Like a perfectly-timed jump scare in a slasher flick, sequels to successful horror films are inevitable. Horror movie sequels tend to get a bad rap, whether for relying on ridiculous gimmicks (remember when Jason Voorhees went to space?) or completely invalidating the originals. But for the hundreds of just plain bad sequels out there, there are some gems that occasionally rival—or even outshine—their predecessors.
We spoke with some experts in the world of horror about the second, third, and even sixth franchise installments that deserve a spot on your binge-watching list this Halloween season.
1. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
One of the earliest horror movie sequels ever produced also happens to be one of the genre’s best. Not long after Universal found success with Frankenstein in 1931, director James Whale and star Boris Karloff returned to make the second part of the story. Bride of Frankenstein was a commercial and critical success, and is widely considered not only one of the best horror sequels, but one of the best sequels to a classic film ever made.
“James Whale took all that was fascinating, horrifying, and darkly humorous in the original and elevated it all,” James Kendrick, professor and director of undergraduate studies in the department of film and digital media at Baylor University, tells Mental Floss. “A postmodern horror masterpiece before anyone knew [what] postmodernism was.”
2. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987)
Eight Nightmare on Elm Street movies have been released since the original hit theaters in 1984, but not every sequel (or reboot) was created equal. According to Fangoria contributor Anya Novak, 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors stands out from the pack. “It leaves Elm Street behind for the bulk of the story, and it dares to give the victims supernatural agency that they didn't have in the previous two films,” she tells Mental Floss. “It all makes for a fresh entry in the series, a rare win for any third film in a horror franchise.”
3. HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
The Halloween series made a bold move with its third installment by ignoring most of the elements that made the original film successful. Instead of standard slasher fare, Halloween III: Season of the Witch features supernatural themes that play with the holiday’s pagan roots—and Michael Myers is nowhere to be found. “This third installment of the Halloween franchise drew some ire from fans upon its release for dispensing with the franchise’s iconic killer,” Andrea Subissati, executive editor of Rue Morgue, tells Mental Floss. “Still, the years have been kind to it, and it’s now considered one of the superior entries to the franchise.”
John Carpenter and Debra Hill, the creators of Halloween, envisioned the franchise becoming an anthology series of standalone stories all taking place on Halloween, with Season of the Witch being the first. But due to the commercial disappointment of the film, this premise never took off and Myers was brought back for Halloween 4.
4. ALIENS (1986)
James Cameron’s Aliens set the bar high for every horror-sci-fi sequel that came after it. Instead of attempting to recreate Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece, Cameron made the story his own, and produced a instant classic in the process. “When visionary director James Cameron took the reins on this sequel to 1979’s Alien, he imbued it with a generous heaping of action and comedy,” Subissati says. “Good sequels effectively up the ante of the original, and Aliens accomplishes this in spades.”
5. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986)
Friday the 13th is a rare case where the franchise as a whole is more iconic than any one film. But ask horror movie fans to name the best of the decades-worth of sequels and many will say Jason Lives. “While it plays by most of the rules of the Friday the 13th series, it has a tone all its own,” Kendrick says. “Still gory and occasionally scary, Jason Lives is above all funny, a largely enjoyable near-spoof of slasher films in general and the Friday the 13th series in particular.”
In the sixth installment of the series, Tommy Jarvis exhumes Jason’s body with plans to cremate it, but ends up resurrecting the mass-murderer instead. Self-aware humor and scenes that break the fourth wall make Jason Lives one the most original films of the franchise.
6. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
George A. Romero’s influential Night of the Living Dead (1968) has spawned numerous sequels, remakes, and parodies—the most memorable of which may be its direct follow-up. With Dawn of the Dead, Romero returned to the zombie apocalypse he had created in 1968 to explore new themes, like the pitfalls of modern consumerism. According to Novak, “You'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of acerbic wit than in the cynical allegory of Romero's Dawn of the Dead. It's a devastating masterpiece in the genre.”
7. 28 WEEKS LATER (2007)
If Night of the Living Dead created the zombie genre, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2000), which follows the spread of a highly contagious virus, reinvented it. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo had a tough act to follow, but his sequel exceeded many fans' expectations. The film starts with an attack on an isolated farmhouse, and according to Matt Barone, senior programmer for the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, it’s one of the best opening scenes of any horror movie.
“It's one of the few times where on first viewing, a horror sequel convinced me it'd be better than its predecessor within the first 10 minutes," Barone tells Mental Floss. "And yes, I do believe that 28 Weeks Later is the superior of the two films."
8. BLADE II (2002)
Blade (1998), a movie based on a Marvel comic book character who uses his vampire superpowers to protect humans, is more than just a horror flick. It also fits the action and superhero genres, and legendary director Guillermo del Toro embraced all these elements when he signed on to helm the sequel. The result, Blade II, has become a cult classic like this first. “It’s this hyper-violent, pre-MCU comic book horror show,” Fangoria contributor Jacob Knight tells Mental Floss. “It’s essentially the Aliens of vampire movies!”
9. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)
For the follow-up to his 2003 directorial debut House of a 1000 Corpses, Rob Zombie made the sadistic villains from the first film his protagonists. The sequel maintains the gory 1970s exploitation style of the original while also demonstrating Zombie’s growth as a director. “How much of a quantum leap forward The Devil's Rejects is for Zombie as a filmmaker following House of 1000 Corpses can't be understated,” Barone says. “Whereas its predecessor showed promise but ultimately felt like a horror fan just having fun with some new toys, The Devil's Rejects is a heart-attack serious cinematic middle finger aimed at American horror's inability to produce any real in-your-face nightmare fuel in the wake of Scream ."
10. EVIL DEAD II (1987)
In 1981, Sam Raimi shocked theatergoers with his gore-fueled horror flick The Evil Dead. The movie grew into a cult classic, and instead of following it with a more conventional sequel, Raimi decided to give 1987’s Evil Dead II a comedic spin.
“Is it a remake? A sequel? It’s both," Kendrick says. "The brilliance of Sam Raimi’s rehash of his low-budget debut is that it takes everything that was wonderfully demented and outrageously gory and pours it on even heavier.” The third installment in the franchise, Army of Darkness, was also well-received by Evil Dead fans.
11. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)
Despite its visceral name, Tobe Hooper’s original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre took a minimalist approach to gore, choosing to keep most of the carnage just off-camera. With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the director abandoned that style, and many fans were happier for it. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is everything a horror sequel should be: bigger, bloodier, and a lot more fun,” Novak says.
12. THE EXORCIST III (1990)
Largely due to the underwhelming mess that was Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), the third part of the series has largely been forgotten, but if you’re a fan of the original it’s worth checking out. William Peter Blatty, who wrote the screenplay for The Exorcist (1973) and the novel upon which it’s based, returned to write and direct The Exorcist III. The movie may not fully recapture the horror that made William Friedkin's original film a classic of the genre, but it does provide some genuine scares.
“[It's] one of the more overlooked and underrated sequels of all time,” Subissati says. “George C. Scott and Brad Dourif offer some of their best performances on the screen in this cult classic.”