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The Playlist's Guide To Horror Sequels Worth Screaming About

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 15, 2011 at 7:32AM

If it’s one thing that horror movies are good at, particularly in the past decade with our annual “Saw” installments, it’s churning out sequels – like this weekend’s not-very-good “Scream 4.” (To quote “Scream 2” -- “Sequels suck, they are, by definition, inferior product.”) While most of these movies are blatant cash-grabs by studios that know the relative inexpensiveness of the films can boost their bottom line, there are a few that exceed our admittedly low expectations. But a feature called “Horror Sequels That Exceed Our Admittedly Low Expectations” would have kind of been a mouthful, so we went with the above instead. And given those set of rules, we decided to forgo grading the films, instead letting the writing speak for itself.
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“Bride of Chucky” (1998)
Of all the postmodern son-of-"Scream" rip-offs that trailed Wes Craven's groundbreaker, few reached the giddy peaks of "Bride of Chucky," which re-envisioned the murderous doll (again: Brad Dourif) as one half of a rubbery Mickey and Mallory, trading the cramped claustrophobia of the earlier films for more wide-opened goofiness. (The other half of the dynamic duo is Jennifer Tilly, in her greatest post-"Bound" role, first as a human and then as an impish, sexed-up plaything.) References abound (the best, a "Hellraiser" gag comes after co-star John Ritter meets a gruesome end), lending the movie a buoyant energy and director Ronny Yu creates dreamlike imagery that often borders on the surreal. While it wasn't enough to fully resuscitate the franchise (there was one more, even stranger film, "Seed of Chucky") but it was enough of a howler to make you care about a series that you had probably forgotten about in the first place.

“Bride of Frankenstein" (1935)
It’s extremely rare for a sequel to a classic film not only to live up to but actually surpass the original, and “Bride of Frankenstein” does just that. Though the story picks up just moments after the original, it took Universal nearly four years to get director James Whale to agree to return to helm the film. Unlike the first film, which scared the pants off audiences in 1931, Whale delivers a movie that is more comedy (and tragedy) than horror. But it was so good, audiences didn’t seem to mind the bait-and-switch. Though it was released just a few short years after the original "Frankenstein," the film feels considerably more modern, with Franz Waxman’s score laying under the scenes (where there had previously been only dialogue). Boris Karloff returns as the Frankenstein monster, now portrayed more as a tragically misunderstood creature and less of a rampaging killer. Elsa Lanchester plays the Bride, and also appears as author Mary Shelley in the film’s storytelling prologue -- though she is onscreen for less than three minutes she’s one of the most unforgettable images in film history. Quite a feat.

“Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
Pitched somewhere between the death of '70s idealism and the rise of Reagan‘s '80s, “Dawn of the Dead” was another one of those counterculture warning signs that the mainstream didn’t heed, a point further driven home by a post-millennial remake that seemed hellbent on annihilating the necessary subtext. Something of a loose sequel to George Romero’s previous “Night of the Living Dead,” 'Dawn' finds four innocents at the precipice of the apocalypse, fleeing from braindead zombies in the most obvious place you’d find them: a shopping mall. Romero’s protagonists are a tad ugly and fueled by petty jealousies and insecurities, but more so than other works in his underrated filmography, they resonate as disparate souls; real people trying to come to grips with the fact they may be polishing silverware on the Titanic. Funny and ultimately sobering, “Dawn of the Dead” may be the alpha and omega of zombie pictures, and one of the last great pictures of the '70s.

“The Devil's Rejects” (2005)
While 2003’s “House of 1000 Corpses,” Rob Zombie’s first feature and foray in to the sadistic Firefly family, has its moments, this writer found it to be a rather schlocky, too-over-the-top horror movie. Seeing “The Devil’s Rejects” two years later was something of a revelation: could this be the same Rob Zombie? Indeed, it was. And the rocker-turned-filmmaker was smart with his sequel. He stripped it down, got a lower budget and made a modern horror movie classic. Making the Firefly family the protagonists this time (headed by a brilliantly disturbing and hilarious turn by Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding) as they evade Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), in what turns out to be a nasty, albeit incredibly entertaining road movie. If you’re a horror fan, what’s not to love here? Bill Moseley's brilliant turn as Otis; Zombie managing to humanize the Fireflys; the ace opening titles playing alongside “Midnight Rider”; and of course, the hilarious chicken fucking scene. It’s disturbing, scary, and funny -- everything is bettered in this sequel, and “The Devil’s Rejects” stands alone as a great genre title.

This article is related to: Films, Feature, Scream 4


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