Horror is perhaps one of the hardest genres to execute effectively; it has to have just the right balance of scares, just the right pacing, or the whole movie falls flat. Perhaps that’s why there seems to have been more truly horrendous horror movies made than actual good ones.
Horror sequels tend to be one of the most critically detested sub-genres, but we’ve scoured through the archives to find five actually worth seeing. We’ve also found five “forgotten horrors,” movies that were overlooked both critically and commercially in their initial release, but deserve to be praised. Prepare to be scared.
Take a second look…
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
directed by James Whale
The earliest sequel on the list was made more than seventy years ago. It was the last horror movie made by classic fright master James Whale, who also directed the 1931 original Frankenstein. Boris Karloff returns as Mary Shelley’s iconic, sympathetic monster who, along with his creator Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive), was thought to be dead at the end of the first movie. As this sequel quickly proves, they are both still alive and Dr. Frankenstein soon sets about creating what he promised in the original—building a mate (Elsa Lanchester) for his lonely, love-hungry monster. Bride of Frankenstein was an early example of a successful horror sequel—expanding upon the previous movie with a surprising blend of horror, humor and whimsy.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
directed by George Romero
Writer-director George Romero’s follow-up to Night of the Living Dead takes place during an ever-growing zombie epidemic, in which four survivors take refuge in a shopping mall (the movie was shot at the real Monroeville Mall in Pennsylvania, which has since become a tourist attraction for Dead fans). While the movie is an exciting, blood-soaked zombie extravaganza (with creative, top-notch make-up effects by gore auteur Tom Savini), Romero’s script also has a darkly funny, thought-provoking element that adds unexpected, witty social satire to the mix. The movie can be seen as a tongue-in-cheek take on American consumerism—in Romero’s view, typical mall shoppers are not all that different from his “zombies.” With its ambitious scope and layered metaphorical meanings, Dawn of the Dead still stands as the The Godfather: Part II of horror sequels.
directed by James Cameron
James Cameron took the Alien franchise in a new, exciting direction with this rousing sequel. While the first, Ridley Scott-directed movie was a haunted house set on a spaceship, the sequel amps up the action element considerably, with a larger scope and more pyrotechnics. Sigourney Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, the lone survivor from the first mission, who, in the interim 57 years, has been in a cryogenic sleep. When her ship is discovered, Ripley is brought up on serious criminal charges and, to regain her pilot’s license, must accompany a military team to the planet where the original crew discovered the alien. Will she, and the rest of the team, make it back alive, especially since the title is now plural? While The Terminator was Cameron’s breakthrough movie, Aliens solidified his reputation as an exciting, visceral moviemaker
Army of Darkness (1992)
directed by Sam Raimi
The third movie in the The Evil Dead trilogy starts exactly where the previous entry, Evil Dead II, left off—with lowly S-mart employee Ash (Bruce Campbell) teleported into a medieval world where goblins and witches actually exist. A live-action comic book come to life, Army of Darkness piles on the goofy humor more so than the previous movies, but also increases the number ghoulish nemeses for Ash to battle, including an evil doppelgänger of himself. It’s one of the most outrageously entertaining sequels ever made.
New Nightmare (1994)
directed by Wes Craven
Although New Nightmare is technically the seventh movie in the Freddy Krueger saga, it’s a much more rewarding viewing experience if you pretend this movie is the only follow-up to Wes Craven’s 1984 original thriller, A Nightmare on Elm Street. New Nightmare is an original, bold take on the horror sequel with Heather Langenkamp, star of the first Nightmare, playing herself this time around. Heather discovers she must take on the role of Nancy one last time to stop the evil, real-life spirit of Freddy Krueger from entering the world. The movie boasts supporting performances from cast and crew members of the original movie, all playing themselves: John Saxon, Robert Englund (playing both himself and Freddy), former New Line Cinema CEO Robert Shaye and even writer/director Craven himself, who, in the movie, is having recurring nightmares of the iconic slasher he gave life. New Nightmare is fascinating in that it deals with the concept that a cinematic creation can literally take on a life of its own. With its unique, self-reflexive approach, the movie breathed new life into the tired horror sequel.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
This sequel to the 2002 sleeper hit 28 Days Later takes place six months after the original, in which the Rage virus swept through London, turning its victims into ravenous zombies. 28 Weeks Later follows a new group of characters, including Robert Carlyle, attempting to repopulate the city after the deadly outbreak. Of course, this being a zombie thriller, not everything goes according to plan. 28 Weeks Later amps up the intensity and action of the original, resulting in a raw, gritty sequel that stands on its own.
Don’t Forget These Five Horrors…
Carnival of Souls (1962)
directed by Herk Harvey
Ever wonder where M. Night Shyamalan may have gotten inspiration for the twist ending of The Sixth Sense? Then, be sure to check out this eerie, influential cult classic that can also probably count George Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead features a similar atmosphere of dread and foreboding, among its admirers. The movie follows, Mary (Candace Hilligoss), a young woman involved in a traumatic car accident—two friends drown when her car goes off a bridge. Mary attempts to start a new life for herself as the church organist in a small town, yet she keeps seeing recurring images of a mysterious ghostly figure and is inexplicably drawn to a run-down, abandoned carnival. With its dream-like atmosphere, stark black-and-white cinematography and creepy organ music, Carnival of Souls is a surreal, underrated thriller with a shocking twist ending clearly ahead of its time.
directed by George Romero
While George Romero is perhaps best known for directing ultra-violent zombie epics, his work always raises thought-provoking questions that place him at the forefront of the horror genre. Martin, one of his lesser-known yet fascinating movies, is a modern vampire tale. The title character (John Amplas) is a troubled, disaffected 17-year-old that believes, based on a family legend, that he’s in fact an 84-year-old vampire. Yet, Martin doesn’t behave like a typical vampire: He’s immune to garlic and sunlight, and instead of fangs, he uses razor blades to drink his victims’ blood. After going to live with his elderly cousin, who strongly believes in the family vampire myth, Martin attempts to live a normal life, but his craving for blood continues to haunt him. Martin is a disturbing, utterly original take on the vampire mythos. Although there are a few creepy, violent scenes to keep horror fans satisfied, the movie is most compelling when we gain more insight into the main character. Romero seems to be saying that the suave, seductive vampires we’ve seen in movies, as played by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, are of a past generation. The modern vampire works on a much more realistic, practical, horrifying level; even that introverted kid down the street could be one. It’s thought-provoking notions like this that make Martin such a fascinating deconstruction of the genre.
Fright Night (1985)
directed by Tom Holland
In many ways, Fright Night is the exact opposite of Martin—writer/director Tom Holland celebrates and revels in the classic vampire legend of past movies, rather than attempting to de-mystify them. The movie follows Charley (William Ragsdale), a nerdy, teenage horror movie lover who discovers his new next-door neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon), is actually a vampire. Of course, no one believes Charley, so he takes the next logical step and asks washed-up actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), best known for his role as a vampire-killer and host of Charley’s favorite late-night horror show, to help him kill Jerry. The movie ultimately leads up to the terrifying title night, in which Charley and Peter must challenge a very real vampire. Boasting an array of cool creature effects, top-notch supporting performances from Sarandon and McDowall and equipped with a strong sense of humor, Fright Night is a massively entertaining homage to classic horror movies of the past. Unfortunately, it was forgotten in its original release amidst the slasher craze of the 1980s.
directed by Peter Jackson
Before he became world-renowned for adapting the world of Middle Earth to the silver screen, Peter Jackson helmed several offbeat, subversive movies in his native New Zealand. Braindead (or Dead Alive as it was re-titled in the U.S.) is a wild, over-the-top gorefest concerning a shy, introverted young man whose over-protective mother is bitten by an animal while at the zoo. After becoming ill, she dies, only to return to life as a mindless zombie, killing everyone in her path, who in turn become members of the living dead as well. Taking inspiration from The Evil Dead movies, Jackson’s movie is ultra-violent (especially the infamous “lawnmower” climax), but never takes itself too seriously; all the outlandish, gory scenes are completely played for laughs. Jackson also shows an innovative touch when it comes to many of the gory special effects, which are surprisingly good given his low budget. Braindead is by far one of the funniest horror movies ever made, and while those interested in Jackson’s pre-Lord of the Rings output may be shocked by its outrageous tone, they’ll no doubt be impressed by the sheer boldness of Jackson’s goofy, gory vision.
directed by James Gunn
Screenwriter James Gunn (who wrote the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake) made his directorial debut with this darkly funny, loving homage to classic 1950s B-movies and gory creature features of the 1980s, like John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Slither revolves around a small southern town taken over by an alien plague that starts turning residents into zombies and various other revolting monsters. Despite his multitude of influences, Gunn creates a wholly original tale, complete with truly disgusting creatures and a streak of irreverent humor, especially Nathan Fillion as the deadpan sheriff and Gregg Henry as the crass mayor. Slither wasn’t a hit at the box office, but there’s no doubt this funny, frightful flick will become a cult classic in the near future. After watching it, you’ll never be able to hear that creepy, soft-rock staple “Every Woman In The World” by Air Supply in the same way again.