’s charmingly absurd.
Director Robert Fuest (who also directed the severely underappreciated And Soon the Darkness) adorns his sets with a handful of bold colors and a heap of art deco designs. The beloved Price is at his theatrical best, the cult status he developed early in his career reaching a new height.
The film’s finale features Phibes singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and provides a perfect ending to the dilogy.
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)
Christopher Lee chose not to reprise his role as Bram Stoker’s famed vampire villain in this Hammer Studios sequel. In fact, the titular killer does not appear at all. Instead, the Jimmy Sangster scripted thriller follows Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) as he comes to the aid of a beautiful school teacher (Yvonne Monlaur) who has unwittingly released a blood-thirsty baron (David Peel) from his shackles.
Dripping with gothic atmosphere, the macabre engagement with the dead breathes life into the viewing audience. The Baron’s castle looms against a silent curtain of black, its stone walls stretching away like boundless harbingers of doom. The colorful interiors scream with grandeur and reflect nightmarish possibilities.
This is a showcase for Cushing who delivers his best turn as the vampire-slaying doctor. He is supported on all sides by sumptuous set pieces that come alive before our eyes. The most striking sequence sees Van Helsing using the arms of a windmill to cast a shadow in the shape of a cross on the ground. It is a delightfully ghoulish tale that exemplifies the best of what Hammer has to offer.
WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994)
Though director Wes Craven broke down the fourth wall with Scream in 1996, he created the crown jewel of meta horror films two years prior with New Nightmare, a biting deconstruction of the horror genre. Heather Langenkamp, who brought life to the daring heroine of A Nightmare on Elm Street, plays herself. She’s pitted once again against Freddy Krueger (Robert England) and his steel-tipped glove who is now threatening to cross over from the realm of fantasy into the real world. It’s not only her hide she has to protect from the scorched madman though, her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) has become a pawn in the mythic boogeyman’s plan.
A supreme sequel, New Nightmare overcomes the missteps of previous entries in the series to present something completely unexpected. Pulling inspiration from its own ardent fan base, the film balances nail-biting scares with self-reflexive commentary. Dylan is drawn to stories of the macabre. His mother however restricts the things he reads and views, many times shutting them down before Dylan can experience their conclusion. As a result, he has an incomplete picture of the world and is open to attack by Krueger. Craven seems to be suggesting that it is the job of adults not to censor art, but to explain it to young people so they may fully understand its meaning. It’s a fascinating piece of horror filmmaking that forces viewers to experience a true nightmare.