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The only thing harder to get right than an original horror movie is its sequel.
For every Aliens or Evil Dead II, there's (shudder) Leprechaun 4: In Space. Giving audiences an excuse to mainline straight-up terror for 90 or so minutes is “easy” to do once, but replicating pulse-pounding horror for a second, third, or fourth time proves to be quite challenging — but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from trying. With horror becoming increasingly popular with audiences in recent years, studios are raiding their vaults for scary IP that they can either reboot or sequelize. Studios are also searching for the next original horror hit like A Quiet Place that they can franchise in ways that hopefully keep audiences coming back for more. And occasionally, Hollywood makes sequels that are just as good, if not better, than the first installment.
As we wait for the fifth Scream movie to scare the crap out of us, here are 15 terrifying sequels worth watching… with every light in your house on. (And only sequels are eligible for the list, no reboots.)
15. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
The fourth Friday the 13th was intended to be the last, and it would have been a great high note to go out on. Instead, the franchise death-rattled its way through some very questionable installments. But Final Chapter makes up for the misfires with its gruesome kills and a young Corey Feldman delivering quite the finishing move to the number-one cause of death for sex-happy teen campers.
Somehow, after two sequels (including one in 3D) and countless horny teens, the unstoppable killer in the hockey mask meets his match in the form of a reluctant 12-year-old hero played by 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 in 1985 with A New Beginning, which (spoiler) doesn't even feature Jason. Outside of the seriously funny sixth installment, Jason Lives, the Friday the 13th series ultimately went from summer-camp scarefest to just plain campy. The story of Jason Voorhees should have ended here.
14. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
In the underrated Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, the local cops don't dismiss all of the bodies that pile up in their town as anything other than the work of a masked killer. That's just one of the pleasant surprises in the franchise's fourth installment, which subverts expectations with certain horror movie tropes and delivers a very efficient (and at times scary) slasher.
After producers rejected a pitch from Halloween creator John Carpenter that would have followed two of the young kids from the first movie (now babysitter-aged themselves), with a bloody climax at a drive-in movie theater, they settled on something more conventional. Halloween 4 sees Michael Myers return after sitting out the third, much more experimental entry in the franchise. This time, he’s hunting Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), Laurie Strode’s young daughter.
There are some nice flourishes to the film, including Jamie’s decision to wear a clown costume eerily similar to the one when Michael killed his older sister all those Halloweens ago, but these are largely undermined by WTF-worthy character motivation and Dwight H. Little’s basic-cable action movie direction (that man is not much of a stylist). Still, pretty good twist ending.
13. Halloween II (1981)
In a weird way, Halloween II is just as influential as the original. Its hospital setting has not only inspired other entries in the franchise (the sixth installment and Rob Zombie's Halloween II owe a debt) but it’s also inspired the genre as a whole, with the sequel-set-in-a-hospital idea utilized by everything from Scream Queens (on TV) to the underrated 2015 meta-horror comedy The Final Girls. Other than that, there’s not much to love about the half-baked sequel.
Sure, original screenwriters Carpenter and Debra Hill returned but were mostly out of ideas. In fact, the idea of Laurie Strode (a returning Jamie Lee Curtis) being Michael’s sister was thrown in at the last minute and not something planned by either filmmaker. (Oddly, it basically formed the basis for the rest of the franchise, including the remakes; the 2018 film omits this plot point.) At some point during production, original director Rick Rosenthal was removed, leaving Carpenter to shoot key sequences. Scary.
12. Halloween (2018)
Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode returns with an earned (and violent) way of dealing with her emotional demons in this rebootquel from David Gordon Green. The slasher ignores the events of every film in the series, save for the John Carpenter original, as it picks up 40 years later after Michael Meyers' first murder spree. The events of that classic come full circle in Halloween, which feels as fresh, terrifying, and topical as the original did.
This time, Curtis’ Strode teeters on the edge of “Sarah-Connor-in-T2” mode, as the Laurie the Final Girl has calcified into a wary survivalist. She lives alone, off the grid, waiting for the day that her psychotic stalker returns. In this film, he does, and the results are surprising and spectacular. By largely ignoring the increasingly convoluted mythology of the sequels (including 1981’s Halloween II, so say bye-bye to the Laurie-is-Michael’s-sister plot thread), director Green and co-writer Danny McBride craft a horror thriller that is keenly aware of its legacy and also deeply entertaining. It is a back-to-basics follow-up that thoughtfully grapples with the way that violence and trauma can ripple through, and haunt, whole generations with violent (but ultimately galvanizing) consequences. This is the rare sequel that can stand proudly alongside the original, four decades later.
11. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Incredibly underrated and terrifying best describe 28 Weeks Later, the bloody and gripping sequel to Danny Boyle’s modern zombie classic, 28 Days Later. This frightfest finds London's survivors of the Rage virus struggling to rebuild when the infected wreak havoc on their quarantine zone. The scariest sequence? A trip through a tube station shot mostly in night-vision POV.
Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who Boyle picked to take over the series, is unrelenting in his gory approach to ground the intense scares on the backs of characters we can’t help but root for. Or, at the very least, fear for, as Fresnadillo takes all that worked visually about the landmark first film and pushes it to its most logical and frightening conclusions. A bleak, post-apocalyptic zombie thriller and tragic family drama, the go-for-broke 28 Weeks Later turns Great Britain into a warzone for humanity’s very soul, as what’s left of the human race battles that which has none.
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
How do you fight Freddy Krueger? By taking him on in the dream world, naturally. This approach doesn't work well for every member of Team Dream Warriors, but the movie delivers all the scares a fan needs, thanks to a script co-written by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption).
Many Elm Street fans cite this threequel as their favorite, with Dream Warriors emerging as the franchise’s best installment outside of the Wes Craven original — and for good reason. Dream Warriors made Freddy, well, Freddy. Many of the iconic slasher villain’s personality quirks (his penchant for dark humor and puns while killing folks, for example) emerged here, which helped the character become a fixture of pop culture for the better part of four decades. Director Chuck Russell, working from a script co-written by Wes Craven and then re-written by Russell and Darabont, took the Elm Street concept and pushed it creatively — having Freddy, for the first time, target his victims by turning their dreams and fears against them. But the dream world also gave some of Freddy’s would-be targets the ability to take on Freddy in ways the real world did not afford them.
This novel concept sparks some of the franchise’s most memorable kills and set pieces, like when Freddy killed an aspiring actress by shoving her head into a crackling TV screen while screaming “Welcome to prime time, b****!” — a line Freddy actor Robert Englund ad-libbed. Dream Warriors’ ambitious plot elevates the genre and the series in ways few horror film sequels ever do.
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Following the adrenalized blast that is the third film was definitely going to be a challenge. What makes Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master so effective is that it continues that storyline, expanding the narrative and embroidering the mythology, while also making subtle tonal shifts unique to this installment. Energetically directed by a young Renny Harlin (he was just 29 at the time), this installment features some of the franchise’s most memorable kills and zippiest one liners (the smarter-than-expected script was co-written by future Oscar winner Brian Helgeland).
8. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Throughout his career, George Romero was preoccupied with two things — zombies and the futility of capitalistic society. Dawn of the Dead allows the late filmmaker to combine both into a horrifying zombie thriller that is as effective at delivering scares as it is in providing social commentary as survivors trapped in a shopping mall struggle to survive a horde of the undead. Featuring some of Romero’s goriest and inventive kills (like helicopter blades decapitating a zombie), Dawn of the Dead uses the horror movie to tell a sneak-attack satire about consumer-driven American culture. More than any zombie movie before or since, Dawn of the Dead shows us that humanity will never not be its own worst enemy. Even when confronted with literal zombies.
(Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake is a great zombie flick in its own right, though it’s not eligible for this list as it’s not technically a sequel.)
7. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987)
It's rare that any movie sequel manages to surpass the original. It's even more rare in a genre as formulaic and predictable as horror movies. That said, there was nothing predictable about the first Evil Dead. With more experience under his belt and a bigger budget, Sam Raimi was able to surpass his freshman effort and create a horror film that was as creepy as it was kooky.
Evil Dead II continues the adventures of everyone's favorite big-chinned, wise-mouthed hero Ash Williams in a borderline remake of the original’s plot, but with more Raimi flourishes in the R-rated scares department. Evil Dead II wastes little time in having Ash return to Evil Dead’s cursed cabin in the woods to battle the Deadites once more in an attempt to rid the world of the evil Necronomicon. Evil Dead II is a strange mix of humor, campy adventure, grotesque violence, and good old-fashioned jump scares. As great as all the Evil Dead films are, the franchise peaked with its second and most rewatchable chapter.
6. Army of Darkness (1992)
Army of Darkness is the third movie in Rami’s Evil Dead series. The first two Evil Dead movies are horror classics, but this threequel is a comedy splatterfest — a guilty pleasure made by geeks, for geeks.
The plot is, thankfully, simple, and that's not a bad thing when all you want are more Deadites and less, well, anything getting in the way of Ash (Bruce Campbell) smiting them with his boomstick. Ash is sent back to the Medieval Age, where he must confront a horde of hell-powered evil before he can return to his own time. Raimi’s deft handling of the material finds an effortless balance between schlocky and scary, as Army of Darkness sets a high bar for the horror-comedy genre that few movies have come close to clearing since.
5. Whispering Corridors 2: Memento Mori (1999)
If you haven’t seen Memento Mori, I envy you — I wish I could get my first time back.
This loose sequel to the 1998 South Korean horror classic Whispering Corridors only shares the same setting as its predecessor, an all-girls school, and Corridors’ predilection toward the types of scenes one can only manage to watch through fingers covering their frightened face. Using a non-linear narrative to emphasize the fractured trauma (and chilling terror) that festers throughout the film, Mori centers on a then-taboo lesbian romance that ends in a violent tragedy that manifests in the form of a vengeful entity that haunts the school. Korean horror films tend to make meals out of social commentary about aspects of their repressive culture, and Mori is no exception. Its unflinching approach to the LGBTQ subject matter was ahead of its time, and the film’s slow-burn tension and near-constant dread still hold up.
4. Scream 4 (2011)
Don’t let the disappointing box office returns fool you, Scream 4 is a very underrated (and unsettling) sequel in the series.
Wes Craven’s last film is way better than any fourth chapter in a horror movie franchise deserves to be, and Scream 4’s meta-slasher plot (on top of its already meta-slasher roots) thrives on subverting expectations to deliver the series’ most complex and twisty plot. Featuring the most engaging ensemble cast since the original film, which includes Alison Brie and Emma Roberts, Scream 4 picks up with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), now an author, trying to capitalize on the Woodsboro Massacre she barely survived with a book tour. When a new Ghostface shows up in her hometown around the same time Sydney does, our heroine is pulled back into Final Girl duty one last time as the bodies pile up.
Equal parts satire and slasher, Scream 4 takes on toxic fandom and internet culture while poking fun at the very legacy it's a part of. But its self-referential humor and scares are less overt than those in the previous sequels and more in line with those that made the original Scream a genre classic. With time, hopefully fans will come around to appreciate Scream 4 in the same light.
3. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Before the Paranormal Activity franchise ran its once-novel found-footage conceit into the ground, this threequel marked a high point in the series — both in the drama and scares department.
This ‘80s-set sequel is also a prequel to the previous installments, as Paranormal Activity 3 backfills how the demonic spirit known as “Toby” came to terrorize a young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown). Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman thread a surprisingly effective amount of emotional backstory through some of the franchise’s more original jump-scares (even if the movie devolves into nothing but easy jolts). It’s the most inventive use of the found footage format since the game-changing first film, especially with the set piece involving a camera mounted to a painfully slow-moving fan.
2. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Featuring perhaps the most iconic wig in movie history, this Universal monster movie sequel still holds up almost 90 years after its release.
Bride of Frankenstein’s almost meta setup, which concerns Frankenstein author Mary Shelley making a sequel out of her own haunting classic, gives director James Whale an opportunity to tell a more emotional and unsettling film than his first monster mash. When Bride’s Dr. Frankenstein creates a mate for the broken monster that bears his name, a very human and emotional drama unfolds as these reanimated vessels artfully find the value of life that the living often take for granted. Both haunted and haunting, Bride of Frankenstein treats the grotesque with a sense of tragic pathos that few films have pulled off before or since.
1. Aliens (1986)
Behold, James Cameron's action masterpiece.
The analogy goes that the first film was a haunted house movie, with a single creature picking off unsuspected crewmembers one by one. The sequel expanded that concept and increased the stakes and the results were glorious. Few sequels take what worked so well about the original film, combine it with something fresh, and create another classic. But Aliens is one of those films.
After decades in cryo-sleep, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakens to find herself once again squaring off against acid-bleeding xenomorphs. When a human colony — built on the site where Ripley first encountered the aliens — goes offline, The Company sends in the Colonial Marines and their power loaders, which Ripley is forced to commandeer in an edge-of-your-seat finale versus the Alien Queen as she struggles to save the colony’s lone survivor, a young, traumatized girl named Newt.
Breathlessly told, brilliantly choreographed, and building to one of the most iconic showdowns of all time, Aliens is a film for the ages.