Horror films are a different type of beast. When most film franchises get to their fourth or fifth sequel, the decline is on (except for the Fast and Furious franchise). Horror films, on the other hand, find a way to hone in and exploit what made the original work so well.
Sometimes this doesn’t work (I’m looking at you Child’s Play 3 and Hellraiser: Hellworld), and other times you find yourself with a Friday the 13th Part IV. The horror genre gives us the best roll of the dice when it comes to potential improvements within a film franchise. What I would like to do with this article is to highlight 14 horror film sequels that I feel are not talked about as highly as other film sequels.
You may ask yourself, “Why 14?” The best answer I have to that is, “Why not?” So with that, let the listing commence!
14 – Child’s Play 2
The original Child’s Play is a small masterpiece in suspenseful terror courtesy of director Tom Holland and writers John Lafia, Tom Holland, and series architect Don Mancini. The original film follows serial killer Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) transferring his soul into a Good Guy doll and wreaking havoc on the Barclay family—specifically Andy (Alex Vincent). Child’s Play 2 picks up two years later with Andy now in the care of foster parents. Thought-dead Chucky returns with one goal in mind: to transfer his soul into Andy’s body.
Child’s Play 2 (written by Don Mancini and directed by John Lafia) plays out as a very confident horror film. With no need for setting up the characters, Mancini first works towards building a believable relationship between Andy and his foster sister, Kyle (Christine Elise McCarthy). The two strike up a genuine closeness throughout the film and is one of the film’s highlights. Secondly, Mancini molds the personality of Chucky that would define him for future films. While keeping a menacing side, Chucky begins to toy with the one-liners that audiences identify with the Child’s Play franchise.
Though not on par with the original, Child’s Play 2 feels like a worthy continuation. The film still keeps some of the suspense that dominated the original, yet has moments of dark humor that would permeate later entries in the series. The film culminates in an epic third act conclusion that elevates the film beyond just another slasher. Child’s Play 2 climaxes with Chucky, Andy, and Kyle in an epic fight-and-chase through a doll factory. Lafia films the sequence with precision and makes the most of the location. Child’s Play 2 is not a better film than its predecessor, but it is a fun sequel and delivers everything you would want.
13 – Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
Back in 1993, Jason had been away from cinemas for four years after the failure of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Paramount had sold the right to the Jason Voorhees character to New Line Cinema, who wanted to resurrect Jason in a big way. Thankfully for horror fans, Kane Hodder was retained as Jason. For New Line, resurrecting Jason constituted re-jigging the mythology of the franchise.
Instead of Jason killing a bunch of horny teenagers, writers Jay Huguley and Dean Lorey concocted an idea involving the spirit of Jason body-hopping between characters on his way to possessing a bloodline relative. And no, I wasn’t describing the plot of The Hidden, even though it sounds identical. Where the plot falters, the kills pick up the slack. Not to give away spoilers, but two scenes stand out among the goriest within the franchise. A scene in a tent and a character melting show off some tremendous effects work from KNB.
There is one other reason to give Jason Goes to Hell another shot, and that is Steven Williams’ character, Creighton Duke. Duke is a bounty hunter, who is this film’s version of Quint from Jaws. With crazed eyes, a hatred for fingers, and determination to spare, Duke is the type of character you want to see get his own movie. So yes, I admit that the film has many faults, but there are enough bright spots that I feel Jason Goes to Hell could be considered underrated.
12 – Hellraiser: Hellseeker
I never said all of these films were good per se, but I present Hellraiser: Hellseeker. Yes, this is the sixth installment of the Hellraiser franchise. I understand that this is the second film that was released straight-to-video. I get that it came from Dimension Films. Even with all that, I still feel that Hellraiser: Hellseeker should be on this list.
For one thing, we get Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) back; she is always a welcome addition. Doug Bradley still acts the hell (no pun intended) out of his limited screentime. The story certainly is a low-rent Jacob’s Ladder rip-off, but you know what? I enjoy Jacob’s Ladder, and I enjoy this movie. With this being a low budget effort, parts of the film do suffer. Some of the acting is spotty, sure, and the visual effects are sub-standard at best. If you can get by those things and enjoy films that question reality, you could do a lot worse than Hellraiser: Hellseeker.
11 – Predator 2
Now we come to a movie that I don’t feel I have to defend as hard. For me, Predator is one of the greatest action films ever made—no question. A sequel to such a classic would always be a hard sell. Written by the brother duo from the first film, Jim and John Thomas, Predator 2 is a product of its time. Set in the futuristic year of 1997, depicting a gang-infested Los Angeles, a Predator, has come to the city. With only one goal in mind; the Predator sets his sights on the gangs, government agents, and local police.
Danny Glover stars as a hard-headed LAPD lieutenant who, with his crew of cops, investigates the murder of multiple gang members. During his investigation, Glover’s Mike Harrigan runs afoul of a government agent (Gary Busey) who might know more than he lets on.
The Los Angles in this film are as much a character as the jungle in the first film. Where the casting in Predator is unmatched, what we get in Predator 2 could be considered the antithesis. Harrigan, though good at his job, struggles to keep up with the Predator. Bill Paxton’s character is a relentless douchebag, while Gary Busey reins in his crazy persona. These characters fly in the face of the original film’s likable group of soldiers, who seem like perfect foils, yet are nothing more than flies in the ointment to the Predator.
Branching off the original film’s building blocks, the Predator offs characters left and right with a new arsenal of weapons. Thankfully, coming out in 1990, the film is not over-reliant on CGI. The first-class effects work goes a long way with the cast doing what they can. Kevin Peter Hall returning as the Predator is great as would be expected, while Danny Glover’s Harrigan is a different type of hero. Harrigan doesn’t try to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch. Though some might be turned off by the repentant ugliness of the film, I feel Predator 2 works on its own and is a successful sequel.
10 – Diary of the Dead
After utilizing a large (for George A. Romero standards) budget with Land of the Dead, Romero lowered the scope and budget for his follow-up Diary of the Dead. Released early on during the found footage boom, Diary follows a group of film students producing a horror film when—you guessed it, the dead walk the Earth.
Overall, regarding the Dead series, I feel Romero crafted a great piece of work. Except for the last film in the series, Survival of the Dead, there isn’t one bad film of the bunch. With this penultimate film in the Dead series, Romero finds a new dimension to document the zombie apocalypse. Using the found footage angle well, we feel that we are part of the students trying to survive the outbreak. Yes, the film falls into early found footage tropes, including rapid movements and editing, but the film works well as a whole. Most who have seen the film enjoy it, but I do not hear a lot of talk on Diary, which is disappointing. If you’ve never seen Diary of the Dead, or enjoy Romero’s work, this is an underrated gem.
9 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
What do you do when you’re tasked with following up one of the most iconic horror films of all time? Go in a completely new direction, of course! Tobe Hooper returns to the director’s chair and delivers one of the best black comedies of all time. Leaving behind the independent grindhouse feel of the first film, Chainsaw 2 is a more polished film that takes the deft black comedy of the first one and throws it in your face.
“Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) is on the trail of the Sawyer clan. Out to avenge the terrors from the original film, he teams up with radio DJ “Stretch” (Caroline Williams). Not to be outdone, the Sawyer clan, including Drayton (Jim Siedow), “Chop Top” (Bill Moseley), and Leatherface (Bill Johnson) continue their reign of terror throughout Texas.
This film is certainly underrated. The black comedy hits well, Bill Johnson’s take of Leather face is…let’s say different, and Dennis Hopper runs around screaming and getting into a chainsaw fight. What’s not to love?
8 – V/H/S 2
When it comes to horror anthologies, I look at them with trepidation. For every Creepshow, there’s a Creepshow 2 AND a Creepshow 3! So, when V/H/S hit the scene back in 2012, I wasn’t a fan. I liked the idea more than the execution. When V/H/S 2 came along, I didn’t have much enthusiasm. By the end of the sequel’s runtime, I felt that the film had hit the potential the first film had promised.
Without going into each story in-depth, the sequel’s ideas match the ambition that the film presents. Including the wraparound, V/H/S 2 contains five stories; none of them awful. Among the four main stories, the standouts are “A Ride in the Park” and the epic “Safe Haven.” V/H/S 2 is a rare sequel that is better than the original.
7 – Saw VI
I can almost hear the groaning. The fifth sequel to Saw? What could this film possibly offer? Surprisingly, a lot. In all transparency, I am a fan of the Saw franchise, so take what I say with a grain of salt. There’s something about the way this group of films tries so hard to make sense, yet failing at it. It’s admirable.
Anyway, Saw VI finds John Kramer (Tobin Bell) still dead with Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) working as John’s apprentice. This time, health insurance executive William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) finds himself part of a game. With only one hour to complete the game, William has to save himself, and those he knows, before the game, is over.
Yes, this is still a Saw film and needs to follow a formula, but the acting is better than it should be. Along with a timely theme detailing health insurance and better traps than in series’ past, Saw VI is one of the franchise’s better sequels.
6 – Cult of Chucky
We now come to the only franchise with two entries on this list. Even better than Child’s Play 2, we find what is, in my opinion, the best sequel to Child’s Play, the 2017 sequel: Cult of Chucky.
Wheelchair-dependent, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) finds herself locked up in a mental institution after the murder of her family. After meeting an assortment of varied characters within the institution, Chucky finds himself confined with Nica. As persons within the institution begin dying, Nica has to find a way to end the violence and stop the proverbial cult.
With that description, Cult of Chucky sounds like a typical chapter of the Child’s Play franchise. And to an extent, that is true. But with a franchise this wild and diverse, you know that the film has some surprises up its sleeve, and I wouldn’t ruin any of them.
5 – Final Destination 5
Following up the worst entry in any series shouldn’t be that difficult. Instead of clearing the low bar that The Final Destination set, writer Eric Heisserer and director Steven Quale took what worked best between the prior films and crafted one of the best entries in the series.
Sam Lawton (Nicholas D’Agosto) saves the lives of multiple people from a disaster. Once all are safe, the danger truly begins as Death hunts down the survivors one at a time.
Heisserer crafts a handful of believable characters that the audience can relate to and, for the most part, want to survive. When Death strikes one of the characters down, there is a resonance that later entries do not possess. Heisserer and the cast step it up and bring their A-game.
Quale uses his prior skills as an assistant director for James Cameron to good effect. From the opening disaster to the closing sequence, Quale puts visual effects to good use. He has a sure hand for directing and stages the set-pieces with extreme confidence. Final Destination 5 is one of, if not the best in the franchise and needs to be seen.
4 – Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Do I consider this a horror film? No. Was Gremlins a horror film? Some might say yes to that. That’s good enough for me. Plus it’s my list, which brings us to Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Moving the action from small-town Kingston Falls to Manhattan, Billy Peltzer and Kate Beringer (Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates) are trying to set up new lives in New York City. Through a set of circumstances, Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) spawns a new batch of gremlins.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch is one of those films that words cannot do justice. The film relies heavily on satire instead of scares, and that may turn some people off. Not being a fan of the original, I instead applaud what Joe Dante did to subvert the ideas presented in the first film and turns everything on its head. As I said, with the focus on more comedic elements, this sequel may not be for everyone. It worked for me though, and I appreciate every second of Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
3 – Maniac Cop 2
In what may be one of the most underrated horror trilogies, Maniac Cop 2 is The Godfather Part II of exploitation slasher films. Keeping the same talent as the original, Maniac Cop 2 does what the best sequels do: take what worked in the original, and expand upon that.
Returning director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen pick up where the first film ended. Undead cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) haunts the streets of New York City while Detective Lieutenant Sean McKinney (Robert Davi) hunts Cordell. During this time, returning heroes Jack Forrest, Jr. (Bruce Campbell), and Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon) struggle to move on.
Cohen’s crisp dialogue and Lustig’s eye for directing elevate this beyond another generic slasher. Maniac Cop 2 works well as an action and slasher film. Playing with a larger budget, Lustig stages impressive sequences that are both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Maniac Cop 2 is an outstanding film.
2 – The Exorcist III
Here’s another film that had a low bar to clear. William Peter Blatty was hired to adapt his novel Legion and concocted a story that involved Exorcist character, Lieutenant Kinderman. The Exorcist III picks up 15 years after the original film when a series of murders begin around Georgetown. Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott) realizes that the crimes resemble those of an executed serial killer.
The Exorcist III was a notoriously troubled production between Blatty and production company Morgan Creek. Originally to be titled Legion and not featuring an exorcism, Blatty and Morgan Creek butted heads over the direction of the film. Eventually, Morgan Creek prevailed, with Blatty shooting a new ending that included an exorcism sequence.
Even with a production plagued with issues, the final product comes out surprisingly well. Blatty’s writing and directing go a long way in the film, and with George C. Scott commanding the screen as would be expected, The Exorcist III deserves more adoration than it has received. Plus, it has one of the most iconic jump scares in film history, so what’s not to enjoy?
1 – Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Our final entry on the list brings one of the most underappreciated horror sequels of all time: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Wes Craven returns to the franchise that helped launch his career. With this seventh installment, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was Scream before Scream. Instead of following the typical Nightmare formula, Wes Craven took a more meta and cerebral approach by having the cast and crew of the Nightmare franchise terrorized by an entity resembling Freddy Krueger.
Though resonating with critics, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare failed to make much of an impression at the box office, becoming the lowest-grossing film in the franchise. This may have come from poor timing since the similarly-themed Scream found mainstream success only two years later. As time has gone on, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare has found an audience within the horror community. If you haven’t had the opportunity, I highly recommend giving this flick a chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
So, those are 14 of my favorite underrated horror films that I wanted to give a mention. I’m sure you might disagree with some of my choices, or put differing sequels in place of mine. What are some of yours?