As the nights get colder and darker, it's time to revisit some of the best horror franchises Hollywood has to offer. Sequelitis is a common condition in the genre, and not all — if any — horror sequels are created equally.
We’ve dug out our VHS collection to revisit the biggest horror franchises to create a definitive guide to the very best scary follow-ups to gore classics.
Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1985)
We’re going to start with arguably the best movie on this list, though it’s probably tied for the lead with our next entry (we’ll get to that).
Packed with gory deaths delivered using brilliantly imaginative practical effects, Dream Warriors takes the whole ‘demon kills you in your dreams’ concept to its absolute peak.
Great performances, twist-filled plot, a first return to the franchise for Heather Langenkamp, and Robert Englund at the top of his game, delivering the take on the character the series would become known for, this is horror heaven.
Only Wes Craven’s New Nightmare can compete, but Dream Warriors has the (razor-blade glove) edge.
Evil Dead II (1987)
The original is a terrifying exercise in gruelling terror so scary it knocked Stephen King off his cinema seat. The second instalment is a slapstick comedy designed to torment lead actor Bruce Campbell as much as possible.
It shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does - it’s the very definition of pure cinema; visually dynamic, adrenaline-spiking and, of course, hilariously funny. It’s Campbell and director Sam Raimi’s breakthrough film, and for that alone it deserves a place in cinema history forever.
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
Okay, okay, bear with us. We know choosing the fifth Hellraiser sequel over the infinitely more popular second part might seem like sacrilege, but hear us out.
Directed by Sinister / Doctor Strange’s Scott Derrickson this was the first time the series was put into the hands of a true auteur since Clive Barker’s stunning original, and it shows.
It certainly shocked fans of the franchise, deviating so significantly from the usual structure it felt a little bit like a different script that had Pinhead and his pals added at the last minute. But even if that’s the case, it works - just check out this extract from Esquire’s (perfect) review.
“Inferno feels less like a Hellraiser movie than a follow-up to Jacob's Ladder, floating dream-like through hallucinatory David Lynchian visions and downplaying plot in favor of the surreal.”
Most people haven’t made it past the third Hellraiser movie, and even if they did, part 4 (Hellraiser In Space!) would have stopped them in their tracks.
But it’s worth making the effort to seek out the fifth edition.
Halloween H20 (1998)
All right, we’re back on safe ground, everyone agrees that H20 is the best Halloween sequel, right? What do you mean, ‘That recent Danny McBride one is superior?’
H20 (awful title, it makes it sound like it’s about an evil merman) was our first reunion with Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode since the original follow-up, and it was the first slasher sequel to explore the idea of the consequences of trauma (a theme Blumhouse’s film ran with).
Read more: Why Halloween just won't die
Add in Scream scribe Kevin Williamson’s brilliant script, and what should have been the full-stop / best death of the series (how Michael Myers recovered from decapitation to return for the awful Halloween: Resurrection, we’ll never know), and this is an essential watch - especially if Blumhouse’s recent reboot made you a fan of the franchise.
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Let’s face it, all of the Friday The 13th movies are pretty bad, they’re so formulaic that if you’ve watched one, you’ve seen them all.
All except Jason Goes To Hell, which throws in absolutely bonkers mythology (something about a weird worm that possesses people into becoming immortal serial killers), a truly insane supporting protagonist, sick gore, and not-exactly-subtle references to the Evil Dead and A Nightmare On Elm Street.
Jason X (Jason In Space!) is fun, but Jason Goes To Hell is where the series really went off the rails. And it’s all the more entertaining because of it.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Apparently, the first Texas Chain Saw Massacre (arguably the most intense horror movie to turn into a franchise) was intended to be funny.
That’s according to the director, Tobe Hooper, and he proved his point by making Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2, which combined slapstick with sickbags to create one of the earliest examples of gross-out comedy.
If you haven’t seen it, Dennis Hopper wields two chainsaws at one point, ‘nuff said.
Cult Of Chucky (2017)
The seventh segment of the main Chucky universe (we’re going to ignore the recent reboot, as should you) is an extremely weird movie, with multiple Chuckys, voice-of-Chucky Brad Dourif’s daughter Fiona in the lead, a sci-fi styled hospital setting, and some of the nastiest deaths of the series so far.
But it’s the multiple Chucky element that makes Cult so special - an element writer/director Don Mancini had wanted to introduce to the series since Child’s Play 3.
26 years later, he got his wish, and it adds a new dimension to a series he’s been shepherding since the first film.
That, and the return of Alex Vincent to a lead role — his first since his turn as a child star in Child’s Play 2 — gives the movie a sense of finality.
Give us this gonzo craziness over the reboot any day.
Saw II (2005)
Saw II continues so seamlessly from the first film, it’s hard to believe it didn’t start out as a Saw script. Originally titled ‘The Desperate’ it was optioned when it became clear that the original team James Wan and Leigh Whannell wouldn’t have time to follow up on the first film’s success. The Desperate’s characters, traps and deaths were retained, with Jigsaw drafted in.
But however it started death, Saw II establishes all of the elements the series would build upon. Whereas the first film showed the aftermath of Jigaw’s traps, Saw II showed them in action. We also got our first glimpse at Jigsaw’s convoluted backstory, another key element of the franchise’s episodic success.
It’s a brilliant, gruesome film, that turned the series into a pop culture phenomenon.
Final Destination 3 (2006)
Originally intended as the final turn of a trilogy, Final Destination 3 was so financially successful it spawned a franchise. It’s easy to see why.
A rollercoaster ride that’s centred around a literal rollercoaster, Final Destination 3 builds on the potential of the original, by ignoring the muddled first sequel, and giving the audience what it wants - a series of increasingly convoluted and blackly comic deaths.
While those deaths would get more ridiculous as the series goes on, 3’s addition of humour and an impossibly charming performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead means it remains the franchise’s high point.
Annabelle Creation (2017)
We couldn’t let this list end without a nod in the direction of the highest-grossing supernatural franchise ever, even if its inherently convoluted nature means it’s slightly more difficult to track than the more straightforward sequels on this list.
Still, it feels appropriate to choose an Annabelle movie as the series’ benchmark, as she’s definitely the icon of the franchise (sorry The Nun, but you were rubbish).
And Lights Out director David F. Sandberg’s film is not just a brilliant entry into the overall universe, it’s a perfect sequel, improving on the (terrible) original in such a profound way, it retroactively makes that film better.
Watch a trailer for Annabelle Creation