I have a serious horror obsession. I've been a dedicated movie fan since I was about 16, but I was a fanatic horror fan years before that. Long before I was trying to see every Best Supporting Actress nominee by Oscar night, I was calling around to every video store (those are things we had before Netflix, kids) in town looking for a copy of Prom Night. One of my most vivid memories from the days before high school was the night my dad let me watch The Shining on TBS; even with all the good stuff cut out, my tiny mind was blown.
A-List: Horror Sequels
By Sean Collier
February 19, 2009
Fortunately for my adolescent self, there was plenty of fuel for my obsession. Horror franchises are the cockroaches of the film industry, not relenting despite decades of diminishing box office and interest. Just take a look at the scoreboard. Now that the Friday the 13th relaunch is in theaters, that series has seen a whopping 12 installments in theaters over the space of just under thirty years. On the one hand, grosses for these films steadily decreased - despite inflation - through the first ten films; seven of the Fridays didn't pull in $25 million. On the other hand, only the three most recent installments had a budget over $5 million (the original was made for a paltry $550,000); the 11 previously released installments have grossed a combined $373 million worldwide against a combined budget of $62 Million. That's how you make money.
While Friday the 13th may be the most profitable example, there are plenty of others. A Nightmare on Elm Street is eight films in, all of them profitable; Halloween is on nine; and the recent king of franchises, Saw, is a money-making machine. The original Saw made back its budget 85 times over worldwide; in all, the Saw films have grossed two-thirds of a billion dollars around the globe, while costing a grand total of about $37 million. To summate, horror movies always feature a litany of sequels because they are a preposterously easy way to get very rich, very fast.
This constant cash flow is in defiance of the fact that these films are constantly nigh unbearable. Coming up with a good villain or concept for a horror franchise is tough, but doable; stretching out the intrigue over 15 or 20 combined hours of runtime is another story altogether. Many franchises turn to the ridiculous or gimmicky to pull in viewers; a more entertaining list would perhaps be the most ridiculous horror sequels of all time (which would inevitably start with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4, wherein it is revealed that the cannibals are actually government-controlled aliens (or something) out to get Renee Zellwegger, and then move swiftly to Halloween 3, which was notable for having absolutely nothing to do wit h Michael Myers.) Still, especially for the long-suffering horror faithful, there are a number of sequels that almost live up to their predecessors.
With hope that, unlike the Halloween and Texas Chainsaw reboots, the new Friday the 13th isn't a terrible insult to everything and everyone, The-A List presents the best horror sequels.
Dawn of the Dead=
While praising this film, I feel like I should qualify my support. Dawn of the Dead is a fine film, an excellent horror movie, and the valid source for most of the George Romero love that still exists in the world. However, I'm part of the vocal minority that prefers the original film. Dawn of the Dead features perhaps the most memorable setting in horror history, as Pittsburgh's Monroeville Mall was its own character in the film, perfectly building the suspense and confining the protagonists. The story was more complex, the script was the best of any zombie movie until 28 Days Later, and the key sequences from Dawn of the Dead are unforgettable. Sorry, though, angry young Romero fans; Night of the Living Dead is just scarier, grittier, and more affective. Still, though, the first two Dead films are the two best zombie movies of all time, and that title will never be challenged.
While Halloween II drags a bit towards the middle, it deserves all the credit in the world for doing what very few sequels, and just about no horror sequels, have the guts to do: simply pick up where the last film left off. The first few scenes of Halloween II are the last few scenes of Halloween; as Dr. Loomis discovers that his six bullets failed to put Michael Myers down for the count, he frantically implores the police to search for the monster, just as they discover the three teenagers he's already slaughtered. Laurie Strode is taken to the hospital; unfortunately, Michael knows how to get there. The body count is much higher in Halloween II, and the first hints that Michael may not be strictly human (a plot line that would get much more bizarre later in the franchise) are sewn. Furthermore, it's revealed why Michael was after Laurie in the first place. The entire original cast is intact for the second installment, so Halloween II feels nothing like a sequel and everything like more of the first film. It's a tough (and rare) trick to pull off, but it's handled expertly here.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
Okay, I'm really stretching the A-List title here. C-List, at best. But the first sequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is worth seeing if only to show the bizarre sexual and comedic subtext that director Tobe Hooper meant to install in the franchise all along. The film is frequently laughable, with ridiculous '80s-style action sequences and characters. One of the film's protagonists, hotly desired late-night DJ Stretch Brock, succeeds in escaping a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface – by seducing him. (He briefly wields his saw in front of his crotch and thrusts, to signify what we all very clearly figured out without that image, thank you Mr. Hooper.) The later sequels (and dreadful remakes) should be avoided at all costs, but the sequel is an interesting if ridiculous look at just what goes on in Tobe Hooper's head. Oh, and Dennis Hopper is our gritty hero, in a performance of Walken-level intensity.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
The Nightmare franchise is one of my personal favorites, just for the sheer novelty of it. A pure product of the '80s, the films were part horror, part elaborately mythologized fantasy, and part (stay with me, here) after-school special style teen adventure. Despite all the brutal torture and killing and death, the films roughly follow the plot of your average inspirational high school flick; a bunch of teens face a problem, they get over their differences and work to a happy solution, then ride off into the sunset (until the bus turns back into Freddy Krueger, or something.) This is a really bizarre combination of styles, and while it eventually grew preposterous, I'm intrigued by it. The best of the sequels is the third installment, featuring the original protagonist, Nancy, trying to save the few remaining Elm Street kids, now confined to a mental institution. The first truly fantasy-driven film in the series, it's plenty outrageous and campy, and just scary enough to still work as a horror film.
Army of Darkness
Trying to tie the chronological link between the three Evil Dead films is pretty much impossible, although many have tried. Director Sam Raimi has claimed that the three films are meant to be sequential, but if that's the case, Ash is either very forgetful or very, very good at never mentioning events from the past, even as they are basically repeated. Anyway. There have been plenty of films billed as horror-comedies, but Army of Darkness is the consensus choice for the most successful at melding the genres. There are generally terrifying sequences, particularly as Ash fights an undead creature in the pit early in the film, and genuinely funny – even slapstick – sequences. Army of Darkness is also one of the most quotable horror movies in recent memory, if only because everything Bruce Campbell says is perfect. If you've only seen one of the Evil Dead films, you're missing out. If you haven't seen any of them, find your local comic book store, mention this fact, and listen to the nerds freak out! Then watch all three.
Aside from assembling the largest collection of awkward '90s actors in history (that would be David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O'Connell, Tim Olyphant, and Liev Schreiber,) Scream 2 very effectively continued the story from the first film, while paying attention to what the audience was looking for. The original film, while genuinely scary and particularly interesting from a film studies perspective, was always intended to be a dark horror film at heart, for all its tongue-in-cheek humor. And while there were plenty of people unnerved by Scream, it took on a reputation as more fun than anything else, watched by teenagers at parties for years. With the sequel, Craven and Williamson decided to amp up the fun aspect of the film, turning it into a slasher film by way of a college party movie. It worked, as Scream 2 is probably the funniest entry in the trilogy, to be offset by the infinitely darker third chapter. Incidentally, those of you happy to have one straight-up, unbroken trilogy in the horror canon, feel free to get pissed now – Scream 4 has been greenlit, possibly as a relaunch, and is aiming for an Halloween 2010 release.