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The greatest horror movie sequels of all time

Sequels: Hollywood loves them, and film fans love to complain about them. There's a general perception that the film industry has no new ideas. Studios have, after all, been pumping out prequels, re-imaginings, and straight sequels to franchises big and small at an alarming rate over the years. With studios desperate to squeeze even the basest of horror concepts for one more blood-curdling scare, Hollywood's sequelitis has run as rampant in the horror genre as any other.

As with all genre fare, not every horror tale is worthy of a sequel, and most horror movie sequels that do get made fail to live up to the films that inspired them. Of course, there have been a few diamonds found in the bloody, mangled rough of horror movie sequels over the years, so let's have a look at some of the all-time greats. Read on to find out which of your favorites made the (ahem) cut.

Aliens (1986)

When Ridley Scott brought his space-set chiller Alien to the big screen in 1979, the film quite literally changed the definition of what a horror movie could be. So much so that many admirers couldn't imagine that Scott's near-flawless blend of hard sci-fi and gothic horror creature feature might possibly be improved upon.

That being said, a sequel sort of seemed inevitable. Thankfully, a cocky young director by the name of James Cameron (hot off the success of Terminator) had his own thoughts on the matter of an Alien sequel, and he was more than eager to put his own spin on Scott's blisteringly original xenomorph thriller.

Titled simply Aliens, Cameron's hotly anticipated sequel arrived in theaters seven years after the original. To the surprise of fans and critics alike, the film packed just as visceral a punch as its predecessor, often even eclipsing Scott's film in terms of energy, effects, and unbridled xenomorphic terror. Whether or not you prefer Scott's claustrophobic slow burn approach to Cameron's action-packed, creature-heavy confection, Aliens is still widely viewed not just as one of the greatest horror sequels ever made, but one of the best sequels ever produced. Period.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Few filmmakers have altered the horror landscape as much as George A. Romero. After all, the visionary shock-teur essentially invented the zombie genre (and the rules that govern it) with his 1968 feature film debut Night of the Living Dead. That film, with its shocking gore, gritty style, and scathing subtext on race relations in America, would go on to become one of the most lauded horror films in history, eventually earning a place in the Library of Congress.

Little did we know, but Romero was just scratching the surface of a groundbreaking z-fiction franchise. When he returned to the genre with 1978's Dawn of the Dead, viewers were subjected to the full force of Romero's caustic vision for hell on earth with a sequel that included twice as much blood and gore, more shocking deaths and more abominable human behavior, and yes, a far sharper satirical edge, this time pointed at the destructive power of American consumerism.

What Romero and company spin from those elements is a perfect storm of zombie fiction that finds mankind continuing to fight amongst itself even as undead hordes mindlessly snuff out humanity itself. Just FYI — that storm remains as shocking to the eyes as it is to the intellect, and remains one of the greatest zombie movies, sequel or otherwise, in history.

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

While few would argue the merits of Friday the 13th as great cinema, even its biggest detractors have to acknowledge the film's merits as a great slasher flick that scared up some unexpectedly impressive box office in its devious dispatching of sex-crazed camp counselors. It also boasted a deliciously tongue-in-cheek humor in regards to its onscreen bloodletting.

It came as no surprise, then, that the film's producers wanted to revisit the formula in the form of a direct sequel. What was surprising was that they actually made a better movie the second time around. Make no mistake, Friday the 13th Part 2 is one of those rare sequels that actually is better than the original, even if its setup and execution are almost identical to the original.

Yes, Part 2 follows another group of sex-crazed counselors meeting bloody and brutal ends at the hands of a vengeful psychopath. It also takes all the things that made the first film so much fun — sex and blood and killer jump scares — and doubles down on the action, resulting in a film that feels bigger, bolder, and bloodier than the original. It also happens to feature the debut of one of slasherdom's biggest baddies, the one and only Jason Voorhees — far scarier here in a burlap sack than he ever was in the silly hockey mask that became his trademark.

The Devil's Rejects (2005)

Prior to taking an ill-advised trip on the remake train with Halloween (2007) and its even more ill-advised sequel, Rob Zombie was considered to be one of the more intriguing directors working in the horror genre. He'd built that reputation on the strength of his debut film, the sadistically stylized House of 1000 Corpses and its equally stylish sequel, The Devil's Rejects.

The former centers on a group of youngsters touring backwoods Texas in search of the man at the center of a famous urban legend. What they find instead is the Firefly family, a group of cannibalistic Statanists bent on subjecting them to unimaginable horrors. Much of House of 1000 Corpses takes place in the ghastly confines of the titular house. When The Devil's Rejects opens, we find the Firefly clan on the run from a demented sheriff who's unafraid to fight evil with evil.

Behind a killer classic rock soundtrack, a razor-sharp screenplay that knows when to shock and when to pull a laugh, and a freewheeling sense of nihilism, The Devil's Rejects is part road movie, part revenge thriller, and part gory grindhouse extravaganza. Somewhere in the mix, Zombie manages to build on the mirth and the menace that made House of 1000 Corpses such an intriguing debut, and craft a sequel that surpasses it in almost every way.

28 Weeks Later (2007)

Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later didn't just reinvigorate a flagging zombie genre, it almost single-handedly resurrected it. Still, there were more than a few reservations about making a sequel to Boyle's brutal, hyper-kinetic original, particularly because no one involved in 28 Days Later was on board for the sequel, 28 Weeks Later.

As that title suggests, 28 Weeks Later picks up six months after its predecessor, and finds England struggling to put the pieces back together after the near-apocalyptic events of the original. With the help of the U.S. Army, that's just what's happening for a small group of survivors in a secured section of London. That sense of security doesn't last long. When a carrier of the rage virus finds their way into the quarantine zone, all hell quickly breaks loose.

Once that virus is reintroduced to the population, well, things get as bloody as you'd expect. Though Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo skillfully builds toward the inevitable outbreak in 28 Weeks Later, he also takes an "if it ain't broke" approach to the film's narrative — characters are introduced, chaos and carnage ensue, and the film closes with a sinisterly ambiguous ending. Where 28 Weeks Later alters the formula is in its overt focus on character, with Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, and Imogen Poots bringing a much-needed humanity to the mayhem. In turn, 28 Weeks Later packs a surprising emotional punch that even the original never quite managed.

Scream 2 (1997)

Sometimes the "if it ain't broke" approach can lead to something unexpectedly brilliant, and Wes Craven's Scream 2 offers gruesomely entertaining proof. Re-teaming the entire cast and crew from 1996's surprise smash hit Scream, Craven and co. basically recycle the formula that made the original so much fun for the sequel, and that meta mix of comedy, mystery, and blood-soaked slasher flick is just as fruitful the second time around.

It helps that screenwriter Kevin Williamson, exceedingly well versed in horror movie lore, crafted another blisteringly original screenplay for his Scream followup. It succinctly lays out the rules for a horror movie — the body count is always bigger, the kills are always more elaborate, and never assume the killer is dead — before giddily following them to the T. With the boundaries set, Craven guides Scream 2 with the expected skill and patience of a seasoned genre professional, milking every incisive line and grisly kill with a winking playfulness that builds on the franchise's scheming self-awareness. The result is a film that knows when to make you laugh, when to make you cringe, and yes, when to make you scream. If only every sequel aspired to as much.   

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, but the same sadly can't be said for the string of increasingly inferior sequels that followed it. Short of some giddily gruesome fun in 1987's Dream Warriors, much of what happened in the four sequels that followed Wes Craven's original masterpiece was less than memorable. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when Craven himself — who hadn't really been involved with the franchise since the original — announced his return to Elm Street with 1994's Wes Craven's New Nightmare.

That surprise turned to outright shock when New Nightmare turned out to be the smartest film in the franchise. Unfolding around the 10th anniversary of the release of Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare takes a daringly meta approach to its narrative, positing a scenario that finds the formerly dream-stalking Freddy Krueger terrorizing the real-life cast and crew of the original film ... in the real world. That includes Robert Englund (who also plays Freddy) and original heroine Heather Langenkamp, not to mention a deviously brilliant cameo from Craven himself. New Nightmare sort of has no business being as good or as smart as it is, yet it's still easily the second-best film in the series.

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

On the topic of sequels that had no business being as good as they were, let's talk about Mike Flanagan's Ouija: Origin of Evil. If you're unfamiliar with Flanagan's work, know that he's spent the past few years building a rep as the most humanistic director working in horror fiction with genre gems like Oculus, Hush, and Gerald's Game. If you're unfamiliar with Ouija, the 2014 film that preceded Flanagan's sequel, know that it's a near-unwatchable mess that feels like a 90-minute commercial for the board game that inspired it.

Flanagan wisely ignores that original, transporting the possessed game to 1967 and installing it in the lives of a widowed mother (who works as a mystic) and her two daughters. When the mother incorporates the Ouija into the her act, she finds that her youngest daughter has a powerful connection to the board — and possibly the beyond.

Of course, said connection opens the door to a malicious entity that takes control of the girl and wreaks havoc in the lives of all. Into that narrative, Flanagan builds a subtle but sinister sense of dread from shadowy terrors barely seen or heard. In the film's unflinching unease, he also manages to craft a profoundly tragic human drama about a loving family torn apart by a treacherous, virtually unseen evil. Did we mention he does so while still featuring the stupid board game this franchise is based on?

Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Sometimes, it's not really clear why a sequel gets made. On paper, Sam Raimi's giddily gory classic Evil Dead didn't exactly scream for a sequel, even if it was sort of open for one. But if you take into account the commercial failure of Raimi's Coen brothers-scripted follow-up, 1986's delightfully campy Crimewave, it made sense that he'd want to revisit the cabin in the woods setup that put him on the map. And so Evil Dead 2 was born.

Though reborn is probably more accurate. Evil Dead 2 is essentially the exact same story as The Evil Dead, with flesh-possessing demons reigning terror over another group of humans seeking a little peace and quiet deep in the woods. Back for round two was The Evil Dead's unlikely star Bruce Campbell, who once again puts his chiseled chin and wildly expressive facial gestures to magnificent use in Raimi's maniacal world.

That world is as gory and grueling as you'd expect. It's also hysterically funny this go-round with Raimi's deliciously DIY aesthetic delivering ghoulish gasps and guffaws from The Evil Dead II's ominous opening to its inspired finale. We'd say that they just don't make 'em like this anymore, but we're not sure anyone but Raimi ever really did, and The Evil Dead II is his one unmitigated masterpiece.    

The Exorcist III (1990)

Brimming with spiritual ideology, shocking set pieces, and a suffocating sense of malignant menace, William Friedkin's 1973 possession thriller The Exorcist is still viewed as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. John Boorman's 1977 followup Exorcist II: The Heretic, on the other hand, is widely viewed as one of the worst. As such, the expectations for the third film in the series, the aptly titled The Exorcist III, were ... tepid at best.

Still, there was a certain air of intrigue around the project. It was being helmed, after all, by William Peter Blatty, who'd written the novel and screenplay for The Exorcist, as well as this not quite direct sequel. The project also landed legendary actor George C. Scott in the lead role and promised to pick up the action 15 years after the original film while completely ignoring the forgettable first sequel.

What Blatty delivered with The Exorcist III is a gruesome tale of demonic possession and homicidal depravity that might've stood up to the original had the studio not hijacked the film in post-production, forcing Blatty to re-cut, rewrite, and reshoot large sections (including the ending). In spite of that interference, there's still a lot to love about The Exorcist III; it reclaims the original's unholy sense of anxiety, and it gave us that infamous hallway long take, which remains one of the greatest jump scares in the history of cinema.  

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The next time someone tries to convince you that the Oscars never recognize genre fare, feel free to smack them and direct them towards Jonathan Demme's austere, Best Picture-winning serial killer thriller The Silence of the Lambs. The same strategy applies if this hypothetical person also complains that the Academy doesn't recognize sequels either — The Silence of the Lambs is actually a sequel, too. Sort of.

To be fair, TSotL is not a sequel in the traditional sense, but it is based on the second book in Harris' Hannibal Lecter series. It's also the second film to be adapted from those books, after Michael Mann's magnificent Red Dragon adaptation, Manhunter. If Demme and co. don't outright ignore that original film, it's because they don't really have to ... because the stories are based on completely different characters and narratives.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the only character tying those narratives together. While Brian Cox served the character well in Manhunter, he hardly brought the menacing, malicious intellect to the role that Sir Anthony Hopkins did in his now-iconic turn. That intellect carries through every meticulously constructed moment of The Silence of the Lambs. As it does, Demme skillfully dots his masterwork with enough genre tropes to give Lambs the feel of a full-on slasher flick. In doing so, he almost makes you forget its predecessor even exists.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

James Wan's The Conjuring was one of the more surprising horror hits of the past decade. Not only did the film tell a beautifully executed, unnervingly ominous tale of a rural family terrorized by a vengeful spirit, it also managed to scare up north of $300 million in worldwide box office on a $20 million budget.

That the film was based on a real-life account from the files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren was sort of the icing on the cake for the film's producers; mostly because the infamous experts had a rich stock of spooky, big-screen ready stories locked away in their files. So it seemed a safe bet that those producers would be eager to dig another bone-chilling tale out of the Warrens' files.

It was not a safe bet, however, that Wan and co. would be able to repeat their success. After all, while The Conjuring was the definition of sleeper hit, that meant its sequel The Conjuring 2 would hit theaters with a mountain of expectations. Those expectations were met with a bolder, far more sinister film that often manages to outdo the original in terms of mood, scares, and emotion — not to mention a slightly larger box office haul. If box office numbers don't impress, you still have to admire The Conjuring 2 for its unforgettable depiction of one of the creepiest villains in horror movie history, the nightmare-inducing nun known as Valak.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

No conversation about great horror movie sequels is complete without mentioning the mother of them all, James Whale's 1935 classic, Bride of Frankenstein. Before you scoff at the idea of a sequel to Frankenstein, just know that Mary Shelley herself actually conceived and wrote this story herself, so the sooner you get over the idea that both Dr. Frankenstein and his monster survived the original story, the better. Same goes for Whale's astonishingly effective 1931 adaptation of that original.

As dazzling as Whale's original Frankenstein was, this sequel is actually better in virtually every way, which is saying a lot as the general conceit of Bride of Frankenstein is relatively silly — the misguided Doctor Frankenstein is goaded into creating a mate for his monster by another doctor who's twice as crazy.

Again, that might sound a little silly, but once you get into the meat of the picture, you'll find a chilling tale of hubris run amok that actually bests the original in terms of scope, story, special effects, outright creepiness, and most of all, humanity. You can thank a deft bit of scripting and a surprisingly nuanced performance from Boris Karloff for that humanity, and you can thank the awe-inspiring vision of O.G. horror guru James Whale for making the madness so unforgettable; particularly that show-stopping entrance from Elsa Lanchester as the titular Bride.