10. Saw 6 (2009)
Director: Kevin Greutert
Cast: Tobin Bell, Peter Outerbridge, Costas Mandylor, Mark Rolston
Tagline: “He helped me”, “Trust in Him”, “6 Chances, 6 Lessons, 6 Choices”
Buy: You can pick it up on DVD for £5.00 at Amazon.co.uk
The Saw series gets a bad reputation. In fairness, it’s one that has been earned with a series of lacklustre sequels featuring increasingly contrived torture scenarios combined with an even more contrived flashback structure fuelled by non-stop ret-conning. However, parts 2 and 3 are actually worth a look and part 6 would show that the filmmakers had some social satire in their tool box to go with the razor wire and hacksaw.
By this point in the series Costas Mandylor’s Detective Hoffman has been established as the main character, picking up Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) work from where he left off. This sequel sees him scrabbling to keep his extra-curricular activities a secret while running a test for health insurance exec William Easton (veteran character actor Peter Outerbridge).
The worst Saw sequels don’t manage to combine their obligatory “increasingly cruel traps” set-up with a compelling parallel investigation story but part 6 moves along at a good pace and boasts solid performances from Mandylor and Outerbridge. The William Easton storyline is also unusually sharp for the Saw films, creating a relevant moral conundrum that’s surprisingly compelling. The convoluted nature of the series’ storytelling makes approaching a single sequel somewhat daunting but if you’ve ever had time for the Saw films, Saw 6 is the best since the first.
9. Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)
Director: Joe Lynch
Stars: Erika Leerhsen, Henry Rollins, Texas Battle, Aleksa Palladino
Tagline: “In the forest, only they can hear you scream.”
Buy: You can pick it up on DVD for £4.25 at Amazon.co.uk
The rare sequel that improves on its original. Wrong Turn (2003) was a routine backwoods horror in which Eliza Dushku and friends run into some monstrously inbred hillbillies and end up being cut to pieces. It was one of those films that wanted to homage 70s films like Deliverance and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre so badly that it ended up being a fairly dull, po-faced retread. Joe Lynch’s inspirations lie in a different decade: the 1980s.
Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins stars as a former marine who takes a group of teens to the woods to make a survival reality show. Unfortunately, the location is the home turf of the aforementioned monstrously inbred hillbillies, who really put the contestants through their paces.
As well as being a superior sequel, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is a film that aims to be late-night schlocky fun and actually hits the bullseye. There are countless examples of films that try for an entertaining blend of gross-out gore and self-aware humour but the fact that so few manage to make it work shows that it’s no mean feat. Fuelled by Rollins’ almost baffling commitment and Lynch’s obvious affinity for his material, this is an outrageously entertaining Saturday night treat.
8. Psycho II (1983)
Director: Richard Franklin
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly, Vera Miles, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz
Tagline: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the shower!”
Buy: You can pick up the Psycho 1-4 Box Set on DVD for £11.49 on Amazon.co.uk
What are the chances that a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece made 22 years later would be any good? If you were feeling especially evangelical you could say it was sacrilegious to revisit the Bates Motel. Instead, it’s really rather good.
It’s 22 years later and Norman Bates has been released from the mental institution despite the warnings of Lila Loomis (a returning Vera Miles). He heads home but finds that the motel is being run by an sleazy deadbeat (Dennis Franz). Norman retreats to the house and finds a job as a grill cook at a local diner, and even makes a friend in waitress Mary (Meg Tilly). But when the past comes back to haunt him, Norman is terrified by the idea that he might be losing his mind.
Most horror sequels end up being more about their villains than their heroes but Psycho II‘s focus on Norman Bates isn’t lazy storytelling. It’s a character study of a man who is desperately trying to cling on to the last shreds of his sanity. Perkins’ performance is somewhat bigger than his boy-next-door turn in Hitchcock’s original but he plays Norman’s despair beautifully.
It’s also worth noting Meg Tilly’s performance as Mary Samuels, the only girl who wants to give Norman the benefit of the doubt. The two actors work very well together, and their relationship hammers home the point that Psycho II isn’t a cheap cash-in, it’s a further exploration of a fascinating character. It’s clunky at times and the thrills are cheaper, but it’s surprisingly moving and deserving of re-evaluation.
7. Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (2004)
Director: Brett Sullivan
Cast: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Tatiana Maslany, Brendan Fletcher
Tagline: “Evil Bites”, “It only dies if you do.”
Buy: You can pick it up on DVD for £14.98 at Amazon.co.uk
John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps is one of the best horror films of the noughties but you’d be hard-pushed to find much love for the two sequels. The third film, Ginger Snaps Back, is mostly interesting for its bizarre decision to be a prequel set in a colonial fort. But Ginger Snaps: Unleashed has much more going for it than you may have heard.
The film finds Brigitte (Emily Perkins) alone and on the run, attempting to keep her lyncanthropic infection at bay by regularly injecting foxglove. When she’s found in a wrecked car with a needle, she’s thrown into a rehab clinic. Can she find more wolf’s bane before she turns, and can she get out before the werewolf trying to mate with her gets in?
Ginger Snaps: Unleashed doesn’t have the same razor sharp wit as its predecessor, but it’s not about the same thing. Ginger Snaps was about two teenage girls going through a painful adolescence and facing separation. This sequel is more straightforwardly entertaining, but director Sullivan uses his creepy location to conjure an effective sense of isolation and despair. Most importantly, it has Emily Perkins. The actress has never really had the break-out film she deserves but she’s brilliant here. We’ve already gone through a lot with Brigitte by the time this film starts, and Perkins ensures we’re with her all the way as she goes through the agonising transformation. The film does wobble dangerously during the final third but, and this is crucial, we really want Brigitte to make it out OK. When asked by a rehab therapist what her “best case scenario” is, she answers:
“My best-case scenario, Eleanor, is hair everywhere but my eyeballs, elongation of my spine until my skin splits, teats, and a growing tolerance, maybe even affection for, the smell and taste of faeces – not just my own – and then, excruciating death.”
6. The Exorcist III (1990)
Director: William Peter Blatty
Cast: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Brad Dourif, Nicol Williamson
Tagline: “Dare you walk these streets again?”, “The horror is Legion”.
Buy: You can pick up The Exorcist – The Complete Anthology on DVD for £36.99 at Amazon.co.uk
The Exorcist had already spawned the bloated mess of John Boorman’s The Exorcist II: The Heretic by the time William Peter Blatty wrenched back control of his beloved story. Regan and her pea soup-spouting are set aside, and instead our focus is on a tired detective and his memories.
George C. Scott took over the role of Kinderman from Lee J. Cobb. The character is mourning the death of his friend Father Karras (Jason Miller), but when a serial killer calling himself Gemini (Brad Dourif on excellent form) seems to have intimate knowledge of the late priest’s death, Kinderman finds himself drawn into an unholy nightmare.
The story of the tortured production of The Exorcist III probably deserve a post in itself but, despite the final version feeling slightly muddled, it’s atmospheric, well-written, and genuinely scary. You can’t shake the feeling that Blatty would have been content to wallow in Kinderman’s existential crisis for two hours, but he shows himself to be a skilled horror director and delivers two outstanding jump scares (cracking ice, and oh God, the shears!). He was forced to include the final act bombast with Nicol Williamson’s exorcist and the switching between Brad Dourif and Jason Miller is jarring at times, but this is an excellent chiller that stands head and shoulders above Boorman, Schrader and Harlin’s efforts. We’d love to see a director’s cut.
5. Jason X (2001)
Director: James Isaac
Cast: Kane Hodder, Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder, David Cronenberg
Tagline: “Evil gets an upgrade”, “Welcome to the future of horror”
Buy: You can pick it up on DVD for £3.49 at Amazon.co.uk
Jason X should not work. It’s the tenth film in a line of essentially identikit slasher movies which deploys the “when all else fails” trick that is the sign of a horror series that needs to be put down: it goes into space. And yet, it’s brilliant.
When foolhardy government stooge David Cronenberg lets the imprisoned Jason escape, scientist Rowan manages to cryogenically freeze the killing machine and herself. In 2455, a group of archeology students studying the ruined Earth find the pair and bring them back to their spaceship to defrost. Guess what happens?
Being self-aware is so often a cheap excuse to shoehorn in terrible one-liners, but Todd Farmer’s script is an excellent example of a film that knows exactly what it is and simply runs with it. It’s a sequel to a horror series well past its sell-by-date that’s set in space, for God’s sake. The ship is populated almost exclusively by horny students and a troupe of space marines. Oh, and a busty fembot. Farmer and director James Isaac play up the outrageousness with a wink to the audience that’s endearing rather than irritating. It’s easy to be snooty about these things, but with a Jason souped-up by nanobots, exploding space-stations and holograms declaring that they love pre-marital sex, Jason X is deliriously entertaining.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1984)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Caroline Williams, Dennis Hopper, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley
Tagline: “After a decade of silence…the buzzz is back!”
Buy: You can pick it up on DVD for £6.37 at Amazon.co.uk
There are fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre who will tell you that Tobe Hooper’s sequel to his masterpiece made a huge mistake in playing the whole thing for laughs. But, if you go with it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II is a bold and important sequel.
Ten years after the original film, the cannibal family are back and they’re being hunted by Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) who’s hellbent on getting revenge for his brother. When Lefty convinces local DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) to play the recording of a Leatherface attack on her show, she attracts the family’s attention and is forced to confront a grotesque man-child who is compensating for something.
Those who criticise the emphasis on comedy in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 are choosing to forget the first film’s final third. The humour’s a lot broader here (guess what’s in Cook’s award-winning chilli!) and Bill Moseley’s Chop-Top understandably irritated a lot of people, but it does work. Hopper’s performance is weirdly understated (well, for him) for much of the film, but what really impresses here is Stretch. In the canon of final girls, Caroline Williams’ Stretch stands out as a fiercely strong character who’s confronted by the none-too-subtle symbolism of Leatherface’s chainsaw and rips the power from him. Carol J. Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws is essential reading for those interested.
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Miko Hughes, John Saxon
Tagline: “Miss me?”, “This time staying awake won’t save you”
Buy: You can pick it up on DVD for £1.73 at Amazon.co.uk
Freddy Kruger, perhaps more than any other horror franchise villain, is guilty of becoming a merchandising figure instead of a character. The sequels turned Robert Englund into a one-liner machine, getting him to vamp for the camera in a series of increasingly ridiculous situations that culminated in Part 6’s Wicked Witch of the West homage. Wes Craven’s return to Elm Street stripped the humour back to a wonderfully cruel level and introduced a meta-element that preceded Scream by two years.
Heather Langenkamp plays a version of herself who is wondering what the effects of her horror movies might have on her young son. When she hears that Wes Craven is considering making another Nightmare On Elm Street, fiction starts to bleed into reality and she realises that she needs to excise the spirit of Freddy once and for all.
While Scream pretty much played its self-awareness for laughs, Craven’s New Nightmare screenplay is a much more sly piece of work. It examines the consequences of New Line’s decision to make Freddy into a character that would be embraced by disturbingly young audiences and examines the problem of children’s access to horror in a surprisingly upfront manner, as Heather has to defend herself to a judgmental nurse who believes that she’s been showing her films to her son.
It’s also a much nastier film than any of the other sequels. While the preceding sequels were essentially excuses for the creative and elaborate dream death sequences, the violence in this film is quick and brutal, especially in the ceiling-bound “skin the cat” sequence. New Nightmare is Craven reasserting his responsibility for the Freddy Krueger character. It was never supposed to be a film for children, emblazoned on t-shirts and pyjamas. It was supposed to be a nightmare.
2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy
Tagline: “The night no one comes home”
Buy: You can pick it up on DVD for £5.00 at Amazon.co.uk
After writing the decent but routine direct sequel to his slasher classic, John Carpenter recruited Quatermass writer Nigel Kneale to help him with the third movie. The idea was a series of films centred on the holiday of Halloween that would no longer feature Michael Myers but the film’s reception meant that this plan never moved beyond Season of the Witch. However, this is a wonderfully creepy and downbeat horror.
After a man in his care dies in mysterious circumstances, Doctor Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) investigates the powerful toy company Silver Shamrock and discovers that their Halloween count-down is in fact something far more sinister than a catchy ad campaign.
Kneale would part company with the film some time before production began but there are hallmarks of the great writer’s work to be found as the script combines his predilection for an unstoppable alien menace with Carpenter’s own mistrust of corporate America. The most memorable scene plays out like a grotesque riff on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as a child’s pumpkin mask is activated, turning his head into a writhing mass of snakes and insects. While it is a fairly muddled film at times, what most impresses about Season of the Witch is the general atmosphere of hopelessness, and the film’s ending is superbly chilling. “The third channel, it’s still on. Stop it, please! For God’s sake, stop it! There’s no more time! Please stop it now. Stop it! Turn it off!”
1. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Director: Tony Randel
Cast: Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, Clare Higgins, Kenneth Cranham
Tagline: “Time to play”, “It will tear your soul apart…again”
Buy: You can pick it up on DVD for £12.97 at Amazon.co.uk
Tony Randel’s sequel to Clive Barker’s flesh-ripping low-budget sensation is everything that a horror sequel should be. Barker stayed on as producer for Hellbound, which picks straight up from where the first film left off, unfortunately for Ashley Laurence’s presumably knackered Kirsty Cotton. Kirsty finds herself in an asylum run by a lunatic brain surgeon (Kenneth Cranham) who uses the puzzle box to resurrect Julia and open the doors to hell, which is exactly where Kirsty’s father tells her he needs to be rescued from.
By continuing the story directly, Hellbound give its characters a chance to breathe. The asylum setting allows Randel to add a whole other level of creepiness to the story, and the decision to open it up to Hell itself lets him go bigger, but not at the expense of Barker’s characters.
Take Julia (Clare Higgins). In Barker’s film she’s a willing accomplice who gets her comeuppance. Here, she’s resurrected as a driven villainess who is no longer hindered by her allegiance to her lover. Her rebirth as “Skinless Julia” is fantastically gruesome, and her manipulation of both the doctor and Kirsty is marvellous. “I’m no longer the Wicked Witch. Now I’m the Evil Queen. Some come on, take your best shot, Snow White!”
The carnage wrought in the final act as Kenneth Cranham’s Cenobite Channard is propelled via tentacle around the asylum is both creatively ludicrous and appropriately revolting, but there is character development here too. Not necessarily with Kirsty, although Laurence is excellent. Instead the film tells us more about the Cenobites, taking advantage of Doug Bradley’s talents to turn Pinhead into a character rather than a figure who pops up to wax lyrical about suffering. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth would explore the character’s past further, but Hellbound finds just the right balance between enriching the mythology and retaining some mystery.
Hellbound does everything you want it to do. It ups the ante and develops the mythology while remaining true to the original film’s ideas and themes. “‘Didn’t open the box.’ And what was it last time, ‘Didn’t know what the box was?’ And yet, we do keep finding each other, don’t we?”