Ah sequels, the great paradox of movie making! We always want another helping of a particularly cinematic delight and yet so often when the studios oblige we discover that actually we’ve had our fill! Of course for the genre fan there is a certain pleasure in watching every sequel squeezed out of an ailing franchise, born from an enticing cocktail of completism and schadenfreude. However contrary to the laws of diminishing returns, there are good horror sequels out there...
Going back to the golden days of Universal chillers, a strong case could be made for Dracula’s Daughter and even Son of Dracula being movies that actually eclipse the Tod Browning origin. The former is intelligent, moody and seemingly anticipates the artistic direction Val Lewton would take a few years later, while the latter serves up the vampiric thrills and dynamic action that Bela Lugosi's outing as the Count was sorely missing. However with only tenuous links to the original, for all their charms, neither can be considered full blooded sequels as they don’t really continue the story lines laid out in the first.
On the other paw, Larry Talbot’s second screen outing, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, was scripted with close attention to the continuity established in both the original and to a lesser extent the preceding Frankenstein saga, however despite the extraordinary fondness I have for this first creature crossover, it doesn’t really match either The Wolf Man or Frankenstein. And the same is true of many returning cinematic fiends from that era; the Mummy, the Invisible Man, Dr X, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and King Kong… And indeed this pattern holds true for many franchises after the black and white age.
Messrs Pinhead and Myers never quite topped their debuts, whereas Fred Krueger, despite an impressive Part III and a New Nightmare couldn't equal his first foray into our nightmares. Mrs Voorhees’ little boy is a different matter, actually starting his cinematic career proper in Friday 13th Part II. And despite strong competition from the gritty Part IV – the Final Chapter and the tongue in cheek Part VI – Jason Lives, ultimately Jason is still just following in his dear departed mother’s footsteps – a good sequel in our book should expand the story not just retell the first.
Now on this front, Hammer probably faired best. For example, their decision to concentrate on the exploits of the Baron rather than his creature in their Frankenstein cycle yielded a plethora of interesting stories. But as fun as the likes of Frankenstein Created Woman are, they do all largely follow the pattern laid down in Curse of Frankenstein - Peter Cushing builds a monster which runs amok. But also the continuity between the films becomes somewhat fragile; yes it’s more Frankenstein adventures that the viewer can connect but they don’t exactly neatly fit together as chapters in a saga.
However in their Draculain endeavours, they did produce on the finest sequels ever made -Dracula Prince of Darkness - which for many achieves that rare height of actually topping the parent movie. However as magnificent as this movie is, and a worthy contender for best horror sequel, for us there is one teeny tiny bat in the ointment, namely that Dracula never speaks. Maybe it’s was too much Tomb of Dracula in our formative years but we miss Chris Lee’s baroque tones!
Moving onto the other big guns, while Evil Dead II is an intoxicating blend of the macabre, the comical and the downright mad, we not entirely sure it counts as a sequel, given that Raimi essentially reboots the storyline completely afresh with a simplified version of the tale told in the original in the first reel.
In a similar nitpicking fashion, we also disqualifying Aliens for the best horror sequel crown too. Why? Well as fine as Jim Cameron’s flick is, and in many regards it does do everything right – continuing continuity with the first film and also expanding the storyline – our problem is that the second instalment of the xenomorph story is an action film first, a sci-fi flick second, a monster movie third and so horror is very much pushed into the background. Now calm down, we love Aliens to bits but it does lacks the creeping dread and gothic-in-space atmosphere that made Ridley Scott’s original so remarkable. The trouble is the titular creatures are reduced to dumb drones, whereas we reckon the beast in the first film could have took out the colony and those lunkhead marines all on its own.
Now George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead holds special place in sequeldom’s heart; aside from the continuing saga helmed by Romero himself, it’s also spawned two alternative follow-ups, Dan O’Bannon’s horror comedy classic Return of the Living Dead and Luci Fulci’s Zombi II aka Zombie Flesh Eaters, which turn begat sequels of their own. Of course as good as the Fulci and O’Bannon movies were, easily the best is George’s own Dawn of the Dead. Masterfully expanding on the zombie apocalypse he created in the first film, exploring a wide variety of themes and subtexts and tying with Hitchock’s Psycho in terms of influence on horror cinema, Dawn of the Dead is a masterpiece. And it’s only the fact that there is no character continuity – after all Dawn of the Dead is set in the same universe but none of the original cast survived from Night of the Living Dead - that keeps it off the top spot...
Astute readers will probably have guessed our nomination for best horror sequel by virtue of the fact we didn’t mention it earlier when talking of the Universal Monsters… Yes, we’re giving the crown to James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. This follow up feature is flawless in every regard, it seamlessly follows on from Frankenstein, brings plenty of fresh characters, plot elements and themes and equals if not outdoes the first in overall quality. It’s one of the earliest film sequel in Hollywood history, a textbook example of how to craft another cinematic chapter, and is still one of the best follow-ups ever created.
JIM MOON, 24th February 2011