Despite the perceived reputation, no genre is better than horror at making sequels. Horror movies have a unique ability not only to approach thoughtful concepts with deep emotional and visual catharsis, but also expand on those concepts in well-executed follow-up entries. The horror sequel landscape is rich terrain, made up of as many hidden gems as it is high-profile classics. Granted, not all horror sequels are created equal (for every Bride of Frankenstein or Blade II there are about a thousand Blair Witch 2’s), but many of the genre’s most imperfect sequels still manage to find some magic in all the terror and gore.
Horror’s ability to tell effective stories by evoking powerful emotional responses may always be underestimated, as will its unparalleled track record of innovation in virtually every technical field of filmmaking. Some cult-horror favorites are underestimated by mainstream audiences, while the merits of others go overlooked even by die-hard horror fans. Horror’s rich tradition of revisiting stories from a fresh new perspective permeates every corner of the genre. No matter where you are in the world of horror, a secretly awesome sequel is likely a stone’s throw away. Here are 17 Secretly Awesome Horror Sequels to wet your appetite for exceptional cinematic terror.
17. Psycho 2
Anyone old enough to have rented movies at Blockbuster probably remembers seeing the cover of Psycho II, III, or IV on a shelf next to Hitchcock’s original masterpiece and rolling their eyes in abject terror. How could anyone even think of making a sequel to Psycho, let alone three?! And how could any of those sequels possibly be worth watching?! The Psycho sequels may not be for everyone, but they do offer some intriguing takes on the inner workings of Norman Bates (who is played by Anthony Perkins in every movie, thankfully).
Psycho II is a particularly worthwhile entry. Anthony Perkins’ first return performance as Norman Bates—however wooden at times—is quite effective within the 20-years-later premise. Visually, it strikes a crafty balance of hearkening back to the iconic visuals of the first film and creating its own unique atmosphere. Psycho II may never reach the horrific heights of Hitchcock’s original, but it does stand on its own two feet.
16. The Fly II
This 1989 sequel to David Cronenberg’s masterpiece of body horror is not a particularly great movie. For the most part, it’s not even a very good one. But the imaginative work of Chris Walas, the creature effects mastermind of the first film and director of the sequel, deserves all the praise in the world.
The Fly II’s premise is a bit convoluted and silly–featuring the son of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum’s character from the first film) slowly morphing into another “Brundlefly” under the control of a corporation that wants to use his father’s “telepod” technology for profit—but the special effects, along with the film’s exciting third act, make The Fly II a secretly awesome horror movie. Brundlefly 2.0 is a grotesquely electrifying creation, as are the other deformed telepod monsters featured throughout the film. For today’s CGI-berated cinema-goers, the ingenious practical effects of The Fly II’s caliber will always be a rare, rare treat.
15. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
The first Nightmare on Elm St. sequel is hardly the horror franchise’s brightest moment, but it deserves to be remembered for its endlessly discussable gay subtext. The movie’s plot is often criticized for its deviation from the series’ well-established dream logic, opting instead for a plot that involves protagonist teen Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) slowly being possessed by Freddy so the killer janitor can terrorize the real world. Jesse’s possession by Freddy has been frequently explored as a metaphor for the protagonist’s closet homosexuality—a reading backed up by multiple scenes in the movie, including an encounter with a gym teacher at a gay bar and a subtly homoerotic interaction with a male friend in his bedroom.
The mere fact that the main character is male evokes homoerotic themes, as the role would almost certainly go to a “final girl” in most other horror movies. Like it’s homoerotic undertones, Freddy’s Revenge demands to be remembered as a secretly awesome entity.
14. Rob Zombie’s Halloween II
It’s not necessarily better than the original Halloween II, but Rob Zombie’s 2009 sequel/remake explores psychological territory that hasn’t really been explored by a slasher movie before or since. Zombie’s second outing with the franchise takes an unflinching look at the brutal aftermath of Michael Myers’ rampage in the first film. His surviving victims—Michael’s sister Laurie, Sheriff Lee Brackett, and Lee’s daughter Annie—find themselves all living together in a feeble attempt at some semblance of a normal life after their experiences, but the emotional trauma is every bit a stumbling block as Michael’s brutal return.
13. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
The third entry in the mother of all slasher series’ is often overlooked because it’s the only Halloween movie that doesn’t focus on franchise antagonist Michael Myers, but Halloween III: Season of the Witch’s clear narrative break from the rest of the series is the very thing that makes it secretly awesome.
Not only does Halloween III leave Michael Myers out of the picture, it separates itself from the slasher genre entirely, instead offering a supernatural sci-fi plot that dives deep into the mythology around the holiday from which the series gets its name. Tom Atkins turns in one of many legendary b-horror performances as a doctor who stumbles upon a strange mass murder plot involving androids and witchcraft. Yes, it’s every bit as insane as it sounds, but Halloween III’s campy story proves to be quite the provocative treat.
12. Friday the 13th Part II
Before Jason found the hockey mask, he roamed the woods in a burlap sack…and believe it or not, he still looked terrifying. Friday the 13th Part II is stuck in a weird spot—just after the original film, where (spoiler alert) he ends up not being the central antagonist at all, and before he donned the hockey mask and became the most visually iconic slasher villain of all time.
Fortunately, Part II encapsulates everything fans have come to love about the summer-camp horror series (a helpless cast of horny youth, relentlessly drawn out foot-chases, brutal death after brutal death), all without the visual boost of the iconic mask. The greatest thing about the Friday series is that there’s something to enjoy in pretty much every movie (including the more absurd entries like Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan or Jason X), but nothing beats the simplicity of Part II.
11. Omen III: The Final Conflict
As far as demonic kid horror movies go, The Omen isn’t among the greatest (The Bad Seed, The Exorcist) but it’s also far from the worst (Children of the Corn and its sequels). Its direct follow-up, Damien: Omen II, is little more than a rehash of the original. Omen III: The Final Conflict, on the other hand, comes at the son-of-satan premise from a terrifyingly different angle—casting the always excellent Sam Neill as an adult Damien in U.S. politics, attempting to obstruct the second coming of Christ.
The Final Conflict is really just an OK movie. It has a few visual high points that capture the creepy religious atmosphere of the first Omen, but Neill’s relentlessly ominous breakout performance is the thing that really makes it worth watching.
10. Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Any art director will tell you that The Abominable Dr. Phibes is an art director’s movie, and its Egypt-themed, equally campy sequel is no different. Dr. Phibes Rises Again is an ultra-stylized horror romp featuring Vincent Price in the twilight of his career, but undoubtedly no worse for wear. In both Dr. Phibes films, Price is clearly having a great time hamming it up as the titular antagonist (a deformed professor who comes back from the dead to exact revenge on the doctors who couldn’t save his wife from a deadly car crash), and the sequel’s Egyptian twist on the first film’s production design is worth the watch alone.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again will likely get the all-style-no-substance label from some viewers, but ultimately, the style of the film—a glorious early ’70s arthouse combination of Egyptian imagery and art deco camp—is the substance.
9. Child’s Play 2
Look up “self-parody” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of all the Child’s Play movies from Bride of Chucky onward. The later sequels in the series are the ones that most people remember, so it’s easy to forget that there’s a drastic tonal shift right in the middle.
Child’s Play 2 is really the only film in the series to fully exploit the premise without venturing into self-parody territory. The first film is a valiant effort, but it never quite manages to strike the right balance between comedy and horror for the Chucky character. Child’s Play 2 intuitively knows how and when to make the character funny and/or terrifying, and it tells a story that’s big enough for its absurd premise without being too big.
8. Son of Frankenstein
It’s understandable that Son of Frankenstein is the most overlooked sequel to Universal’s 1931 monster classic. It comes right after Bride of Frankenstein—arguably the best of Universal’s early monster pictures and one of the greatest sequels ever made. It’s also shrouded in obscurity by later, louder mash-ups like House of Dracula or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
But Son of Frankenstein has its own classic Hollywood vibe and comedic charm that shouldn’t go un-enjoyed. The movie casts Boris Karloff in his final appearance as the Monster, along with Basil Rathbone as the titular son of the original Baron von Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi as Ygor. The sequel is most notable for introducing many of the Frankenstein’s most famous pop-culture staples (such as the hunchback sidekick being named Ygor, and the wooden-armed constable that would be famously parodied in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), making for a fun, light-hearted coda to cinema’s finest one-two punch of classic horror.
7. The Creature Walks Among Us
The genius of the early Universal monster movies can be found in the tragedy and humanity of characters like Frankenstein’s Monster, Lon Cheney Jr.’s Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. 1956’s The Creature Walks Among Us—the third film in the Creature from the Black Lagoon series—makes for a brutally tragic third installment of a story that was unapologetically tragic to begin with.
Picking up where Revenge of the Creature left off, The Creature Walks Among Us sees the titular being once again captured by a team of less-than-trustworthy scientists, who surgically alter the Creature after he is badly burned in a fire. The Creature sheds his gills as a result of the accident, left incapable of returning to his home beneath the sea. Bound to a land that wants him destroyed, the Creature’s vengeful rampage is a more excruciatingly sad affair this time around, making it one of the most effective sequels of the Universal Monsters era.
6. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
By the time Ghost Dimension (the 6th entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise) had come out, the whole series seemed to have been drained of every last drop of novelty. The previous Paranormal Activity movie, The Marked Ones, is arguably superior for its ingenious change of setting from the white suburbia of the previous films to a more urban location, but The Ghost Dimension should also be lauded for its innovative use of 3D during its theatrical run.
If you saw The Ghost Dimension in theaters, you may remember the way it implemented 3D effects only when and where something paranormal was happening on screen. The film would also drop visual hints when something was about to happen, adding jarring 3D effects to a dark corner or object in a room. It’s something we’ve never really seen in 3D cinema before or since.
5. The Evil of Frankenstein
One of Hammer’s finest contributions to the horror canon is its run of Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing as the titular baron doctor. Unlike Universal’s Frankenstein series, which followed the Frankenstein monster from film to film, the Hammer series follows Dr. Frankenstein as he creates a new creature with every passing entry.
Cushing nails his incarnation of the character every time, including The Evil of Frankenstein—his only Hammer Frank film to deviate from the timeline established in the previous entries. The Evil of Frankenstein is often maligned for the continuity break, along with an approach to the material that seems slightly campier and messier than the rest of Hammer’s Frank films. But there’s also a strong camp within the horror community that holds a torch for the movie, citing its continuity break and livelier elements as advantages rather than hindrances.
4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Meta-horror movies like Scream and Cabin in the Woods owe a lot to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a film that’s both a pointed critique on the Nightmare on Elm Street series and a purer incarnation of Wes Craven’s surreal nightmare slasher.
According to Craven, the Freddy Krueger we see in New Nightmare is much closer to his original vision for the character—more viciously predatory and less jokey. Placing this version of Freddy in the context of a story about the Nightmare films themselves (and the people who worked on them) makes for a pitch-perfect commentary on the serialized nature of the horror industry. Future horror movies that decide to lean heavy on the meta idea would do well to mirror the tone and critical voice of New Nightmare to avoid winking at the audience too much in favor of something much more meaningful.
3. The Devil’s Rejects
If this were a list of secretly awesome directors instead of movies, Rob Zombie would be at the top of the heap. Sure, he already has a dedicated fan base, but Zombie’s singular ability to implicate an audience in the carnage of his films deserves a far broader appreciation.
The Devil’s Rejects is Zombie’s ultimate tone poem of savagery, taking the psychotic killer Firefly Family from House of 1000 Corpses and turning them into Bonnie and Clyde-ish anti-heroes on the run. As the Firefly family leave a trail of violence and depravity in their wake, Zombie takes scenes of violence against innocent victims and makes them as unrelenting as possible, incriminating the viewer as the terror unfolds. The film’s final highway showdown (aptly set to the Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem “Free Bird”) reinforces the anti-hero theme in a finale that makes The Devil’s Rejects one of cinema’s most uncompromising visions of American life.
2. Predator 2
Before the bloated, bombastic Alien vs. Predator movies, the direct sequel to the enduring sci-fi/horror Schwarzenegger vehicle was met with negative reviews, destined to become only a cult classic among die-hard fans. But Predator 2 deserves serious re-evaluation from the rest of us who may be weary of its deviation from the original.
Instead of rehashing the first movie, Predator 2 ingeniously places the titular alien warrior in a futuristic urban setting (in the vein of Escape from New York) and pits him against ’80s tough-guy Danny Glover as a renegade cop fighting a drug war. It’s the perfect premise for the type of genre-mixing action that today’s movie fans love, but unlike modern genre-mixing blockbusters, Predator 2 fully embraces all the genres it fuses instead of watering them all down.
1. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Nearly 70 years before Hollywood went all in on shared-universe franchises, Universal built its own terrifying world of gods and monsters. Universal’s monster-mashup sequels vary greatly in tone and quality, but none take fuller advantage of bringing the franchise’s iconic characters together than Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.
When it came to their monster pictures, Lon Cheney Jr. was Universal’s ace in the hole. His characterization of Lawrence Talbot/the Wolfman was always chillingly sympathetic, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman is arguably Cheney Jr.’s finest hour in the role. His meeting with Frankenstein’s Monster brings out the tragic humanity in both characters, and the eerie atmosphere of the film itself goes a long way in showcasing both the similarities and differences between the two mammoths of horror iconography. Not all of the latter Universal monster movies are worth everyone’s time, but Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman is definitely a must-see.
What are your favorite horror sequels? Join the conversation in the comments!
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