Crash Course: Misguided Horror Sequels

For Halloween I decided I wanted to do a special horror movie crash course, but rather than seek out movies that are like, good, this seemed like a decent opportunity to indulge in some crap that I’m perversely curious about.  Even more than most genres horror movies seem to be astonishingly sequel prone.  Hell, outside of the occasional Stephen King adaptation I can hardly think of a moderately successful horror movie in the last forty or fifty years that hasn’t been wrung dry by multiple sequels and/or remakes.  Even horror movies that didn’t seem to do that great in the first place somehow end up with numerous direct to video sequels.  What I intend to look at here are the sequels that seem particularly egregious either because they were sequels to movies that seem like should be above such treatment or they seem like movies that really left very little room for the story to continue.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

MHSExorcistIIIf ever there was a horror movie that probably never should have been revisited it was probably The Exorcist both because it was an Oscar nominated classic and also because its ending was very specifically supposed to have this aura of ambiguity.  However, the fact remains that the movie was a huge box office hit and the franchise was a potential source of revenue that was not going to go untapped even if William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty wanted nothing to do with it.  To their credit, they didn’t just rush out a cheap sequel; they brought in John Boorman, a director who was pretty close to being on William Friedkin’s level and also managed to hire Richard Burton to star and Ennio Morricone to compose the score and also brought back Linda Blair and Max Von Sydow to reprise their roles (the later in a couple of flashbacks).  Someone really wanted this to be a worthy follow-up, unfortunately they really had no idea where to steer the story and the resulting movie is both kind of insane and also rather boring.

The movie starts off somewhat promisingly with a moderately interesting scene where Burton uses a hypnosis device to get into Regan’s head and watch a sort of flashback to the first movie that’s shot in an interesting way.  From there though the whole thing just gets really weird and the rules of demonic possession get increasingly confused.  The mere fact that the demon Pazuzu (whose name is said out loud a lot in the movie) is still buried somewhere deep down in Regan kind of contradicts the ending of the original movie and seems to suggest that Father Karras’ death was in vain.  Then there’s the finale which involves doppelgangers coming out of nowhere, magical car accidents, and a whole lot of locusts for some reason.  I guess the movie’s biggest sin though is that it seems bizarrely unconcerned with being scary at all and spends more time trying to tell Father Merrin’s backstory than build actual suspense.  I’ve heard that The Exorcist 3, which was made by William Peter Blatty and ignores this movie, is actually pretty decent so maybe the very concept of making a sequel to The Exorcist wasn’t completely DOA from the get go, but this movie certainly does it wrong.

Psycho II (1983)

MHSPsychoIIPsycho II is a little different from the other misguided horror sequels I’m looking at this month, in part because it didn’t come out hot on the heels of the success of its predecessor and in part because the movie it was following up was already seen as stone cold classic by a titan of filmmaking when someone dared to continue the story of Norman Bates.  Made about 23 years after the Hitchcock classic and directed by a guy named Richard Franklin (who had earlier directed the Quentin Tarantino approved Ozploitation film Patrick) and seemed to be an attempt to use the newly popular language of the slasher horror film to revisit the film that some would say helped to invent that genre.  This version was of course in color and had more graphic violence and nudity, but the film did maintain some ties to the original, namely that it was shot on some of the same sets (the Bates house apparently still sits on the Universal lot to this day) and most importantly the producers were able to get Anthony Perkins to reprise his most iconic role.

From the outside everything about this project seemed to be a rather ridiculous cash grab, but I will say the actual movie does feel a little more respectful than I expected.  The recreated sets are cool to see and the actual murder scenes are fairly inventive at times and do maintain a sort of Hitchcockian ingenuity at times.  However, where the original film is in many ways timeless the sequel feels very much like a product of its time, especially when it comes to most of the supporting performances.  The bigger problem though is the script.  The story here is that Bates has been released from the psychiatric institution after twenty years and has returned to his original home/motel (which is kind of ridiculous given that this home would be all kinds of triggering) only to see people suddenly getting murdered and the movie plays with the question of whether Bates has returned to his murderous ways or if he’s being gaslighted by someone else.  I’ll give the filmmakers credit for actually coming up with a new story rather than simply doing a retread of the first film, but what they’ve given us is rather convoluted and messy.  Still, I must say, if you’re going to make a sequel to Psycho you can probably do a whole lot worse than this.  Maybe it’s ridiculously low expectations at work but the mere fact that this is a fairly watchable movie that more or less works seems like quite the achievement given everything working against it.

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Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

MHSPoltergeistIIThe original Poltergeist is one of those movies that was a pretty big hit from the get-go but which has only become bigger and bigger in the years since, especially now that it is clearly one of the top five movies that influenced Super 8 and “Stranger Things.”  Its sequels on the other hand… are movies that a sizable number of the original film’s fans might not even know exist.  Poltergeist II actually made decent money when it came out, or at least it made back double its budget and was considered successful enough to warrant a second sequel but I feel like very few people remember or care about this movie.  While the movie has close to double the budget of its predecessor it definitely has the feel of a cash in.  Most of the cast has returned with the obvious exception of Dominique Dunne (who had already become the first victim of the supposed “Poltergeist Curse”) but the talent behind the camera was much different.  The original Poltergeist was very much the product of the collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper (despite the many efforts to deemphasize the contributions of the latter) and it’s that tension between family movie uplift and hardcore horror that made it so special.

For the sequel neither Spielberg not Hooper have credits either as directors or as producers.  In their place is some guy named Brian Gibson.  If you’ve never heard of that guy it’s because you have little reason to.  He directed What’s Love Got to Do With It and about a half dozen other movies that no one cares about and as far as I can tell none of them are horror movies and none of them have very high production values.  You can tell the drop in talent because this sequel clearly seems to know the elements that people liked in the original but has none of the skill and rhythm necessary to make those elements work.  The family has managed to become a whole lot less interesting this time around, in part because their character arcs were all resolved in the last movie and they had nowhere to go.  There are two new characters (played by people who would be victims two and three of the supposed Poltergeist curse) who at least seem promising at first but are both kind of wasted as the film goes on.  One is a creepy reverend guy who sort disappears half way through and the other is a Native American shaman and the depiction of him is… I’m not going to use the “R” word and I’m not even going to drop “problematic” because I do think everyone involved had good intentions but there’s definitely some “noble savage” stuff going on and the whole thing just seems inaccurate and weird.  Then of course there’s the finale which consists of some very bad green screen effects and really an abundance of bad visual effects combined with no grasp of tone or atmosphere can be blamed for a lot of what makes the whole movie decidedly not scary.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

MHSTExasChainsaw2Out of all the movies I’m looking at for this series The Texas Chainsaw Massacre probably makes the most sense as a film to make a sequel of given that it was essentially a slasher film (the horror sub-genre most prone to sequels) and also because the original film ended with its iconic killer alive and well and ready to cause more chaos.  What’s more this is the one sequel I’m looking at which has the privilege of having been made by the original film’s director: Tobe Hooper.  And yet, this still seems like a rather crazy film to be making a good decade after the fact, in part because that original film seemed to almost be a happy accident born of a production so cheap that it almost had to have a certain gonzo realism to it.  It’s the kind of thing you just can’t recreate.  Tobe Hooper seemed to understand this as well, so in many ways he actually didn’t try to make another film like the original and instead went in something of a different direction.  Where the original film was grim the sequel is darkly comedic, where the original was made on a shoestring the sequel is actually a decent sized production (as these things go), and where the original film wasn’t nearly as gory as its title would imply, this sequel is a total gorefest that needed to be released unrated when it came out in 1986.

The film picks up some time after the ending of the original movie with the cannibalistic family from the first movie having escaped police investigation and having relocated elsewhere.  The heroine of the first movie is nowhere to be seen and in her place we follow a radio DJ who has gotten involved in one of their murders and become a target of their wrath.  One of the major ways in which this sequel differ from the original is that it has a movie star in it in the form of one Dennis Hopper as a former Texas Ranger hunting down the cannibals and he seems even more unhinged than usual.  1986 was a big year for Hopper, it saw him earn an Oscar nomination for Hoosiers and earn a lot of cinematic street cred for his prominent appearance in Blue Velvet, and this performance is somehow even bigger and crazier than his work in that movie.  The film also features Bill Mosley playing a character not unlike the hitchhiker from the first movie via a performance that almost certainly inspired the general tone and attitude of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, in fact this movie may well have had more of an influence on Zombie than the original.  Whether or not you consider this movie to be “good” will probably depend in what you’re looking for in it.  If you want a credible horror film likely to actually scare anyone, maybe stick with the original, the sequel by contrast is meant to be this insane romp filled with ridiculous images and ideas and for what it is it’s actually pretty well made.  Put it this is a movie that has Dennis Hopper pulling out a chainsaw and using it to fight Leatherface as if the two are swordfighting with chainsaws, then lodges said chainsaw in Leatherface’s stomach and pulls out two smaller chainsaws which he proceeds to dual wield… if that sentence sounds appealing to you give this movie a watch… possibly while a little drunk.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

MHSBlairWitch2This deservedly ignored and forgotten sequel to The Blair Witch Project was made over a decade after all the other “misguided horror sequels” I’m looking at for this series, which probably reflects how devoid the 90s were of horror movies that were special enough to seem like they shouldn’t be crassly exploited.  It is of course a uniquely insane movie for someone to try to make a sequel to given how minimalist and unique the first film was: to try to make something bigger and better would go against everything that made the first film work.  Original directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez were reluctant to rush out a sequel, so Artisan Entertainment instead hired Joe Berlinger a documentarian best known at the time for the “Paradise Lost” films, which is an interesting choice except that this sequel completely eschews the mockumentary style of the original film.  Instead the filmmakers here have decided to take a rather meta approach.   In the reality of the events of the original film did not happen and The Blair Witch Project exists as the fictional movie that it was and the film deals with a group of fans of the film who travel out to the woods where it was filmed when weird stuff starts happening to them.

I had held out some hope that this sequel would have been some sort of misunderstood gem that was unfairly criticized for trying to do something different… but no, this really is a debacle.  If I squint hard enough I can maybe envision a scenario in which the basic premise of this movie could work, but it’s clear that in the studio’s rush to get the movie out before the buzz around the original wore off they did not give it anywhere near enough time to cook and we’re left with a rather muddled movie.  Beyond that, this is just poorly made in all the usual ways that half-assed horror movies are bad.  The movie has approximately 250 times the budget of the original movie and yet still looks incredibly cheap and unlike the first movie it doesn’t have a good reason to look cheap.  It’s also got an incredibly unlikable cast of stock horror victims played by a bunch of nobodies who give generally terrible performances.  Honestly I’m shocked that this thing even got a theatrical release.  Everything about it screams “direct-to-video” and the whole thing suggests that Artisan Entertainment (who reportedly took the film away from Berlinger and made it worse than it probably would have been) had no idea what made the original thing such a special phenomenon.

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