Welcome to the annual segment of OcTerror that focuses on a subgenre of films rather than paying attention era lines. These reviews give attention and ignore necessary quality and the boundaries of good and evil in favor of expanding the definitions of what horror can be. We got a taste of this last time with Remakes & Reboots, and we’re continuing on in the tradition of ‘franchises’. So, without further ado, I present the second of (hopefully) many Macabre Movie Mondays.
Today we’ll be looking at sequels.
- Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). My personal favorite of the “Big Three” returns to haunt people’s dreams as Freddy Kreuger sets out to possess a teenage boy so he can kill in the real world again. This is, in many ways, a direct sequel to the events of the first film as Jesse Walsh and his family move into Nancy Thompson’s former home; he’s soon visited by a blade-gloved man in his dreams and weird events happen during the day as well. I think the subversion of the “rules” of the first film works well here. Since we expect every odd event to occur in a dream we’re unsure of what’s real or not, and this helps us sympathize with the characters. Mark Patton as Jesse is fantastic, a great follow-up to Heather Langenkamp’s performance, and he really sells the inherent fear of being possessed by Freddy. Kim Myers does an admirable job as Lisa, but I found her to be more of the supportive supporting character trope than a final girl. Which is fine—we need those girls too—but compared to Jesse as the final boy it makes the characters a little unbalanced in terms of buy-in. A special shout-out to Hope Lange as Cheryl Walsh for being a good horror mom. As in the first film, the makeup and effects are top notch and, while toned down in some regards, there are still plenty of surprises. Many viewers and critics have pointed out the LGBT+ representation in this film, not only in its casting of Mark Patton but also later revealed in the character of Jesse Walsh, and, as such, that makes this a unique and fun addition to a subgenre of horror that’s worth checking out. If you’re missing Elm Street, pick up this sequel and meet the man of your dreams.
- Aliens (1986). How do you follow up one of the best sci-fi/horror films of all time? You take everything that was great about the first film and crank it to eleven. Sigourney Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, the survivor of an alien attack that eliminated her entire crew, as she goes to rescue an ill-advised colony built on the same planet where her crew discovered the killer alien. With support from some space marines, the company that built the colony, and another survivor, she’ll have to face many of the elements that made the first film a success: confined spaces, hella xenomorphs, explosions, and friends who may actually be foes. James Cameron’s direction is, once again, fantastic and Weaver’s performance reminds us of Ripley’s vulnerability and strength in equal turns. The special effects hold up well against time, and the pacing builds the tension rather than distracting from the main point of the film. The colonial marines are welcome support to differ from the scientists in the previous team; notable performances are by Jenette Goldstein as Private Vasquez and Bill Paxton as Private Hudson. A lot of the information that’s introduced builds on the previous film in ways you would expect and want. There’s also a touching emotional subplot since the sequel (due to deep space travel) takes place fifty-seven years after the first film; Ripley is literally a woman who missed out on her life because of the events of the previous film. The climax, while repeating quite a few elements from the first film, is action-packed and has many memorable moments as Ripley battles xenomorph after xenomorph. Overall, Aliens is an exemplary sequel that builds on its predecessor in almost every way and delivers an outstanding film in return.
- Child’s Play 2 (1990). Continuing the killer doll franchise that would scar a generation of children, this sequel picks up two years after the first film in good old-fashioned slasher style. Andy Barclay moves in with his new foster family, hoping to move on from the traumatic incidents that have separated him and his mother and scarred him for life. Instead, he’s shortly revisited by Chucky who, thanks to the PlayPals company, has been rebuilt and is ready to try to steal Andy’s soul once again. As you can probably tell a lot of the basic plot is a rehash of the first film, but Chucky is a doll on a mission and an impending deadline. Overall, the film itself suffers a little due to its predictability, but, in many ways, that’s what keeps it true to the slasher subgenre and makes it good fun in the first place. Knowing that a character is going to die and then watching it play out can be its own kind of satisfying. Alex Vincent reprises his role of Andy and has some decent character growth as he learns to take care of himself and not solely depend on adults for belief/support. Christine Elise shines as Kyle, the ultimate kickass sister, and her growth is likewise nice to watch play out. Chucky, as always, is a bizarre mix of terrifying and likeable as his one-liners make you laugh one second and his creepy doll face makes you cringe the next. The climactic scene in the PlayPals factory is filled with a good amount of suspense and some more of that mildly satisfying predictability. With news of a television series, further sequels, and a new reboot in the mix, it doesn’t sound like playtime is going to end anytime soon for this franchise.
- Final Destination 2 (2003). The second film in this death-filled series is my favorite for one main reason—the pile-up sequence. Everything other than that is pretty standard for the Final Destination franchise and, as a whole, the films and various deaths tend to blend together with few notable exceptions. So what makes this first sequel stand out? A group of strangers are saved from dying in a massive accident on Route 23 when Kimberly, our protagonist, has a vision of the pile-up before it occurs. Despite this, they discover they’re still probably going to die as they’re now on Death’s list for avoiding their grisly ends. The various supporting characters blend together into various archetypes (nonbeliever, child, believer, etc.), but Ali Larter’s reprisal of Clear Rivers from the first film and Michael Landes as Thomas Burke stand out from the crowd. Kimberly (A.J. Cook) is understandably traumatized by the amount of death that surrounds and seems to follow her, but she’s one of the less memorable protagonists in the series despite the stronger everyday catastrophe to carry her. That said, we’ve got some really good modes of death here that are the main selling point for these films; come for the pile-up, stay for the barbed wire dismemberment. The effects hold up pretty well sixteen years later and it’s nice to see how the sequel builds on the franchise’s idea of Death’s list, the consequences of survival (lives affecting other lives), and going bigger and crazier with these death sequences. This is also the film that is credited with ruining logging trucks for many people, and for good reason. Supposedly, we should be getting a new Final Destination in the future. Until then…drive safe.
- The Conjuring 2 (2016). This sequel to the blockbuster 2013 film further solidified the powerhouse that is The Conjuring universe in today’s society. Part of its appeal is that it’s based on the real life cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators, and the other—larger—selling point is that these films are incredibly well-made. The sequel details the Enfield haunting in 1977, focusing in on the family being tormented by a poltergeist and on the investigators as they recover from the investigation into Amityville and deal with mysterious visions of a creepy-looking nun. Once again, James Wan’s direction is superb in setting up tense scenes and scares that often pay off in unexpected ways. Joseph Bishara’s score also deserves a shout out for delivering in almost every scene without being too distracting and perfectly setting the mood of the moment. The performances, for the most part, are all well done and, if you believe the basic ethos of the film, then there should be little doubt in the conflict between hoax and haunting. I will say that of The Conjuring universe this is one of the weaker films, which is not to say that it’s bad, but that the multiple plotlines (which eventually payoff), the start-stop pacing, and some of the acting is not my favorite of the series. However, I’m happy to say that The Crooked Man’s introduction from this film is superb and I’m looking forward to his own spinoff in the future. If you’re looking for great horror being made today then look no further; this sequel mostly lives up to the hype set by the first and, in many ways, exceeds and expands on the paranormal creepiness in surprising ways.
As long as a horror film does well the chance of a sequel is pretty high. I mean, even though James Whale had to be talked into Bride of Frankenstein, think of how successful that was. In the near future, we have follow-ups to A Quiet Place, The Gallows, and Black Water plus many more. After all, horror relies on tropes, tricks, and familiar formulas and there’s no better place to work with these than in the sequel.