5 Classic Horror Films That Have Super Underrated Sequels
The first movie in a series, especially when you're dealing with the horror genre, is usually considered hallowed ground. You're almost obliged to consider them classics, even if it's something like Friday The 13th. Let me put it this way: If your series doesn't peak until it fights Freddy, there is something very wrong with the original.
But it's slightly well known that the Friday The 13th films didn't become passable until Crispin Glover started dancing in them. So I'm going to share with you five other horror sequels that we all know, deep down, are way better than the originals in their series. Deep down. Really, really deep, deep, deep down.
Psycho II Is Better Than Psycho
Psycho is a good movie. And it's Alfred Hitchcock's most famous movie. And it's probably the only Hitchcock movie that a decent chunk of people have ever seen, which sucks, because it's not even in his top 10 best movies (LET ME HEAR YOU SCREAM, REAR WINDOW FANS! ALL MY VERTIGO LOVERS IN THE BACK, THROW YA' HANDS UP!). But don't take this statement to mean that Psycho is bad because it's less good than Psycho II. Taste doesn't operate that way. If I told you that pizza was less good than hamburgers (it is), you wouldn't immediately think "What's this dainty motherfucker got against pizza?"
But Psycho is an incredible first half of a movie, followed by a really sloppy second half. And sloppy by Hitchcock standards still gets a Bronze, but the minute Norman Bates disposes of the car and the body in the swamp, the movie suddenly transitions into "Now let's explain things!" mode, and that is way less interesting than the careful, suspenseful thriller that precluded it. There's some good bits in it, but it's mostly older dudes telling the two young leads the backstory of the movie. I don't want to belittle the movie for having a backstory, but I will belittle it for constantly interrupting the action so that the old town sheriff can spend five minutes telling us "But Mrs. Bates has been dead and buried for years!"
"Thanks for watching the movie. Hope ya' don't mind if we just talk about it for the last 10 minutes of it."
That's why I prefer Psycho II. It was directed by Richard Franklin, who made a really good Australian horror movie called Road Games, as well as a Fight Club prequel. After 22 years, Norman Bates is released from a mental institution, because the typical sentencing for "dressed as your mom and stabbed your whole zip code" is 22 years. Norman tries to make good, but he's constantly getting hints that seem to point in the direction of him still not being quite right. Sometimes, these hints come in the form of hearing voices, and sometimes they're slightly less subtle, and come in the form of bunches and bunches of corpses.
If he had just stayed in there for the full 23 years, none of this shit would've happened.
Psycho II doesn't try to make the same mistake Psycho did and piggyback a slasher movie onto a thriller. And it's all benefited by Anthony Perkins' (Norman Bates) performance. Usually, horror sequels take place only a few years later, so the killer still has that spring in his step. But in Psycho II, Norman is a grumpier, retired slasher who just wants his dang ol' mental demons to leave him alone, presumably so that he can watch his stories and suck on hard candies in peace. So we don't have to once again see what happens when a good-looking young person falls prey to the murderin' urges. Instead, we have "I'm gettin' too old for this shit" Norman, a character that's perfectly exemplified by his decision to forgo shower stalking and dress-up, and just start beating people with shovels.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Is Better Than The Classic First
I love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I remember seeing it for the first time in middle school and acting like I'd found the key to happiness. All of my friends and I had thought that making out and trying Busch Lite were the answers, but in reality, it was skin furniture! Who would've thought? The second time I watched it, I showed it to a friend and his girlfriend, and they left the room halfway through to go make out elsewhere. This scene would repeat itself for the next eight years.
I don't need to explain the plot to you. Teenagers get lost on the road, but find the chain saw that was in their hearts all along. What I do need to explain is what director Tobe Hooper did a decade later. After making Chain Saw, an alligator vs. hillbillies movie called Eaten Alive, a Stephen King adaptation, and (possibly)Poltergeist, he got hooked up with an insane little film production company called Cannon. Now, Cannon didn't really have a strategy, unless you can call "More ninjas and robots and Chuck Norris!" a business model. But regardless of all of this, they were successful. Esque.
They also made good movies. Esque.
Tobe Hooper made three films with Cannon: Lifeforce, which is about a naked alien vampire woman, Invaders From Mars, which is about the non-naked type of alien, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which is apparently the movie that Tobe Hooper had wanted to make to begin with. For years, he'd lamented the fact that people had ignored all of the jokes in the original Chain Saw, and for once, I'm on the side of the people. Kind of hard to find the punchline in a scene of a woman on a meat hook watching the love of her life get butchered in front of her. But maybe that's just me.
To rectify this, Hooper filled Chainsaw 2 with black comedy. The movie starts with a yuppie half decapitation set to "No One Lives Forever" by Oingo Boingo, which I'm convinced is the greatest opening 10 minutes in horror history. And on the other side of the film, Dennis Hopper, whose five food groups in the 80s were all cocaine, has a chainsaw duel with Leatherface. And in between that is one long, echoing shout into the void of insanity. And the fact that Tobe Hooper made this because he saw his original, where a crippled boy gets sawed to death for no reason, and thought "WHY IS NO ONE LAUGHING?" makes it a beautiful piece of cinema.
The Exorcist III Is More Watchable Than The Exorcist
I'm not crazy about The Exorcist. I know. It's a good film and set a standard for the horror genre and made a lot of money, but exorcism movies just end up being a lot of people shouting at someone that's sitting down. The drama comes from the "Will they, won't they" of getting un-demon possessed, but you'd think that there would be a better way to get an evil spirit out of somebody than by loudly insulting them. Man, they have the power to take over the whole soul of a person. I doubt "You have no power and probably a small wiener, demon! Leave!" is gonna do much.
"And I bet you only made JV soccer when you really wanted to be on Varsity, you filthy cad."
The guy behind The Exorcist III, William Peter Blatty, who wrote the novel that the first Exorcist is based on, didn't even want the word "Exorcist" in the title. And the only reason there's an exorcism scene in it is because the studio pressured him into adding one. They wanted him to add it probably because the film dealt with possession and the two had to go together, which is kind of like the time that I pooped in a parking lot because I saw someone else throwing up.
But before the studio rumbled in, crinkled their diapers, and shouted "Exorcism because people like those!", the movie was pretty cool. It deals with Lieutenant Kinderman, from the first film, having to solve murders that seem to copy those of a serial killer from years past. Also, things start looking awful satanic, so he's gotta deal with that, too. Luckily, he doesn't hear that the devil is involved, turn toward the camera, and say "Here we go again!" Or maybe unluckily. Honestly, I'm not so sure.
"You know how I stay in shape? I exorcize." *electric guitar starts playing and never stops*
Another character from the original Exorcist shows up toward the end, but his inclusion feels less natural and more like someone shouting out the IMDb page of The Exorcist at us, hoping that we'll smile. More importantly, Fabio shows up as an angel in a dream sequence. He doesn't do much other than look like Fabio dressed as an angel, but that's why his inclusion is so special. Welcome to 1990, where we have an Exorcist sequel that doesn't want to be an Exorcist sequel, and when you die, you meet Fabio in heaven. It wasn't necessarily better times, but it was definitely better something.
That's the kind of angel that makes you want to leave one set of footprints.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare Kicks The Crap Out Of A Nightmare On Elm Street
A Nightmare On Elm Street is the third best Nightmare movie. Second is Dream Warriors, in which a bunch of kids gain X-Men powers that help them almost not at all in their fight against Freddy. And first is Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which takes all of the themes that Wes Craven would eventually put into Scream and removes all of the characters blatantly telling you that "it's totally like a horror movie." Scream would be a way better movie if it didn't feel the need to remind me about how goddamn smart it was every 30 seconds.
"We've seen more than one horror movie, so we know a thing or two about being clever."
But Wes Craven's New Nightmare includes far less masturbating into tissues made of its own script pages and way more actual tension and ingenuity. In New Nightmare, Freddy Krueger is a fictional character, but the stars of the fake Nightmare franchise find themselves being haunted by him. It's a really cool exploration of how horror functions in our modern culture and it also gives Robert Englund a chance to be scary Freddy Krueger again after years of growling nothing but puns at wary teenagers. There's a place for Joke Freddy, but I think it was around the time when Freddy video gamed a guy to death that we all collectively figured that we probably needed to reattach the brakes to the train for a while.
And speaking of wary teenagers, there are remarkably few in New Nightmare. In this film, Freddy attacks the child of the star of the fictional Nightmare series, as the kid is the one person who isn't allowed to watch the Nightmare films and is the one person who doesn't know how to contextualize a knife-fingered burn victim. So his mom is forced to watch her kid seemingly go mad from the bogeyman that she was partly responsible for. How fear affects humans is a little deeper than the usual group of horny high schoolers trying not to properly use their beds.
Also, Freddy gets a revamped look, and instead of the lasagna-faced gremlin from the last few movies, he has a skull that's had all of the pleasant parts peeled off of it.
I literally paused writing this column to rewatch this entire movie.
And Heather Langenkamp, who was the actual star of the aforementioned first Nightmare and Dream Warriors has finally come into her own as an actress. No longer do her lines sound like she's just now coming to terms with her career choice. And that means she's way better at selling the whole "Help! Remember the monster from the franchise you love? He's attacking my kid and I can't prove it at all" shtick.
Final Destination Only Got Better As It Went Along
When Final Destination premiered in 2000, the first round of the slasher boom had been over for a few years. Having exhausted the Michaels and Freddys and Jasons, writers thought "Well, what if the killer...was the world," and off they went, crafting a series of movies about a reality where every screw is a little too loose, every trailer is slightly unhitched, and every stove is left on. Basically, it's my apartment on a regular day.
The biggest problem is that the first movie is a little clumsy. Fate is trying to ruin these kids who managed to escape it, but fate isn't very much fun. And Final Destination hadn't quite realized that when every appliance is homicidal, the audience can be barely forced to give the slightest shit dumpling about any personal story that the movie is trying to tell. It would follow this trend in the second film, where they gave characters things like "revealing moments," and you're left wishing that everyone talking onscreen would just move near something that isn't nailed down.
Okay, yeah, we get it. You're a character with dialogue. Thanks for stopping by.
But when we made it to Final Destination 3, the series started to realize that things like a logical progression of a narrative, and portrayals of layered characters that you grew to care about, were just background decorations. The real star of the film was putting together the puzzle of what was going to collapse or combine in order to whack the cast. It starts with finding the dangerous elements of the room. You know, in video games, where items that you need slightly glow, because apparently people are idiots that will try to eat the walls for health unless you put a medical symbol on a giant box and make it shiny? It's like that, but way more ironic.
It gets hard, though, when literally everything starts glowing.
Then you watch as the worst game of Mouse Trap ever unfolds, usually ending in someone getting crushed or impaled. That's pretty much all that the last three movies in the series have, and they're so much better for it. I know that, as I get older, I'm supposed to appreciate art, but sometimes, art needs to shut the fuck up.
Daniel has a blog.
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