Say what you want about horror movies, but you can’t deny that the people who make them know how to create successful franchises. Sequels arrive at cinemas quicker than in any other genre with filmmakers and producers hellbent on capitalising on success with more success, which is why we are about to see the 58th Saw movie later in the year.
More often than not, however, it doesn’t work. Whether it’s down to a rushed process or a “spark” just not being there, horror movie sequels typically fail to hit the same spot that their predecessors did with aplomb. If we were talking about bad sequels, this list would probably be longer than most religious texts. And because this is the internet and everybody’s spare time would rather be spent fighting opinion wars or scrolling through Facebook videos, we aren’t doing that.
Instead, we’re going to look at an exclusive club of horror movies that took the template their predecessors created to produce something even better. I’m only picking one movie per franchise, as well as only direct sequels to the first movies.
5. Ouija: Origin of Evil
You would be forgiven for swerving the sequel to one of the worst mainstream horror movies of the century, but you really shouldn’t. For all the hackneyed missteps that 2014’s Ouija took, the impressive Origin of Evil does its best to cover them up.
By actually taking the time to build character rather than just using them as cannon fodder for demons, Origin of Evil delivers a horror sequel that not only easily overshadows its predecessor within five minutes, but it also manages the unenviable task of making you care about the family at the center of it all. Horror fans have seen hundreds of families being turned inside out by nefarious spirits, so to make the viewer actually care about whether they make it through or not? Nothing short of a miracle.
Even though it loses some steam towards the end, Origin of Evil is the most dramatic turnaround in quality in a franchise I’ve ever seen, and not just within the horror genre.
4. Aliens (1986)
Ridley Scott’s Alien may have more iconic scenes, but James Cameron’s action-centric follow-up has influenced more movies than most people realise. Its DNA has quietly been woven into the fabric of many modern movies with Netflix’s Spectral being the most recent example – there can only be one Aliens, however.
Many people argue that Aliens can hardly count as a horror, thanks to just how many bullets are flying around on screen when the xenomorphs start besieging Ripley and the Meatheads (a punk band name that needs to be a real thing, by the way). While that argument carries some weight, Aliens feels like a natural progression into newer territory, something that many horror sequels are afraid to do, which includes later entries in the Alien franchise. It looks like the upcoming Covenant may just be another retread of the fate of the cast of the Nostradamus with added horns in the soundtrack.
For daring to veer away from the insular slow-burn of Scott’s effort, Cameron’s Aliens is a powerhouse of adrenaline brought on by fright and fight in equal measure. Thirty years later, it’s putting modern competitors to shame.
3. Evil Dead II
When Sam Raimi’s directorial debut was released, it was a visceral slap in the face to a slumbering cinema-going public. Something like The Evil Dead hadn’t been done before, at least in the mainstream, and it showed as people went to watch demonic forces wreak havoc on naive American youngsters in their droves.
Six years later, Evil Dead II was released and had a similar effect. The movie itself was also similar – it’s basically a remake of the original with a much goofier tone. Even though it typically doesn’t work out for the better, sticking close to its predecessor’s spine while also introducing slapstick was a revelation, serving as a huge inspiration for the horror comedy sub-genre that’s so popular today.
By polishing up the rough edges of the original movie and dialling the fun factor up to a million, the Evil Dead II is a familiar but ultimately superior entry in the iconic horror series. While we’re here, the 2013 version is one of the better horror movie remakes in the midst of a glut of low-effort rehashes and doesn’t get nearly enough credit.
2. The Purge: Anarchy
The original Purge, despite being a fairly good ride, committed a cardinal sin: it wasted its original premise to deliver a by-the-numbers home invasion movie. If you missed its first ten minutes and final five, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a sequel to The Strangers instead of its own thing.
Luckily, with grizzle king Frank Grillo front and center for the sequel, Anarchy wasted no time in answering some of the questions the original movie tried to avoid. By actually addressing how the annual Purge would affect the average American citizen instead of a yuppie family in the ‘burbs, Anarchy became a more emotionally investing and worthwhile trip down terror lane.
Just like Aliens, the decision to move to a more action-orientated horror movie was a wise one. While it may have lost the sense of creeping fear, Anarchy decided to go for consistent tension throughout instead. It’s a nail-biting movie about survival, family, and redemption. Sadly, Election Year tried to pull an Evil Dead II by making everything much sillier but forgot to also make it fun.
1. Dawn of the Dead
The best zombie movie of all-time also doubles up as the best horror movie sequel. Sure, some of its gore may be laughable in 2017 and the acting more wooden than the actual bridge on the River Kwai, but considering how it’s a follow-up to a movie that effectively kicked off the popularity of an entire subgenre and almost over delivered, its importance can’t be undermined by its age.
George A. Romero’s zombie movies are some of the most important of all-time, independent of the genre they belong to. Night of the Living Dead started it all off, blending (at the time) shocking cannibalism and themes that have been picked apart by film historians for decades. Whereas Romero’s first effort discussed race, Dawn goes for the jugular of commercialism.
Featuring a shopping mall full of zombies, which humans basically are once they see a good deal, Romero lampooned the nation’s rabid obsession with buying masterfully, showing that years behind the lens had helped him grow as an artist. Throw in an unforgettable helicopter encounter and even grislier scenes of gore, and you get a horror sequel that outdoes its predecessor. Hell, even its remake is one of the best modern zombie movies.
So, that’s the list. Short but sweet? Feel like I’ve missed any? Let me know.