Kill Me Two Times: 6 Horror Movie Sequels Worthy of the Originals
I blame Star Wars. There were sequels before George Lucas‘s original trilogy, but around the time that The Empire Strikes Back became a box-office phenomenon, it seemed not only wise but borderline necessary to extend and replicate original concepts, and recycle the motions of distinct characters to the point that the very sight of them gives you a cluster headache. It’s to the point now where it’s hard to even watch Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, or Rambo: First Blood, all of which are propulsive, involving, and tightly directed works; the less said about where this finally led Indiana Jones, the better.
Horror movie sequels, however, are a beast of another breed. Even the most unoriginal, inexplicable cult item that comes through the pipeline can produce an often ridiculous amount of spin-offs — how else would one explain why there are three fucking Hatchet movies, and that a fourth Sharknado is being worked on? A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th popularized this cynical sort of repetition, and, for the most part, none of them have added anything particularly meaningful or exciting to the original premise, let alone expand the already paper-thin thematic conception of the story. Hell, most of them don’t even get much more creative with anything beyond the set-pieces and deaths. With that said, one cannot then simply presume that all sequels are rotten eggs, as history has inarguably proven otherwise.
When the fog of brazen capitalistic laziness and manipulation clears, there have been more than a handful of horror sequels that have genuinely reconsidered and developed the ideas of their original creations, either in terms of style or narrative trajectory. Those films deserve their due for proving a concept that was initially embodied in B-movie culture: imbuing a modestly budgeted (if not just outright cheap) genre concept with personality and technical innovation. So, with horror sequels on the brain following Sinister 2‘s release last weekend, I decided to take a look at some of the most remarkable horror follow-ups to have been released amidst a sea of cash-grabs, works of considerable, if often more grotesque than grandiose, artistic merit.
Rob Zombie's Halloween 2
By now, it’s become clear that Rob Zombie is one of the great horror auteurs of the aughts, having carved out a stylistic niche alongside younger heavyweights like Ti West, Adam Wingard, and Neil Marshall, who has bloomed as a TV director on Game of Thrones and Hannibal. Though Zombie’s style was first readily apparent in The Devil’s Rejects, it wasn’t until the delirious, demented psychological frenzy of Halloween 2 that his gruesome, expressive style hit a fever pitch. The peerless white visions of Mike Myers’ mother, next to a powerful mare, express a genuinely complex perspective of innocence that underlines Myers, which is undercut by the brutality of the deaths and the sheer forcefulness of the character’s attacks. Zombie has, of course, outdone himself since with the gloriously mad Lords of Salem, but Halloween 2 shows a distinct visual perspective in conveying the twisty psychological conflicts behind unbridled violence and the destruction of the body.
Dawn of the Dead
If there’s one director who never took the opportunities of a sequel for granted, its George Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead still stands as the standard-bearer of the horror aesthetic – cheap, brash, and thematically audacious. With Dawn of the Dead, however, he made a satirical masterwork, a film that was as much about the ugliness of decomposition and cannibalism as it was about the shallowness of consumerism and capitalism. Night of the Living Dead was about the end of the living both figuratively and literally, whereas Dawn of the Dead is about a world overrun by the undead, mobile humans who can barely use their brains but are driven to destroy and feast on the more active ones. Of course, Romero would expand his concept even more in Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, and Diary of the Dead, but none of the scripts for those films balanced their humor and horror with the still-remarkable grace of Dawn of the Dead, perhaps the most prescient view of America on the brink of the Reagan 80s.
Following the deeply unnerving finale of [rec], one of the few exceptions to the tried-and-true rule that found footage films suck, [rec] 2 picks up right where that film left off, with an all-important doctor and a SWAT team preparing to enter the zombie-ridden building. From the outset, the narratives are nearly identical, but where [rec] was a seething, often unbearably frightening horror-thriller, [rec] 2 is all muscle: a rollicking action film inflected with gore and gripping tension. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza trifurcate their perspectives through a variety of cameras and storylines, and yet the switching between devices never feels like a ploy to get through story. Instead, the filmmakers utilize these variations to give a greater, unrelenting range of scares, which are hardly diffused by the startling, genre-bending ending.
28 Weeks Later
As with Dawn of the Dead, this sequel to Danny Boyle’s thrilling 28 Days Later expands the scope and the philosophical concerns of the original. If Boyle’s film was about survival amongst the tattered remnants of our society, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s sequel envisions the foolishness inherent in trying to rebuild and regain control of society after such an outbreak. Where the original was anchored by a band of survivors, the second film is seen largely through the eyes of two children, amplifying the unsteadiness of the new world through their still-forming understanding of the plague that is suddenly reignited. And though Boyle’s film made clear the insidious nature of power and misogynistic might, Fresnadillo stresses the cold horror of bureaucratic panic, and the plague of violence and death that obsession with control can unleash.
The Purge: Anarchy
Not only is The Purge: Anarchy a better storyline than its middling predecessor, it’s a better film on every level. Let’s begin with the one and only Frank Grillo, tough-guy extraordinaire, whose steely delivery and demeanor carries this horror-thriller where Ethan Hawke’s mild-mannered family man hindered the overall payoff and tone of the first film. As amoral as it played, The Purge was obsessed with morals, pounding on the pressure points of white society without a hint of satirical playfulness or sense of the anarchic world. As much as it might have criticized the glossiness of white suburbia, it also couldn’t break out of that same gloss in its aesthetic, whereas Anarchy is a full-out assault, a lesser but worthy offspring of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, with a far more developed sense of racial inequalities. Indeed, The Purge: Anarchy showed a world at war over the state of a society that has accepted killing, where The Purge simply wallowed in its own giddy cynicism, self-satisfied in its unconvincing self-importance.
Evil Dead 2
Great horror can come from several different stylistic and thematic backgrounds, but madness is always a good starting point. That’s where we began in The Evil Dead and by the time Raimi unleashed Evil Dead 2, the entire storyline of Bruce Campbell’s Ash and the Necronomocon entered into a fever-dream type state. For some 90 minutes or so, Raimi deploys an all-out assault on normalcy and sobriety, as Ash, his trusty boomstick, and, eventually, his chainsaw arm face-off against all sorts of demonic nonsense. Campbell should have become a leading man off of his work here alone, and Army of Darkness should have sealed the deal, but the real revelation here was the accelerated energy of Raimi’s filmmaking and the constant sense of innovation in the delirious narrative and production design. The result is a film that not only matches the lunatic timbre of its predecessor, but also expatiates the comic grotesqueries that the filmmakers only began to toy with in The Evil Dead.