There’s a common conception that most horror sequels suck, with rare exceptions like “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), and “Aliens” (1986). Still, it’s not far from the truth – most are made as soulless cash grabs – but that’s no reason we can’t find some quality amongst the quantity.
Several rare gems are out there that have been swept under the rug because of this default reaction, or on the other hand, because of disdain for ones that tried to break away from the formula. Let’s delve into the rough and pull out some diamonds then…
15. Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, Jack Shoulder)
When it comes to overlooked sequels in the “Nightmare” franchise, there’s a handful of contenders. “Dream Warriors” is a glorious fantasy/adventure movie overlooked now but was a box office smash back then; the crazy postmodern “New Nightmare” is fascinating, but sadly hampered by a lame third act.
No, if there’s a true runt of the litter, it’s this offbeat entry that the majority disliked due to it altering an already established formula (*cough* “Halloween 3” *cough*).
Now, it’s understandable for an audience back in 1985 who were anticipating the return of Kruger, but who were instead treated to a bizarre tale that showcased Freddy representing a homosexual metamorphosis; a bewildered reaction is understandable. Yet in retrospect, the franchise was able to get back on track after this odd detour, so we’re able to judge the film on its own strengths and what you’re left with is a solid 80’s horror flick with ballsy subtext, some amazing special effects, and solid acting.
Mark Patton, in the lead role, gives the film a dramatic weight missing from similar genre fair. No matter what weird twists and turns the plot throws at him, he genuinely makes us feel for the character, and his central relationship with Kim Myers is surprisingly touching (although THAT dancing scene is still inexcusable).
Of course, Robert Englund is incredible and since these were the early days of Freddy, he’s played as a chilling murderer instead of a talk show host with a handful of iconic moments throughout. The best of all is a jaw-dropping transformation sequence that still stands as a marvel of practical effects.
On the technical side, Jack Shoulder (“The Hidden”, “Alone in the Dark”) delivers a solid effort with a priority on drama and performance, and for a B-grade sequel, the man treats the whole ordeal with a surprising amount of class and it helps.
Now, this film had a handful of misguided moments that just didn’t work (including the the pool party massacre), but at least its psychological horror elements and homosexual subtext make for an interesting ride, as opposed to just another run-of-the-mill sequel cashing in on Freddy’s good name.
14. Scream 4 (2011, Wes Craven)
The 90s were a graveyard for the horror genre aside from Wes Craven’s whip-crack smart “Scream” franchise, yet with “Scream 3” (2000), the hip concept of the postmodern slasher had run its course with nothing more interesting to say.
When Dimension Studios decided to crank out a fourth entry more than a decade later, it felt like an unnecessary cash grab. The trio of stars (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette) were all middle-aged, Craven hadn’t made a solid horror film since 1997, and the horror genre had exploded in a completely different direction.
Surprisingly, all these negatives added up to making this fourth entry a sensationally solid sequel; the stance of having a group of adults lead a slasher movie was a fresh one, plus the cast had improved as actors in their age (although Cox’s surgery definitely had not). Craven was also hungry to prove himself again, and the old pro pulled out all the stops to make this effort a suspenseful and exciting horror film.
Also (and most importantly), because since 2000 the popularity of ‘torture porn’ and endless horror remakes was in full force, the franchise finally had something to comment on again. In a clever twist, the new killers are attempting to remake the first film with gorier kills. It all gets incredibly meta from there, but in a fun and smart way, like a “Scream” film should.
Regardless of the movie coming and going without much celebration and low box office results, this would be a fitting swan song for the late great Craven – a fast, sharp, and effective horror film, and the best “Scream” sequel out of the bunch. If you were a fan of them from back in the day, this is more than worth a watch.
13. Frankenstein Created Woman (1967, Terence Fisher)
The Hammer “Frankenstein” movies are all pretty damn watchable, in great thanks to Peter Cushing’s always reliable take on the sinister doctor (the less said about the Ralph Bates entry, the better), but when it comes to brass tacks, it’s essentially the same story, which makes this haunting installment stand out from the pack.
It was initially a critical and commercial failure on release due to a different and more sensitive approach to the franchise’s formula. Cushing’s titular character takes a back seat as a tragic tale grabs central focus – a deformed girl (Susan Denberg) is brought back to life and haunted by her dead former love.
Of course, being a 60’s Hammer film, a murder-revenge spree predictably takes over in the third act, but it’s all shrouded by a layer of melancholy, thoughtful performances, and haunting themes that linger with you long past the credits. Even Cushing’s Frankenstein warms ever so slightly in light of what might be the saddest Hammer film and a heavily undervalued entry in the franchise.
12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993, Adam Marcus)
Unlike most horror franchises, Jason’s first entry was hardly a classic; it’s a serviceable “Halloween” ripoff that became surprisingly profitable and churned out an endless line of sequels. Most were passable to mediocre copies of the original formula with a few exceptions; “Final Chapter” (1984) and “Jason Lives” (1986) are high-points. Yet none of them met so much hate from critics and fans alike like this wacky detour that tried to shake up things.
First things first, as a Jason Voorhees vehicle, this film is a complete failure; aside from an awesome opening, Kane Hodder’s iconic take on the character is hardly in it. Also, the radical additions to the franchise mythology are just plain unnecessary and confusing, but with that said, if judged on it’s own merits, it’s a cracking fun little horror movie.
The plot swerves towards a ‘hidden’-like body-swapping thriller that is surprisingly well acted and directed – the center duo of John D. LeMay and Kari Keagan are likeable and rounded characters not often seen in the franchise.
Director Adam Marcus injects the movie with an enthusiastic energy that’s more Sam Raimi than Carpenter clone, and the results are refreshing. The last 20 minutes are particularly crazy and inventive with several direct nods to the “Evil Dead” franchise and a bucketload of gory payoffs and shoot-outs.
Conclusively, if you can put your complaints aside, you’re in for a entertaining genre movie with plenty of thrills, s, and an awesome cameo in its final frames.
11. House 3: The Horror Show (1989, James Isaac)
Filmed as “The Horror Show” but then haphazardly marketed as the official third installment of the offbeat “House” franchise, the confusion and stand-alone nature of the movie added to this effort being overlooked over the years.
Another reason is the plot – Lance Henriksen’s cop is haunted by the ghost of Brion James’s bug-nuts serial killer after he’s been given the chair. If you horror buffs are thinking the synopsis sounds familiar, that’s because it is; Wes Craven’s similar “Shocker” came out in the same year with a dead similar pitch, and unfortunately stole much of this film’s thunder.
Yet this overlooked gem packs a real punch. James Isaac (“Jason X”) made an impressive debut with a sharp knack for style, confidently handling the visuals with a nice eye for colorful and suspenseful camerawork that cleverly echoes Henriksen’s loosening grip on sanity.
Yet where the film really excels is with its two leads; the ever-reliable Henriksen is cast against type, playing the straight hero cop, a usually bland archetype, but the genre vet delivers an intense and tortured twist on it.
Still, it’s James’s show through and through, playing the villain with all the gleeful pleasure of a kid in a candy store. His hulking stature and bulging eyeballs make him a frightful boogeyman, and in an ideal world, this film would’ve taken off and the man could’ve found his own Freddy Kruger styled franchise.
This one came and went without much fanfare, and regardless of its odd fit in the “House” franchise, this effective horror film deserves its due.
10. Son Of Dracula (1943, Robert Siodmak)
This third and underrated entry in Universal’s “Dracula” series is set in the deliciously murky swamps of New Orleans. Lon Chaney Jr. plays Count Alucard (which is Dracula spelled backwards), who turns an aristocratic community upside down with his sudden marriage to a plantation owner’s daughter (Louise Albritton).
As a former Wolfman and Frankenstein, Chaney Jr. adds another notch in his monster repertoire by taking on the Count. From Christopher Lee’s “Hammer” films we know a hulking alpha male can unconventionally make the role work. but Chaney Jr. lacks Lee’s theatrical training; as a physical force, he’s fierce, yet when it comes to subtle threats and dark seduction, the man lacks the gravitas. Still, he manages to be quite strong regardless with several commanding scenes, and he’s ably accompanied by the delicate and beautiful Albritton.
However, the true star of the show is director Robert Siodmak, a German ex-pat in the early stages of his Hollywood career; he would go onto to direct a handful of delicious film noir milestones (“The Spiral Stars”, “The Killers”).
The man had an excellent handle on cranking the most out of a limited budget, with lush lighting and fluid camera moves making the cheap set flawlessly come to life. He brought a visual personality to proceedings that was sadly missing from Universal’s horror slate since they parted ways with James Whale.
It’s true shame this was his only effort for the studio, and aside from a couple of laughable hokey attempts at special effects (gotta love that bat transformation!), this atmospheric, unique horror film is one their overlooked best, and the strongest entry in their “Dracula” franchise.
9. Predator 2 (1990, Stephen Hopkins)
The “Predator” franchise has always had a gigantic shadow cast over it by its nearly flawless 1987 original – no entry has, or will, ever come close to the muscular perfection of it. Once people have made their peace with that, this barmy follow-up can be appreciated for what it is – an insane and bloody 80’s action flick with one of the best movie monsters around.
If the first film was a macho ‘men-on-a-mission’ movie smashed up with sci-fi/horror, then this one takes the ‘renegade cop’ subgenre for a similarly fun ride with the dreadlocked extraterrestrial coming to dystopian Los Angeles as the cops and street gangs are in an all-out war with each other.
Danny Glover brings his great world-weary yet equally pissed off gravitas to the lead role, even though he’s strangely miscast. It was obvious the script called for someone of Schwarzenegger’s caliber (e.g. Van Damme or Lundgren, who strangely made the similar and equally awesome “Dark Angel” the same year) to fill the role. Yet somehow Glover’s unorthodox take is endlessly entertaining regardless. He’s joined by the always great 80’s genre stalwarts Bill Paxton, Gary Busey, and a very young Adam Baldwin.
Yet, what about its most important cast member – the Predator itself? Flawlessly dressed by Kevin Peter Hall’s hulking frame, Stan Winston’s effects house was at its peak and the execution of their milestone monster is never slacking, making us yearn for an era where practical effects artistry was a priority in our blockbusters.
Stephen Hopkins, a low-key horror/action vet, really goes all out with the set pieces, starting with a massive bang in a exhilarating street war and not letting up until the gonzo cat-and-mouse chase finale between the creature and Glover. It’s a bucketload of fun from beginning to end, and makes us realize that although it was easy to dismiss at the time of its release, they really don’t make big budget franchise movies like this anymore.