It’s Halloween, which can only mean one thing: it’s horror film day! You can expect the internet to be awash with lists of the top ten horror films of all time, the best serial killers of the 20th Century, The Guardian‘s top twelve silent Sudanese horror comedies from pre-1937, and so on and so forth.
To counteract this somewhat, I thought I’d jump to the defence of a brand of cinema that is often overlooked and unfairly panned: the horror sequel. There are a whole host of forgotten gems out there that are actually pretty good, from Damien: Omen II to Hellbound: Hellraiser II, from A Nightmare on Elm Street Part III to Friday the 13th Part VI and – most recently – Curse of Chucky, which is a particularly strong film considering its the fifth sequel to Child’s Play. So, rather than spending your day watching Psycho, The Exorcist or Halloween for the umpteenth time, why not give some of these great sequels a go instead? You never know, you might be pleasantly surprised and suitably terrified…
Picture the scene; it’s 1982 and you’re in a room with a bunch of movie executives on the hunt for the next big idea. Someone raises their hand and suggests a sequel to Psycho. Uproarious laughter ensues and said person is immediately escorted to the nearest psychiatric ward.
Fast forward twelve months; Psycho II is now on the big screen and the critical reception is… well, it’s surprisingly good actually! Alright, so the film is nowhere near as sensational as the Hitchcock classic but it manages to combine the sensibilities of the eighties slasher with a continuation of the original story in a manner that feels fresh, looks great and is wonderfully entertaining. It messes with the audience’s expectations, toys with our preconceived ideas about Norman Bates and gives the wonderful Anthony Perkins a dark yet humorous new script to sink his teeth into. It’s not perfect but, as a sequel to one of the greatest slasher films of all time, it’s pretty damn good.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II
Tobe Hooper has always said that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was meant to be a dark comedy. Alas, on its release, nobody viewed it that way because the film was so unbearably horrifying. The film’s social and political commentary on life in the Deep South of America was lost amidst the terror and the brutality of the actual story. In effect, one of the greatest horror films of all time pretty much came about accidentally…
Enter The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, set twelve years after the first film, in which Tobe Hooper abandons much (but not all) of the horror in favour of the rough, black comedy he’d always intended on making. The result is a barmy film in which Leatherface falls in love, in which Father Cook uses the insides of his victims to make the tastiest chili in all of Texas and Oklahoma, and in which Dennis Hopper arms himself with two chainsaws and decides to go all Rambo on Leatherface and his family… surely that’s all the convincing you need to go and watch it right away!?
Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers
Well come on, it wouldn’t be Halloween without a Halloween film! Of course, the original is the best slasher film of all time – bar none – but I do still have a bit of a soft spot for Halloween IV, though it might be because it’s the first Halloween film I actually watched…
Unlike its predecessor, in which the whole “Michael Myers kills teenagers” thing was completely abandoned, Halloween IV attempts to return the series to its roots and despite its obvious flaws – of which there are many – it manages to do a reasonable job of doing so. It’s a very standard film in the sense that it doesn’t offer anything new but thanks to its focus on action over horror, a performance from Donald Pleasence that is gloriously heavy-handed and a genuinely disturbing conclusion, Halloween IV is a slasher sequel that deserves a lot more love and attention than it gets.
The Exorcist III
Following the abomination that was Exorcist II: The Heretic – a film so utterly ghastly that even Richard Burton’s scenery-munching turn as Father Lamont wasn’t enough to salvage it – it’s a minor miracle that The Exorcist III was ever actually commissioned, yet thank Pazuzu it was because it’s a fantastic bit of horror/thriller cinema.
Directed and written by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist III sees George C. Scott takes over the role of Detective Kinderman (played by Lee Cobb in the original film), as he attempts to solve the mysterious reappearance of a vicious serial killer known as “The Gemini”. Unlike its predecessor The Exorcist III doesn’t try to emulate or better The Exorcist, rather it takes the series down a brand new path and, in turn, manages to undo much of the damage inflicted on it by John Boorman. The resulting film is a dark, atmospheric and genuinely creepy journey into the heart and mind of a psychopath, and a film to which a lot of nineties thrillers owe a rather large debt.
Unpopular opinion alert: the director’s cut of Alien 3 is a much better film than the director’s cut of Aliens, which is over-indulgent, self-satisfied and plodding. Here’s why:
Alien 3 goes back to what made the original film so terrifying. It pits one alien against one woman and an expendable crew in a claustrophobic environment, it explores deep issues of sex and gender within the confines of a male-dominated profession and it abandons the hi-tech weaponry and war-centric mentality of Cameron’s admittedly-thrilling film. Fincher’s cut of Alien 3 is a dark, pessimistic affair in which horror reigns supreme and in which Scott’s initial vision of where the series could go is at least partly-realised. Again, it might not be perfect but for me this is the true sequel to Alien.