The Last Exorcism Part II comes out this Friday, and once again we're forced to ask the same old question: can any horror sequel match up to the original? More to the point, can it actually be scarier? It doesn't happen too often, but it's not entirely unheard of. So while we bait our breath and hope The Last Exorcism Part II turns out okay, here's a quick look at some horror sequels that at least arguably outdid the original film in the franchise. We're ranking these based on the contrast, i.e. not how good they are, but how much better they are than the film they're sequelizing. If the first film was great, and the sequel is at least on par with the original, it's low on the list. If the first film wasn't great, and the sequel kicked ass, it will rank higher.
Got it? Got it? That's why Evil Dead 2 isn't on this list. It's tons of fun, but the original took itself more seriously, and by extension is still at least a little scarier. Got it? Good.
Inferno (dir. Dario Argento 1980)
Dario Argento's Suspiria is widely considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time, telling the story of a young ballet student (Jessica Harper) who discovers that her spooky new school in Germany is actually in the thrall of an all-powerful and entirely evil witch. His first sequel to Suspiria, called Inferno, isn't very widely considered at all, but it should be. The stream-of-consciousness narrative weaves in and out of storylines surrounding another witch in the fabled coven, this one located in New York City. It's a little hard to make sense of Inferno, but that just makes it all the more terrifying. And the crazy, creepy sequence about drowning cats in Central Park just might stick with you forever.
Exorcist III (dir. William Peter Blatty, 1990)
Another film that many think is the scariest movie ever made is William Friedkin's The Exorcist, which rather famously spawned one of the worst sequels of all time, horror or otherwise, in The Exorcist II: The Heretic. But the third film in the franchise, The Exorcist III, might just be more nightmare-inducing than the original. George C. Scott stars as a detective investigating a string of mysterious murders that cannot possibly be explained, like a victim whose blood gets drained into dozens of little cups placed delicately around their room, and without a single drop spilled on anywhere at all. The solution takes him to the depths of evil, personified by Brad Dourif (of course). Original Exorcist writer William Peter Blatty wrote and directed this sequel, which has one of the most unique tones of any horror film you're likely to see, and has the power to scare the living crap out of you.
House of the Dead II (dir. Michael Hurst, 2005)
Uwe Boll's House of the Dead may be one of the most notorious awful movies ever made, so you may not have seen the straight-to-video sequel, and we couldn't possibly blame you. The thing is… you're missing out. Although not traditionally "scary," this schlocky thriller about a team of special forces agents leaping into a zombie outbreak at a college is full of clever set pieces, interesting characters and tons of pleasing gore. It wouldn't be good enough to make any "best sequels ever" list unless the absolute badness of the original was taken into consideration, but since that's exactly what we're doing, it more than earns its #3 slot.
The Devil's Rejects (dir. Rob Zombie, 2005)
Everyone thought Rob Zombie had the potential to be the new master of horror before House of 1,000 Corpses came out, but when it actually did, it kind of… stunk. It was weird and all, and had some scary moments, but it was mostly a mess of good, bad and just plain awkward ideas. So when The Devil's Rejects came out two years later, we expected very little, and got… one damned scary horror movie, didn't we? Zombie switched the entire story around by convincing audiences to sympathize with the homicidal maniacs from the original film, and wound up freaking us out even more by letting us in on their giddy madness. It's still overblown – we did not need to hear all of "Freebird," damn it – but it's such an enormous improvement on House of 1,000 Corpses that it boggles the mind.
Friday the 13th Part 2 (dir. Steve Miner, 1981)
The original Friday the 13th has its fans, but frankly, it's not the best slasher out there by any stretch of the imagination. The characters are forgettable, the kills are often sloppy, and only the now-ruined twist ending really made it stand out in anyone's minds. But the sequel really delivered the goods. Friday the 13th Part 2 turned the events of the original film into a campfire story that, like all the best campfire stories, turns out to have a nugget of truth in it, and at least one total lie. It turns out Jason Voorhees survived after all, and now kills a likable group of teen camp counselors to avenge the death of his sainted mother. The horror set pieces are exquisitely filmed, the people you don't want to die almost always do and the pacing is the best in the entire Friday the 13th franchise. It's so much better than the first movie… that it's scary.