It’s tough to deliver on the promise of scaring audiences in a horror film – and generally, even harder to do so while repeating the same gimmick in a sequel. This weekend, however, director James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 managed to defy the odds and creep out audiences once again, scaring up a whole lot of money in its opening frame at the box office.
It was no fluke, either. Wan’s horror sequel, which finds Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) battling pesky poltergeists with a throwback flair, beat out some tough competition, including fantasy Warcraft and last weekend’s champ, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows.
The Conjuring 2 was one of those rare follow-ups that matched the inventiveness of the original and adequately continued its horror premise without resorting to exploitative shocks — a big statement for a genre in which cheaply made originals make mega money and cause studios to come knocking and demand immediate (and thus inferior) sequels.
It’s just easy to make a shoddy variation of what once worked, yet some horror continuations do match or even exceed the originals. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Final Destination 2, Paranormal Activity 3, Bride of Frankenstein (if you want to go old school), or Part III and The Final Chapter in the seemingly endless Friday the 13th series all come to mind. You can add The Conjuring 2 to the list, but here are the five best horror sequels that stand out.
5. The Exorcist III
Director William Friedkin’s original 1973 classic The Exorcist elevated horror into something more direct but cerebral, and its rousing success suddenly made horror a legitimate genre. Unfortunately, the first sequel (which wasn’t directed by Friedkin) was a blatant cash grab, but the third film, which followed over a decade later, all but made up for the sub-par follow-up by going even weirder.
More of a supernatural police procedural thriller than straight up horror film, The Exorcist III was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, whose source material was adapted into the original movie. This time around, the focus was on the original movie’s Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, who investigates a series of satanic killings from someone who calls himself the Gemini Killer (a not-so-sly reference to the real-life Zodiac killer); the name comes from his tendency to mark his victims with occult symbols. It was Blatty’s second time behind the camera, but he hasn’t returned to the director’s chair since.
4. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
Director Sam Raimi effectively invented an entire sub-genre with Dead by Dawn. Not so much a continuation but a reimagining of The Evil Dead, Raimi basically just rehashed the teenagers-alone-in-a-cabin story he and actor Bruce Campbell cooked up for the first movie, and added a whole lot of inventive camerawork and slapstick humor to the buckets of blood. Both remain low-budget horror classics, but the current idea of Campbell’s iconic deadite-fighting everyman, Ash, was born in the gloriously batshit crazy sequel. What other movie starts off with the hero slicing his possessed girlfriend’s head off and then doing the same with his own hand before mowing down a bevy of reanimated corpses? It’s not just awesome, it’s groovy.
3. Halloween II
John Carpenter’s Halloween is a horror supernova. There’s before Halloween and theres after Halloween, so trying to continue the story of Michael Myers was going to be a tough road for anyone. Though we have a soft spot for the Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch, director Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II from 1981 just managed to match the ingenuity of the original without Carpenter as the main creative force (though he did direct a few scenes after the studio complained Rosenthal’s cut wasn’t scary enough). By upping the blood but going with a more minimalist approach by setting nearly the entire movie in a hospital, Myers as the boogeyman took on a whole new level of terror. Audiences had no idea where he could be lurking at the edges of the movie’s widescreen frame in a whole new way. While the movie is essentially the same plot of the first movie all over again, with Myers terrorizing the hospital patients to try and find injured babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) while Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Sam Loomis character tries to stop him, it’s still a spooky sequel delight.
2. The Silence of the Lambs
So far the only horror movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars (and only the third film in Academy-Award history to sweep the Oscars in every major category), Jonathan Demme’s 1991 adaptation of author Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs technically isn’t a sequel within its own cinematic world. Anthony Hopkins’s turn as the infamous cannibal Hannibal Lector is, however, the second time he appeared on the big-screen after director Michael Mann adapted Harris’s first Lector novel Red Dragon into the 1986 film Manhunter (where the infamous cannibal’s surname was conspicuously spelled Lecktor”). While Mann’s overly stylized and egregiously ‘80s take on Lector was memorable, the character was ultimately defined by Hopkins’s creepy performance in Silence of the Lambs, which was also lucky enough to star Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling and Ted Levine as human-suit killer Buffalo Bill. It is probably the best serial killer movie ever made, and it’s best enjoyed with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
1. Dawn of the Dead
You have George Romero to indirectly thank for all this Walking Dead zombie business, as the highly-rated horror show wouldn’t exist if Romero hadn’t thrown together the low-budget cult classic Night of the Living Dead in 1968. But it was its 1978 sequel, Dawn of the Dead that truly defined the zombie genre of slowly moving undead flesh eaters that will rip your guts out all because they need lunch. It also added a level of intellectualism to what many saw as nothing more than a gore-fest as the shopping mall-set Dawn was also a scathing allegory of mindless 1970s consumerism. Still the greatest zombie movie ever made, Dawn of the Dead is the kind of sequel that puts the original movie to shame.