These must-see sequels are the horror genre’s eerie essentials.
By Steven Thrash October 26, 2022 at 02:34 PM EDT
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) surprised fans with arguably the most famous revelation in cinema history: “I am your father.” But the follow-up to Star Wars (1977) also revealed to cinephiles how inherently good movie sequels can be.
The best horror sequels on this list don’t all surpass their original counterparts, but each one deserves recognition in film history as notable entries in the horror genre. Now, for every good sequel like The Conjuring 2 (2016) there’s inevitably a Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985) that obliquely sends potential scary movie fans running in the opposite direction. Rest assured, this list represents the crème de la crème of sequels.
Now, enjoy, in chronological order, EW’s list of the 20 best horror sequels of all time.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Aside from the inability to suspend disbelief at the silliness of the shrunken test subjects kept in glass jars, The Bride of Frankenstein sets the standard for horror sequels to this day. Despite the appalling consequences of Frankenstein’s (Colin Clive) actions in the 1931 film, the baron teams up with Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) to create a mate (Elsa Lanchester) for the Monster (Boris Karloff).
The mermaid contained in the final jar was Olympic gold-medalist Josephine McKim. McKim’s stint in Hollywood lasted just five years, but she appeared in six films, and she served as Maureen O’Sullivan’s stunt double in Tarzan and His Mate (1934).
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Son of the original mad scientist, Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) begins with the best of intentions when he returns to his father’s fateful estate, but he succumbs to the overpowering urge to continue the family business when he crosses paths with the mysterious Ygor (Bela Lugosi)…and the secret lurking in the basement.
Donnie Dunagan portrays the five-year-old grandson of Frankenstein, and Boris Karloff, who reprises his role as the Monster for the final time here, bought him ice cream when they met for the first time. But while shooting the movie’s climax, Karloff accidentally dropped Dunagan onto the hard floor! The crew thus tied Dunagan to Karloff for the ensuing takes so the boy wouldn’t get hurt. And thanks to his lack of injuries from the incident, Dunagan was able to go on to voice Young Bambi a few years later.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
In one of the earliest (and best) examples of horror comedy, Larry Talbot, aka the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.), teams up with, of all people, baggage workers Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello) in order to do the impossible. They must stop the express shipment of Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange) in Universal‘s ultimate horror mash-up.
An unseen horror icon made a cameo during the last scene, as Vincent Price’s voice could be heard when the Invisible Man joined Chick and Wilbur in their boat. Serving a much larger role in the picture, Bela Lugosi returned to play Dracula for the first time since portraying the character in 1931. While Lugosi also appeared on stage in 1927 as the Count in Hamilton Deane’s play before helming the celebrated 1931 film, Bela only donned Dracula’s cloak for Universal two times — and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was one of them.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Dracula (Christopher Lee) returns to sink his teeth into some new blood, and it’s up to the Kents (Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer) to stop the Carpathian count. Dracula: Prince of Darkness is one of the best Hammer sequels, but behind the scenes, there were some hiccups…
First off, the contact lenses Lee wore made seeing near-impossible, but most astounding of all was the fact Dracula didn’t have a single line of dialogue in the film — not one word! Lee declared his lines were rubbish, so he refused to speak them. However, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster maintained that he wrote Dracula’s character without any dialogue.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
Frozen stiff in the running water that sealed his fate in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), the Count (Christopher Lee) thaws out and targets Maria (Veronica Carlson) who is declared in the original theatrical trailer to be “Dracula’s most beautiful victim.”
Before Hammer Film Productions discovered Carlson, she was busy attending college and modeling. Carlson would play hooky from class whenever a new Frankenstein or Dracula film opened in theaters, and she “yearned” to be on the silver screen. However, Carlson didn’t realize she’d be sharing cinemas with the likes of Lee and Peter Cushing in the very movies she loved so dearly.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Fifteen years after the scandalous events of Night of the Living Dead (1968), filmmaker George A. Romero paints a canvas of colorized, bloody zombies in the most apropos of locations for the pop-culture rich world of the late 1970s: a shopping mall!
Sure, some of the actors ate real (animal) organs in Night of the Living Dead, but the sequel features the make-up effects wizardry of Tom Savini, and it’s hard to beat the screwdriver in the zombie’s ear scene, or that helicopter decapitation.
Psycho II (1983)
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) tries to turn his life around after being released from incarceration, but Lila Loomis (Vera Miles) wants revenge for her sister’s death (re: the original film’s infamous shower slasher scene). The wildcard in this sequel is a waitress, Mary (Meg Tilly), who befriends Bates, but is she truly a friend? It’s hard to tell when he begins receiving messages from dearest “Mother,” and when murders seem to follow his trail back into society.
Before Perkins signed on to reprise his iconic role, Psycho II was going to be a made-for-TV movie. However, Tom Holland’s brilliant screenplay tempted Perkins into crawling back for more. In 1985, Holland’s success in the horror genre also continued when he wrote and directed his homage to vampire movies, Fright Night.
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” The original film’s tagline still holds true, but the sequel to Ridley Scott‘s Alien (1979) screams are still inevitable as Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), fresh out of her 57-year stint in the previous film’s escape pod, faces a number of aliens swarming on a new colony, including a pair of facehuggers and their queen.
James Cameron‘s Aliens deviated slightly from the horror atmosphere of Alien, instead focusing more on action. Ripley is, without question, the epitome of what a Final Girl should be in a scary movie, and she single-handedly pursues the young Newt (Carrie Henn) to save her from the queen. Michael Biehn co-stars as Hicks, and he also appeared in Cameron’s other hit, The Terminator (1984).
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
“Die, die!” These words swirl in Tommy Jarvis’ (Thom Mathews) head, as he suffers from the haunting memories of his encounter with Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984). Tommy’s obsession with seeing Jason’s body — and ensuring he’s dead — leads to the killer being exhumed. And during a violent thunderstorm, a lightning bolt snaps, cracks, and brings Jason back to life.
Tom McLoughlin wasn’t keen on helming a Friday the 13th sequel, but Frank Mancuso Jr., who admired the filmmaker’s work on One Dark Night (1983), convinced him to take the job.. McLoughlin loved gothic horror and the Universal monster movies, so it’s no wonder that Frankenstein (1931) inspired Jason’s resurrection via lightning.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Filmmaker Tobe Hooper‘s follow-up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is undoubtedly the Evil Dead II of the Texas Chainsaw franchise, and its first sequel flips the script by pouring on the gore and (surprisingly) cranking up the comedy. However, it’s no a laughing matter for Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) who egregiously seeks revenge against the Sawyer family for the death of his nephew.
Writer L. M. Kit Carson worked on the sequel’s script literally until the last day of shooting, and he recalled even falling asleep on set as the final bit of footage was being captured by the director, Hooper. Unfortunately, Cannon executives were still upset with the final product because the Sawyers weren’t in the movie enough. Therefore, to make more room for Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) the subplot revealing Stretch (Caroline Williams) was Lefty’s illegitimate daughter found itself on the cutting room floor.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Don’t let the fact that Ash (Bruce Campbell) dies in The Evil Dead (1981) fool you. Ash is back, and he takes his girlfriend on a romantic getaway (deep in the woods, of course). Unfortunately, the Book of the Dead awaits, and all hell breaks loose when an archeologist recites passages from the text.
Raimi never wanted to do a follow-up story, but Stephen King was such a fan of the original film that Raimi pitched a sequel to Dino de Laurentiis based on King’s recommendation. The result: A blending of horror and comedy that’s among the best sequels we’ve ever seen.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
“Freddy’s home.” Director Chuck Russell’s approach to the Nightmare franchise focuses more on the fantasy of turning each of the victims’ fears against them rather than gore, and it’s in Nightmare 3 that Freddy’s (Robert Englund) one-liners reach the height of their pop culture status.
Russell’s creativity sometimes stank, literally. The cost of constructing an animatronic pig for Kristen’s (Patricia Arquette) nightmare would have broken the budget, so the crew roasted a real hog. The team let it spoil to capture the desired look, and needless to say, everyone on set complained, with cinematographer Roy H. Wagner now insisting that he can still smell that pig to this day.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Few horror sequels can even live up to their predecessors, and while Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) remains one of the most unique body horror entries to come out of the ’80s, Hellbound: Hellraiser II might just have the guts, literally, to surpass the original. Dripping wet with blood, and filled with scene after scene of unforgettable, nightmarish viscera, the second installment succeeds despite the departure of Barker as the director.
Oftentimes, actors tire of playing the same role, or they fear being typecast, but Clare Higgins jumped at the chance to portray Julia once more. “I had to come back because [of] the queen of hell — you see — was an opportunity I just couldn’t miss,” Higgins explained.
The Exorcist III (1990)
Completely disregarding the unfortunate Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Exorcist III centers on the Gemini Killer as he terrorizes Georgetown. Lt. William Kinderman (George C. Scott) tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the serial murderer’s heinous crimes, but Bill is up against a supernatural force beyond any foe he’s ever faced before.
“Legion” refers to both the number of demons possessing Father Karras (Jason Miller), who saved Reagan (Linda Blair) in the original 1973 film, but it’s also the title of William Peter Blatty’s sequel to his novel, The Exorcist. After penning the screenplay for the first iconic film, Blatty returns here to both write and direct the series’ third installment, and we’re all better for it. Brad Dourif portrays the Gemini Killer, but he’s best known as the voice of Chucky from the Child’s Play franchise, plus a couple campy cameos from fashion model Fabio and the New York Knicks’ center, Patrick Ewing.
Army of Darkness (1992)
His name is Ash (Bruce Campbell), and he works in housewares. Sam Raimi‘s third installment in the Evil Dead franchise finds S-Mart’s reluctant hero trapped in the Middle Ages. And where the first two treasured films saw the Necronomicon as the source of our hero’s anguish, it’s now the only way for him to return to the present.
Army of Darkness continued the fun, comedic approach implemented in Evil Dead II (1987), seeing Ash become a legend in his own time and the centuries long past. Most of Ash’s memorable one-liners came from the third film: “Give me some sugar, baby; Groovy; Shop smart, shop S-Mart; This is my boomstick; Come get some and Hail to the king, baby.” They all became part of the horror pop culture vernacular — and each cemented Army of Darkness as an indelible, high-camp classic.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
The “King of the Monsters” is on the verge of a literal meltdown…a nuclear meltdown, that is (the beast’s heart is a literal reactor, and it’s about to blow). Meanwhile, a new titan known as the Destoroyah emerges, but this foe can’t be defeated alone. Fortunately, the Son of Godzilla is fully grown, and Junior has his dad’s back.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah marked the end of the second series of Godzilla films, and it also represents the swan song for the human psychic, Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka). Miki was a mainstay in Godzilla movies, and she was featured in six of the seven Heisei-era films, which was the most appearances by any non-human character in the franchise ever.
Scream 2 (1997)
Moving away to college is always a scary dilemma for teenagers leaving the nest for the first time, but Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) finds it even more traumatizing because her murderous past follows her to school. Yes, a copycat of Ghostface tries to creatively replicate the horrors of Woodsboro, and the secret identity of the new serial killer will give the Scream (1996) fans who haven’t seen the sequel an equally satisfying twist-ending.
As a newcomer to the Scream franchise, Sarah Michelle Gellar was elated to discover Wes Craven was returning to direct Scream 2. In fact, Gellar was so eager to collaborate with Craven that she accepted the role of CiCi Cooper in the sequel having never read the script. That was something the actress had never done before in her career.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) can’t stay off her smartphone, and she suffers a brutal accident which sends her car careening off the road! She wakes to find herself a prisoner in Howard’s (John Goodman) underground bunker, and, despite chaining Michelle to a wall, Howard insists the world above is decimated after an otherworldly attack — and that her captivity is for her own protection.
10 Cloverfield Lane stands alone as its own movie, but a sly connection to Cloverfield (2008) is revealed during the sequel’s climax.. But before Earth’s supposed fallout, the opening sequence features the voice of Michelle’s boyfriend, Ben, who is portrayed by none other than Rocket Raccoon himself, Bradley Cooper.
A Quiet Place Part II (2020)
With their patriarch lost, the Abbott family struggles to survive in the post-apocalyptic ruins of Earth now ruled by creatures who pounce at the slightest sound. However, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her children come across a friend of late-husband Lee’s (John Krasinski) named Emmett, (Cillian Murphy). And during an encounter with the aliens, Emmett discovers yet another one of their weaknesses that may be key to their survival.
As the writer and director of the sequel, Krasinski called on his wife, Blunt, to channel her inner Smokey and the Bandit. There wasn’t any CGI when it came to Evelyn driving her car during the opening sequence — that was a real bus Evelyn sped to get away from — and Blunt did all her own stunt driving.