While many of the greatest horror films have been stand-alone stories, there are certain subgenres of horror that are practically defined by the notion of continuation and expansion. Why show a glimpse of the start of a zombie apocalypse and not return to see how that situation escalates elsewhere in the world? What is the slasher genre without the prospect of the boogeyman returning to stalk and slay a new set of victims?
Horror sequels have been part of the movie business since the days of Universal’s 1930s monster cycle. In fact, the first sequel ever to have a numeral in its title was a horror movie – the early Hammer horror Quatermass II (1957). Since then – though sequels are often seen as crude attempts to cash in on the success of the original – there have been many strong horror sequels, including several notable examples that are even better the original.
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Fans of the 2018 sleeper hit horror A Quiet Place are hoping that A Quiet Place Part II is one of them. Once again written and directed by John Krasinski, it’s likewise set in a post-apocalyptic world where most of mankind has been wiped out by vicious monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing. Krasinski’s new film deepens the world-building of this nightmare scenario, while broadening the scope as the surviving leads of the first part search for new refuge.
To mark the release of one of the big studio films of the early summer, here are 10 of the best first horror sequels – either the first of several sequel films in a series or the sole follow-up to date. Be warned that the descriptions contain spoilers for many of the original films.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Director: James Whale
Sequel to: Frankenstein (1931)
The horror genre’s first truly great film sequel is also, arguably, the first great sequel in American cinema, period. Director James Whale and stars Boris Karloff and Colin Clive return for the follow-up, which improves on everything that made its predecessor so remarkable, while incorporating a narrative approach akin to throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.
The fantastical imagery and atmosphere are first-rate, with special effects that still impress. The element of macabre comedy is upped significantly, as is the tragedy quotient. The richness in the growth of Karloff’s performance as the misunderstood, increasingly intelligent monster makes it all the more sad when his hopes and dreams of a life without loneliness are scuppered by the eventual creation of a female companion (Elsa Lanchester). She’s as undead and patchwork as he is, but prone to recoiling at the sight of him.
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Director: Terence Fisher
Sequel to: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Evidently there’s something about the Frankenstein story that makes for great sequels. Until Kenneth Branagh’s still loosely adapted take in the 1990s, no cinema version was especially faithful to Mary Shelley’s source material, but that’s more than forgivable when the stories it inspired are so entertaining in their own right.
The early Quatermass films, The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula (1958) may have been the real start of the Hammer horror brand, but The Revenge of Frankenstein feels like the true trendsetter for the studio’s boundary-pushing in terms of on-screen obscenity, gallows humour and just the right amount of deranged plotting. Having escaped execution, Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), three years on, has fled to another country under an alias, becoming a successful physician while continuing his experiments on the side. Matters of transhumanism and retained identity provide the thematic meat this time, as ‘Doctor Stein’ transplants his living servant’s brain into a so-called perfect body.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Director: George A. Romero
Sequel to: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Considering its legacy as even more of a zombie genre template-setter than Night of the Living Dead, something particularly striking about George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead now are the various peculiarities about it. There are its boldly eccentric shifts in tone, especially the very last scene. And there are the continuing debates about which released cut of the film – there are several, thanks to different rights-holder deals made in pre-production – is actually the definitive version. There aren’t that many canonical horror classics with quite so messy a production history.
Even more arresting is how socio-politically relevant the film still feels today. Yes, there’s the mindless-consumer metaphor, but the movie’s opening half hour also features an extended set-piece concerning racially targeted police brutality, while another key scene involves three men planning what should be done about their companion’s early-stage pregnancy, all without her input. A full decade had passed since Romero’s original zombie movie, but Dawn of the Dead was the film that let the genie out of the bottle for good, and a huge number of further sequels, remakes and parodies have followed in its wake.
Director: James Cameron
Sequel to: Alien (1979)
One of the definitive examples of a sequel massively expanding the scope and scale of the original film, Aliens brings the modes of action cinema, and more specifically war movies, into the horror and sci-fi fusion that Ridley Scott previously established. But for all the praise the film’s large-scale spectacle and design have received, many of the most intelligent filmmaking instincts in James Cameron’s sharply written blockbuster concern moments of relative silence.
James Horner’s magnificent original score still gets plenty of airtime to shine, but Cameron and company’s pressure-cooker tension – a steady slow-burn for the whole first hour – works so well in relying on diegetic (ie from an on-screen source) sound alone for so many of the big reveals and scares. For those moments, in space, all you can hear is screams.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Director: Sam Raimi
Sequel to: The Evil Dead (1981)
Part-remake, part-parody of the first film, the opening stretch of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II makes its mission statement clear. Raimi beefs up everything people loved about the micro-budget original, while making it unnecessary for newcomers to have even seen the predecessor for context. In a sense, it’s like The Road Warrior (1981) to the first film’s Mad Max (1979).
Raimi’s direction is even more inventive and the pacing relentless. Bruce Campbell’s Ash, now a wise-cracking, gradual (attempted) badass, is even more hard done by, courtesy of the flesh-possessing, soul-swallowing spirits haunting the cabin in the woods he’s stopped by with his short-lived girlfriend. The gore and practical effects are even more plentiful and elaborate. And the undercurrent of comedy from the original, which was far more concerned with genuinely horrifying its viewers, is much more to the fore. Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992) aside, this is likely the bloodiest slapstick ever captured on film.
Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
Director: Deborah Brock
Sequel to: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Although produced by Roger Corman with certain quota requirements regarding gore and female nudity, aimed at a straight teenage male demographic, the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy was notably one of the first horror series in which women wrote and directed every instalment. The first two of these slasher films about a drill-wielding psycho are fairly distinct in how much they humanise their mostly female cast in ways other franchises didn’t. Although they may fit into stereotypes, the women still feel like real people with believable friendships.
With writer-director Deborah Brock given free rein, Slumber Party Massacre II is one of the most fascinating slasher sequels around. The impetus almost seems to have been: what if this was actually a Nightmare on Elm Street movie where Freddy Krueger was a salacious rockabilly figure with a drill/guitar hybrid? And what if the film was frequently an outright rock musical? Somehow, this pastel-decorated fever-dream works.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Director: Joe Dante
Sequel to: Gremlins (1984)
The story goes that after the incredible financial success of horror-comedy Gremlins, Warner Bros wanted a sequel from director Joe Dante right away. He declined. The studio’s sequel development continued for years to no avail, but Dante was eventually persuaded to make the film, which had triple the budget of its predecessor, on one promise: he would have creative carte blanche.
Warners may later have regretted that deal after Gremlins 2 significantly underperformed at the box office. But we were all better off in the end, as what Dante came up with is an anarchic comic masterpiece. It may be far lighter on scares than the original, but it demonstrates the satirical versatility of its titular species, using them to take a swipe at consumerism, cable television, the rise of billionaires as celebrity brands, New Yorkers, the very studio backing the film, the original movie’s script, and the notion of sequels in the first place.
Scream 2 (1997)
Director: Wes Craven
Sequel to: Scream (1996)
“The horror genre was destroyed by sequels,” posits Randy (Jamie Kennedy), the savvy but often insufferable cinephile survivor from the first Scream, towards the start of this, the first of many sequels to come in the self-reflexive, whodunnit-focused slasher series.
Released just under a full year after the first film became a phenomenon, Scream 2 is similar to the original in terms of quality and tone, despite such a quick turnaround. And the rushed nature of its production is winked at by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson within the plot itself. Set barely two years after its predecessor, Scream 2 sees the events of Scream already having been turned into a Hollywood movie, Stab, a sneak preview of which is ground zero for a spree of copycat killings. Many horror sequels end up replicating the events of the original, but few have as much fun with that idea as the glimpses of Stab allow here.
Memento Mori (1999)
Directors: Kim Tae-yong and Min Kyu-dong
Sequel to: Whispering Corridors (1998)
Credited with aiding the explosion of South Korean genre cinema at the dawn of the new millennium, the Whispering Corridors series has reached six instalments at the time of writing. Each film is stand-alone in terms of narrative, characters and named settings, but they’re all united by supernatural story elements, the backdrop of an all-girls high school and the tackling of taboo topics.
In the series starter Whispering Corridors, issues of authoritarianism and conformity in the South Korean education system were key subjects. Some of this material carries over to the first sequel, but the domestic controversy over Memento Mori at the time was instead largely concerned with how it explored gay relationships and teen suicide. It was one of the first mainstream Korean movies to depict lesbian characters. Told in a non-linear fashion, the melancholic and tender film sees a young romance crushed by repressive social systems, leading to the death of one party, who then haunts her school.
Doctor Sleep (2019)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Sequel to: The Shining (1980)
In adapting Stephen King’s 2013 sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining, which follows the now-adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) suppressing his trauma and psychic abilities, writer-director Mike Flanagan had the unenviable task of trying to serve two masters. King famously hated Stanley Kubrick’s take on The Shining, which, among other fiercely contested changes, killed off supporting character Dick Hallorann and kept the haunted Overlook Hotel standing. But given the status of Kubrick’s film in pop culture, you couldn’t make Doctor Sleep for the big screen without explicitly connecting the two movies.
That Flanagan’s film is at all coherent, let alone a largely satisfying fusion of the novel and previous film’s clashing continuities, is almost a miracle, especially as Doctor Sleep is an altogether different type of horror story. Spanning decades and tracking disparate players across North America, including a group of quasi-immortal psychics who feed off others with ‘shine’ abilities, the film is closer to comic-book fantasy than scary movie. Not every call-back succeeds, but this soulful, sensitive and visually innovative rumination on death and the multi-generational effects of addiction and violence has real power.