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20 Best Horror-Movie Sequels

From Frankenstein’s bride to Freddy’s later nightmares, these scary-movie franchise flicks kept the screams coming

Best Horror Sequels

Illustration by Brittany Falussy

If something gave audiences thrills and chills once, why wouldn't it scare the beejesus out of them again? Moviegoers know this isn't always true; so do film producers and executives, though that's never stopped them from pumping out more stories of slasher-flick icons, old-school monsters, reanimated corpses, surveillance-cam–captured ghosts, city-wrecking Kaiju and chest-bursting aliens to keep their bank accounts full. Usually, this endless milking of franchise cash cows means extreme measures (let's do it in 3-D! Or have the killer go to space!) and diminishing returns, and fans move on to the next thing.

Occasionally, however, a horror-movie series can produce a sequel, threequel, or prequel that mines excited new territory, pushes its mythology to bold new places and, on rare occasions, be equal or superior to the original. Just because Freddy, Jason, Godzilla, or your run-of-the-mill xenomorph has a movie or two under their respective belts also doesn't mean that there aren't more horny teens to stab, razor-sharp puns to be delivered and genuine oh-my-god shocks to be had.

So after countless, bleary-eyed hours perusing old (and hopefully not will-kill-you-seven-days-after-you-watch) videotapes and DVDs, we've picked the top 20 horror-movie sequels of all time. These were the Part II's and beyond that kept the fun and the scares going.

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Illustration by Brittany Falussy

20

‘Saw II’ (2005)

A dingy little horror film that premiered at Sundance to low expectations, Saw milked a replicable premise and a billion-dollar plot twist into a franchise that ran for seven films and turned a puppet with bull’s-eyes on its cheeks into a international horror icon. The first of its sequels, released just a year after the original, towers over the ones that followed. Grafting the Saw mythology onto a pre-existing script about people trapped in a house laced with CC-TV cameras, Saw II may lack the shock value of the previous installment. but who cares about that when director Darren Lynn Bousman so cleverly hijacks reality television clichés to reveal the schadenfreude involved in watching them. DE

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19

‘Ring 2’ (1999)

The Rosetta stone of the modern J-horror wave, the original 1998 Ringu turned a shuffling, lank-haired female specter into an iconic scary-movie convention; a million impersonators and the inevitable American remakes would soon follow. But director Hideo Nakata's "official"  sequel picks up weeks after the end of the first movie, eschewing the minimalist ghost story-turned-urban-legend vibe in favor of a "more is more" approach to expanding the saga of Sadako's super-pissed off spirit and the haunted videotape. Throw in some new characters and psychic powers, and you have a chewy pop remix of the original. RF

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18

‘[REC] 3: Genesis’ (2012)

A good franchise knows when to milk a top-notch gimmick — and when to drop it. The third entry in this Spanish found-footage series starts off with a tweak on its usual faux-amateur aesthethic: this time, its a wedding videographer and a guest who are filming the infected running amuck. But once the lurching, leaping attendees start chomping flesh, the movie jettisons the shaki-cam stylistics and concentrates instead on reuniting its newlywed heroes. (The Genesis postscript refers to some biblical aspects; no, Phil Collins doesn't start attacking bystanders.) It all builds to the moment Leticia Dolera's blood-splattered bride fires up a chainsaw — suggesting female empowerment, gonzo-camp horror bliss and a "cutting" commentary on matrimony in a single gory image. DF

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Illustration by Brittany Falussy

17

Memento Mori’ (1999)

Taboo sexuality and a vengeful presence haunt this tenuous sequel to 1998 South Korean thriller Whispering Corridors. The only connection is a common setting — an all-girls high school — and this non-linear story explores a romantic relationship that is crushed by a repressive social order, leading to tragedy and violent repercussions. Korean horror pointedly reflected political and cultural changes, and Memento Mori's lesbian romance was particularly unusual for the time. Wildly popular at home, this series never achieved the global popularity of early 2000s Japanese ghost stories, but the emotionally honest script goes beyond shock value and its brutal drama is as vicious as the third-act scares. RF

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16

‘Destroy All Monsters’ (1968)

The only thing better than one mammoth, metropolis-destroying monster is a bunch of them, so Toho Studios packed no less than 11 Kaiju into the eighth Godzilla sequel, giving the jolly green giant lizard, Rodan and Mothra (among others) a quarantined island home called, seriously, Monsterland. That zone is compromised when aliens take control, leading these skyscraper-sized creatures to attack major cities, and finally to a major multi-stage battle with three-headed King Ghidorah. Yes, the dramatic scenes are stock and stilted, and some of the costume designs have swerved to the cartoonish. Yet this is one-stop shopping for giant monsters using wrestling moves on each other, as well as an endless provider of pure gleeful kookiness. RF

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15

‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’ (1988)

Midway into this sequel that equals the original Hellraiser's phantasmagoric eeriness, a woman in a white, Bowie-esque leisure suit drinks a glass of wine. "You look … " her male counterpart says. "Strange, surreal, nightmarish?" she offers. He's speechless, of course, because she doesn't have any skin and her blood is blotting the fabric. The second installment does a better job explaining why the series' creepy, sadomasochistic Cenobites – led by Pinhead – are hell-bent on manipulating humans (with skin) as they torture them with flying hooks and an Escher-esque, 3-D labyrinth. But while the series has shown many fantastic sights since then (the Cenobite with CDs stuck in his head in the third installment is notably absurd) few have featured as much of a coherent plot as this one. KG

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14

‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’ (1984)

Somehow, after two sequels (including one in 3-D) and countless horny teens, the unstoppable killer in the hockey mask meets his match in the form of…12-year-old Corey Feldman. Thanks to a tight script and some clever kills — Crispin Glover will never again ask, "Where the hell is the corkscrew?" — the film felt fun and final. Of course, the series returned the next year with A New Beginning, which (spoiler) doesn't even feature Jason, and other than the seriously funny sixth installment, Jason Lives, it ultimately went from summer-camp scary to just plain campy. The story of Jason Voorhees should have ended here. KG

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13

‘Final Destination 5’ (2011)

The fifth installment of the Final Destination franchise somehow managed to elevate an obvious cash-grab into a movie that retroactively unified its entire series. The formula is the same as always: When a mouth-breathing youth has a sudden (and hilariously elaborate) premonition of death, he and his friends are able to sidestep the Grim Reaper's Rube Goldberg-like design. Death, understandably pissed at being outwitted by an Abercrombie model, decides to set the record straight. The kills here are as gory and gratuitous as anything these movies have dreamed up, but it's the brilliant final flourish — a glorious thank you gift to longtime fans — that makes it such an essential inclusion on this list. DE

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12

‘The Devil’s Rejects’ (2005)

Say what you will about Rob Zombie: The man knows and loves his vintage, grungy-as-fuck horror, and this superior sequel to his directorial debut, 2003's House of 1,000 Corpses, proved he could channel yesteryear's grindhouse pleasures as well as anyone working today. Continuing the misadventures of the Firefly family and its Manson-like leader (big up Bill Moseley), this follow-up is a minor trashterpiece, pinballing between thrill-kill-cult terrorizing and a redneck sheriff (Raising Arizona's William Forsythe) pursuing them with Javert-like intensity. It contains the single best use of "Freebird" in a movie ever, and as we've said before, any sicko flick that puts Seventies drive-in icon Sid Haig in serial-killer clown make-up gets a thumbs up from us. DF

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11

‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ (1982)

Can a horror franchise continue without its signature villain? Apparently not, as the Halloween franchise would soon bring back its masked murderer, but this series outlier's mix of bullying androids, druidic mysticism and an unforgettable jingle ("Eight more days 'til Halloween … ") make it a standout nevertheless. Set in a small California town, the film unfolds as a doctor investigates his patient's death and discovers a plot to mass murder children in the headquarters of mask company Silver Shamrock; snakes, insects and Stonehenge all come into play. It's similar to a Twilight Zone episode, and it keeps the early films' eerie pace. KG

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10

‘Scream 2’ (1997)

Wes Craven's meta-slasher flick was the most aggressively self-reflexive of horror movies — so naturally, its inevitable follow-up, in which we follow Neve Campbell's final girl to college, had no choice but to obey genre protocol. The body count would have to get bigger; the death scenes would have to get more elaborate. It's practically tradition for a horror sequel to replicate the events of the original, and Craven's conceit allows him to have all sorts of fun with the second-verse-same-as-the-first approach (the new killer is even a dead ringer for the old one). It's a movie that concludes that scary movies — or scary sequels, anyway — tend to be less about life imitating art than art imitating art. DE

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9

‘Paranormal Activity 3’ (2011)

Origins stories are often proof positive that a franchise has jumped the shark, but the third Paranormal Activity went back in time to deliver its scariest installment. Directed by Catfish masterminds Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the film follows the childhood traumas of sisters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown), revealing the beginnings of the nocturnal hauntings that would plague them the rest of their lives. It's not just the time rewind that makes PA3 a series standout: The filmmakers ingeniously introduce a new found-footage conceit — an oscillating camera that slowly pans back and forth across a room with silent menace — and make sure that we don't just get scared but also care. TG

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8

‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ (1969)

This vivid, revisionist shocker was a last splash of rich blood in the great age of Hammer horror movies. Peter Cushing's consistently chilling version of Victor Frankenstein is more callous and vicious than ever, and far more malicious than any of his creations. The "monster," a sympathetic, desperate creature, is the brain of the scientist's friend transplanted into a new body, and horrified by the outcome. The studio was never one to shy away from bleeding their updated takes on the classic-monster stable dry (or from adding heaving cleavage and, in this instance, a highly regrettable rape scene), but of the numerous sequels spawned by their raids on Universal's vaults, this easily ranks among the best. RF

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7

‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ (1987)

Freddy Krueger was always funny, but Mr. Sandman didn't hit his comic stride until Nightmare's third installment, an equally horrific, hypnogogic and hilarious romp. Heather Langenkamp's heroine returns to help sleep-challenged, misfit teens at a psychiatric hospital band together and confront the dagger-fingered boogeyman. The shape-shifting child killer turns his fingers into syringes, uses a boy's tongue as bed ties and, after becoming a television set that picks up a girl and plunges her into the screen, lets loose a snarky, sexist one-liner that still makes actor Robert Englund chuckle ("Welcome to primetime, bitch!"). In each subsequent sequel, Krueger's quips would become more and more pointed, but none of the movies were quite as finger-sharp as this one. KG

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6

‘Halloween II’ (1981)

John Carpenter didn't want to make another Halloween flick; a contract dispute with the movie's producers, however, roped him into writing a sequel. So he picked up the story where the original left off, with the search for the missing body of Michael Myers (who'd been shot six times!) and the ever-indefatigable scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis' final girl in the hospital. Taking the directorial reins, Rick Rosenthal maintains the original's suspenseful pacing throughout, showing care for both character development and gore. For as much as Carpenter didn't care, he ultimately created a sequel – with its scenes of burning bodies, a hypodermic needle piercing an eye, a scalded-off face and one huge explosion – that remains as visceral as it does vital. KG

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5

’28 Weeks Later’ (2007)

Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later was one of horror's last genuine game-changers, a digital nightmare that created an intense ground-level portrait of England after the fall. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who Boyle handpicked to direct the sequel, had the good sense to realize that you can't fray the same nerves twice. Set in the immediate aftermath of the first film, the sequel starts with Britain trying to get back on its feet and ends with the world on its knees. This the kind of take-no-prisoners movie that reunites its hero (the great Robert Carlyle) with his wife only so that he can immediately become infected with the Rage Virus and claw her to ribbons. DE

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4

‘Aliens’ (1986)

Few would argue that Aliens is scarier than its predecessor, but there's more to a great horror sequel than unbridled terror, and it was clear that the future King of the World wasn't likely to follow in Ridley Scott's footsteps and deliver another quiet space slasher. Pumping the franchise full of steroids and turning a one-night stand into a full-blown Xenomorph orgy, the movie returns Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to the nightmare planet of LV-426, where she's forced to go woman-to-woman with extraterrestrial royalty. What James Cameron's film lacks in precision it compensates for in sheer volume, and — to this day — Paul Reiser endures as the franchise's slimiest creature. DE

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3

‘Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn’ (1987)

Filmmakers melded horror and comedy before Sam Raimi, but nobody did it better. Evil Dead 2 returns us to the saga of Ash Williams (the filmmaker's childhood chum Bruce Campbell), who continues his battle with terrifying evil spirits known as "deadites." It lovingly honors horror-movie tropes — zombie-like nemeses, gut-churning gore, a cabin in the woods — while chuckling at their familiarity, figuring correctly that the best way to slay a cliché is through gleeful, chainsaw-wielding overkill. Raimi already had the low-budget chops of a George Romero, and this drive-in masterpiece found him brandishing a newfound smart-ass, "splatstick" bravado in which the sophomoric gruesomeness was actually slyly sophisticated. After a third entry, Raimi went on to do Spider-Man movies (though he'd return to the series); as for Campbell, he'd found his calling as a B-movie icon. TG

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2

‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935)

Featuring a wig that's more expressive than some actors, this sequel to Universal's canonical creepshow has one of the greatest setups ever: after being praised for writing Frankenstein, Mary Shelley announces that she has more of the story to tell. Director James Whale finds the eponymous doctor alive, and determined to build a mate for the monster that bears his name. ("She's alive! Alive!"). An artful and unspeakably tragic piece of work, Bride of Frankenstein is the film that best articulates its creator's unique gift for breathing genuine life into the grotesque. It's a a tale whose characters are meddling with forces more powerful than anything humans had seen before — while proving that cinema could be one of them. DE

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1

‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978)

If Night of the Living Dead is a lo-fi chamber drama (with, you know, zombies), this first sequel is where director George Romero got ambitious, opening things up on a gorier, grander scale. Once again, human survivors are pitted against the rampaging hordes of the undead, but there's an unmistakably sardonic streak this time around;  Romero envisions his zombie aggressors not so much as an inexplicable phenomenon but, rather, as some subconscious externalization of all that's wrong with mankind. ("What the hell are they?", one character asks. "They're us, that's all," is the reply.) Much has been made of Dawn's suburban-mall setting — a metaphor for soulless commercialization — but it also works as an unsettlingly modern juxtaposition between the banal, faux-pleasantness of normal life and the creeping terror we know could be around every corner. TG