Sequels are as much a part of the horror genre as blood, zombies and vampires. If a horror movie made so much as a buck at the box office, you can bet there was a Part 2 (or Part II) right around the corner.
While perhaps a bit more resistant, horror fiction is far from immune to "sequelitis." These days the series is king, and it's not unusual for authors to sign deals for multiple parts of a single story rather than stand-alone novels. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Passage – readers went into these knowing there were three or more books planned to tell the story. But once upon a time, a sequel was a rarer and more anticipated thing, an unexpected chance to revisit a character or concept that neither the audience nor the author could seem to shake. Sometimes these sequels soared, sometimes they fell flat, but they never failed to garner a strong reaction from their eager audiences.
Just a few weeks ago, Stephen King confirmed that he is writing a sequel to one of his most revered novels, The Shining. Tentatively titled Dr. Sleep, the book is said to center around the character of Danny Torrance, the young survivor of the terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel. Most of the buzz around the book from King's "Constant Readers" seems to be excitement with just a hint of trepidation mixed in. While King's no stranger to writing a long series (The Dark Tower) or revisiting characters who cross over into other books (Donald Callahan of ‘Salem's Lot and the latter Dark Tower books, for example), he's really only written one outright sequel, The Black House, which followed up The Talisman, both of which were collaborations with Peter Straub. If Dr. Sleep does indeed get released, it's got some mighty big shoes to fill, but King certainly seems up to the challenge.
Not everyone has been, though. Take Ira Levin, for example. In 1997 he released Son of Rosemary, the sequel to his 1967 novel Rosemary's Baby, which (like The Shining) was a success both in bookstores and on the big screen. The book reunites Rosemary, who has been in a coma since the original's events, with her 33-year-old son Andy. What follows is a confusing mish-mash of cult activity, Biblical references and a plot twist straight out of an old episode of "Dallas." The book was widely reviled, making a movie adaptation unlikely.
William Peter Blatty fared far better with his follow-up to The Exorcist, a novel called Legion. The book follows Lieutenant William Kinderman as he investigates the gruesome crucifixion/murder of a young deaf-mute boy, and is filled with equal parts police procedure and philosophical musings. The book was well-received and turned into a movie, (Exorcist III, strangely making the second book the third movie in the series) directed by Blatty himself. Although it failed to capture the acclaim of the original Exorcist, the third movie has gained a solid reputation through years of repeat viewings.
Twenty-three years after creating one of the definitive serial killers in Norman Bates, Robert Bloch wrote a sequel to Psycho called Psycho II. Eager to try and duplicate the success of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Universal Pictures began prepping a screenplay for the cinematic sequel, only to find that the book was a scathing critique of the slasher/splatter mentality so pervasive in Hollywood horror at the time. In Bloch's story, Norman escapes the insane asylum and travels to Tinseltown, where a movie based on his life is being made. People begin to die in gruesome fashion, and Bloch pulls off the unique and difficult combination of humor and horror in a way that most movies find impossible to achieve. Apparently Universal had no intention of poking fun at itself, so they ditched Bloch's novel and released a Psycho II that was a by-the-numbers slasher pic and a pale imitation of the masterpiece that preceded it.
As with Bloch and Psycho II, a lot of years have passed since the original Danny Torrance story, so it's fair to assume that King isn't just trying to cash in on a popular property. As Levin can attest, revisiting a bona fide classic is a gamble, and if you get it wrong the fans will let you know about it in no uncertain terms. Here's hoping that King manages to catch lightning in a bottle once again with a book that's as thoughtful, literate and horrifying as its predecessor.
These are just a few examples of sequels in the book world – what are some of your favorites? What are some sequels that would have been better off remaining a twinkle in the author's eye?
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country (http://theoctobercountry.wordpress.com), and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.