As Randy bemoans in Scream 2: “The horror genre was destroyed by sequels!” The sentiment of his statement has taken hold of the horror debate for years, with many avid cinemagoers agreeing that studios only churn out sequels when they’re desperate for money. And when it comes to a genre this well-loved, it’s easy to fall on that side of the argument. However, while Randy’s heart might be in the right place – wanting to preserve all that is good and holy – it’s not that simple. There’s a slew of follow-ups that hit all the right notes, serve as excellent story continuations, mythology expansions, and provide sufficient scares to warrant new underwear.
So, what are the best horror sequels? ‘Tis a tough thing to define. You can’t just repeat the same story, after all. Simply changing the names of characters and having a beat-by-beat rehash of the original isn’t enough! The best horror sequels have to maintain the legacy of an existing franchise while venturing into new ground. It’s a delicate balance of blood, guts, and frights.
Note: in case you’re wondering why the likes of Aliens isn’t here: we adore Cameron’s sequel, however, we consider it more sci-fi than horror.
15. Final Destination 3 (2006)
With the novelty of the first two movies well and truly shaken off, it’s the third Final Destination where the premise truly shines. Director James Wong returns to the series, having stepped aside for the first sequel, bringing a lighter, less sombre tone to proceedings. This time the premonition sequence, the opening catastrophe defining each entry in the series, is less bombastic and showy than the previous two. Final Destination 3 forgoes a plane crash or car wreck in favour of a rickety rollercoaster at a local carnival… that’s bound for the flames, obviously.
The lucky youngster singled out this time is Wendy, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. As the editor of the school paper, it’s she who experiences the grim fate that awaits and leads the subsequent investigation into why it happened. And yet, there’s less emphasis on this batch of doomed teens trying to figure out WHY they’re being picked off one-by-one, and more on threading jet black humour into their horrific, inevitable, deaths.
14. The Conjuring 2 (2016)
How do you outdo a seminal haunted house horror that made, uhh, clapping scary? The Conjuring generated stacks of cash at the box office in Summer 2013, giving New Line Cinema a fresh new franchise thanks to a seemingly-endless supply of case files from real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Interestingly, the decision to not fully venture into the Amityville haunting is a smart one, as the sequel instead dives into a lesser-known nasty poltergeist story for The Conjuring 2.
The original Ghostbusters come to the aid of a family sharing their humble London abode with the mean spirit of a former tenant. It’s based on a true case, like all of the Warrens stories, giving a layer of creepy authenticity to proceedings – the closing credits feature photos and recordings that’ll give you the heebie jeebies. Putting the Warrens’ marriage at the heart of the movie really pays off. It’s their love story, something worth fighting for, that transforms a sequel that could easily be a copy of the original into a truly terrifying ordeal.
13. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
The Blair Witch Project revitalised the floundering found footage genre in 1999. The Paranormal Activity franchise upped the game ten years later, brandishing the double-whammy combo of a clever premise and a small budget. But, as is oft the case, the formula flagged in the first sequel. When audiences know what’s going to happen, the very essence of what makes a movie so scary is lost. To liven up the scares in Paranormal Activity 3, Catfish creators Henry Joost and Ariel Schulamn took over directorial duties, bringing that original’s sense of unnerving dread to the tale of Katie and Kristi.
The story jumps backwards, as this is a sequel-prequel, in an effort to explore the history of the demon stalking the two sisters. With the pair now children in the early '80s, the tactics used to make audiences never sleep again had to be genius. No fancy tech was available during that decade – something PA4 would adopt to lesser effect – and so it’s the simple, genius contraptions that make this film so damn creepy. Undoubtedly the sequel’s scariest sequence shows a camcorder attached to a rotating fan, slowly sweeping across a room, as a ghostly figure edges ever closer to an unsuspecting babysitter...
12. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
New Nightmare marks the first film in the Nightmare series since to pump new blood into the franchise since the 1984 original. Horror maestro Wes Craven is often credited with reviving horror in 1996 with Scream, but it's really this intertextual meta-horror that injected fresh blood into the gasping genre. Like the horror-savvy Scream, New Nightmare opens with buckets of blood as an effects crew working on a new Freddy movie are attacked by his scissor gloves. The cast and crew of the original Nightmare on Elm Street play themselves twenty years later, with Heather Langenkamp – who starred as Nancy Thompson in the first and third flick – on the cusp of reprising her role in a new Freddy film.
This turn of events causes the fictional Krueger to cross the threshold from fantasy to reality, and begin invading the nightmares of Langenkamp's son. Craven's original intended version of Freddy makes his appearance here – a far more menacing, fearful creation than the quasi-comic he ended up in earlier sequels. Don’t expect any wisecracks or death sequences that border on the amusing: this is brutal Freddy, whose first appearance in the film will make you shudder.
11. Happy Death Day 2U (2018)
Sometimes a premise is so darn good it’s worth re-exploring. Happy Death Day 2U strays so far from the basic framework of the original – a campus slasher with a ‘90s horror feel – while at the same time reinventing the same story from a slightly different angle. Christopher Landon, of the Paranormal Activity franchise, delivers a belter of a follow-up to his original, by having it play out like Back to the Future Part II.
Happy Death Day 2U wraps itself back into the plot of the first movie like a mobius strip without just replaying it. Jessica Rothe is back as Tree and, this time, she discovers the reason for her time loop experience. She winds up trapped in a series of alternate dimensions, with a new killer hacking and slashing their way through. Even though it relies on an overwhelming familiarity to the first, it feels fresh and innovative, becoming not only of the best horror sequels but also a darn good scary movie in its own right.
10. The Exorcist III (1990)
The sheer seismic effect The Exorcist had on horror cannot be understated. There would be little to no point in trying to recreate the same story – a young girl possessed – and this is where the second sequel thrives. After William Friedkin passed on the project, Exorcist author William Peter Blatty adapted the script into a novel, then tried shopping the project to John Carpenter. He too went the way of Friedkin and turned it down. Blatty, eager to see his vision come to life, picked up the directorial reins.
The Exorcist III deals follows a supporting Lieutenant from the first Exorcist as he investigates a series of murders which closely resemble those of a serial killer long since dead. Father Karras shows up again, albeit in a somewhat different capacity. Now widely-regarded as an unsung classic, The Exorcist III is that rare horror sequel which broadens the mythology and manages to give you the fright of a lifetime; there’s a killer jump scare here that we won’t spoil.
9. Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Her fleeting appearance in The Conjuring was all it took to rush an Annabelle spin-off into production. A movie about a creepy doll possessed by a demon practically writes itself. If Child’s Play could do it, veering more towards comedy, why couldn’t this straight-laced tale work? Alas, Annabelle lacks the ingenuity or scares of Chucky. Annabelle: Creation is another matter. Bringing in a filmmaker who knows how to master tension, that crucial of all horror techniques, was the first step in the right direction. Enter David Sandberg, straight off the box office hit Lights Out, who avoids the yawn-inducing tedium of the first flick by taking the story to another era entirely.
This is where we learn of Annabelle’s origin and it’s got nothing to do with domestic violence – as inferred by the first. Like all good scary tales, Creation is both sad and haunting, the real horror stemming from heartbreak and loss and the manipulation of a couple devastated by the death of their child. That’s what makes the scares impactful, of course. But this isn’t just their story. Instead, the runtime is shared across a group of orphans who go to live with the couple in their sizeable abode and discover a creepy doll locked in a closet. A terrific follow-up that succeeds thanks to the strength of its younger cast. Oh, and if you thought Gremlins had a scary stairlift scene, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
8. Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
The decision to hire Blumhouse maestro Mike Flanagan for the sequel to the utterly passable Ouija was a masterstroke. Hot off the back of Hush and Oculus, Flanagan’s talent for crafting some of the scariest scenes since Craven along with an immense emotional wallop brings Origin of Evil into the realm of must-see. Choosing to go back into the past again works, offering a blank slate to tell a fresh story and giving him free rein to construct his own haunted house of scares.
Flanagan regular Elizabeth Reaser plays a fake medium trying to support her two daughters following her husband’s death. She brings a ouija board into her home, after her eldest suggests it may perk up business, only to find that her youngest child seems to have an unhealthy connection with an evil spirit. Part-haunted house horror and part-family drama, it works as a great companion piece to The Haunting of Hill House in that it disarms you with its tenderness before clobbering you over the head with its alarming scares.
7. Friday the 13th Part 9: Jason Goes To Hell (1993)
Most of Jason’s sequels follow a formula. The ninth instalment in the hack n’ slash franchise says patoowie to that, and ventures down a road less traveled. First time director 23-year old Adam Marcus jumped at the chance to work alongside producer Sean S. Cunningham, who directed Friday the 13th in 1980, and while many of Marcus’ ideas were tossed he did manage to rewrite lots of nonsensical Voorhees lore. The film opens with Jason blown to smithereens by FBI agents. His body is escorted to the morgue, where his black, writhing heart appears so tantalising it’s eaten by the coroner who then becomes Jason.
For the remainder of the film, a giant slug-like monstrosity – a symbol of Jason’s true essence – jumps from person-to-person, leaving a trail of bodies behind as the formerly-masked killer makes his way back to Crystal Lake. It’s an ambitious and batshit aversion to the standard “teens die at the camp” formula. Instead, we get a crackpot Jason-hunter who spouts ham-fisted exposition like: "Through a Voorhees was he born, through a Voorhees may he be reborn, and only by the hands of a Voorhees will he die." Seriously, this is the best Jason sequel.
6. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
Sure, Season of the Witch is great, abandoning Michael Myers and all. But it’s not a patch on the savvy ‘90s reboot Halloween H20 that somehow got lumped in with the dire Resurrection, which arrived four years later. Make no mistake: H20 is a cut above. It’s scary, gory, and packed with set-pieces galore that go on and on and on. No surprise really, considering Scream’s Kevin Williamson wrote the original treatment, most of which made its way into the shooting script. The story finds Laurie Strode living a new life as private school principal Keri Tate in the California hills alongside her 15-year old son John (Josh Hartnett).
The 2018 Halloween sequel borrows a fair old chunk of Laurie’s story from H20, her desire to no longer be a victim and her strained relationship with her child in particular. Those aspects are both put through the ringer on the 20th anniversary of the original murders. As you’d expect Michael escapes and comes looking for Laurie, still referred to as his sister in this continuity, finding an empty school the perfect stalking ground for his revenge. Smart, funny, and genuinely scary, this is easily the most overlooked Halloween sequel that deserves another watch.
5. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Bride of Frankenstein is easily one of the best horror sequels to accrue the same level of critical acclaim and box office success as its predecessor. The secret to its winning formula lies in the return of director James Whale, enticed back into the fold by the promise of complete creative control. At the time that was a risk for the studio: sequels weren’t so commonplace in the '30s. But it paid off. Like the original, Bride doesn’t change the set-up too much.
Fluctuating between seriousness and silliness, it gently nudges at the boundaries of what makes us human while working also as a skewed rom-com of sorts. Boris Karloff returns for his role as the Monster, who continues to long for understanding and compassion, and so, is gifted a mate by his creator. What transpires is ghoulish and tragic and firmly established as one of the best horror sequels. The movie’s everlasting power lies in the Bride’s iconic visage, the white lightning bolt shocked through her towering conical hairdo, which remains just as recognisable now as Frankenstein himself.
4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Romero’s Night of the Living Dead changed the entire horror landscape. Mainly because he forgot to copyright the film, giving free rein to filmmakers everywhere to do what they liked with the material. Despite essentially creating the entire zombie genre, then giving it away, it was Romero himself who crafted the best sequel. While Night was at the time, full of gore, Dawn ups the ante on that front. Once again humans are pitted against the shuffling hordes of zombies, who are – in Romero’s vision – simply different versions of us, soulless and desperate for flesh like we’re soulless and desperate for an iPhone 11.
Swapping out a desolate farmhouse for a suburban American mall, much has been made of the fact that this is Romero’s commentary on capitalism, transforming us all into slack-faced ghouls desperate to consume. While that might be true, Dawn of the Dead offers more on human nature, signaling how we will continue to tear each other apart even when true horror knocks at our door.
3. Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1986)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Freddy fan who doesn’t love Dream Warriors. Played for scares and for laughs without scrimping on either, director Chuck Russell and co-writer Frank Darabont nail that tough balance. Unlike later sequels that dilute the true menace of Freddy the third one instils that real fear into the heart of its themes: what do you do when Freddy attacks kids who can’t escape? Nightmare on Elm Street’s final girl Heather Langenkamp returns as Nancy Thompson to help the sleep-deprived youngsters at a psychiatric hospital whose dreams are being invaded by one Mr. Krueger.
Freddy’s kills this time around are far more personal as his blade-fingers slice through the flesh of one boy, freeing his veins and arteries to puppet him around like a bloodied marionette. A former junkie is pumped full of drugs. A TV addict is grabbed by Freddy’s long arms emerging from the set, and plunged through its screen while he cackles: “Welcome to Prime-Time, bitch!” There’s no subtle allegory here for what destroys us, but boy, it’s so much fun you really won’t care.
2. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Sam Raimi’s first foray into low-budget horror turned out to be a huge success. Gory, scary, and earning early praise from Stephen King, The Evil Dead blew the horror community away. While its ending hardly warranted a follow-up, several years later Raimi chose to revisit that world by writing a movie that’s part-sequel, part-remake. Raimi’s lifelong friend Bruce Campbell returns as the chisel-chinned, rubber-faced Ash Williams.
He’s in fact the only returning cast member, with the remaining four original characters not showing up at all: this time it’s Ash and his girlfriend Linda who venture into the Tennessee woods hoping for a weekend of alone time in the cabin. It’s equally as revolting and gore-filled as the original, with a few twists to keep it fresh. Namely, it’s funny as hell. Ash spends large portions of the runtime on his own, occasionally fending off a Deadite-possessed Linda and his Deadite-possessed hand. Part of Evil Dead 2’s charm lies in its humble approach to effects work, that inspires gasps along with genuine terror.
1. Scream 2 (1997)
How to follow up a game-changer like Scream? Keep it simple. The sequel to one of the horror genre’s most beloved slashers relocates the bloodshed to a college campus, where Sidney Prescott’s world turns upside down again in light of a fresh geyser of killings. Scream 2 stands firmly on its own as a tight, scary slasher. With writer Kevin Williamson’s schematic for the original trilogy in place – should the first film prove successful – there was no hurry to churn out a script, find a director, etc. All of that was ready to roll and allowed for Scream 2 to be shot and released within a year of the first. That may go some way to explaining why Scream 2 feels like more of a continuation of that first outing, a second chapter if you will. Craven brings in an even bigger cast of hot young things to get sliced and diced by Ghostface, never once copying his earlier work, instead he always seeks ways to better the scares.
Sarah Michelle Gellar snags the juiciest sequence of all as unlucky sorority girl Cici, while the Gale/Dewey college chase scene showcases Williamson’s blistering writing chops and Craven’s skill for cranking up the tension. From the direction, to the lighting, to the sharp, quirky script, to Marco Beltrami’s superb score, to the performances, Scream 2 replicates Scream’s stylistic elements perfectly, while never once becoming a mere cash-grab copy. Like its predecessor, it explains the rules (the body count is always bigger, the kills are more elaborate or “carnage candy”) and slowly dismantles them one-by-one with a wry wink. Forget what Randy says: the horror genre was most certainly not destroyed by sequels.