Saw VI, much to my surprise, turned out to be one of the better films in the franchise, and in honor of it, I thought we’d look at some of the genre’s best sequels. They’re a fact of life when it comes to horror films so here’s my take on some of the follow-ups that either usurped the originals or, at least, turned out better than expected.
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
After the baffling detour into “hey, let’s use Freddy as a metaphor for teenage homosexuality” that was Freddy’s Revenge*, the series realigned itself with this direct follow-up to Wes Craven’s original (with Craven himself contributing to script duties).
Part 3 boasts an imaginative story, good characters (need I remind anyone of Kincaid?), and one of the most memorable locales in the franchise. Director Charles (later Chuck, for some reason) Russell makes great use of the institution setting, and we gleam just enough of Freddy’s backstory to enlighten us without ruining his mystique.
Even as the series was tipping its scales forever toward comedy, Dream Warriors packs some scary and uncomfortable bits (love that intro nightmare, and the puppet death still makes me squirm). Some fans even feel this one trumps the original, an accolade I don’t necessarily share but won’t refute. Part 3 is certainly everything you could want in a sequel, though.
*For the record, I love Freddy’s Revenge. It almost ended up on this list in place of Part 3, but in the end the prospect of John Saxon battling a stop-motion skeleton was too cool to avoid the callout.
9. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Nobody was expecting Gremlins 2 to be anything but a retread of the first film, albeit in a big city setting. Imagine the surprise, then, when Joe Dante went to the creative well and returned with a sequel that somehow topped its predecessor.
Part 2 works because these guys weren’t content to merely retread the original. Many of the characters are back for a second go ‘round, but Gremlins 2 is a far more comedic outing with the horrific elements peppered in sporadically. There are more titular creatures on display (Spider Gremlin, Bat Gremlin, Brain Gremlin and, er, Vegetable Gremlin?), each of which contributes to the chaos through a variety of inspired setpieces and musical numbers. Plus, John Glover manages to steal every scene he’s in as the megalomaniacal Daniel Clamp, whose state-of-the-art office tower is the setting for the pandemonium.
8. Exorcist III (1990)
Exorcist III lays claim to one of the greatest slow-burn setpieces in the genre (if you’ve seen it, you know it), but it’s for more than that that I include it here. Writer/director William Peter Blatty adapts his novel Legion for the big screen, crafting a low-key, supernatural film noir as Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott, replacing Lee J. Cobb in the original) hunts the long deceased Gemini Killer.
Blatty’s sequel works because it doesn’t try to retread Friedkin ground (with the exception of a studio-imposed climactic exorcism sequence that comes out of nowhere), offering instead an intricately plotted mystery loaded with disturbing imagery and some surprising comedic relief. Scott is amazing as the cynical Kinderman, but it’s Brad Dourif’s unforgettable performance that truly mesmerizes (so much so that he practically reprised the role for the 1994 X-Files episode “Beyond the Sea”).
Unfortunately, Blatty’s director’s cut has never seen the light of day, despite being a heavily requested title for Warner Bros. This somewhat truncated version manages to retain much of the care and quality, however, and even if the climax may not completely work (and dig the alternate trailer below, which contains some quick shots of the infamous ‘morphing’ sequence), Exorcist III remains one of the most underlooked horror films of the 1990s.
7. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
While I’ve never subscribed to the notion that James Whale’s sequel is far superior to the original, this follow-up feels like such a logical progression of the first that you almost have to watch them both back-to-back.
This is the one that gives us the sympathetic monster, very strong dialogue (”To a new world of gods and monsters…”, ”Sometimes I have wondered whether life wouldn’t be much more amusing if we were all devils, no nonsense about angels and being good.”) and lots of bizarre humor (ahead of its time). Colin Clive’s mad scientist is more refined this time around (another reason why I prefer the original), giving way to the sinister Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), who intends to give the monster a bride.
Bride also benefits from a rich Gothic feel that very few modern films are able to duplicate, making it perfect for this time of year. It, with the original, are required viewing in my house during the month of October, and while it’s visibly dated, it’s still a ton of fun.
6. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
For those of us who discovered this during the pre-Internet days of VHS, it was especially mind-blowing. Possessed hands; chainsaw-wielding, headless corpses; and one hell of a wicked witch were just some of the surprises that assaulted our unsuspecting senses.
Despite already being familiar with the Necronomicon, courtesy of The Evil Dead, we had no way of knowing what Sam Raimi had in store for us during this second installment. Bruce is a one-man show, enduring an unbelievable parade of torment for much of the running time, and it’s his portrayal of Ash that catapulted him to the very top of the list of horror heroes, where he reigns supreme even today.
This movie keeps building on itself with every Deadite attack growing more wild and outrageous until the ridiculously over-the-top finale. It’s the all-time greatest horror roller-coaster ride, bar none. Swallow this!
5. Psycho III (1986)
Following the critical and financial success of Psycho II, the third installment in the series was wrongfully dismissed as a bloody/sleazy cash-in. I’d like to think its reputation has increased in recent years as Anthony Perkins’ directorial debut is one of the most brilliant horror films of the 1980s.
Wisely, Charles Edward Pogue’s script dismisses with the convoluted ‘whodunit’ nature of the second film to focus on Norman’s psychology. We know that Norman has slipped off the deep end again at the outset, and Part III is all about his struggle. Perkins was never better in the role, alternating between anguished, desperate, and batshit insane at various times, and he imbues the character with a huge amount of sympathy. The tragedy of Norman is heightened by the introduction of Maureen Samuels, a runaway nun who might be the key to his deliverance.
Being a slasher flick, Psycho III features a few nasty kills, but this one’s not about the body count. Stylish direction (Perkins probably made Dario Argento proud), a haunting Carter Burwell score, and great acting across the board (I’m looking at you, Jeff Fahey) help lend credence to the material. While the second film is a very, very good follow-up, the third trumps it in every way.
You’ll never think about lampshades the same way again.
4. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Friday the 13th is the only major horror franchise where the first film isn’t universally regarded as the best in the series. Jason Lives isn’t only the best sequel in the enduring legacy of Camp Crystal Lake, it’s the best film in the series.
Writer/director Tom McLoughlin injects lots of humor into the action, but the comedy never comes at Jason’s expense. His classic horror influences also shine through, making this one of the most atmospheric of all the Friday flicks, from the chilly graveyard intro to the fog-laden climax atop Crystal Lake itself. Tommy Jarvis (the underrated Thom Mathews) is more of a proactive hero (after he proves to be the direct result of this killing spree, that is) than in any film before or after, making him a great nemesis for the man behind the mask.
In its relatively brisk running time, Jason Lives distinguishes itself from most other entries by offering semi-competent cops; self-referential, but never obnoxious, humor; and colorful characters that largely earn your sympathy before they’re brutally slaughtered. Most importantly, it’s a blast to watch.
3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
With Jason and Freddy reaping box office profits, it was only a matter of time before Michael was brought back into the fold after a one-film hiatus.
And Halloween 4 delivers the goods: lots of Halloween ambiance, a small central group of characters whom we come to care about, and a solid script by Alan B. McElroy that explores Michael’s impact on the town of Haddonfield itself. Halloween isn’t the same without Donald Pleasence, either, and his decision to play Dr. Loomis just a little bit crazier with each passing sequel is a fantastic touch.
Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell are some of the genre’s most appealing heroines, bringing some very strong performances to the table, and Beau Starr’s Sheriff Meeker is one bad mofo! Michael’s cunning (creating a town-wide power outage so to better stalk his victims) makes him all the more frightening, and the surprise ending had everyone talking back in the day. If you’re going to resurrect an iconic slasher, this is how you do it.
2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, part 2 (1986)
I’m going to be honest with you: I like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2 more than the original. It’s not that I don’t adore the first film, but Tobe Hooper’s follow-up is so well written and outrageous that I’ve come to worship it!
From the satirical dialogue (”the small businessman always takes it in the rear!”) to the flat-out disgusting gore FX, Chainsaw 2 is a wildly unexpected assault on Reaganomics. Transforming his much feared cannibal killers into a small and seemingly legitimate business, Tobe Hooper certainly didn’t take the conventional route when creating this follow-up. And instead of recapturing the intensity of the original, he went the opposite route, making a film loaded with steady streams of comedy and gore.
Equipped with lots of memorable (and uncomfortable) bits, a Dennis Hopper performance you’ve got to see to believe, and arguably the greatest set design of all time, this one is a winner through and through.
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The horror epic of all time. Enough said.
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