Conventional wisdom tells us that the sequel is never as good as the original. Of course, this hasn’t stopped countless numbers of follow-up films being made over the years, with a particular proliferation of such sequels in the horror genre.
The studios are clearly banking on some repeat business from horror fans in 2020, as this year sees the release of Brahms: The Boy II, A Quiet Place Part II, The Conjuring 3, Halloween Kills, an as-yet-untitled fifth Purge film and Saw spin-off Spiral.
A lot of the time, we’re left wondering if horror devotees are just gluttons for punishment, as it feels like more often than not all the most beloved franchises get progressively worse as more and more films get made. There are exceptions, however. Some horror sequels not only live up to what came before them, but actually manage to make significant improvements.
20. Evil Dead 2
Director Sam Raimi made more of an impact with his first feature, 1980’s The Evil Dead, than most filmmakers manage in their entire career.
Stephen King declared Raimi’s debut “the most ferociously original horror film of the year,” while the film was one of the biggest-selling titles in the early days of home video and caused so much outrage in Great Britain that it was banned for several years.
Four decades later, the original Evil Dead is still held up as a masterpiece, providing a blueprint that countless low-budget horror movies have tried to emulate in the years since.
So when we say that 1987’s Evil Dead 2 is an even better movie, and one which made an even greater impact, that’s really saying something. Armed with a considerably larger budget and a more experienced cast – including returning Evil Dead leading man Bruce Campbell – Evil Dead 2 tones down the brutality of the previous film, but is far more overt with the comedy.
The final product is one of the most pitch-perfect balances of horror and humour ever put to film, with head-spinning camera work and a truly iconic turn from Campbell as hapless hero Ash.
19. Dawn of the Dead
Like Sam Raimi, George A. Romero also made an unexpected impact with his directorial debut, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.
As well as completely redefining the zombie as one of the key movie monsters of the decades that followed, Romero’s film brought a realistic approach and social conscience to the horror genre. Night of the Living Dead reflected the anxieties of the time, paving the way for the new wave of brutal and incisive horror films that followed in the 70s.
A decade on from Night came Dawn of the Dead, which took the zombie outbreak concept to a whole new, outright apocalyptic level.
Filmed in lurid colour with special make-up FX that really pushed the boundaries at the time, Romero’s film broke new ground in terms of how grisly horror movies could get.
However, while it ups the viscera, Dawn of the Dead never loses sight of telling a compelling story, building nuanced characters and finding something to say about the state of the world.
18. Blade II
1998’s Blade was a key turning point for superhero movies, as well as a breath of fresh air for flicks about vampires.
Sleek and stylish with Hong Kong-inspired fight sequences, director Stephen Norrington’s film thrilled audiences and gave Wesley Snipes his signature role as the vampire-hunting ‘daywalker.’
However, when Guillermo del Toro took the helm on 2002’s Blade II, the results were even better, with the Mexican maestro paring back the more sadistic overtones of the previous film and delving ever deeper into the Gothic underworld of the vampires.
Whereas the first Blade saw Snipes largely go solo in his vampire hunting, Blade II puts him in charge of a team of moody vampire mercenaries.
Blade and his archenemies are forced into an uneasy alliance when a new threat emerges in the form of the Reapers, ravenous super-vampires commanded by the horrifying Nomak (who, much to the bemusement of British audiences, is played by Luke Goss, formerly of 80s boyband Bros).
17. The Brides of Dracula
In the late 50s, Gothic horror seemed to have all but died out – until British production house Hammer Films decided to bring it back in a big way.
After 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein thrilled and appalled audiences everywhere, Hammer enjoyed even greater success with 1958’s Dracula (AKA Horror of Dracula). Both films sported the Hammer Horror dream team: director Terence Fisher, with actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Sadly, 1960 sequel The Brides of Dracula does not see Christopher Lee return as Dracula, nor (despite the rather misleading title) does the character himself even appear.
This notwithstanding, The Brides of Dracula improves on the previous film in almost every respect, with lavish set designs and costumes, and more intense action.
Peter Cushing gives an even more impassioned performance as vampire hunter Van Helsing, who is called out to investigate another case of vampirism at a creepy old castle.
16. Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers
1983’s Sleepaway Camp isn’t necessarily the most widely-remembered title to come out of the early 80s slasher movie boom, but committed fans of the genre generally recognise it as one of the best; and it’s certainly one of the most surprising given how it ends (not that we’re about to spoil that here!).
Five years later came Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, and while it may come from a completely different team than its predecessor and disregard a lot of things that made that film interesting, the sequel still holds up today as one of the most inventive and entertaining slashers of the time.
Starring Pamela Springsteen (sister of rock legend Bruce!) as central antagonist Angela Baker, 1988’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers sees a gruesome killing spree break out at a summer camp populated by unruly teens.
It doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel plot-wise, but Sleepaway Camp II was somewhat ahead of its time in its knowing approach to the slasher movie, pointing out the genre conventions and having fun with them in much the same way that Scream would eight years later.
Just don’t sit down to watch it expecting something particularly classy: Sleepaway Camp II is 80s horror at its trashiest, bursting at the seams with gratuitous nudity and progressively more repulsive and ridiculous forms of murder.
15. Ouija: Origin of Evil
2014 horror movie Ouija was not, by anyone’s estimation, an especially great piece of work, even if it made enough of a profit to warrant a follow-up.
Happily, for its 2016 sequel, production companies Blumhouse and Platinum Dunes had the good sense to hire one of the best writer-directors working in horror right now: Mike Flanagan.
Flanagan (whose other credits include Doctor Sleep, Gerald’s Game and TV series The Haunting of Hill House) was given the freedom to do his own thing with Ouija: Origin of Evil, which shares little with the earlier film other than the central ouija board.
A 60s-set prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil centres on the family members of a bogus spirit medium, who are surprised to find themselves besieged by genuine spiritual phenomena after the young daughter plays with a ouija board.
In common with Mike Flanagan’s other work, Ouija: Origin of Evil has a powerful slow-burn atmosphere and strong performances from an above-average cast, among them Flanagan’s frequent collaborator Henry Thomas, who appears as a local priest.
14. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
1984’s Gremlins was a groundbreaking movie in a number of ways: it scared the heck out of kids and adults alike, helped introduce the PG-13 certificate, and forced countless unwitting parents to have an awkward conversation with their offspring about Santa Claus.
When the sequel arrived six years later, it put the malevolent little monsters into a whole new setting, and approached the concept with a radically different tone.
1990’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch catches up with Zach Gilligan’s Billy and Phoebe Cates’ Kate six years later, where the couple are now employees of an eccentric media tycoon in New York City, whose state of the art headquarters is plunged into turmoil by an outbreak of gremlins.
The original was pretty outlandish in its own right, but Gremlins 2 goes completely out of the box, director Joe Dante revelling in his love for cartoonish, fourth-wall-breaking comedy, all whilst heavily sending up 80s yuppiedom and cable TV culture.
Gremlins 2 also ups the horror quota, with new, monstrous gremlins spliced with bats and spiders, and the presence of true horror royalty in actor Christopher Lee, who plays the hilariously named Dr Catheter.
13. The First Purge
2013 low-budget horror movie The Purge turned out to be the start of a far bigger franchise than anyone expected, spawning three sequels (with a fourth due later in 2020) and a TV spin-off series.
The beauty of the franchise is that its core concept – a dystopian near-future in which, for one night a year, all crime is legalised – lends itself to any number of reinterpretations in different settings.
However, it was arguably 2018’s The First Purge that really proved to be the most powerful, entertaining take on the idea.
As the title might suggest, The First Purge is a prequel, which shows how the original idea of the Purge Night was first put into practice, in New York’s Staten Island.
In the face of certain death, members of the local community – among them social activist Nya (Lex Scott Davies) and drug dealer Dmitri (Y’Lan Noel) – must put aside their differences and fight back together.
12. 10 Cloverfield Lane
As movie franchises go, the Cloverfield series is admittedly pretty unusual: there’s virtually no direct connection between 2008’s original Cloverfield and 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane (and the less said about 2018’s The Cloverfield Paradox, the better).
Even so, the J.J. Abrams-produced series definitely reached its peak with the second instalment from director Dan Trachtenberg (it’s also co-written by La La Land filmmaker Damien Chazelle).
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, a woman who unwittingly finds herself being held in an underground survival bunker by John Goodman’s imposing Howard, who claims the outside world is no longer safe following some unknown attack.
However, with no readily available evidence of what is actually going on topside, neither Michelle nor the audience know whether Howard is to be trusted or not.
A tense and unsettling drama ensues, beautifully acted all around – although the way things reach their conclusion was always certain to divide audience opinion.
11. Leprechaun in the Hood
Since the Leprechaun series kicked off with the 1993 original, it has prided itself on being one of the most outlandish horror franchises ever to hit video store shelves.
The more ridiculous the movies have gotten, the better – and you can’t get much more ridiculous than 2000’s Leprechaun in the Hood (even though the previous entry in the series sent the Leprechaun to outer space).
Warwick Davis took the title role for the fifth time in this direct-to-DVD schlockfest, which sees the evil Irish imp let loose in South Central LA.
Here, his magical golden flute is found by a struggling rap group, who use the Leprechaun’s magic to improve their fortunes – but at a price.
Leprechaun in the Hood is every bit as daft as it sounds, and all the more enjoyable for it – and it proved popular enough for the team behind it to revisit the format with the next sequel, 2003’s Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood.
10. The Devil’s Rejects
Audiences were taken aback when rocker Rob Zombie made the move into filmmaking with his unhinged directorial debut House of 1000 Corpses, made in 2000 but not released until 2003 as no studio dared release it at first.
However, by the time its sequel The Devil’s Rejects arrived in 2005, the success of Saw and Hostel convinced studio Lionsgate that mainstream audiences were ready for considerably harsher content than in years gone by.
Good job really, as The Devil’s Rejects is one of the most brutal, mean-spirited films ever to come out of a major Hollywood studio.
Picking up where House of 1000 Corpses left off, The Devil’s Rejects sees the sadistic Firefly clan on the run from the law, prepared to do anything to keep their freedom.
Watching The Devil’s Rejects may require a strong stomach, but if you can handle the persistent, unrepentant nastiness, then you might also be able to appreciate the intriguing characters and underlying dark humour of it all.
9. REC 3: Genesis
2007 Spanish production REC was one of the most influential horror movies of the early 21st century: presented as the footage of a cable news team, the film helped inspire both the new wave of found footage horror, and the resurgence of zombie movies.
While 2009’s REC 2 continued the same story directly in the same found footage format, 2012’s REC 3: Genesis is a refreshing break from series convention.
Showing the original film’s zombie outbreak from a new perspective, REC 3 finds an idyllic wedding reception turning into a nightmare as the guests literally start devouring one another.
From this point, REC 3 ditches the found footage approach and plays out as a more traditional zombie horror – one with a more prominent sense of humour than previous REC movies.
Most notably, REC 3 gives us one of the most iconic horror heroines of the 21st century, as the blood-spattered bride Clara (Leticia Dolera, the real-life wife of director Paco Plaza) grabs a chainsaw and fights back to save her big day from the living dead.
8. Wrong Turn 2: Dead End
2003’s Wrong Turn was a hard-edged backwoods horror in the vein of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, which helped usher in a new era of gritty, ordeal-based horror.
However, its 2007 direct-to-DVD follow-up Wrong Turn 2: Dead End approaches the concept with a considerably lighter touch, and winds up a lot more fun to watch as a result.
Directed by Joe Lynch (Everly, Mayhem), Wrong Turn 2: Dead End centres on a survival-based reality TV show whose cast and crew are sent into the same woods that are home to the mutant cannibal family of the first movie.
In common with the original Wrong Turn, the sequel makes a point of going all-out with the violence, piling up the bodies in a variety of gruesome ways.
However, Wrong Turn 2 also has more of a sense of humour than its predecessor, as well as a more charismatic cast, headed up by punk rock icon Henry Rollins as a former US Marine-turned-reality show host.
7. Return of the Living Dead 3
As demonstrated a number of times on this list, many horror sequels that improve on their predecessors do so by adopting a more light-hearted tone.
By contrast, 1993’s Return of the Living Dead 3 turns out better than what went before by taking a far more serious approach than the 1985 original and its 1988 follow-up.
Directed by Brian Yuzna (Society, Beyond Re-Animator), the film centres on the romance of Julie (Melinda Clarke) and Curt (J. Trevor Edmond), troubled Gen-X teens planning to run away in order to escape Julie’s oppressive military father.
Before the couple can elope, however, Julie is accidentally exposed to 2-4-5 Trioxin, the deadly gas that turns those who inhale it into the living dead.
A horrific spin on Romeo and Juliet ensues – only in this version of events, our ‘Juliet’ turns into a deadly zombie with a penchant for alarming body modifications.
6. Twins of Evil
Following on from 1970’s The Vampire Lovers and 1971’s Lust For a Vampire, Twins of Evil was the final entry in Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy, inspired by J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic vampire story Carmilla.
Admittedly the narrative link between the three films is loose, and Carmilla only appears in a brief cameo in this film – but even so, Twins of Evil is the clear highlight of the short-lived series.
Real-life identical twins Mary and Madeleine Collinson star as Maria and Frieda, orphaned twin sisters sent to live with their uncle and aunt in the village of Karnstein, ruled over by the decadent Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas).
Unfortunately for the twins, their uncle Gustav (Peter Cushing) is a fanatical puritan witch-hunter, whose cruelty drives the rebellious Frieda to seek out the pleasures of Karnstein Castle – where she is turned into a vampire.
Twins of Evil is typical of 70s Hammer Horror with its emphasis on lurid thrills, but it’s also one of the company’s most atmospheric efforts, with lush cinematography and designs, a stirring soundtrack, and a wonderful performance from genre icon Cushing.
5. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Much as we tend not to expect any second film to be better than the original, it’s usually anticipated that the longer a series goes on, the poorer each subsequent entry is going to get.
Surely by the time any franchise goes as far as six films, it will have run out of places to go – right?
Well, perhaps not, or at least not always, as 1986’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives proved to be the pinnacle of the long-running slasher series.
Where the earlier Friday the 13th films had only hinted at unearthly powers on the part of central antagonist Jason Voorhees, Jason Lives happily dives headfirst into cartoonish supernatural territory, bringing the hockey mask-wearing maniac back from the dead with a bolt of lightning.
From there, Jason Lives offers high-energy entertainment all the way, and while it’s a lot less grisly than many of the Friday the 13th films to have come before and since, it’s still tons of fun to watch.
4. Final Destination 2
The success of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer saw a sudden influx of teen-oriented horror movies from the late 90s onwards, and surely the most inventive of these was 2000’s Final Destination.
Opening on a teen having a premonition of a plane crash and narrowly avoiding a horrible death, the film then follows the survivors as one by one they’re picked off by an invisible, unstoppable force: death itself, which comes for them via ever more unlikely and spectacular ‘accidents.’
Final Destination set a formula that its four sequels would milk thoroughly, and 2003’s Final Destination 2 is arguably the best of the bunch.
Disregarding the more sombre overtones of the first film, the sequel embraces the entertainment value of the absurd accidental death scenes, piling on the dark humour and the crowd-pleasing gore.
In case you need reminding (as the initial disaster is the main thing that distinguishes the films in the series), Final Destination 2 is the one with the pile-up on the highway.
3. Bride of Chucky
1988’s Child’s Play may have been one of the most enduringly popular horror movies of the 80s, but the series didn’t reach its peak until the fourth film arrived a full decade later.
1998’s Bride of Chucky fits in nicely with the post-Scream wave of slasher movies, adding a hearty dose of self-referential humour to the mix.
It also significantly rejuvenates the Child’s Play formula with the addition of Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany, the one-time lover of Brad Dourif’s Chucky back when he was human – although she too soon joins him in rubber doll form.
Directed by Ronny Yu (who went on to make Freddy vs. Jason), Bride of Chucky is easily the most stylishly-made film of the series, with the most energetic action to boot.
Bride of Chucky is also the wittiest Child’s Play movie by a long shot, thanks in no small part to the script from series creator Don Mancini, and the joyously nasty performances from Tilly and Dourif.
2. The Bride of Frankenstein
1931’s Frankenstein was, and remains, a true landmark in film history, cementing Universal Pictures as the pioneers of the horror film, whilst also establishing actor Boris Karloff and director James Whale as two of the greatest talents on the studio’s roster.
Even so, Whale was reluctant to do a sequel, and only agreed to make 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein on the condition that he be given total creative control.
The resulting film surpassed the original in every respect, and is still held up to this day as one of the greatest sequels of all time.
A grander, more operatic film than its predecessor, boasting more creative camerawork, more powerful performances and a thick streak of macabre humour, The Bride of Frankenstein delves deeper into the tragic nature of Karloff’s creature.
Meanwhile, Colin Clive’s Dr Frankenstein is lured back to the laboratory by his old mentor Dr Pretorious (the delightfully camp Ernest Thesiger), in order to build the creature a Bride in the iconic form of Elsa Lanchester.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Wes Craven’s 1984 horror hit A Nightmare on Elm Street captured the imagination of filmgoers everywhere, making an instant icon out of Robert Englund’s hideous scar-faced killer Freddy Krueger.
While 1985 follow-up A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is not without its merits, it was on 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors that they really got the best out of Freddy.
Englund is at his wisecracking best, and is pitted against a worthy crop of teenagers who are true adversaries rather than mere victims-in-waiting, among them a young Patricia Arquette.
Dream Warriors sees the return of the original film’s Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, in her second of three appearances in the series), now a twenty-something therapist working at a clinic for troubled teens, all of whom are being targeted by Freddy in their dreams.
Under Nancy’s guidance, the teens learn to take control in the dream world and fight back against the lord of nightmares, leading to a thrilling, reality-bending conflict.