A sequel is a tough thing to pull off, especially in horror. It’s not easy trying to recapture what made audiences fall in love with a movie in the first place while simultaneously creating something that stands on its own. Typically, there are three central approaches a sequel will take; retread the original, expand the story and world, or take a complete left field turn into something wholly new. It’s always a risk no matter what approach a sequel takes, but none quite as risky as changing direction and tone. When the gamble works, it’s a stroke of genius. But when it fails, well, it’s a bummer.
Happy Death Day applied a comedic Groundhog Day time loop conceit to the slasher, giving audiences a fun lighthearted romp that bent the familiar rules and tropes of the subgenre. But its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, is proving quite divisive as it left the horror elements behind. Instead, writer/director Christopher Landon wears his ‘80s movie influences on his sleeves in a more heartfelt sequel that digs in even harder to the comedy. It’s hardly the first time a horror sequel has switched genres, and won’t be the last either. Here are five sequels that abandoned the horror of its predecessor in favor of something completely different.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Both Book of Shadows and The Blair Witch Project exist within the realm of horror. But they exist at the opposite ends of the spectrum, with Book of Shadows taking a drastically different approach. The faux documentary and “recovered footage” style of The Blair Witch Project came along at just the right time, leading many moviegoers to believe what they were seeing was real, and kickstarting the found footage craze in the process. Though kept mostly subtle while the three lead characters descended into panic, it was a film saturated in the supernatural.
Book of Shadows drops the found footage altogether, goes meta, and takes aim at psychological horror. Following a group of The Blair Witch Project fans that arrive in Burkittsville, Maryland to explore the Blair Witch phenomena, they find themselves confronted by lapses in time, their own neuroses, and maybe even the actual Blair Witch. The massive shift in style and tone meant that this sequel polarized many fans of the original film and still garners debate even today.
The Chronicles of Riddick
In 2000, David Twohy delivered a suspenseful survive-the-night style sci-fi horror film, Pitch Black. In it, a transport ship crash lands on a desolate planet inhabited by bloodthirsty creatures that only can come out in the dark. Unfortunately for the group of crash survivors, the planet is about to plummet into complete pitch-black darkness thanks to a month-long eclipse. Vin Diesel gave a breakthrough performance as Riddick, the dangerous prisoner turned antihero, so its no surprise that the sequel would once again focus on his character.
But, being that he managed to escape the planet, that made handling a follow up tricky. How do you get him back to the planet to battle the creatures once more without feeling contrived? Well, apparently you don’t. The Chronicles of Riddick left the horror behind and went full throttle big budget sci-fi adventure film that saw Riddick hopping planets, evading bounty hunters, and delving into his Furian ancestry. Pitch Black this was not, but it did well enough to earn another sequel.
The Devil’s Rejects
This sequel to House 1000 Corpses wasn’t just content to switch up the style and tone, but it turned its predecessor’s antagonists into the protagonists. Talk about an overachiever. Rob Zombie dropped the vivid colors, the house of horrors backbone, and the almost cartoonish aspect of the villainous Firefly clan in favor of a gritty, violent western with a road movie feel.
The Devil’s Rejects somehow makes you root for irredeemable characters as they flee from Sheriff Wydell and his unrelenting quest for revenge. Still, just as violent, vicious, and brutal as House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie turns some of that violence back on the Firefly clan in this go ‘round. While The Devil’s Rejects is a continuation of the story, it is capable of standing alone – you don’t need to have seen House 1000 Corpses first. A lot of that has to do with the major shift in genre.
Evil Dead 2
This sequel, with a much larger budget, rewrites the events of the first film before continuing Ash’s battle with the evil force unleashed by recited passages from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. Right away, Evil Dead II erases three of the characters from the first film and instead sets up Ash’s trip to the cabin as a romantic weekend getaway turned horrifically awry, also changing the fate of his girlfriend Linda. But the biggest change came from the decision to not play the sequel as a straight horror film.
As such, co-writers Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel started injecting their fondness of slapstick comedy in the script, drawing a major influence from The Three Stooges in particular. Visual gags, physical comedy, and even nods to Popeye or Hamburger Helper commercials found their way into Ash’s blood-soaked battle with deadites. Between the altered storyline and the massive head dive into comedy, Evil Dead 2 so successfully overshadowed its predecessor that some even forget the series’ serious horror roots. It irrevocably changed the series’ future, too.
The sequel to 1979’s Alien had both a much bigger budget and a much bigger scope in story, shifting from the claustrophobic confines of the Nostromo to the maze-like colony on LV-426. This meant a lot more xenomorphs to contend with as well, building up to one epic battle between Ellen Ripley and the alien queen. The expansion in size and setting played a huge role in the shift in genres. Whereas Alien was a quiet haunted house chiller set in space, Aliens went full throttle war-style actioner.
Directed by James Cameron, who specializes in Blockbuster tent-poles, Aliens drew major inspiration from the Vietnam War as the space marines went into the colony with their guns blazing and very little strategy. Though thrilling, suspenseful, and full of horrific imagery, Aliens isn’t really horror at all. Alien very much is. Depending on tastes, Aliens was a big success.