Sequels are an essential part of the horror genre. Revisiting a particular horrific scenario allows us to experience new thrills in a familiar setting — when we watch a horror sequel, we're braver now that we know the world and its rules, making us feel more like participants in the terror rather than helpless victims.
Unfortunately, a good horror sequel is a rare thing. It's a daunting task to make a fresh experience out of a now-familiar world. But every once in a while, it works. And works wonders.
With Halloween on the horizon and us in the mood for some franchise-friendly scares with the likes of "Paranormal Activity 4," "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D" and "Grave Encounters 2," we've compiled what we believe to be the Top 9 Horror Sequels. Please feel free to add the 10th in the comments section should the mood strike you as well.
(Before we begin, we'd just like to explain the distinct absence of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" from this list. We consider the "Dead" films to be variations on a theme, not true sequels.)
9. 'Saw II' (2005)
The fact that "Saw II" was even sort of great makes it deserve a place on this list. Fans of the original film feared a catastrophe of "Blair Witch 2" proportions when it was announced that Lionsgate was fast-tracking a sequel to their low-budget sleeper hit.
Essentially a haunted house story with booby traps instead of ghosts, "Saw II" upped the ante in every department — the traps were cleverer, the violence more graphic, the screams louder and Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) even creepier. And this was just the beginning, of course — the series would go through seven installments before calling it quits.
8. 'Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter' (1984)
Fans didn't fall for this movie's title. They knew that the fourth installment in the "Friday" series wasn't going to be the last, but they flocked to it as if it were the last time they'd see Jason Voorhees doing his thing. For the record, yes, this is the one with Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover, the latter cast against type as he plays something of a high school stud. The kills are some of the more imaginative in the series, and the film benefits greatly from having a sense of humor that actually borders on being witty every now and then.
7. '28 Weeks Later' (2007)
No one really thought a sequel to Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" was necessary, which made "28 Weeks Later" seem even better when it ended up being quite good. "28 Weeks" trades the intimate DV aesthetic of the first film for a much larger canvas, showing how the military would be key players in cleaning up the aftermath of such an incident as an infestation of "the Infected."
Of course, everything goes horribly wrong, and the stakes seem even higher this time as we see how such an outbreak really could completely destroy our way of life as we know it. Robert Carlyle steals the show as a dad who's slooooowly succumbing to the virus.
6. 'Paranormal Activity 2' (2010)
Paramount deserves a lot of credit for respecting the whole "Paranormal Activity" aesthetic and not trying to fix what definitely wasn't broken for the inevitable sequel — "Paranormal Activity 2" kept the low-budget, voyeuristic intimacy of the original whilst still managing to be "bigger" (as any good sequel should be). How do you make something like "Paranormal Activity" bigger but still keep the DIY feel that made the original so cool? You have several video cameras instead of just one, and then throw in a dog and infant to raise the stakes a little. While "PA2" has fewer surprises than its predecessor, it still delivers a healthy amount of scares — we especially like the scene in the kitchen where ... ah, you know.
5. 'The Exorcist III' (1990)
William Peter Blatty, author of the "Exorcist" novel, stepped in to direct the third installment of the series himself, delivering a truly unsettling film that compensates for some jarring editing with a genuine sense of ... well, freakiness. Blatty's working from his "Legion" novel here, as Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) has been locked away in a mental asylum, possessed by a slain serial killer known as the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif, a.k.a. the voice of Chucky). George C. Scott seethes and stomps his way through it all as the cop on the case. It's a slow-moving film, and sometimes a maddening one, but it rewards those with the patience to stick with it.
4. 'Wes Craven's New Nightmare' (1994)
Wes Craven's dabbling in postmodern horror a couple of years before making postmodern horror cool with "Scream" is actually the best "Nightmare on Elm Street" sequel, hands down. It's a blast to see Craven, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund and other alums of the "Nightmare" movies playing themselves as they discover that Freddy Krueger might be more than just a fictional character. "New Nightmare" is as smart as it sounds, but it's also something that a "Nightmare" film hadn't been in a while — it's genuinely scary, with Englund delivering a terrifying performance (with a great new makeup job) that's distinctly short on wisecracks.
3. 'Scream 2' (1997)
This was another case of fans being a little cautious when a new "Scream" came out a mere year after the first one, but caution was thrown to the wind once it actually came out and made a zillion more dollars for Miramax on its opening weekend.
While the script often feels like a first draft (and, let's face it, it probably was), "Scream 2" is actually immensely satisfying as it continues the saga of young Sidney (Neve Campbell) and the Ghostface Killer. Doesn't Sidney know that the last place where you should try to move on with your life and forget your rocky past in a horror movie is at college?
2. 'Evil Dead II' (1987)
What happens when Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell return to the woods, but this time with a few more bucks to spend? Bigger! Faster! More! The "Evil Dead" movies make up one of the most innovative and creative horror series out there and the second one might very well be the best, as Raimi's playful camera work and love of old-school special effects mixes with Campbell's incredible physical dexterity in the creation of a horror-comedy (and it is both in equal measures) that assaults you without remorse -- you're being pummeled and tossed around the cabin and woods, just like Ash, and it's great.
1. 'Bride of Frankenstein' (1935)
Probably the first great horror sequel, James Whale's film literally had big shoes to fill and ended up being better than the original "Frankenstein."
Whale dehumanizes the poor Creature even more by providing him with a made-to-order mate who doesn't want him any more than the rest of humanity, taking the two monsters down a path of destruction and tragedy that ends with the Creature realizing there's no place for him (or her) at all in this cruel world: "We belong dead," he says with the kind of conviction that only comes from a true confession. A startling and heartbreaking masterpiece.
(Originally published on Oct. 19, 2010)