Horror fans are often of two minds about sequels. On one hand, they love their films and want to see more of the world they enjoyed on screen; on the other hand, nothing is more depressing than a landscape of horror films where every film is a remake, reboot, sequel, or rip-off of another film.
On occasion, though, a filmmaker will make an entry in an already established horror franchise that is somehow both a sequel to the previous series in some way while distinctively being separate because of its originality, style, or just plain strangeness. In those cases, horror fans’ reactions can vary from appreciative to confused to furious.
This is a list of ten films that belong to horror franchises, but they are so strange and specific that they stand alone as either great works, interesting failures, or generally despised departures from a beloved franchise…
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH
The mother of all WTF movie sequels, this is by far the most well-known derailing of a popular franchise. Though the film has since been vindicated to a degree by fans who recognize it as a fun Quatermass-style horror/sci-fi hybrid, the film confused and enraged slasher fans who returned to the theater in the hopes of seeing the further adventures of Michael Myers and found instead a story about Stonehenge and magic masks that turned children’s heads into piles of bugs. The next entry in the series remedied the concern right in its title: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.
JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY
There are those who would argue that Friday the 13th: A New Beginning deserves to be here because it’s the only Jason movie without Jason in it. While that may be true, it is perhaps a greater offense to say Jason is in a movie, then provide one great opening scene with him and relegate him to a body-hopping, heart-eating specter for the rest of the film. Dropping the standard camp setting for a mythology-heavy story about magical daggers and Voorhees relatives, it was clear this film intended to try and take Jason in a totally new direction. Though the movie is fun, it makes more sense as a sequel to The Hidden or The Borrower than it does to Friday the 13th.
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC
Let’s be honest: no one wanted the job of making the sequel to The Exorcist. A nearly perfect horror film nominated for multiple awards, the job of following that act could be career suicide. John Boorman, the director who blew minds with his last two films, Deliverance and Zardoz, felt he was up for the task. Unfortunately, the film pivots from the original’s premise into the territory of hypnosis, locusts, psychic science, and the possible evolution of the entire human race. What? Audiences were confused and unhappy with the results, and the film has gone down as one of the great misfires of Hollywood history. While it holds a certain morbid curiosity factor, it makes little sense as a sequel to The Exorcist beyond the return of some familiar faces from the original.
The Hellraiser franchise was already in a questionable place after the interesting but convoluted fourth entry, Hellraiser: Bloodline, and there had already been three tangentially related direct-to-video entries before Hellraiser: Hellworld appeared. The third of three Hellraiser films in a row from cinematographer turned director Rick Bota, this movie somehow distances itself even further from the Pinhead mythos by setting the story in OUR world, where people know and have seen the films, and the concept has been turned into an online computer game. What? No actual Pinhead? The whole thing was a hallucination? And then (SPOILER ALERT) Pinhead the film character actually DOES appear in the real world?! WTF is going on here?! This is sadly the last film in which Doug Bradley plays Pinhead, and it is not a proper farewell.
SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD
There are plenty of clunky, poorly executed zombie films that borrow heavily from elements of George A. Romero’s living dead films, but only a couple of them were made by Romero himself. Ostensibly a western riff on the zombie film that is also oddly a continuation of his original series and an offshoot of his previous film, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead is a tonal nightmare. The film is a family blood feud ala Hatfields and McCoys, but with two Irish families who somehow live on Plum Island off the coast of America. The series was running on fumes at this point, with Romero producing films faster than he could come up with thoughtful social commentary. This film actually contains a secret twin story and a zombie on horseback.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION
It’s hard to tell when Paranormal Activity stopped being a plucky indie concept made with love and very little else and turned into a convoluted time-travel franchise that contained witches, gangsters, and an Xbox Kinect. But watching The Ghost Dimension, there is no doubt the series clearly went off the rails. Spanning thirty years over four previous films and one spin-off, the final movie in the series culminates with a magical camera that can see the spirit world, leading to a time tunnel in a wall that… I’m not sure. It makes a demon come to life as a grown, naked man named Toby? A phenomenally bizarre conclusion to a once interesting and revitalizing series.
BLAIR WITCH 2: BOOK OF SHADOWS
When Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, the creators of the hugely successful original, The Blair Witch Project, showed no interest in returning for an immediate sequel, the studio decided to go ahead with one anyway. And how did they decide to continue the fake documentary narrative about three filmmakers lost in the woods? By saying it was all just a fake documentary. The sequel removes all the power of the original by saying it was just a movie, then it tells the story of a bunch of film fans journeying to the woods where it was filmed, only to find that perhaps the witch is real after all. Equally as bizarre as Hellraiser: Hellworld in its decision to remove it sequel from the reality of the other films, this film is a greater trespass because it also removes the stylistic conceit of the original by making its sequel a traditional narrative film. Whatever interest it holds as a film has little to do with how it connects to the original because, basically, it doesn’t.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3
While the original Return of the Living Dead was a fun, action-packed reinvention of the zombie mythos, it didn’t take long for the series to fall into a familiar rut, with the second film a “more of the same” sequel in which we simply follow a new group of people dealing with the same issue from the original: more Trioxin gas spilled, more brains eaten. That’s why the third film is such a breath of fresh air. Part biker film, part love story a la Romeo and Juliet, the film is an animal all its own. Bride of Re-Animator director Brian Yuzna injects dark emotion into the series as a zombified woman tortures herself with physical pain in order to keep from feeding on her loved ones. The premise is unique but still fits into the overall series concept, and is equally as compelling as the Dan O’Bannon original in many ways.
WISHMASTER 4: THE PROPHECY FULFILLED
Wishmaster isn’t a highbrow series, and that’s part of its charm. The simple premise, of a Djinn who uses people’s wishes against them in dark and violent ways, is an obvious template for a horror film filled with elaborate effects sequences and fun kills. So how did Wishmaster: The Prophecy Fulfilled ever come to be? The film is a love triangle between a wife, her recently wheelchair-bound husband, and a Djinn disguised as a lawyer friend. The complicated sexual dynamic of the husband and wife leads to a possible affair for her, but as the Djinn tries to get the wife to use three wishes in order to free all Djinn to take over the world, he finds himself trapped by a wish and starting to fall in love with her. Surprisingly touching and complex, this entry in the series is a good film that has little in common with its previous entries. The strangest part is that Chris Angel (the director, not the magician) was also responsible for directing Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell, arguably the least compelling entry in the franchise.
SLEEPAWAY CAMP IV: THE SURVIVOR
The Sleepaway Camp franchise was always a strange one, right from the shocking end to the original film. The two films following the original were almost their own franchise, far funnier and weirder, and Return to Sleepaway Camp was a 20-years-later sequel to the original that basically ignored the events of the two middle entries. The strangest entry, however, is the one that almost never was. Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor was a quick exploitation attempt to cash in on the mild success of the first three films by creating, essentially, a “clip show” film. An amnesiac survivor reconstructs the events of the first three films in her memory (with VERY LONG clips that fill the majority of the running time), ending with a shocking murder. Much of the footage was shot, but the film was never completed and sat unused for years. Eventually, the film was cobbled together with footage from the first three and given a DVD release (oddly enough, AFTER the next film in the series was already released). It was intended as a quick cash-in, and it is the only entry not directed by either Robert Hiltzik or Michael A. Simpson.