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Unexpected Horror Sequels

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Horror movies far too often abide by the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." These days it's no shock to see a sequel treading familiar ground. Whether the original director wants to return to his or her vision or a studio wants to strike gold twice, it's rare to see a sequel that really breaks the mold. But what's more exciting than a fresh take on an established franchise? We started thinking about all the times a sequel challenged our expectations and put together a list of our favorite sequels that veered from the course. They're nothing like their predecessors... and we love them for it!

Aliens
 
Aliens
 
The Predecessor: Ridley Scott's 1979 classic Alien was a tight, white-knuckled horror story set in space. Adrift in the galaxy, the crew of the Nostromo discover a derelict alien spacecraft and slowly, agonizingly discover just how screwed they really are. The first film is all about tension as the alien (Xenomorph, for you old pros) stalks the crew like inferior prey.
 
The Sequel: James Cameron's Aliens says it all in the title. This isn't just one very dangerous alien stalking a crew; this is about a swarm of them attacking a task force sent to hunt them down. The film still has plenty of terrifying scenes full of tension and dread, but the bulk of the film is action-oriented. Whether the characters are firing off machine guns, driving around in tanks, or getting into a cargo-loader fist-fight with the alien queen, this film is all about high-octane craziness! Definitely a far cry from John Hurt giving chest-birth during lunch in the first film.
 
Phantasm2
 
Phantasm II
 
The Predecessor: Don Coscarelli's Phantasm tells the tale of a pair of recently-orphaned brothers Mike and Jody and their rad-as-hell ice cream man pal Reggie, who are investigating a series of strange deaths in their town. The mysterious mortician, known only as The Tall Man, is their prime suspect. With the death of Mike & Jody's parents still fresh in their minds, they skulk around the mausoleum, are chased by a silver flying orb of death, and eventually discover a gateway between worlds and miniature monsters made up of dead people. Whoa.
 
The Sequel: Phantasm II picks up six years later, with Coscarelli again at the helm. Mike (played here by another actor) has been stuck in a mental institution and no one believes that Jody was killed by the Tall Man. Once Mike's premonition comes true (in which Reggie's house is blown up), the one-time ice cream man and a now grown-up Mike hit the road, searching for The Tall Man. They create awesome shotguns and booby traps, cruise the open road, and eventually encounter their target. This sequel takes the original idea of exploration and turns it into a road movie. A strange turn... but then again, the first film wasn't that normal either.
 
Halloween3
 
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
 
The Predecessors: John Carpenter's legendary 1978 Halloween and its successful sequel... what needs to be said about these two masterpieces? The slasher genre was practically created, honed, perfected, and deconstructed in these two movies alone. The story of Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis, and (of course) Michael Myers will forever resonate with horror fans and casual viewers alike. That iconic mask, the dead-eye stalking, the baby-sitter in trouble motif… what more could you ask for? When you've got a screaming success on your hands twice, it only seems natural to repeat the process a third time, right?
 
The Sequel: Wrong. Halloween III: Season of the Witch features no Michael, no Laurie… hell, we don't even get to see Dr. Loomis' big old noggin! But that's what makes this film so special. The original idea for the Halloween franchise was for it to be more of an annual anthology that would be about something scary that happened on Halloween. But when the first film turned out to be such a hit, they just continued the same storyline instead. I bet if Halloween II wasn't about Michael and his estranged family, Season of the Witch wouldn't have been so reviled, but today it's been re-evaluated as a classic of cheesy, fun, weird horror cinema. The plot revolves around androids, Halloween masks that melt the heads of children, and Stonehenge! It may be a huge WTF-fest, but it's an amazing offshoot of a very powerful brand. If you haven't seen it, you must! Just don't go in looking for the man in the white Shatner mask, because you won't find him (unless you count a brief TV cameo).
 
Devils_Rejects
 
The Devil's Rejects
 
The Predecessor: Rob Zombie's first foray into feature films, House of 1000 Corpses, was a taught, scary-as-hell psychological funhouse ride. The whole film plays out like an homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other "hillbilly horrors" where young city folk get trapped in a weird, old house by a weird, psychotic, abusive rural family. In this case, it's the Firefly clan who attack and torture their newfound captives. The film is about the family, the house, and the victims, which all adds to the tension of the film. The setting acts almost as another character, in much the same way Chainsaw's dinner table scene defined that film.
 
The Sequel: Rob's follow-up The Devil's Rejects took the characters everyone loved (or loved to hate), Baby, Otis, and Captain Spaulding, and set them on the run. Instead of this film being about how these monsters tortured people in their home, the focus shifted to their actions while pursued by the cops... and believe me, they still act plenty nasty. Even the film's color palate was completely different: instead of deep, dark blues and greens, this film is filled with burning-hot oranges, yellows, and white desert heat. This movie has a very 1970's bad-guys-on-the-run feel, and while it is at times quite horrific, it's much less of a "horror" film than its predecessor. 
 
Army_Darkness
 
Army of Darkness
 
The Predecessors: Ahh, Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2... you wonders of interesting "cabin horror!" In these two seminal Sam Raimi classics, the star of the show, Ash Williams (the immortal Bruce Campbell) is on an all-out warpath against an evil force that stalks, possesses, and kills most of his friends and loved ones. There's not much of a thematic shift between these two films: both take place in the same cabin, and both feature the evil force trying to get to the good guys. But the sequel delved more into "splatstick" horror comedy, inspired by Raimi's beloved Three Stooges routines, and that humor continued into the next installment in a major way...
 
The Sequel: Boy, do things change in Army of Darkness. Picking up at the end of Evil Dead 2, Army is all about Ash… but he's definitely not in the cabin anymore. He's now been teleported to the 1300s, and while he may still have his "boom-stick" and his awesome chainsaw-arm, he's definitely not in the woods anymore. But the setting isn't the only thing that changes in this flick: in addition to playing up the previous film's comic elements, this one goes all-out action on us. We see huge battles against the Deadites and tiny Ash clones, and epic struggles play out in a fast-paced comic fantasy romp. Army of Darkness has the distinction of being one of the only films to intensely break from the mold of its predecessors and still be universally loved by fans of the series.
 
Honorable mentions go to Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 (known simply as Zombie in the US) and Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead for being "sequels" of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead… kind of. These flicks, inspired by and made in spite of Romero's vision for the series, change the zombie movie mold and challenge the notion that a horror sequel has to be directly tied to and produced by the makers of the original, copyrights be damned. We also give a special shout-out to the much maligned Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 for barely utilizing the original's gritty, first-person, mockumentary style.
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