It’s no secret that I’ve had some fun playing up my “second opinion” motif, and hosting the second day of Halloween month on October 2nd last year was no exception. But now, my second time doing it, it seems the motif has been pushed a bit further, after the great time I had helping Moviefan12 open the month. Now today is in every way the second time, the follow-up. And so, with all the signs in place, it’s too perfect to choose any other subject than this, the greatest horror movie sequels I have ever seen.

Actually, there’s another reason I want to do this. Some time ago, an editor from TopTenz, a little site dedicate to making top ten lists, rubbed me the wrong way with an entry on the top ten subjects that nobody on the site should cover anymore. Specifically, he made “scary movies” one of the subjects, claiming that almost all of them are lame sequels replaying the same concept, so all top ten lists would and should only feature the same handful of decent series openers. To drive it home, his next choice was “worst sequels,” further claiming that most of them are obligatory cash grabs with nothing worth noting, except that the Star Wars prequels made fanboys angry.

Let’s get something straight here: Horror is a genre like any other. It’s been around just as long, and it’s every bit as legitimate. Granted, over the years, many hack filmmakers latched onto it as a way to sell third rate products to teenagers looking for an adrenaline rush that mommy wouldn’t condone. But that goes for more genres than one. Some of the greatest directors of all time made their name entirely or partly in the horror genre. Furthermore, sequels ask their audience to invest their faith and their money just like any other movie, and their successes and failures are every bit as worth measuring.

But it’s one thing to claim so. Backing it up is another. So here, to kill both birds with one chainsaw (and thus prove neither one flew very well) are the top 9 horror sequels I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. And just to make sure that nobody thinks I’m reaching, I’ll limit the choices I can make: No two movies from the same franchise and only movies filmed in English are eligible. (Sorry, Rec 2.) I’ll even throw in an honorable mention list for good measure. So then, why only emphasize the top 9? Because that might be all you can handle.

  1. Wrong Turn 2

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The only mutant to return from the first Wrong Turn is:

 

Admittedly, I might not be off to the most convincing start by choosing the even-more-ludicrous sequel to a movie about random people being hunted by mutant cannibal inbred hillbillies. But Wrong Turn 2 won out over equally skilled franchise reworks like Ginger Snaps 2 and Curse of Chucky with something you just can’t diminish with logic: It’s fun.

The first Wrong Turn was a boring and generic slasher flick from a director who matches that description. Afterwards, this sequel somehow fell into the hands of Joe Lynch, a lifelong genre fan who had never directed a movie before, spending the early years of his career in film doing anything and everything to get the ball rolling. He turned the occasion into a celebration of everything he loved about horror.

This battle between heroes and monsters gives horror movie fans some of their favorite qualities from both sides, like a fantasy football game. First we have the Victims, the cast and crew of a third rate reality game show about, well, survival. Each has fun with a different archetype. Among others, there’s a jock with an unfittingly strong sense of morality and modesty, a horndog who freely admits it with some pretty funny lines, a strong woman fresh from Iraq who forms a peculiar sort of friendship with him when he finally accepts he has no chance, and an embittered, competitive girl who learned the hard way that you can’t trust anyone. But the best of all has to be the ex-marine host, who regains the upper hand from the cannibals with his combat training and a quiver full of dynamite-loaded arrows.

On the other side, we have the Monsters, wielding super strength they gained from inbreeding and toxic waste, plus the best arsenal of shoddy hillbilly weapons you could ask for. This time around, everything they do is gleefully, gloriously over-the-top. They cleave their victims in two with a single swing, maniacally bond as father and son over lessons on shooting down bystanders, bicker over a husband’s attraction to the swimsuit model they’re about to target, and in one of my favorite moments, pay homage to the dinner scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, bowing their heads for an inarticulate version of “Bless Us Oh Lord.”

“What the **** is wrong with you people?!” Screams one of the last survivors, tied to a chair at the end of the table. The dad gives her the look you give the waitress who won’t wait for you to finish reading the menu.

“…Ehmen.”

So as you’d expect, it’s alternately campy, gross, tense, and action-packed, blending all of them together pretty well. It also does a decent job mixing up the clichés to stay fresh, not entirely giving away who the main protagonists will be (or won’t be, if you catch my drift). But the big surprise is that it actually creates a reason, other than for its own sake, for this game to exist, exploring the theme of whether you really can trust anyone to protect you and whether it’s worth it. And it doesn’t let the answer be “yes” so easily. One surprisingly humane and straightforward sequence actually manages to pluck the heart strings a bit, showing us the fatal risk of staying behind to help. So is it worth the risk in the end, or are the cannibals, banding together to help each other feed on their fellow man, really the ones who have it all figured out? Watch and see.

 

  1. Scream 2

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The original name of the killer’s costume in the Scream series was

 

How could this list be complete without the movie that actually asks the question of whether a sequel can best the original? Especially since it comes pretty close to doing just that.  The first movie created a tense environment with the sense that the killer was always one step ahead of their victims with an inhuman meta-knowledge, but the climatic reveal makes this a bit beyond the sequel. Instead, we lean a bit more towards “thriller” this time, playing up the mystery of who the killer is and why they’re after main character Sidney Prescott. And while a script leak insured that we didn’t get the cleverest of answers, it keeps us on our toes. And the characters are surprisingly worthwhile.

Then, of course, there’s the meta-humor, which is starting to take some backlash as time goes on. Some hipsters want to tell these movies that they aren’t as clever as they think, as pointing clichés in horror is actually a bit cliché itself these days. Meanwhile, now that the novelty has died down, fans of what the series spoofed – the kinds of horror movies that don’t help my cause here – have become defensive, even attempting to champion the goofy April Fool’s Day as the movie that “did it first.” But I can stand by the first two Scream movies for being both clever and original, weaving meta-commentary into each scene well enough to keep challenging the audience’s perspective. It doesn’t hurt this one that sequels, as we’ll see , can be a rather juicy topic.

 

  1. V/H/S 2

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Found footage movies are good at sequels? How much corresponding footage are we supposed to believe one person could find? Well, considering the disconnected nature of the first film, that’s really not much of a problem, especially since V/H/S 2 is a big improvement.

Before I saw the first V/H/S, I thought “nausea-inducing” was just a cheap insult for shaky cam. But no, the rapid, shaky, jerking movements of the cameras in the first V/H/S are literally capable of producing nausea. Not so much in V/H/S 2, where the camera work is much more agreeable, even finding better excuses for everyone to have cameras in these scenarios. Also, where V/H/S fell into the trap many of these movies do, overloading on sleaze and grit in attempt to seem “real,” the second one weaves in more humanity and is much less wearisome for it. Not to mention that while the original went on too long, V/H/S 2 has fewer short films, which all either match or beat the best that the first film had to offer.

For example, the opening Phase 1 Clinical Trials does the best job taking advantage of its format, crossing into sci-fi with a story about man who receives an experimental camera eye to replace his damaged one. The eye allows him to see certain apparitions, we’ll say, and despite support from a fellow patient with a similar experience, they torment him until he pries the eye out of his head. Now only we can see what they’re doing. Or consider Safe Haven, the short that indulges itself in the footage of an entire documentary crew to build its own mythology, for a story that’s intense, disturbing, and entirely in a league of its own. It may have its weak points (the protagonists of Slumber Party Alien Abduction pass annoying and become nauseating in their own way), but V/H/S 2 dives into its premise with gusto, bringing untapped and scary possibilities to life.

On that note, if you’re someone who finds found footage inherently cheap and lame, this movie offers a compromise: Found footage with first rate special effects. It’s the best of both worlds.

 

  1. Psycho 2

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Replacing Alfred Hitchcock, which film in the Psycho series was directed by Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins?

 

I was afraid this would happen. I was really worried, searching through potential candidates, that I would fall for one of those sequels to a classic that everyone has comfortably pushed to the side as inferior. And worse, despite earning some respect for effort, Psycho 2 may sound like the worst one I could have picked, released nearly 23 years after the original by an entirely different director. But I guess we all go a little mad sometimes.

 

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The legendary Psycho was said to cast a shadow over Psycho 2, typically referred to as a sincere and well-made movie that can’t escape the fact it’s an inferior product. I’m sure it’s true to some. But for a guy like me, who grew up hearing about the legend of Psycho long before experiencing it myself, the first movie was the only one it harmed. I knew its iconic scene, and I was able to see it coming. I suspected its twist, which lesser movies have imitated. And with my 21st century aversion to slower black and white cinema, it was easy to grow impatient, expecting big things from it. I could only admire it from a distance… until I saw Psycho 2.

For one, Anthony Perkins is great in this movie. And I don’t mean “still got it” great. His larger than life role may have typecast him, but it was not, it turns out, just a case of type. Perkins never turned away from acting, and he never quite got credit for how talented he really was. If you see this movie, Norman Bates will make you cringe at his awkwardness. Then he’ll make you feel for him, even admire him, and root for him to pull through against the odds. Then you’ll wonder if you could ever really hate or even blame him. And then he’ll freeze your blood.

Yes, this movie brings with it the memory of everything that happened the first time around, and in this light, I was able to appreciate how powerful that memory really was. It recalls not only the major events but how and why all of them torment Norman to this day. But the biggest surprise is that it uses what we know from the first movie to craft a new mystery that’s unnerving and perplexing in a similar way, which it manages to carry through to the end. So though it had to stretch believability to its limits, this sequel managed to show me what the legend of Psycho is really made of. It truly did bring Norman home.

 

  1. New Nightmare

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Here’s a sequel that doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves. Granted, it found some acclaim, but some fans probably would have preferred I picked A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The high concept stuff is okay novelty, but can’t we just be happy with a straight-up slice-and-dice Freddy movie?

Here’s the thing: I didn’t find Dream Warriors scary. Not that many movies truly scare me these days, but even in creating a creepy, suspenseful atmosphere, Dream Warriors was pretty vanilla. To me, it played less like a horror movie than an R rated action thriller with a solid story and characters. But the movie about the actors from the Nightmare series themselves, stalked in their dreams by the force that’s finally broken free from their series, bringing a certain four-clawed souvenir? Yeah, that’s cryptic enough to be a little chilling.

With the same brand of cleverness he would later show in the Scream series, Wes Craven pushes the overlaps between fantasy and reality as much as he possibly can, enhancing the story and leaving larger implications for you to ponder on your own. Both the crumbling boundaries of reality, and the new Freddy (a version even more serious than all the best outings had) are enough of a thrill ride on their own. But whether the gorehounds wanted it or not, the thought-provoking qualities also add a certain depth worth talking about. Freddy has escaped from the stories that imprisoned him in the first place, and can only be returned by writing another one? Well, it’s true the best horror movies can create a certain “presence.” So do they pose a danger of influencing us in the real world? Or does watching them make sure we know that films, not reality, are where such horrors belong? Or is it some kind of cycle between certain people, like the frightening stranger who inspired Craven to create Freddy Krueger…

 

  1. Evil Dead 2

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Which of Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead films is in a different genre than the rest?

 

Evil Dead 2 is without doubt one of the most inspired movies on this list, but you have to be in the mood for it. It’s perhaps the only movie I wouldn’t recommend watching right after the original, which was almost straight-up horror. Don’t expect Evil Dead 2, for all its creepiness, to push the scares any further. It’s not really a direct sequel. There is no direct sequel to the original Evil Dead, because everyone perished in it. One character was alive before we cut to black, but he didn’t survive. The notion that he did would just be silly.

So what is Evil Dead 2? It’s the sequel to an abridged remake of the first film, which plays through the first ten minutes. This time, Ash, everyone’s favorite shotgun-wielding goofball ends up alone all night in the secluded cabin filled with evil spirits, where the movie proceeds to go insane.

Pick a favorite sequence; Ash’s battle with his own possessed hand, his escape from the mysterious off-screen force that has but one weakness, or perhaps the preparation for his final battle, where he fastens the iconic chainsaw to his arm and utters his iconic catchphrase. Personally, I have to go with the laughing scene, which is hilarious, knowing, and furious all at the same time. What more can I say but groovy.

 

  1. Dawn of the Dead

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George A. Romero directed the most recent entry in his Living Dead series, which began in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, in

Since I already reviewed this movie awhile back, I’ll keep this brief. The first sequel to Night of the Living Dead takes place during the full-scale zombie apocalypse, rather than an isolated zombie attack as seen in Night. This gives it a window for a new and equally great story, about characters bunkering down in a mall and getting to like it a little too much.

Between some well-staged zombie attacks and hard satirical jabs, particularly at the middle class, this is one of the great zombie movies. It knows how to play up the fact that the characters are playing with their lives, only one bite away from losing. It also does a good job balancing subtle and somber commentary with some direct and pretty funny lines. (“Hey, let’s get the stuff we need! I’ll get a television and a radio.” ) And after spending enough time with these characters, what they end up becoming definitely registers. Not to mention, if you don’t remember, it was filmed in a city I happen to like.

 

  1. The Bride of Frankenstein

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I probably could have made my case with this movie alone. The original Frankenstein, a gloomy, gothic, chilling tale, is sometimes called, not just one of the greatest horror movies of all time but one of the greatest movies period. The Bride of Frankenstein, one of the very first horror movie sequels, is decidedly even better.

Bride delivers more of what Frankenstein did so well, with unsettling, gothic moments and superior art direction. But it also adds two qualities that somehow make it even stronger: a subtly campy tone, just enough to be funny without stripping the story of its dignity, and a little bit of heart.

Boris Karloff’s monster is in many ways a more sympathetic character than Henry Frankenstein, which may be why Bride shifted focus to him as the main character, exploring his longing for a life of peace and harmony. It shows in spades during its most famous sequence, in which the monster comes across a blind hermit living by himself, and both are grateful to have found each other. It’s a touching bit that we bear in mind for the rest of the movie, as does the monster. But once again, nobody has a way to redeem what has transpired, leading to an ending that’s not entirely happy or sad, justified only by the monster’s immortal statement: “We belong dead!”

 

  1. Aliens

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How many films are there in the Alien franchise?

 

I’ve said before that the first Alien might be lost to me, since I didn’t choose the best conditions to watch it in. Someday I’ll try again, because even I wouldn’t question that it’s a great movie, on some level or another. But now that I have Aliens, I don’t miss it very much. It isn’t just a more energetic, overwhelming movie than the original: I’d argue it’s even scarier. It’s a rare exception, one of the few horror movies that broke down the barrier and managed to test my nerves. It’s not just my favorite horror movie sequel or one of my favorite horror movies. It’s darn near one of my favorite movies (what was the phrase?) period.

Ellen Ripley returns, no longer a second-in-command trying to protect her ship but a woman who’s lost everything. Stranded and preserved in space after the events of the first movie, she’s missed her daughter’s entire life and has nothing left, save for her knowledge of the creature she faced and killed, which might be needed now. The battle ahead, however, might just be where she can win back what she’s lost.

The battle itself is an onslaught of horror. Stranded with a militia near a hive’s worth of aliens, Ripley struggles to save them from the endless wave of nightmares. An armed militia is able to fight back much better than her former crewmates, but the alien blitz overwhelms. All of it is staged to perfection, and it doesn’t let up on the breakneck rollercoaster of an attack, even for a moment. If the movie has a flaw, it’s that it’s all too much to stay with it every step of the way, enough to actually desensitize viewers to itself before the first viewing ends. Not a bad problem to have. I’d rather a movie be sure it gave us everything than hold something back. It guarantees that the uplift we hit at the end is genuine, a well-earned awakening from an enveloping nightmare.

 

 

Honorable Mention:

One of these is actually a dishonorable mention. See if you can spot the fake.

  • Halloween 2: There is a reason some fans consider this even better than the first one. It’s here that the Halloween mythos truly got its start, revealing the family connection between Michael and his victim and thus shedding some light on the mystery behind the character. What’s more, it adds a healthy dose of adrenaline, making Michael’s attacks even more vicious, gory, and intense. Still, at the end of the day, nothing did it like the original, and this sequel looks a bit forgettable in comparison.
  • Ginger Snaps 2: This sequel is even more hard-nosed and bitter than the first one, and it has some of the same appeal. The hero is still very admirable and sympathetic, and the ticking werewolf clock still works pretty well. But it missed the list by failing to resolve anyone’s story, except for the irritating new girl, who forfeits any reason for us to care about her in the rushed climax.
  • Paranormal Activity 3: I’ve said before that the original Paranormal Activity is one of my favorite horror movies, and I have no problem brushing off the haters as impatient gorehounds who can’t appreciate a little subtlety. But I’ve had my doubts in the past. Did I fall for a gimmick movie after all? Was it really just a lazy, unremarkable cheapie relying on novelty? But seeing the franchise as a whole has reassured me: It was the sequels that were lazy, unremarkable cheapies relying on novelty. The first one was fine.                                    Still, credit where it’s due, the first couple sequels did manage some of what the first one did right, especially part 3. Not only did it not make the second’s mistake of forgetting the sense of purpose (oooooo, the ghost took the pool cleaner out of the pool! Ooooo, the ghost knocked the pot off the shelf! Ooooo, now the stove turned on with no one around! Actually, maybe I should be worried about that last one…) it actually kept the dynamic fresh, finding a new role for the spirit as the “imaginary” friend shaping the daughter’s childhood. Just make it through the long-since-obligatory setup, and you should enjoy yourself.
  • Curse of Chucky: I’m definitely excited about the new direction for the series, even if the odds of it tightening up this movie’s shabbier aspects are against it. This full-blooded reunion goes back to old school scares in better form than any of the sequels and expands the history of Charles Lee Ray, but its technique could still use a little more punch. Its attempts to add in some over-the-top, 80s style violence and a pinch of the black comedy it picked up in its later years also isn’t for nothing, but it doesn’t blend it in nearly as well as Wrong Turn 2. Still, it knows why the idea was creepy in the first place, and there’s something to be said for the moment when we at last hear Chucky’s laugh, a cue for the beginning of new horrors to come.

 

And with that, our celebration of the best horror movie sequels comes to a close. I’ll see you all again on October 22nd (say…), and in the meantime, please give a warm welcome to our good friend Chilton and whatever’s he’s cooked up for October 3rd. I’m sure the fun is just getting started.

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