The Straight-To-DVD Sequels That Are Actually Really Good

Ben Falk
Contributor

Not getting a cinema release and going straight-to-DVD is usually the sign of a stinker.

But the increase in films you wouldn’t have thought merit a follow-up, let alone a franchise (‘Wild Things 3’ or ‘Wrong Turn 6’ anyone?) being made specifically for the home entertainment market means there are more STDVD sequels than ever.

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And surprise, surprise, some of them are actually pretty great. Here are 5 of the best.

'Starship Troopers 3: Marauder’

The original Paul Verhoeven blockbuster was both a ridiculously enjoyable action movie and a biting satire about fascism, featuring Doogie Howser dressed up like a Gestapo officer.

Writer Ed Neumeier takes the directorial reins of this threequel, which sees the return of Casper “Acting Void” Van Dien playing Johnny Rico as well a lead role for former ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ hottie Jolene Blalock, who is essentially the DTV Denise Richards.

The effects budget has been slashed, which means the murderous arachnids sometimes look like they were made in a shed behind the set. Sensibly, Neumeier chooses instead to shoot many of the action scenes using shadow and infra-red cameras.

Yet regardless of the comparative cheapness, this film is still a hilarious and clever allegory of the Middle East conflict, taking aim at people using religion as an excuse for war and those who dub anyone whose views conflict with the government as unpatriotic.

Is that mad Sky Marshal supposed to be George W. Bush? Are the bugs Muslims? Did you really just laugh out loud at a funny pro-war song?

With martyrdom and gratuitous nudity thrown into the mix along with Van Dien’s relentlessly inept performing style, ‘Starship Troopers 3’ manages to be thoughtful, witty and gory.

‘Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning’

The 1992 original was an unexpected hit for director Roland Emmerich, a film which seemed a bit cheesy and very Nineties, but effectively harnessed Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren at the peak of their powers.

Then came three rubbish sequels and it looked like the franchise had been sucked completely dry. But 2009’s ‘Universal Soldier: Regeneration’ revitalised the concept and it gets even better in ‘Day Of Reckoning’.

It’s written and directed by John Hyams, the son of Peter, best known for helming cult favourites like ‘Capricorn One’ and ‘Timecop’. Hyams Jr has since become recognised as one of the most talented directors working in the B movie genre and deserves a big break.

Here, he directs action brilliantly and what his star Scott Adkins lacks in line delivery skills, he more than makes up for in kickassery. Lundgren makes a brief appearance, but it’s Van Damme’s bizarre performance that lingers.

Bald with his head covered in paint, he’s doing his best to channel Brando in ‘Apocalypse Now’. It’ll make you want to watch the first one all over again.

‘Cube Zero’

Those who’ve seen the first ‘Cube’ will know it’s a nerve-jangling and intelligent low-budget thriller about a bunch of people who wake up inside the seemingly inescapable titular structure.

There was a sequel subtitled ‘Hypercube’, but the third follow-up ‘Cube Zero’ takes the prequel route, focusing on a cube technician who starts to question the justification for people being put inside it and decides to help one of them.

That means more baffling mathematical riddles, another authority figure gone bad (it was a policeman in the first, a soldier here) and some gruesome kills. One guy graphically melts, let’s leave it at that.

Films featuring characters who are participants in a cruel game devised by an malevolent company can be a mixed bag (see: ‘Hunger Games’, ‘The Maze Runner’, ‘Cabin In The Woods’), but the ‘Cube’ franchise earns credit for its innovation and unstinting downbeatedness. Plus this has some nice little nods which will echo with fans of the original.

The game is basically the same as before, but when it’s this entertaining, who cares?

'Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing'

Hands up if you saw ‘Undisputed’ with Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames? Didn’t think so.

Even though it bombed at the box office, the 2002 fight drama earned itself two sequels and in this one, Michael Jai White takes over from Ving Rhames as world champion boxer Iceman Chambers (Snipes was, er, indisposed).

Unfortunately for Chambers, he ends up in prison again, where the filmmakers try to capitalise on the increased popularity of mixed martial arts by making him fight a Russian MMA-er (Scott Adkins again).

White is an underrated actor who more than fits the bill physically, while it’s a delight to see Ben Cross (aka Harold Abrahams from ‘Chariots Of Fire’) as his junkie cellmate.

The straight-to-DVD world has always relied on fighting to make a buck, as it appeals to the core audience of young, testosterone-fuelled men. It’s the only reason ‘American Ninja 5’ and ‘Best Of The Best 3: No Turning Back’ ever went before a camera.

‘Undisputed 2’ has realised this and executes it well. The hand-to-hand combat is phenomenal.

‘The Lion King 1½’

For many, the best characters in ‘The Lion King’ were Simba’s funny and loyal companions, Timon the meerkat (voiced by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa the gassy warthog (Ernie Sabella).

Disney have made a business out of sequelizing their biggest hits straight-to-DVD (many might think Aladdin follow-up ‘The Return Of Jafar’ merits a place on this list) and this “alternative POV” version of the first ‘Lion King’, released 10 years later, sees the events through Timon and Pumbaa’s eyes.

Thankfully, it does it very cleverly, even going meta by having the characters watch the first film in a cinema while commenting on it.

Interweaving elements of the original, you get to see how Pumbaa’s dickie tummy is the real reason all the animals kneel when Simba is presented as a cub at Pride Rock and how the hyenas were distracted during the final showdown between original baddie Scar and his nephew.

In other words, this doesn’t do what normal sequels do – it shares DNA with ‘Back To The Future 2’ which also lets the audience see previous scenes from a different angle – while Lane and Sabella’s easy chemistry make the supporting characters more than effective protagonists.

Disney may be all about monetizing their properties (did we really need a ‘Bambi 2’), but ‘Lion King 1½’ proves that when done inventively, seeing more of the same can be a good thing.

Watch the hilarious ‘honest trailer’ for ‘The Lion King’ below.

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Photos: Magnet Releasing/Everett/Rex/Disney/New Line/Sony/Lionsgate