There is a general consensus that sequels are rarely ever as good as the original. And while there are many great sequels out there, it’s still a good rule of thumb. There will always be more bad sequels than good because the genre is huge and everything seems to get a sequel, whether it should or not. That’s just the reality of things. Sequels that actually surpass the original are very rare.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are some sequels that really are better than the first. All of these are, of course, totally subject to opinion. Most sequels that are thought of as better than the original are open to debate, like Aliens and Evil Dead 2. Those are excellent follow-ups but I think that they’re as good as the first. I’m not necessarily sure I’d call them better, especially in the case of Aliens.
I’ve written about sequels that are as good as the first before, but I’m interested, now, in talking about follow-ups that are unquestionably better than the first.
Amityville II: The Possession
The Amityville Horror is an interesting story, but the original film is actually pretty bland. The scares don’t hold up so well and it tends to drag, especially toward the middle. Amityville II stumbles at times but is definitely a better movie. It’s sleazy and uncomfortable, yes, but it holds your interest from beginning to end. It’s about a very dysfunctional family who are kind of screwed, even before their son gets possessed, and the demons that overtake him are clearly just feeding into pre-existing fears and anxieties. The second, however, goes in a different direction and surpasses the original in almost every way.
Friday the 13th Part 2 is not a very different movie from the original, I’ll admit that much, but it succeeds in the fact that it is a better version of the original. They hit most of the same story beats at the same times, but just looking at them as two slasher films, Part 2 is much better structured with more interesting characters and builds up a killer whereas the first didn’t even let you guess.
Critters 2: The Main Course
Critters is an underrated movie and an excellent creature feature, don’t get me wrong, but Critters 2 ups the ante in a really smart way. It’s funnier than the first and feels bigger even though it isn’t. The characterization and effects are better than its predecessor, plus it has a cool, sort of Western feel with Brad Brown being the mysterious guy who rolls into town and has to bring this dusty, small town together to fight for their survival.
Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II
This one isn’t even a competition. Prom Night does not rank near the top on my list of early ‘80s slashers even though Leslie Nielsen and Jamie Lee Curtis are very good in it. It’s a boring version of something that was being done a lot better at exactly the same time. Not that Prom Night II isn’t a rip off—in places, it’s a shameless Carrie impersonator, but at least it’s an interesting one. It’s a unique case because every further Prom Night sequel carried on from this one, which makes the original the Halloween III of the series.
Insidious Chapter 2
This one might get me into trouble, but I really don’t think people give it a fair shot. The first Insidious had some great moments and performances, but I don’t think it started to feel all that new or different until the third act. That was when it pulled back the curtain and unleashed its imagination and proved it was more than just another haunted house flick. It created a mythology. The second one dives head first into that mythology and is full of twists and turns and actually manages to be somewhat of a slasher film, too. With all of that in mind, I actually do think it’s a little better than the first.
Ghoulies forgot to have anything whatsoever to do with the ghoulies. I’m not saying any entry in this franchise is particularly stellar, but Ghoulies II is by far the most entertaining and well crafted of the bunch, focusing on a carnival in danger of being shut down, saved at the last minute by these murderous little monsters who take over the haunted house attraction but wind up being very good for business. It’s zany, outlandish and embraces its silliness, especially with the giant ghoulie at the end that eats all the others. It’s everything the first one should have been.
The Devil’s Rejects
House of 1,000 Corpses was a fun pseudo Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that definitely had a couple of rough patches but was successful for its visual style and over-the-top performances. The Devil’s Rejects is not the kind of sequel anyone expected, a brutal road movie that is totally different from the first but requires a knowledge of the original to fully appreciate. It’s what any good sequel should be. It should be a different feature with its own feel, but one that still feels like a natural extension of the original. That’s what Devil’s Rejects does and it does it very well.
The Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein might be the most important horror sequel ever made. It was one of the first, it was a risky idea and it was made by a director who had no interest in remaking his own film and that served it very well. Most horror sequels either go darker or funnier than the first, or they expand on that mythology set up by the original and go bigger. Bride of Frankenstein does all three and serves as a jumping off point for all horror sequels that followed it.