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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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“Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990)
Whatever people were expecting the follow-up to Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg’s cuddly/scary “Gremlins” would be, it most certainly was not the franchise-derailing, batshit gonzo “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” Armed with a complete creative free reign that Warner Bros. would soon regret, Dante went hog wild, crafting a living, breathing WB-like cartoon while at the same time lampooning the vices and obsessions of the early '90s (cable television, frozen yogurt, Donald Trump). The result is, as the director himself has said, “one of the most unconventional studio pictures ever,” and it also pretty much killed off what could have been a successful franchise because it was so so damn meta and bizarro for its time (to some extent it was the beginning of the end of Dante's up-til-then highly successful career). Just think about how there’s an animated segment that starts the film, an extended cameo by critic Leonard Maltin talking about how much he hated the first “Gremlins,” a moment where the “film” burns out and Hulk Hogan derides the theater management, and reflexive dialogue about how the “rules” of the first film make no sense. And this is all stuff that doesn’t involve the slimy gremlins, which this time around include one that talks like Tony Randall and one that has a sex change! Of course the picture was a huge bomb (its budget was triple the original), not even making a third of what the first film grossed. Still, it's sublime, surrealist silliness and one of the strangest off-kilter sequels to a huge mainstream hit ever.

“Hellbound: Hellraiser II” (1988)
The deck is stacked immediately against “Hellraiser II,” which begins right after the events of the first film, a singular effort in the horror genre featuring a rogue’s gallery shrouded in distinct mystery. Once “Hellraiser II” deigns to be a film that expands the world of Hell into a tangible dimension one can visit, it’s hard not to be skeptical. But 'Hellbound' ends up upping the intensity and imagination of the first film, toning down the sickening eroticism and replacing them with the morbid murderous curiosities of how we perceive our personal hells. As Kristy recoils in a mental institution (there we go again...), she realizes the twisted cenobites have been called back into her periphery by a curious doctor who seeks the power of their enchanted puzzle box. 'Hellbound' seems fixated more on the limits of fantasy horror rather than the torture porn-y appeal of the first effort, but in developing this alternate angle, it becomes a completely separate effort from its predecessor, less grotesquely kinky but more volatile and unpredictable than a horror sequel should be.

“A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors" (1987)
After the success of the first film, New Line Cinema plowed ahead without creator Wes Craven, rushing out the awful “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” (completely oblivious that they had just made a film about repressed homosexuality). Craven was brought back along with a then-unknown Frank Darabont and director/co-writer Chuck Russell to co-write a third installment. Together they created the chapter that comes closest to the spirit of the first film, while doing the best job of expanding on those ideas. The story involves Freddy Krueger returning to terrorize a group of troubled teens in a psychiatric ward and delves a bit more into his mythology (“the bastard son of 1000 maniacs”). While the teens here are too thinly drawn for you to really care about them, this is the film where Krueger becomes a fully-fleshed out character with the sadistic wit that would make him the most memorable horror villain of the past two decades. When actor Robert Englund improvised the line “Welcome to prime time bitch!” Freddy’s fate was sealed as a monster you could cheer for and not the dark vision of terror Wes Craven had originally created. The film does contain the best Freddy one-liners, some inventive and truly surreal dream sequences and a dreamy Angelo Badalamenti score. While not as good as the original, it’s the only worthwhile sequel in the series (until 'New Nightmare') and the only one with Craven’s involvement.

“Phantasm II” (1988)
Taking off where the first “Phantasm” left off, this gonzo horror fantasy expands hugely on the no-budget original, telling a story that retains the eerie dream-like storytelling of the first film while also widening the galactic canvas of the mythology. In this installment, young Mike has grown up and, now released from a mental institution, is determined to stop the ghastly Tall Man from stealing corpses and using the bodies to fuel his intergalactic expansion. This, naturally, requires some firepower, so while the low-key first film focused on Mike being stalked, he is now the aggressor, taking on the open-road with balding would-be ice cream-slinging badass Reggie and actively hunting for this supernatural slimer who probably sees it coming. “Phantasm II” is filled with several inventive setups and action sequences, with a debt to the visual kineticism of Sam Raimi’s work, suggesting series creator Don Coscarelli has also spent his time between 'Phantasm' films (nine years) grabbing inspiration from many contemporaries.

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


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