Unlike all the other sequels on this list, which critically acclaimed or not are still overshadowed by their predecessor, Evil Dead 2 is infinitely more famous than the original, with many fans not only ignoring but often forgetting the very existence of the (still good) Evil Dead 1. Part of that is due to Sam Raimi's decision to remake the original film with a smaller cast in the first 15 minutes of Evil Dead 2, allowing the film to stand on its own but also open more breathlessly than practically any other film ever made. The special effects may creak a bit (they did when it was first released, too), but the dizzying camera work and whipcrack editing combine to form the largest collection of genuine popcorn-spilling, scream-inducing scares in film history. It used to be called a "cult classic," but that cult has grown so large in number that it's time to officially call Evil Dead 2 what it really is: an actual classic, one of the best horror films ever made, and in its own way one of the best films of any genre.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that The Exorcist II: The Heretic is one of the worst horror movies ever made. It is somewhat less acknowledged that The Exorcist III is actually one of the very best. William Peter Blatty, who wrote the novel the original film was based on, wrote and directed this sequel, which is only tangentially related to the other films in the franchise. But that's good, because it frees Blatty to explore new avenues of horror as a demonic presence tears its way through a hospital, with only an aging detective played by the great George C. Scott to defend the already sick and dying. With some of the scariest shots in horror history, and some of the most disturbing kills (like the victim whose blood was drained completely into dozens of little cups, without spilling a single drop), there are some who think The Exorcist III is actually scarier than the original. They may be right.
Wes Craven returned to the franchise he created for its seventh (!) sequel, and one of the finest metatextual horror films ever made (at least until he made Scream two years later). By directly examining the power of horror sequels to diminish the original story's ability to frighten audiences, Craven briefly revitalized his greatest creation, Freddy Krueger, but his greatest accomplishment was taking a franchise geared towards teenagers and forcing it to grow up... and still be scary. By taking Nancy Thompson, aka Heather Langenkamp, and placing her in the role of the willfully ignorant mother she was forced to rebel against in the first film, Craven brings his story full circle and forces us to rethink the original movie from the parents' perspective, and realize that it's almost freakier the other way around.
Despite its outrageous success and the presence of Kevin Bacon, the first Friday the 13th is actually spectacularly badly made, so calling calling Steve Miner's sequel "Better Than the Original!" could be damning it with faint praise. Fortunately, it's also "One of the Best Slashers of the 1980's," cleverly turning the events of the original summer camp massacre into a campfire story for new characters and new audiences, thus deftly glossing over the first film's flaws. Part 2 also deserves praise for introducing the world to the scariest Jason Voorhees to date, but also making him sympathetic at the same time, making this sequel even more historically important that the original too. The strangest thing is that Miner gave us "The Best Friday the 13th of All Time!" and then proceeded to give us the absolute worst in Friday the 13th Part 3-D, first raising and then immediately lowering the bar for every subsequent film in the franchise.
As exceptional as James Whale's original Frankenstein was, it was pretty unambitious compared to his surreal and comic sequel (which he famously preferred). Though not particularly scary by anyone's standards today, Whale nevertheless brought artistic legitimacy to horror for the first time (outside of Eastern Europe, at least) by loading his film with subversive religious imagery like the iconic crucifixion of one of history's most famous monsters, bizarre asides like the bottled experiments of Dr. Pretorius, and of course the fact that this Production Code-Certified film is, at its heart, entirely about necrophilia.
Dario Argento's Suspiria holds a rightful place near the top of every "Scariest Films of All Time" list, but its less-popular sequel Inferno may be even more groundbreaking, more disturbing, and yes, maybe even scarier. With an innovative stream-of-consciousness series of protagonists keeping the audience off-guard (you never know who is supposed to save the day, if anyone) and chillingly dreamlike death scenes (a crippled man goes to Central Park to drown a bag of cats, and you won't believe what happens next), Inferno deserves a higher place in Argento's already impressive list of horror classics.
What a difference a location makes! George Romero's sequel to the original Night of the Living Dead was, on paper, deceptively simple: just move the first film to a shopping mall. Luckily, Romero took the concept and ran with it, creating one of the first universally-recognized-as-socially-relevant horror films, at once lampooning and condemning modern consumer culture (why else would all the brainless zombies gravitate to the mall?). With its groundbreaking special effects (for the time, but they mostly hold up today) and iconic storyline, Dawn of the Dead was so good that even the completely unnecessary remake couldn't screw it up.
In the original Hitcher, poor schlub C. Thomas Howell found himself the victim of Rutger Hauer, possibly the most evil and invincible villain this side of the devil himself. In this criminally underseen straight-to-video sequel, Howell returns to protect his girlfriend (Kari Wuhrer) from a new unnaturally talented mass murderer, this time played by Jake Busey. It may have unexpected plot twists and an impressively over-the-top climax, but the film gets genuinely creepy when it implies that Busey and Hauer may be connected, or even somehow the same person, crafting an untold story that may be more unsettling than anything else on this list.
Most of the sequels on this list try to differentiate themselves from their original films, but not Final Destination 2. The original Final Destination took a clever concept - a group of people narrowly escape certain death, only for Death itself to target them one by one - and crafted a rare kind of slasher based entirely around supernatural suspense set pieces, and Final Destination 2 simply upped the ante in every possible way. From the brilliantly devised opening freeway cataclysm to the worst trip to the dentist's office ever, first time director David Ellis (who would go on to direct the under-rated Snakes on a Plane and Cellular) filled Final Destination 2 with more shocks and awe than any repetitive sequel deserves, and the results are killer.
It may play fast and loose with the finale of the first Re-Animator (somehow even the severed head survived), but the follow-up to Stuart Gordon's original classic, now directed by producer Brian Yuzna, is an entertaining film in its own right, actually hewing even closer to H.P. Lovecraft's original story. The effects are somehow even cheaper, but Jeffrey Coombs' iconic portrayal of Herbert West is the real draw here as his relationship with Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) evolves from professional manipulation to a genuine, albeit homicidally misguided, attempt at male bonding.
If the most powerful fear is the fear of the unknown, how do you keep a franchise scary after nine sequels have made your villain the most familiar slasher in horror history? The answer: You don't, as the makers of Jason X mercifully realized when they merged their horror franchise with science fiction, action and comedy to create this under-rated and subversive gem. It may not keep you awake at night, but there are enough clever kills, "BOO" scares and throwbacks to the rest of the franchise ("Hey Jason? Do you want a beer? Or do you want to smoke some pot? Or can we have premarital sex? We LOVE premarital sex!") to satisfy every breed of horror fan, from A to X.
The only film to make this list almost exclusively based on context, Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge is mostly remarkable for being the only "good" Puppet Master movie (the rest are simply awful, although surreal touches like little boys stripping their G.I. Joes naked and whipping them in the forest makes Puppet Master 2 quite an experience in its own right). After two attempts to force killer puppets into a haunted house setting, the folks at Full Moon finally turned the actual stars of this franchise - the puppets - into the protagonists, avenging their wronged creator by killing N***s in World War II. Puppets + Killing N***s + World War II = Quality Entertainment.
Rob Zombie's first film, House of 1,000 Corpses, probably suffered from TOO much post-production while he struggled to find a distributor. The result turned a film with a simple concept - teenagers run afoul of the crazed owners of a Roadside Attraction - into a borderline unwatchable nightmare of stylistic flourishes. The Devil's Rejects, on the other hand, was an exciting getaway picture, cleverly focusing on the serial killers from the first film as they attempt to evade capture from a lawman who makes the mistake of looking so deeply into the abyss that he didn't notice that anyone was looking back. It's still overwrought (and making the audience sit through ALL of Freebird is the height of hubris), but if it weren't for every other movie he ever made The Devil's Rejects would probably make Rob Zombie seem like a misunderstood genius.
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