Tom Jolliffe looks at 13 underrated franchise horror sequels that deserve more love…
Franchise horror rule of thumb generally goes like this: the first film is a trailblazing classic. The sequels increasingly diminish in quality. Some franchises might well have die hard fans, but it can often be the case that those classic originals such as Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street are the only ones general fans will give the time of day.
Why it works out this way is largely down to a couple of factors. They’re usually a simple retread that lacks the definitive punch of the first, or step too far away from the successful formula alienating the people who loved the first. Sometimes it’s simply a case that a special filmmaker is at the helm of the original, but doesn’t return for the sequels. See the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, Wes Craven, and William Friedkin who all started the ball rolling with iconic horror films, only for ‘lesser’ directors to take the helm for sequels.
Still, there are an array of critically savaged sequels that have perhaps been unfairly tarnished. Some have attracted a little more love in time. Let’s look at 13 unlucky and underrated horror sequels that deserve more love…
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Franchise ‘rules.’ It’s a contentious aspect of franchise cinema, particularly when the first film is the standout masterpiece. Does this mean that every rule set within a classic original should be carved in stone, immovable? A fan’s expectation gets immediately set with film one. So when a first sequel comes along and tears out a few pages of the rule book, it’s inevitable that some fans will bite back.
That’s exactly what happened with Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. In years since it has taken on a cult life form all of its own, whilst slowly gathering more fans. It’s also been adopted as an entry into Queer cinema. There are very distinct and direct metaphors within the film concerning homosexuality, whilst others have read a link to the AIDS ‘epidemic’ which was beginning to permeate the media back then. Still, despite Freddy becoming more of a possessive spirit the protagonist Jessie has to fight off, and the dream stalker eventually coming out into reality by taking over Jessie, this film has some interesting psychological horror. It’s also perhaps the most discomfortingly atmospheric film in the franchise.
The original was of course persistently unsettling, a great example of nightmarish cinema, but Freddy’s Revenge just feels clammy, constantly searing, hot, and uncomfortable. Set during a heatwave, the audience is made to feel grimly sweaty from high temperatures, steamy shower rooms, relentlessly humid nights, and sweltering boiler rooms. It has become a cult movie but still deserves more praise, not only as a decent horror sequel but as an unsettling, clammy psychological horror with probably the best Freddy design.
Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Time for something potentially controversial. I was never a big fan of the original Friday the 13th. It doesn’t hold a candle to Halloween. It took a while for the franchise to find its feet as far as having an ‘icon’ when Jason finally donned the immortal Hockey mask. The bar wasn’t really set too high, even if the first film had some stylistic choices which were a little ahead of the curve. That being said, I enjoy Jason’s escapades and actually have a little more fondness for the tail end of the OG series, when things got just a little bit more gonzo.
I enjoy aspects of Jason Goes to Hell, I enjoy Jason X for the concept, even if it’s not quite as inventive as it could be. However, my underrated pick is Jason Takes Manhattan. Jason on a Cruise Ship, then Jason stalking disposable cast through Manhattan. It’s full of great images and loads of cheesy moments. It’s more popular nowadays given there’s more audience predisposition for gonzo ideas, but that trilogy of ‘enders’ between VIII and X for the franchise which never knew when to end, have an enjoyably goofy quality and Jason in Manhattan is the pick of the bunch.
Predator 2 does have its fans, some of which are apologists who enjoy it in spite of glaring flaws, but the film is certainly undervalued. When Nimrod Antal made Predators, his slightly tired throwback to the original was dubbed the best sequel and then quickly forgotten. Then we recently had Prey which is an unofficial prequel/sequel, also frequently dubbed the best since the original. Prey is decent to be fair, but it’s a little forgettable. For me, if Jason traipsing Manhattan was an interesting visual, then a Predator hunting Danny Glover in L.A, during a heatwave, is also unforgettable.
Glover makes a suitably world-weary hero trying to deal with a spate of gruesome murders and gang warfare, who of course discovers something else entirely. He’s got great support from Gary Busey and Bill Paxton, whilst Stephen Hopkins’ film looks fantastic. The sweaty visuals and predominantly night shoots create plenty of atmosphere. Predator is far and away the Don of the franchise, but for me, Predator 2 lives up to its number. It comes second.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
The Halloween franchise is a bit of an odd one. The second film, which I love, effectively kicks off right after the first. It was received reasonably well by fans, even if many felt it lacked the assured direction of Carpenter. Then the third film took a decidedly left-of-field turn, doing away with Michael Myers entirely and trying to take the series into something more eclectically episodic. The fourth entry went back to Myers having riled fans. In truth, the fourth film is also underrated and is part of what’s a very definite two-hander that culminates with Halloween 5. Myers awakes from a coma in 4, goes on the hunt for a previously unmentioned niece, and gets dealt with. He comes back in 5 for revenge.
As an overall horror, the fourth film nails more landings and is more effective, but one key reason I prefer the fifth is because of the character arc for Jamie (Danielle Harris). Suffering PTSD from her prior encounter with Uncle Mike, she’s housed in a psychiatric unit, and struggling against the same DNA that has turned her unc into a maniacal killer. Harris was excellent in the fourth but she’s even better here. It’s quite a dark role for such a young actress at the time, pretty harrowing and she’s put through the wringer. Inevitably no one believes her when she thinks Myers is back on the scene. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is never far behind. That struggle to fight back a killer instinct that has afflicted Myers and a feeling of inevitability at having to face him once more really drives Jamie to the point of insanity and Harris is phenomenal.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Hellraiser was a completely unique entity in horror. This bizarre, gruesome, gothic psycho-sexual film had a lot of interesting elements. It’s one of a kind, and it became pretty apparent that the film’s most iconic image would be that of Pinhead. As head of the cenobites his part in the first was in actuality small, as a creature of hell luring unsuspecting flesh to be torn apart. He would become the most memorable facet of it, not least for that unforgettable makeup adorned on Doug Bradley.
The sequels would inevitably seek to delver a little further into the Pinhead mythos and the hell that exists parallel to our reality (opened by the lament configuration cube). The first sequel was fantastical and opened an intriguing and interesting glimpse into the hell Pinhead exists within and would hint at his back story, complete with stunning visuals. Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth then elaborates further still, and opens up the concept of hell being brought to Earth.
If there’s one thing that has held the franchise back, beyond the first, it’s been that the protagonists have not been nearly as interesting as the enigmatic villain and his cohorts. It’s the same in Hellbound and indeed in Hell on Earth, yet this one, despite the antipathy toward it, is pretty good fun. There’s a sense that Pinhead was starting to border on the same transition Freddy Kruger took. He’s a bit more comical and that inevitably alienated some fans. Still, this has some fun moments, some great visuals, and brilliant visual effects. Anthony Hickox brings a bit of whimsical flair which made his Waxwork films so enjoyable.
Alfred Hitchcock reinvented cinema with Psycho. It was groundbreaking in Hollywood, shocking not only for its subject and certain scenes (like the infamous shower scene) but also for its second act shocker in killing off the protagonist Janet Leigh. More twists would follow but it shocked and surprised audiences and was not long after, considered a masterpiece.
A growing group of aspiring auteurs were hugely inspired by Hitch’s most rug-pulling film. It feels odd the film would turn into a franchise but that’s what happened. By the time Perkins revisited the role that broke him out, he was in something of a career slump. Such a brilliant actor, capable of such nuance which he showed in the first film, just never seemed to be able to shake off Norman Bates. With a slump coming to his senior years in the early 80s, he went back to Bates Motel, and whilst finances would have been a key motivator, Perkins wasn’t content to phone it in.
Though he played Bates broader, a little more theatrically, he delivers an intriguing performance in the second and once again in the third. This wasn’t held in too high a regard but Psycho III has plenty of great moments. Perkins is excellent too, whilst the film’s cast (including a young Jeff Fahey) keeps things engaging. No, it was never going to be a patch on the original, but what is?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was genre-defining. It was a rough, ragged, but incredibly styled indie horror that tore up the rule book and laid foundations for an array of young horror filmmakers to shoot films for peanuts. They benefitted further from the VHS era, but those humble anti-establishment beginnings for a new wave of horror began with Tobe Hooper’s original. It might seem surprising then, that whilst Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street all came after (and had sequels sooner), a follow-up to Hooper’s classic took so long.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 came in 1986 and we have Cannon to thank. They’d already lured Hooper over to become with of their preeminent directors. Dennis Hopper was brought in to provide a star name to proceedings, and though there were elements of macabre comedy in the original, the tonal shift in this first sequel still came as a surprise to many. Critics hated it. Fans didn’t like it much better either until it grew in popularity for its gonzo elements more recently. None of the sequels were initially given much credence, but this second one is certainly underappreciated and too few have caught onto it yet.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Ah yes, the aforementioned and divisive sequel which veered wildly away from the franchise and did away with Michael Myers entirely. Season of the Witch, like the second, didn’t have Carpenter at the helm but still had his DNA on it, not least because he contributes to the score. Oddly this film feels more like a companion piece to They Live than Halloween with a doctor (Tom Atkins) and the daughter of his old buddy uncovering a plot by a mask manufacturer to brainwash the nation into committing violent acts.
It’s easy to see why this pissed off fans, but at the same time, scratch off the Halloween title, and this certainly stands on its own two feet. Though the film ventures into an oddly icky love side plot between Atkins and the much younger Stacey Nelkin, it’s an enjoyably Twilight Zone-esque feature that culminates in a memorable finale. The Carpenter score and Dean Cundey cinematography certainly add to the production value and Atkins is always good.
Cube 2: Hypercube
Cube was a barnstorming indie sci-fi that came out of the blue and quickly became a cult favourite. It spawned two sequels and more recently a Japanese reboot. The first sequel certainly didn’t impact the genre as much as its original, but it proved popular. This is one of those examples of a sequel that heavily retreads the beats of the first, largely opting to up the scale and the ante a bit.
Hypercube might not manage to enthrall like the original, and though it seeks to elaborate on some of the teasing enigmas of the first, this still retains enough mystery (whereas Cube Zero, which followed, though enjoyable, probably had too many mysteries unearthed). We’re largely here for the horror and the slowly dwindling participants being offed by booby traps, trying to figure out how to escape. It feels clearer and brighter than the first, so it at least has some visual variation, and Kari Matchett is very good.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Wes Craven’s first stab at meta-horror saw him revisit his most famous creation, bring his entire legacy into the real world, and cast his original Nancy, Heather Langenkamp, as herself. A maniacal demon takes on the form of Kruger to torment Nancy. Along the way, she interacts with Craven (as himself) and Robert Englund (Freddy’s eponymous actor as himself).
As well as being a good dissection of horror fandom and his own place within pop culture, Craven never forgets that at the core this still needs to be a horror film. Langenkamp comes with a maturity brought on by time and experience and adds interesting layers as the protagonist, particularly in comparison to her very youthful turn in the original. She’s superb, but for whatever reason New Nightmare didn’t quite pull in the audience it deserved.
Despite good reviews, this one just seemed to get forgotten too quickly, largely because two years later Craven pastiched the slasher genre with Scream which would end up galvanizing an entire sub-genre. For a year, Scream was the talk of the town and the hip horror of the era. Even now, too few people seem to appreciate just how good New Nightmare was/is. That is a shame. Additionally, Englund’s performance as a more demonic Kruger is as chilling as he’s ever been in the role, largely scraping out all the comedy (which, though mild, still permeated the original at times).
David Fincher’s feature debut does legacy smashing in a way that seems to be in vogue now. He starts the film by unceremoniously binning Hicks and Newt, who survived James Cameron’s epically grandiose sci-fi actioner Aliens. If that film was near genre perfection, Alien 3 is a film marred by a clash between dollar-counting producers and an upstart direct not quite able to control a potentially damaging need to be noticed immediately. His vision, the best and worst of it, was certainly tempered by the theatrical cut. That said, whilst some fans piss steam at the very thought of Alien 3, others can see glimpses into the future brilliance of Fincher, and others appreciate a diversion back to more straight horror orientation.
Once you get over the rug-pulling opening and we’re reintroduced to Ripley (who bless her, just can’t seem to shake these Xenomorph encounters) the film has a nice atmosphere-building opening and a solid cast of British actors. That said, Charles Dance is a great presence in this and he dies a little too early. The reintroduction of Lance Henriksen feels a little fridge nukey, and it never quite nails the finale, but…but…there’s still enough to love about this, and on a technical level, it’s brilliantly made.
The Exorcist III
The original film, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel, quickly became a part of cinema history. Genuinely unsettling and unlike anything previously seen in cinemas, surviving a screening of the frightening film became a challenge many audiences were willing to take, often by curiosity as much as anything. Urban legend grew very quickly after release with stories of people dying of heart attacks during screenings, or stories of a cursed production. Still, William Friedkin created a masterpiece…Then came the sequel The Heretic, still considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made. It was most certainly misguided, but not quite that bad.
The Exorcist III fared better with fans and critics, though still divisive. Blatty came on board to not only write but direct too. The key ingredient that is added back into this film, lacking from the unintentionally laughable previous, is the atmosphere and scares. I recall seeing the trailer on VHS, a preview before the main event (I can’t even remember which film the trailer preceded). Even the trailer gave me the creeps. The Exorcist III is certainly still flawed and is still more overblown than it probably needs to be, but it’s enjoyably grandiose with some nerve-jangling moments. The cast is great, with Jason Miller returning, and George C. Scott and Brad Dourif also providing great performances. It isn’t as interesting a treatise on religion, and good versus evil as the original, but it’s laden with tension, holy shit moments and enough creepiness to have you watching from behind the sofa.
Freddy vs Jason
Two icons unite. There were two schools of thinking. That it’s either better than it had a right to be, or it’s not nearly as good as it could have been. Likewise, a leaning into comedy, particularly as you’d expect from Kruger’s side of things, was a bit too much for some. It was a hit and it was supposed to trigger a wave of additional versus movies. Freddy vs Jason vs Ash. Occasionally Pinhead and Myers were put in the lineup, at least by fans hoping for more matchups. Could this have been taken more seriously? I don’t think so. It’s an inherently silly idea. They don’t get too smug about it, or venture too far into spoof and lose sincerity, but it’s definitely played as more fun than scary.
The combination of two horror icons together only emphasizes that Jason was just never as interesting as Freddy. He’s the big, masked, silent brute, but Myers had that down, with a bit more intrigue and enigma. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed Jason’s sillier fare as aforementioned. Englund revels in this final fling as Kruger. He steals the film. The mortal cast of attractive young people? Well, they’re pretty disposable and forgettable, although Monica Keena, a potential scream Queen back around that era, is decent. It’s stylish, thanks to Ronny Yu’s direction and it’s a lot of fun. It feels like this one should be held in higher regard with fans, though I’m not sure Jason’s fans were ever too enamored with it.
What’s your favourite underrated horror sequel? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award-winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out around the world, including When Darkness Falls, Renegades (Lee Majors and Danny Trejo) and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan), with more coming soon including Cinderella’s Revenge (Natasha Henstridge) and The Baby in the Basket (Maryam d’Abo and Paul Barber). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.