For the past ten years at OTH, we've tried to deliver a killer annual Halloween list that doesn’t always pander to the obvious. Sometimes, that involves digging deep, moving beyond those childhood and teenage staples in an effort to expand horizons and capture the true breadth and width of the Halloween spirit. But let’s be real: sometimes, you just want to go back to that comfort food and spend some time with the icons that made you a horror fan in the first place. With that notion in mind, we’re here to pay tribute to those hallowed franchises with a bonus Halloween list, albeit in unconventional fashion: rather than highlight the immortal originals, we’re here to praise specific sequels that keep us plunging straight into a bowl of popcorn as they entertain us on a yearly basis (or, in the case of Halloween 4 & 5, a daily basis on AMC towards the end of the month). These may not represent these horror icons’ absolute finest hours, but they are among their most purely entertaining and are fit to grace your television screen at any given moment throughout October.
10. Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993)
Honestly, many of Jeff Burr’s films could fill out about half of this list by themselves. For much of his early career, this underappreciated director made a living at helming sequels that turned out much better than they had any right to be. One such exhibit is this follow-up to 1988’s terrific southern gothic chiller, a film that didn’t lean solely on effects work despite having Stan Winston in the director’s chair. Where that film is actually a potent parable about the destructive nature of vengeance, this sequel is pretty much an excuse to revive a cool-looking monster and have him tear through knuckleheads in a 90s splatterfest. And for our purposes here, that’s exactly what we’re looking for. There’s barely any pretense to the carnage—hell, they can’t even bother to match up details and events from the first film, essentially making it sort of a reboot. Any lingering continuity concerns are quickly vanquished by torrents of bloodshed, killer effects work, and the presence of Ami Dolenz, Linnea Quigley, and Soleil Moon Frye. It might have more in common with one of Kevin Tenney’s rowdy gorefests than it does with the original Pumpkinhead, but Blood Wings is an absolute blast nonetheless. (Brett Gallman)
Some might (rightfully) declare Hell on Earth to be the beginning of the end of the Hellraiser franchise (which is especially disconcerting since it was followed up by 6 more movies). However, if that’s the case, let it be said that Pinhead and his Cenobites at least started to flame out with a blaze of utter glory. Like so many films that make this list, it’s fair to say Hellraiser 3 misses the point of what made its predecessors so great. Here are some things from the first two films that you won’t find in Anthony Hickox’s sequel: Clive Barker’s dark sense of grandeur, his mature musings on pleasure, pain, and obsession, and his eloquent intersection between torment, guilt, madness, and unholy retribution. What you will find: Pinhead doing his best Freddy Krueger impersonation and ripping up shit, incredible gore effects, a Cenobite that kills people by spitting out CDs, and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Hellraiser” scoring the end credits. Suffice it to say when Hellraiser entered the 90s, it went all in with the nonsense that entailed. Better this than the (mostly) utterly banal dreck that followed, though: for a brief moment, it looked as if Hellraiser might at least endure as a popcorn gore spectacle, only to see that promise snuffed out by lackluster attempts at “course correction.” Probably should have just stuck with the surefire formula that involved death-via-disc. Just saying. (Brett Gallman)
I am admittedly stretching things a bit here because Pet Sematary can hardly be considered a “franchise” since it only boasts one sequel that was all but disavowed by Stephen King. However, we consider the author himself to be something of a franchise around these parts, and no October is truly complete without paying fealty to the King. Since his works have spawned so few follow-ups (much less worthy ones), Mary Lambert’s sequel to her own masterpiece reigns supreme for our purposes here. Where the original Pet Sematary stopped just short of acknowledging the black comic implications of King’s work, this follow-up plunges right into them. It doesn’t even bother to teeter over the edge, either, as it subjects the audience to overwrought gruesomeness from the opening scene, sending them down a raucous path of gore-soaked nonsense. In what feels like a blatant act of rebellion, Lambert eschews the heartbreaking, nightmarish strains of the original in favor of a wildly thrashing mean streak brimming and over-the-top performances (Clancy Brown leaves no part of the scenery intact). Nobody watches the original Pet Sematary for fun, but that’s exactly what’s in order with this sequel, which appropriately hinges on a Halloween night campfire tale to really open its gory floodgates. (Brett Gallman)
Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm is a haunting, dreamy masterpiece that blurs the line between childhood and adulthood, life and death, dreams and reality. The sequel—which was impossibly commissioned a decade later by a Universal exec who loved the original film—is not really any of those things, as it eschews Coscarelli’s fleeting, elusive approach for a (relatively) big budget run-and-gun follow-up that takes Mike and Reggie on the road for another confrontation with The Tall Man. And what could have been an absolute affront to Coscarelli’s masterwork turns out to be a more than worthy follow-up that finds the director embracing the era’s splattery spirit. Where the original thrives on a hallucinatory atmosphere and a young boy’s slow, unsettling realizations of the horrors surrounding them, Phantasm II is propelled by explosive action sequences, four-barreled shotguns, wild sex, and Raimi-style hysterics. If Phantasm is a disquieting nightmare, then its sequel is something like a feverish daydream a teenager scribbled in a notebook. (Brett Gallman)
Frankenstein and his malformed monster are so iconic that one can pick and choose from multiple eras and pluck a terrific sequel from the bunch. Whether it’s the original Universal classics or Hammer’s garish updates, there’s no shortage of entertaining takes on Mary Shelley’s infamous tale. However, if there’s one that bridges that gap tremendously, it’s Evil of Frankenstein, the third entry in Hammer's long-running series. Where previous efforts shied away and carved their own path from their Universal predecessors, this one fully embraced those roots. Most notably, Dr. Frankenstein’s (Peter Cushing, wonderfully unhinged as always) Monster now bears an obvious resemblance to his Karloff counterpart in those earlier movies. Likewise, the mad doctor—who is just as unhinged as ever—sets up shop in a lab that looks quite familiar, all while the film itself comes off as the studio's attempt to redo Son of Frankenstein. Obviously, this is not a criticism, especially when director Freddie Francis overlays that signature Hammer aesthetic—vibrant colors, sultry women, shocking violence—onto such vintage proceedings. If you’re in the mood for a Frankenstein movie this season but can’t settle on one, look no further than this definitive variety pack. (Brett Gallman)
While some of the films on this list can best be described as “misguided,” this update—which basically announced Platinum Dunes to the world—feels like utter sacrilege. Not merely an ill-advised follow-up to Tobe Hooper’s seminal slaughterhouse mayhem but an outright reimagining of a sacred text, this Texas Chainsaw Massacre felt like a Sisyphean task on principle alone. That Michael Bay’s redux sausage factory pulled it off is admirable; they it did so with such aplomb is downright incredible, especially since it trades in Hooper’s sun-soaked, restrained nihilism for a faux-grimy exercise in raucous popcorn entertainment. Only a few surface-level affectations—like John Larroquette’s ominous voiceover narration—are retained; otherwise, this familiar tale of doomed youth is twisted into the sort of pulse-pounding splatter movie, not unlike the legions of video store fodder begat by the original Chainsaw. Sure, it’s probably too slick and preoccupied with on-screen violence in a way its predecessor isn’t, but let’s be real: the same can be said about any of the sequels, many of which aren’t as worthy as this outing. This is Leatherface at the peak of his crowd-pleasing prowess, however odd that may sound. (Brett Gallman)
The 1991 Labour Day weekend saw Child's Play 3 take #2 at the box office and in the span of the next two weeks, the 80s saw its denouement with its release and that of Guns N' Roses epic Use Your Illusions 1 & 2 albums. One of the, if not the, last of the wonderful 80s style slashers, this third go around for Chucky was his most quotable affair ever with"Don't fuck with the Chuck!" and "This is my rifle, this is my gun, this is for shooting, and THIS is for fun!" being 8 year old (and 32, mind you) me's favorite lines. With a much older Andy heading off to military school and chumming with good girl next door De Silva and his nerdy buddy Whitehurst, only one bad motherfucker stood in their way. Ok, two. Not only does Andy have this fucking killer voodoo doll up his ass, but we are introduced to his new nemesis, a dipshit heel that could only exist perfectly in the 1980s style in Colonel Shelton ("That's Lieutenant COLONEL Shelton to you, ASSHOLE"), who is always up Andy's ass for playing with dolls. The movie ends in a haunted amusement park (you can almost smell the sickeningly sweet, stale candy apples), which always rang clear with me due to a childhood experience of around the same time of my crying like a bitch in the local haunted house at about 5 or 6. With that embarrassing story approaching... onto the next subject... (Brett H.)
With the exception of those rare times (like this year, appropriately enough) when Friday the 13th falls in October, Jason Voorhees has his own day. As such, Mrs. Voorhees’s Baby boy and I have seldom crossed paths around Halloween—unless, of course, I happened to pass by WGN at any given point near the holiday during the 90s. For whatever reason, this particular sequel became something of an October staple on the Chicagoland station for years (alongside fellow outcast sequel Freddy’s Dead). In truth, it’s not a bad fit, either: I mean, if there’s one Friday the 13th entry that’s suitable for this time of the year, it’s the one where a demonic hellbaby and possession play a prominent role. Basically, Jason Goes to Hell is such a weird entry that it’s right at home in a season that’s reserved for demons, goblins, ghosts, and witchcraft. Of course, the outrageous gore helps, too: say what you want about this “Final" Friday, but it delivers just about everything you crave from a Friday the 13th movie—even if that damn hockey mask is hardly anywhere to be found. (Brett Gallman)
While The Dream Master is practically the platonic ideal of our Popcorn Terrors designation, this episode of the short-lived Freddy’s Nightmares series is even more appropriate for this list. One of the very few episodes that can be considered quite watchable, “Freddy’s Tricks and Treats” finds the Springwood Slasher (Robert Englund) haunting the Halloween night festivities of an overworked med student (Mariska Hargitay). When her hockey-mask wearing boyfriend (!) tries to spook her into joining the fun, she retreats further into her work, making her a prime target for everyone’s favorite dream stalker. Most notable here is that Freddy actually stars in the damn thing instead of merely acting as the host, as he did in most of the show’s episodes. As such, you’re treated to an underseen performance from Englund in his prime (and at the height of Freddy’s popularity to boot). Just about everything you love about Freddy is on display, from diabolical shape-shifting to ridiculous quips. Toss in some holiday trimming and an intriguing subplot involving recording dreams, and “Freddy’s Tricks and Treats” has all the workings of a fun Halloween nightmare. (Brett Gallman)
In October, one icon obviously reigns supreme, and this—his big, much-hyped return after a long absence from the screen—epitomizes the franchise comfort food we’re looking for here. While the sheer elegance of John Carpenter’s original is hard to come by here (ditto for Halloween 2’s sense of witching hour menace), Halloween 4 represents a reasonable stab at returning The Shape to his former glory. Even if Return takes an obvious cue from the splatter movie brutality that defined this era, it at least attempts to honor the original’s commitment to character investment by introducing Myers’s niece Jamie and her quaint, loving family. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is of course back as The Shape’s maniacal foil, warning anyone and everyone about his imminent return to Haddonfield, where he resumes the bloodbath he started a decade earlier.
And ultimately, that’s why Halloween 4 is suitable popcorn fare—it’s Loomis and Myers going toe-to-toe as the latter plows through hapless Haddonfield citizens with an assortment of murder implements. Metal rods, electric transformers, a trusty butcher knife, and even Michael’s own thumb leave a trail of carnage that’s only stopped by a shotgun-toting redneck posse…well, until next year, of course, at which point the franchise truly plunged down an insane rabbit hole. As such, The Return of Michael Myers also stands as the last Halloween sequel I can reasonably defend with a straight face. (Brett Gallman)
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