You never can count a horror franchise out. Just like any self-respecting slasher is bound to deliver one last jump scare before the credits roll, popular horror films have a tendency to shuffle along for years, thanks to rabid fanbases, tiny production budgets, or (as is usually the case) both. Case in point, this week’s Blair Witch will attempt to revive a franchise that has remained dormant on the big screen ever since the disaster that was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. The 16-year gap between that film and director Adam Wingard’s new take — which has received a positive reception thus far — had us thinking about other belated horror sequels that wound up doing justice to their predecessors.
While we’re not saying that any of the below are necessarily superior to other films in their respective franchises, they also didn’t turn out to be a total waste of time for longtime fans. Also, since horror films move notoriously quickly in developing sequels when something hits, we’re focusing on sequels that were released at least five years after the previous installments and only including one entry per franchise.
Here are 15 Belated Horror Sequels that Don’t Suck.
15. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Tobe Hooper’s immortal 1974 original film remains one of the most influential and visceral horror films ever made, inspiring decades of imitators and several efforts to recapture its magic (including the upcoming prequel Leatherface). This first attempt to revive Leatherface on the big screen may not have the legacy of its predecessor or the novelty of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (which infamously stars future Oscar winners Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey). However, it still earns its place on this list for the way in which Hooper incorporates dark comedy into his original vision. Dennis Hopper is real the only major star to make an appearance, but what he brings to the role of a former Texas marshal out to take down Leatherface and his cannibal family is truly memorable.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 went on to earn nearly double its miniscule budget in theaters and has since developed a cult following.
14. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)
Right from its goofy Dr. Seuss-ian title, this follow-up to the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis original lets you know not to take it too seriously. Lisa Schrage takes center stage (again with the rhyming) as the titular Mary Lou Maloney, the schoolgirl who returns with ghostly vengeance on her mind 30 years after her death. Since Hello Mary Lou‘s story actually has little to no connection to the first Prom Night, fans might not be surprised to know that the film wasn’t originally conceived as a sequel at all but as a standalone horror film called The Haunting of Hamilton High. Reshoots and a different approach by director Bruce Pittman took what was intended to be a serious scarefest and tribute to classic horror into campier territory. Despite this, the final film still has enough to offer for fans thirsty for another tale in the vein of Carrie and the original Prom Night.
13. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Considering what an icon Michael Myers became after his appearance in John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, it’s hard to imagine the long-running franchise without him. Yet, after seemingly concluding his story in the second film, Universal Pictures tried to move on from the character with 1988’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Though appreciation for that effort to turn the series into an anthology has improved over the years, its tepid reception at the time necessitated the return of one of horror’s all-time greatest boogeymen.
With Donald Pleasence back as Dr. Loomis, The Return of Michael Myers sees Myers hunt down his niece and reclaim his rightful place as the main focus of the Halloween franchise. He has since led all six subsequent entries, including the Rob Zombie-directed remake and its sequel. For the course correction the film represents for the franchise, it’s also far more notable than the only other qualified Halloween film, 1995 release Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.
12. Hannibal (2001)
Any film hoping to escape the shadow of The Silence of the Lambs has its work cut out, but this Ridley Scott film brings a different kind of darkness to the macabre world of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Based on the Thomas Harris novel (but featuring a different ending, much to fans’ dismay), the film follows Lecter’s reunion with FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), as she attempts to catch him before a disfigured victim (an unrecognizable and uncredited Gary Oldman) can feed him to a pack of wild boars (yes, seriously).
Though the absence of Jodie Foster and director Jonathan Demme is felt, Hannibal does feature plenty of tense, shocking moments as well as a deliciously devious performance by Hopkins. Even though it doesn’t come close to its Oscar-winning 1991 predecessor, the film does a capable job of illustrating Lecter’s pop cultural relevance, setting the stage for Hopkins’ final reprisal of the role in the following year’s Red Dragon.
11. Creepshow 2 (1987)
For whatever reason, horror anthologies have a far higher success rate than sequels to almost any other kind of story. Films like V/H/S and Trick ‘r Treat and television shows like The Twilight Zone or even American Horror Story prove that audiences are more willing to accept shorter tales when scares are involved. The original Creepshow — which featured five stories directed by George A. Romero (more on him later) and written by Stephen King — remains one of the best examples of this, and its sequel keeps that tradition alive.
Though the film lacks the punch of the original installment, its trio of frightening segments have nevertheless helped Creepshow 2 achieve popularity among horror aficionados. The story introductions by “The Creep” also predate the adoption of a similar strategy for HBO series Tales from the Crypt and its Cryptkeeper character. Just be sure to skip the unofficial Creepshow 3 that was released direct-to-video in 2007.
10. Curse of Chucky (2013)
Normally, horror sequels that forgo a theatrical release are considered substandard cash-grabs designed to capitalize on a recognizable brand name. However, every once in a while, a film manages to buck that expectation and offer a worthy addition to an established franchise. Such is the case with Curse of Chucky.
After writing all five previous films featuring the possessed killer doll (and directing the fifth one, Seed of Chucky), Don Mancini takes the series back to its roots, stripping the comedic elements that had seeped into the franchise over the years. Brad Dourif, of course, returns to voice Chucky and stars opposite daughter Fiona Dourif in what has been heralded among the best direct-to-video films in years. With the positive reception to Curse of Chucky from fans and critics alike, the Child’s Play series has essentially gave itself a new lease on life, with an untitled seventh film currently in development.
9. Scream 4 (2011)
The death of horror maestro Wes Craven truly marked the end of an era, as the filmmaker has delivered many unforgettable horror films since his debut with The Last House on the Left in 1972. Chief among them are his two most popular creations: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. While good ol’ Freddy Krueger appears a little later in this list, the latter franchise reinvented the modern slasher film and inspired the current MTV series.
This fourth entry in the Scream series sees Ghostface terrorize a new generation of potential victims and toys with the idea of rebooting its own universe, serving as a ultra-modern meta-commentary on today’s horror films. It also marked Craven’s final time in the director’s chair and has unfairly been overlooked by many longtime fans of the series, likely due to the 11-year gap. Scream 4 is well-worth a look for those who haven’t seen it and may be the best entry in the series since the 1996 original.
8. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Of course, we can’t have a list of horror sequels without the Springwood Slasher popping up at some point. The dream-invading serial killer has appeared in 9 films to date, including the ill-conceived 2010 remake that saw Jackie Earle Haley slip on Robert Englund’s iconic glove. However, since most of Freddy’s previous sequels were made in close proximity to each other, only this mash-up with the Friday the 13th franchise qualifies for our list.
Fulfilling a promise laid out in the closing seconds of 1993 release Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, this film pits slasher against slasher in one of the most notable “versus” in recent memory. Sure, Freddy vs. Jason may not be the scariest or most thrilling entry in either series, but the novelty of seeing these two horror icons squaring off certainly counts for a lot, especially since it was Englund’s last appearance as Freddy to date.
7. Phantasm II (1988)
Coming out almost a decade after the original Phantasm, this sequel — also written and directed by Don Coscarelli — sees Mike Pearson (this time played by a recast James LeGros) being released from a mental institution and preparing once again to face off against the mysterious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Though the film was not treated kindly by critics, Phantasm II is easy to recommend to fans of the original’s surreal imagery and bizarre tone, and it has similarly reached a cult classic status since its theatrical release.
Considered by some a box office disappointment, the film actually turned a decent profit, bringing in more than $7 million against a reported production budget of just $3 million. Moreover, its “failure” didn’t hinder the franchise one bit. Original star A. Michael Baldwin has since returned to lead two more sequels in 1994 and 1998, and a fifth, and final, one is on the way next month.
6. The Exorcist III (1990)
Whenever a sequel to a popular film is on the way, the creative team behind it can either continue on the path set by the first one or attempt to create something fresh to keep audiences guessing. After The Exorcist became a phenomenon in 1973, the eventual sequel decided to keep the focus on Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil with 1977 release Exorcist II: The Heretic. However, when that film was deemed a critical disaster, the studio decided to ignore that second film and rework what was once a standalone film titled Legion into The Exorcist III.
Written and directed by author William Peter Blatty — who wrote the novel on which The Exorcist is based — The Exorcist III stars George C. Scott as a cop investigating a series of murders by a dead serial killer. Labelled a flop at the time, The Exorcist III has since become a cult favorite among viewers, earning a stronger fanbase than either the first sequel or the two Exorcist prequels that followed in the 2000s.
5. Psycho II (1983)
Alfred Hitchcock films have such a distinct style and tone that his work has been endlessly imitated by other filmmakers. Daring to revisit a story and characters from one of his most beloved films seems like an endeavor destined to fail spectacularly, as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake proved. Yet, in Psycho II, director Richard Franklin delivers a new story that keeps audiences guessing time and again, while paying necessary tribute to the original Hitchcock classic.
Anthony Perkins reprises his role as the troubled Norman Bates, who returns to his motel after 22 years in a mental institution intent on starting a new life away from the demons of the past. Naturally, that doesn’t exactly go well for Norman, but what makes Psycho II such a surprise is the finesse with which everything starts to go a little mad once again. The film is a well-crafted sequel that has no right to be as good as it is.
4. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle created an exciting new type of zombie film with 2002’s 28 Days Later and subsequently revived interest in this particular horror sub-genre long before The Walking Dead. While this sequel didn’t have the same kind of impact on the industry, it is generally regarded as a worthy follow-up of the first film’s outbreak, following a new group of characters and presenting the opportunity to check in on the post-apocalyptic world Boyle introduced to audiences.
With a stellar cast that includes Idris Elba, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner and Robert Carlyle, 28 Weeks Later expands the story in all the right ways and is lauded for its particularly unforgettable opening sequence. One of the few zombie sequels that can stand up next to its predecessor, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s film still has fans hoping that 28 Months Later finally ends up becoming a reality in the near future.
3. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Speaking of zombie films, no one is quite as synonymous with those brain-craving creatures as filmmaker George A. Romero. The grandfather of zombie cinema, he has been involved in tons of memorable horror fare (including the aforementioned Creepshow 2), but none of his work comes close to the widespread popularity of his Living Dead series. Kicking off with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, that franchise continues with this film set within the same universe.
Centering on a group of survivors trapped within a shopping mall, Dawn of the Dead features some of the most biting social commentary in the series and remains one of the most cherished entries in the eyes of fans, even after all these years and several sequels later. It even inspired a hit 2004 remake directed by Man of Steel filmmaker Zack Snyder and written by none other than Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.
2. Aliens (1986)
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. The runner-up spot goes to James Cameron’s insanely beloved sci-fi classic, which also stands as one of the best action movie sequels ever made. Taking a vastly different approach to the story than its 1979 predecessor, Aliens ultimately falls short of the top spot for two reasons. While it’s one of Cameron’s best films and a cinematic landmark, it’s debatable if it tops Ridley Scott’s original and, because it so deftly blends together horror, sci-fi and action, Aliens can’t really be considered a flat-out horror sequel. Nevertheless, it stands with the first film as one of the best franchise double bills of all time and cemented Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley as one of the best big-screen action heroes ever.
Thirty years later, fans still want to see what happens next, despite the existence of Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Talk about a lasting impact.
1. Evil Dead II (1987)
While Army of Darkness was also a strong contender for this list, that film leans more on comedy than the traditional horror sequels we were looking to include here. For our money, no belated horror movie sequel compares to this seminal horror/comedy from director Sam Raimi. Six years after his micro-budget horror film became a cult classic, the filmmaker rebooted and continued the story of Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), introducing comic elements that unsettle as much as they elicit laughter from audiences (we’re looking at you, cackling deer head).
No film has struck the same pitch-perfect balance of terror and gags as Raimi’s Evil Dead II, and its role in blowing out the franchise’s popularity cannot be underestimated. In the years since its release, Evil Dead has become one of the most celebrated horror series in history. Fans even continued beating the drum for Campbell’s return to the role of Ash for more than 20 years, between 1992’s Army of Darkness and current Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead.
So there you have it. Our breakdown of the best belated horror sequels, of course, isn’t all-inclusive, but we’re confident that our selections represent the best case scenario that can come of a dormant horror series being dusted off for the sequel treatment. The films we’ve discussed deliver intriguing premises and/or solid scares that make them among the rare instances wherein a significant gap between sequels yields a worthwhile viewing experience that stands the test of time.
With so many nostalgia properties making their way to theaters nowadays — including horror titles like Blair Witch and Rings — we hope that the coming years bring many more worthy contenders for this list, and we look forward to revisiting them in our own belated sequel to this retrospective of horror cinema. Perhaps such a notion is a bit too meta for some, but we’d like to think the filmmakers on this list would approve.
Which belated horror sequels did we miss? Share your thoughts and let us know your picks in the comments section below.