Besides bloods, boobs, and beasts, if there’s another thing the horror genre is infamous for, it’s sequels. Once box-office gold is struck with one film, producers have a tendency to milk that golden calf dry, churning out more and more, usually to exponentially diminishing returns.
A good example would be the Hellraiser series. To date there have been nine installments in the Hellraiser saga, with a controversial tenth currently in production. Furthermore, some series, such as Saw and Paranormal Activity, could be counted on like death and taxes to release a new entry each and every year until they too finally ran out of gas.
However, not every horror sequel is vastly inferior to its progenitor. What follows are ten of the best third installments of long-running horror series; sequels that, though perhaps not better than their originators, are some of the better exemplars of their respective series.
Return of the Living Dead 3
Society director Brian Yuzna took over the director’s chair for the second sequel to Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 horror-comedy classic and delivered a sequel that, while it shares little in common with its originator, is worthy nonetheless. This one drops a lot of the comedy in favor of a horrific and tragic love story whereby distraught boyfriend Curt brings his girlfriend, Julie, back to life after she’s thrown from a motorcycle. Great gore and a tremendous and rather sexy turn by Melinda Clarke as reanimated Julie make this well worth a watch.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Eviscerated both critically and commercially upon its release in 1982, the only installment of the franchise without Michael Myers has steadily gained new appreciation and a pretty sizeable cult following in the ensuing years. Halloween III may not feature The Shape nor Dr. Loomis, but what it does have is a gloriously giddy story about an evil owner of a toy company who intends to kill many on Halloween night through the combination of latex head masks and a Celtic ritual involving a stolen rock from Stonehenge. Throw in a fantastic turn by genre legend Tom Atkins and one of the most indelible earworms in horror history (the “Silver Shamrock” jingle), and you’ve got a great sequel more than worthy of its cult status.
Army of Darkness
Say what you will about Army of Darkness – yes, the pure horror of the first Evil Dead and the deft combination of slapstick mayhem and incredible grue of the second are largely eschewed in favor of comedy, but there’s no denying that Army of Darkness is a riot. And no horror film is more eminently quotable than this one. “Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun,” “Gimme some sugar, baby,” “Come get some,” “This is my boomstick!” They all originated from Army. Scary, not so much; funny as all hell, fuck yeah!
Son of Frankenstein
The first two James Whale-directed films, 1931’s Frankenstein and 1935’s even better Bride of Frankenstein, get the lion’s share of admiration, and rightfully so; they’re both stone-cold masterpieces. Nonetheless, 1939’s Son of Frankenstein is pretty damn amazing in its own right. Boris Karloff’s last cinematic go-round as the patchwork monster features Basil Rathbone as the son of Colin Clive’s Henry. He returns to his ancestral home and finds the monster comatose and in the control of deformed grave robber Ygor, played wonderfully by Bela Lugosi. Son of Frankenstein features breathtaking sets inspired by German Expressionism and introduces Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill), a character fitted with a prosthetic arm as his actual arm was torn out in an earlier encounter with the monster. The Inspector character would later go on to be parodied in hilarious fashion in Mel Brooks’ comedy classic Young Frankenstein.
The Exorcist III
William Friedkin’s cinematic adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s source novel, 1973’s The Exorcist, was more than just a hit horror movie. It was a cultural milestone. Cited by many to this day as “the scariest movie ever made,” The Exorcist grossed over $200 million in the U.S alone and went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
1977 brought Exorcist II: The Heretic, and it was awful. Its take was a pittance of the original, and Freidkin opted out of directing the second in favor of John Boorman. Luckily, Hollywood still found value in the franchise, and 1990 saw the release of The Exorcist III, directed by Blatty himself and based on his novel Legion.
The only principal from the original to return in the third was Jason Miller as both a mysterious mental patient and Father Damien Karras. Rounding out the cast are the always excellent George C. Scott and Brad Dourif (Child’s Play) in an incredible turn. The Exorcist III is a very different beast than The Exorcist but boasts a solid story and some genuine scares, including one “Holy Shit” moment involving a pair of scissors.
Day of the Dead
In 1968 George A. Romero revolutionized cinema forevermore with his low-budget, black and white zombie opus Night of the Living Dead. Night kickstarted the zombie genre and also showed that horror films could be a lot more than just mindless entertainment, but rather smart and socially relevant works of art as well. He then did it again in 1978 with Dawn of the Dead, an arguably more popular sequel that upped the ante both as a gut-muncher and a salient piece of social satire.
It took a lot of hard work and behind-the-scenes strife to get the second sequel off the ground, and 1985’s Day of the Dead remains fairly divisive. However, if one can get past some instances of spotty acting, Day is fairly remarkable. The film introduced the world to Bub, perhaps the most beloved zombie character in the history of the sub-genre. With on-point social satire and some of FX maestro Tom Savini’s all-time best work, Day of the Dead is Romero’s favorite of all his Dead films. And who are we to argue?
Friday the 13th Part III
With all due respect to the first and second Fridays, it is the third installment of the killer-from-Crystal-Lake franchise where the traits that defined the slasher we all know and love were solidified. After Jason slits corpulent Shelly’s throat and dons the late prankster’s hockey mask – the first time in the entire series where Jason puts on the trademark protective face gear, a new horror icon for the ages was born.
Part III also ups the indestructibility factor. It is here where Jason started to become nigh indestructible, a trait that remained with the character throughout the rest of the series. The kills are over-the-top and have become hallmarks of the franchise, particularly the harpoon through the eye killing of poor, unfortunate Vera, which is even better when experienced in the original third dimension.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
After stumbling a bit with A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, a hastily assembled sequel which flagrantly disregarded the rules and mythology so carefully laid out in Wes Craven’s 1984 original, the Nightmare series rebounded huge in 1987 with Dream Warriors. Director Chuck Russell worked from a script that Craven had a go at before Frank Darabont, Russell himself, and others polished. The film returned Freddy to his “dream killer” roots and represented the last time that Krueger could truly be considered scary. Dream Warriors also saw fit to bring back the original’s final girl, Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy, now working as an intern therapist at a psychiatric hospital and specializing in dream therapy. There she helps a gaggle of kids known collectively as the Dream Warriors discover their latent abilities and take it to the Springwood Slasher, hopefully for good this time.
Dream Warriors is an absolute master class in horror. Some of the series’ most iconic kills are here, including the marionette “suicide” and the “Welcome to prime time, bitch!” slaughter. Freddy’s one-liners are used just enough to be effective, as opposed to the overkill that was his verbiage in later installments. A thrilling film that fires on all cylinders as one of the best sequels in horror.