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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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“[Rec 2]” (2009)
The original “[Rec]” is a taut, well-made horror film that works despite its obvious unoriginality. Spanish directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza took many familiar elements from horror films -- zombies, abandoned buildings, darkly-lit rooms and even the found footage aesthetic -- but the film worked for many reasons: they managed to create a plausible scenario in which a person would continue to shoot video in the scenario (always an issue in these films); the pace of the film is relentless; the gore and makeup work is top notch; and the film is genuinely intense and scary (especially the final 10 minutes). The sequel starts immediately after the end of the first film, with a SWAT team going in to the quarantined building to fight those nasty, infected zombies. This time we see the events through video cameras strapped to the officers, and the overall result is a sequel that not only matches the original, but deepens the mythology. Essentially, the two films work as one terrifying three-hour film. Suddenly, what began as a zombie story now takes on elements of demonic possession. “[Rec] 2” continues the series’ trend of mash-up horror, this time it’s “Aliens” meets “The Exorcist.” The ending nicely ties up loose threads from the first film, and leaves you wanting more.

Psycho II/III/IV” (1983/1986/1990)
It seems scurrilously sacrilegious to even mention the sequels to Alfred Hitchcock's incomparable 1960 classic "Psycho," and even more objectionable to suggest that they might not be half bad. But the thing is that the sequels are quite good, with each one of them offering different (and compelling) reasons to place them alongside the granddaddy of the slasher film. 1983's "Psycho II," directed by underrated Australian auteur Richard Franklin, is the most "straight" sequel of the bunch, dealing with Anthony Perkins' mama's boy Norman Bates being released from prison. A classical whodunit, it still bristles with technical virtuosity and the fun of seeing Perkins and original cast member Vera Miles back on screen (the Jerry Goldsmith score is great, too). "Psycho III" (1986) directed by Perkins himself, is a more down-and-dirty affair, featuring a particularly skuzzy Jeff Fahey performance, an early Carter Burwell score and gorgeous, stage-inspired directorial flourishes (watch as the light peeking out from the bottom of a door becomes the shimmer on a knife's blade). Even "Psycho IV" (1990), which aired on Showtime along with the disastrous "Birds II: Land's End," is pretty fun, directed by frequent Stephen King adapter Mick Garris from a script by original "Psycho" scribe Joseph Stefano. Its subtitle is "The Beginning" and it's one of the rare sequels, which folds in elements of a prequel, in which giving more stuff away doesn't ruin the mystery. While these sequels don't hold a blood-spattered candle to the original, they also don't deserve to be locked away in the cellar with Mrs. Bates either.

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh” (1995)
If you're wondering why the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind "Kinsey," "Chicago," and "Dreamgirls" is taking on the two-part capper to the "Twilight" saga, dig into Bill Condon's filmography and things will make a little more sense. Chiefly, Condon directed this elegantly told "Candyman" sequel three years before his "serious" splash with "Gods and Monsters." Mostly ignoring the events of the first film, it has the good sense to keep Tony Todd as the titular boogeyman, who has a hook for a hand, a close relationship with bees, and can be summoned from the great beyond by saying his name five times into a mirror. Spooky. But what's so striking about the sequel is the treatment of the Candyman; his screen time is limited and his backstory is emphasized while a more traditional murder mystery takes center stage. It's a strange and haunting sequel (Philip Glass' music certainly helps in this regard), emphasizing weirdness over excessive more-of-the-same theatrics.

The Curse of the Cat People” (1944)
RKO's 1942 horror film "Cat People" is fondly remembered for its invention of the horror technique "bus" (wherein the director slowly builds suspense only to end with an anti-climactic "boo!"), but looking like it has little to offer other than a collection of mundane talky scenes that seem to be less about scares and more about chummy mugs and cigarettes. Still, if it wasn't for the original, there would be no "The Curse of the Cat People," the studio's quick sequel that is leaps and bounds more successful than its predecessor. Returning are Oliver and Alice (Kevin Smith and Jane Randolph), now happily married and with six-year-old daughter Amy, a reclusive girl who spends too much time pretending and too little being social. This behavior leads to her befriending the dead Irena (Simone Simon), also known as the "cat person" from the initial outing and her father's former wife. If that's not conflict, we don't know what is. The picture is low on frights but high on moody atmosphere, with the recycling of the "Magnificent Ambersons" set definitely lending a hand to the dark, often sinister tone. Even the script has more smarts than you'd think, questioning the line between harmful and innocent imagination and the responsibility of a parent for a child's flawed behavior (for instance, nobody goes to Amy's birthday party because she dropped the letters off in a tree -- which, years ago, her Dad told her was a magical mailbox). Though it has most of the same characters, you're better off skipping the first and getting right to the good stuff.

--Drew Taylor, Cory Everett, Gabe Toro, Erik McClanahan, Christopher Bell

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


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