No other genre has as many franchises as horror. And as we all know, whether commercially or independently produced, if a horror film does even remotely well, there’s a chance we’ll see at least two more of them – at least.
Oddly enough, horror is a tough genre. Most movies can’t stand on their own because they lack story and/or are poorly made. Granted, there are many films fans of the genre will disagree about, but quite often conversation comes down to one movie or another and its sequels. Though most sequels are despised because they are watered down versions of the original, some stand tall, maybe even taller than the original.
Here’s my list, for better or worse, that got it right.
Day of the Dead (1985) – 3 stars
Some complain that this third installment from George A. Romero in his much loved “Dead” series is a bit too talky, but that’s the point. Unlike the first two action based movies, this one centers on the drama surrounding a military outpost. From many reports, Romero couldn’t secure the budget for a bigger venture, so he went into the Wampum Mine near Pittsburgh and made this claustrophobic horror happen.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) – 3 stars
Much maligned by some “Halloween Purists”, this film fits right in with John Carpenter’s original intention for the series: to make a new “Halloween” film each year. Yes, the robots are a stretch, but this first horror movie from writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace has a chilling premise as a druid tries to unleash his power, and star, Tom “Thrill Me” Atkins rocks his role. Enjoy the suspense because, as of this posting, there’s only 284 days to Halloween…
The Human Centipede III (2015) – 3 stars
This is a much hated capstone to Tom Sixx’s creepy-crawlie franchise of mad scientist mayhem, but actor Dieter Laser brings the intensity as if he consumed the spirit of Dennis Hopper from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The comedy, satire, and carnage come to a master mixx of blood and sarcasm in an American prison gone mad. The great thing is that Sixx doesn’t take himself seriously and purposefully went over the top, and out, with a naked dance.
Inferno (Italy, 1980) – 3 stars
Part of Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, this element features the Mother of Darkness (Mater Tenebrarum). The film works on many levels thanks to wonderful color and cinematography from Romano Albini, and lighting and special visual effects from the renowned Mario Bava. Yes, from the beginning the story lacks structure and remains convoluted. However, this orientation (or disorientation) only adds to the terror as we fall deep into a coven of witches.
Leprechaun 3 (1995) – 3 stars
With a strong story, thanks to screen scribe David DuBos, the great Warwick Davis finds himself immersed in a solid adventure for a change. But making wishes in Las Vegas with a leprechaun’s coin may not be the smartest move in the world, which keeps the tale moving in laughs and gore. The acting is anchored by the fabulous Caroline Williams (who will appear in this year’s Blood Feast remake) in this fatal adventure in “Sin City”.
Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991) – 3 stars
If you have to see one of Charles Band’s Puppet Master movies, this is the one. Directed by the prolific genre helmsman, David DeCoteau, with a story from C. Courtney Joyner, we have a tight tale of Nazis, puppets, and horror. Better yet, the villain is the always stellar Richard Lynch, and the cast also includes the great Guy Rolfe as Toulon, as well as Ian Abercrombie. All three are gone, but they live on in this Full Moon Production.
Wishing Stairs (South Korea, 2003) – 3 stars
Two friends, played by Ji-hyo Song and Han-byeol Park, study ballet at an out of the way boarding school with an interesting staircase of 28 steps – because if one counts up to the mysterious 29th step, which may suddenly appear, she gets a wish that is a far cry from being free. One of only two films from director Jae-yeon Yun, he successfully nails the ghostly creep factor thanks to great acting and Jeong-min Seo’s cinematography.
Evil Dead II (1987) – 3.5 stars
A retelling of the 1981 original, or a sequel rehash? Who cares. Superior to the first film, and devoid of Army of Darkness’s silliness, the most excellent Bruce Campbell reprises his role of Ash and takes on the demons from the skin covered “Necronomicon.” Relentless gore and comedy keep the movie rocking in groovy fashion as Sam Raimi and his 1973 Olds deliver his best work – ever. You can even find his brother Ted as zombie Henrietta. Hail to the King, baby!
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (UK/USA, 1988) – 3.5 stars
No one believes poor Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) about the Cenobites and the bloodbath they’ve left behind, so she finds herself in a psychiatric hospital. This is where bizarro Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham) resurrects her evil (or single minded?) stepmother (Claire Higgins). Soon the puzzle box is opened and the surreal realm of Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is revealed in Salvador Dali like fashion. Enjoy the terror trip.
Saw II (USA/Canada, 2005) – 3.5 stars
The entire Saw series, including its mistake ridden original, tried to outdo itself with convoluted time shifts and wilder traps, but this is the only segment to get it all right: from fear and isolation, to group dynamics and a mental chess playing mastermind in John Kramer (Tobin Bell) out to teach lessons to those who have squandered life. The movie is a twisted adventure of physical torment and psychological hardship from director Darren Lynn Bousman.
Final Destination 5 (USA/Canada/Hong Kong/Singapore, 2011) – 4 stars
Once again, we find a group of young people who cheat Death and struggle to survive as they are brought back into the folds of its moth-eaten coat of rot. Unlike the other stories in the franchise, this one is well-rounded, inhabited by interesting characters, and the movie incorporates the best suspenseful death scene in the series. Better still, the unexpected ending is clearly worth a rental for those fans who like a turn for the worst with their horror features.
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) – 4 stars
A new family, a new video, and a box of old VHS tapes, brings us some creepy footage and an accompanying array of scares. Cinematographer Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) moves in with his girlfriend Julie (Lauren Bittner) only to discover that her daughters’ imaginary friend Tobi might be a real, evil entity. The pace is strong, the characters solid, and those elements of fear keep on coming.
Outside of the genre, I have one sequel that is a guilty pleasure I cannot do without, and that’s Richard Roundtree’s Shaft in Africa (1973). Yes, it’s a 3.5 star favorite as Shaft finds himself overseas trying to break up a modern slavery ring out of Paris – and it rocks! So what are your favorite sequels? Better still, do you have a favorite franchise? If so, let me know in the comments section so we can talk about. After all, there are so many damn sequels, I’m sure I’ll face palm myself over some of your choices.
Remember to catch the latest episode of THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast every Sunday night at 9 PM ET, right here or on iTunes. Cohost Jonny Numb and I promise to bring you worthwhile shows serving as forays into the uncanny – and beyond.