Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Weekly Top Ten: The Best Horror Sequels

This past weekend, I watched two horror sequels – Halloween II and Final Destination 4. Neither film really measured up to the original, although I did quite like Zombie’s sequel. But it got me thinking about horror movie sequels that have worked in the past. Five films on this list are actually even better than the original in the series (they would be 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6). The other five, while not as what came before, were still excellent. Anyway, these are the ten best.

10. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (Wes Craven, 1994)
I am not really sure if Wes Craven’s New Nightmare really qualifies as a sequel per se, but it certainly is a wonderful horror movie, that would not be possible if not for the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The film takes place in the “real world”, where the Nightmare on Elm Street movie series has made the fictional Freddy Kruger into a horror movie icon. Heather Langenkamp, who starred in the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie as Nancy (the survivor girl”) here, plays herself – now happily married with a son. But her dreams start haunting her, as Freddy Kruger seems to have invaded them. With strange things happening – he dreams seem to be coming to life – she goes to Wes Craven for help, who explains what he thinks is going on. Evil has taken the form of Freddy, and is coming after Heather, because as Nancy, she defeated Freddy. If Evil can now defeat Heather, he can gain access into the real world. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was Craven’s response to the series that he created a decade before, but lost control of in its sequels. Craven regarded most of the sequels to Nightmare as too overtly cartoonish and comical, and wanted to make something more intelligent and terrifying in this film. He succeeded. New Nightmare is a great little horror film, about the effect of horror movies, not just on the audience, but on those who create it.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Chuck Russell, 1987)
Out of all the official sequels to the original Nightmare on Elm Street, this one is the only one that truly lives up to the standard set up Craven (I am not included New Nightmare in this obviously). The third installment, Dream Warriors, is a truly terrifying little horror film. Completing ignoring the idiotic second film, the third installment finds Freddy back to his old tricks, trying to finish off the last remaining “Elm Street children” (the kids of the parents who initially killed Freddy). Most of the action takes place at a mental hospital, where original survivor girl Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) now works, and she sees the Elm Street children being admitted after suicide attempts or complaining of strange dreams. The film is much less comical then others in the series – making Freddy into a truly scary villain once again – and the death sequences in the movie (particularly a gruesome one where Freddy uses one of the kids as a puppet) are also well handled. Like many horror series, the Nightmare on Elm Street series devolved into a joke over time, but this one is no laughing matter. It is a wonderful horror movie in its own right.

8. 28 Weeks Later (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2007)
Danny Boyle’s original film, 28 Days Later, was a low budget zombie film, in which a zombie outbreak pretty much consumes England, with only a few survivors being able to fend off the “rage virus” which has consumed almost everyone else. In that film, in the tradition of the great George A. Romero, it was the humans left (particularly the army) that were the truly despicable ones. After all, the “zombies” do not know what they are doing, but the humans certainly do. Now, 28 Weeks after the outbreak, it has been contained, and they are ready to move people back into London – although the cities and countryside surrounding it still have not been cleared. The American army has now become an occupying force, until the British are ready to do security themselves (so yes, it is an Iraq war allegory). The film hinges on one family – whose cowardly father (Robert Carlyle) abandoned his wife to die, and told their two kids that she is dead. Not sure if they believe him, they sneak out of the city to try and find her. The film is just as scary as the original film, and also just as complex. I loved the performances by Carlyle along with Jeremy Renner and Rose Bryne as two American soldiers. The ending of the film is also perfect – the characters believe they have a happy ending, when in reality; they may have just doomed the world.

7. Scream 2 (Wes Craven, 1997)
For better or for worse, 1996’s Scream reenergized the horror movie genre. When that film became a success, this sequel was rushed into production. But the result feels anything but rushed. The original film was a funny deconstruction of the slasher genre and also a damn fine example of one at the same time. The sequel does the same thing for slasher sequels, again with a set of rules explained to the audience, as the killer starts chopping up bodies. The movie does not have quite the same impact as the original film does (after all, it does essentially recreate the successful formula of that movie), but it still a clever, funny, intelligent sequel. The Scream series produced a lot of copycats in the late 1990s, but only this sequel (and not the terrible Scream 3) truly lives up to the original film.

6. Blade II (Guillermo Del Toro, 2002)
I was not much of a fan of the original Blade movie, but when Guillermo Del Toro took the reins of the series with the second installment, he brought something wholly new and interesting to the movie. The plot line is much richer, and more complex, the second time around, making Blade into a fully formed character, not just some mindless hero like he was in the original. And the villains in this film – with their sloppy, almost vaginal like mouths – are truly creepy and terrifying. The action sequences in the movie are amazing as well, and Del Toro once again delivers his terrifying vision – much like he did in Cronos and Mimic before this film – of things that go bump in the night – things with sharp teeth that bite and do not let go. Blade II is superior to the original in every way.

5. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (Sam Raimi, 1987)
I have never met anyone who prefers the original Evil Dead movie to its sequel. While telling almost the exact same story as the first film, Evil Dead 2 is wildly inventive, funny and downright twisted. An evil spirit in the woods is attacking our hero Ash (Bruce Campbell, in one of the most memorable screen performances I can recall). Ash has to use a chainsaw to fight off the dead body of his girlfriend, who had to bury, but not before her head bites his hand. He then has to cut off his hand to stop the spirit from invading his entire body, and spends much of the rest of the film fighting his hand – now no longer attached to his body. The film is fun in the extreme, gory and bloody and full of inventive shots (the best being the shot from the spirits POV as it comes crashing through the forest after Ash). This is one of those few cult films actually deserving of its devotees (and in my mind is the best of the Evil Dead series, although I love Army of Darkness almost as much).

4. The Devils Rejects (Rob Zombie, 2005)
Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses was a fine horror film (and contained one of the most memorable dramatic pauses in cinema history), but it was essentially another knockoff of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – albeit one of the best ones ever. But with The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie got much more creative, and ended up making one of the best American horror films of the decade. The psychopathic Firefly family is now on the run after the Texas State Troopers invade their house. Only Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie) escape, and later meet up with Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig). The three of them torture and kill four of five members of a country band in a rundown hotel, leaving the fifth member alive (who is then killed, in one of the movies most memorable sequences as she spirits out of the hotel room like a chicken with its head cutoff, eventually running onto the freeway where she is squashed like a bug). The film is violent in the extreme, but never approaches the level of torture porn. The film is visually inventive, funny and sick. The performances in the movie, especially by Moseley and Zombie, are among the most memorable in horror movie history. I love the final sequence in the movie, set to Lynard Skynard’s Free Bird, as the Firefly family races towards their death in a classic convertible, mocking such ending in films like Thelma and Louise. If House of 1,000 Corpses announced Zombie as a major new presence in horror films, then The Devil’s Rejects confirmed he was the real deal – the horror genre’s own Quentin Tarantino.

3. Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)
I know there are many people who believe that James Cameron’s Aliens is superior to the Ridley Scott original, and although I think those people could not possibly be more wrong, I find it equally impossible to deny that Cameron’s film is a masterpiece in its own right. Set 57 years after the original film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is rescued and awakened from hyper sleep. Forced to return to the planet where they first encountered the alien eggs in the first film, Ripley is terrified, but agrees to go. When they arrive on the planet, they find that colony established there has been overrun by a group of creatures they exact same that terrified Ripley, and killed her crew in the first film. While Aliens is much more on an action movie than the first film (which meant I actually almost left it off this list), it is still quite scary, and intense throughout its entire running time. Cameron, a master at this type of film, perfectly captures the atmosphere and tone of the film, and gets tremendous performances from his cast – no one more so than Weaver, who shockingly received an Oscar nomination for this film (she deserved it, but how often do actors in this type of genre film actually receive them? Almost never). Aliens, while not the film the original one, is still one of the best examples of its genre in history – and perhaps the best film of Cameron’s career.

2. The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)
James Whale’s original Frankenstein is still the best adaptation of the famous novel in movie history. But when he followed it up four years later with The Bride of Frankenstein, he completely outdid himself. This is his masterpiece. Karloff’s performance of the monster deepens in this film – making him even more sympathetic. This is the film with the famous scene of Frankenstein making a friend of the blind man – who cannot tell he is a monster – before being left all alone again. The finale is one of the best in horror movie history. After being rejected by the female monster they made to be his companion, the Monster realizes that he belongs dead, and kills himself, his “bride” and the scientist responsible for creating her. The film is a masterpiece of art direction and cinematography, and although the film does have some truly scary moments, it is more of a tragic tale. This is a masterpiece.

1. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1979)
If George A. Romero reinvented the zombie movie with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, he perfected it in his follow-up, Dawn of the Dead. Like the first film, the dead has come back to life, but this time things are much more serious. Society has essentially collapsed all around the four main characters, which end up barricading themselves inside a shopping mall for months on end. While the horror rages on outside, the four main characters build themselves their own little utopia. They can now have any and everything they always wanted. The mall is a temple to their materialistic desires. Romero’s film is gruesome and bloody, but also quite comical (zombies trying to walk up the down escalator for instance), but also shows just how far gone humanity becomes when the rule of law becomes obsolete. Late in the film, a gang of bikers attack the mall, intent on looting it, and in the process let in hundreds of zombies from the outside. The two “gangs” fight each other rather than the zombies, both intent on protecting their stuff. The ending of the film offers a little hope for two of the main characters, as they manage to escape in a helicopter (albeit, one without much fuel), but I think Romero should have stuck with his original double suicide ending. But regardless, Dawn of the Dead is one of the best horror films of all time – and easily the best horror sequel ever made.

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