“Sequels suck. By definition alone, they’re inferior films … The entire horror genre was destroyed by sequels!” – Randy Meeks, Scream 2
The debate over whether there are any sequels that equal (or better!) their predecessors has been raging for as long as sequels have existed.
On the one hand, sequels can explore and expand on existing ideas without having to do much groundwork-laying. Fans love sequels for allowing them to check in with their favourite characters or fictional worlds – and marketing departments appreciate that built-in brand recognition.
On the other? Well, there have been plenty of sequels that didn’t live up to the originals.
The sheer number of horror sequels that came out in the 1980s has led to a general perception that those films represented content rather than art. But if there’s one thing that cult film fans like more than arguing about films, it’s unearthing a forgotten gem. To save you some of the work of sifting through endless rehashes, here are five overlooked, under-loved 80s horror sequels that deserve your attention:
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)
Let’s be honest, for all that the ending has haunted the nightmares of at least one generation, Sleepaway Camp was never a great film. A creaky slasher that wanted to trade on the success of Friday The 13th, it had one idea – plus some brilliantly awful effects work that somehow crossed the line from ‘bad’ to ‘terrifying’.
Its sequel, though? Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers is something of a (no pun intended) camp classic. Both released and set five years after the original film, it sees Angela (now played by Pamela Springsteen) returning to summer camp, intent on having some wholesome fun… and when the kids don’t want to play along? Well, we know what happens to people who get in Angela’s way.
Director Michael A. Simpson mashes John Hughes-style teen comedy into his slasher sequel, playing fast and loose with the rules of both subgenres. The scene in which Angela searches a cabin for a potential murder weapon, considering and rejecting a series of unlikely objects, is a masterclass in knowing silliness, while the Happy Campers singalong deserves to be replicated at every midnight horror movie marathon.
And yet, it’s not all just throwaway fluff. Look hard enough and, beneath the gleefulness, you might glimpse some serious points made here about unacknowledged grief and trauma. Poor Angela might just be horror’s most tragic serial killer. Fun, gore, and a psychologically interesting anti-heroine who’s treated as more than just a punchline? Definitely better than the original.
Clive Barker has been pretty open about the fact that he’d never intended for Pinhead to become as central to the Hellraiser mythos as he has. In the first Hellraiser, the most recognisable Cenobite is only on screen for around eight minutes – the real villains are Julia and Frank, a couple of depraved narcissists who’ll do anything as long as it means they get what they want.
But the feedback from fans was that audiences wanted more Pinhead, and so for the sequel, Barker and director Tony Randel were happy to oblige. Yes, Julia’s back, and more bloodthirsty than ever thanks to a brilliantly over-the-top performance from Clare Higgins, but there’s a lot more time spent with the Cenobites and their hell dimension this time round.
There are obvious parallels to be drawn between this film and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, which was released the previous year. Both films are set in mental hospitals; like Nancy, Kirsty is back, both traumatised and hardened by her ordeal; both of them befriend a younger and more supernaturally gifted blonde girl in the hospital; and, in both films, the special effects department seems to have been given free rein to create all the terrifying gooey nightmares they felt like. But since Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is widely acknowledged to be the best Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, being kind of like that film is no bad thing.
It does skew younger than the first Hellraiser, with the dark psychosexual horror replaced by flying leather-clad S&M monsters, but again, what’s wrong with that?
You’d be forgiven for not immediately thinking of Psycho as an ‘80s horror franchise – or even for not thinking of Psycho as a franchise at all. But there were actually three Psycho sequels released that decade, and the second one is kind of great.
Directed by Hitchcock devotee Richard Franklin, Psycho II picks up some twenty-odd years after the original. Norman Bates has finally been released from the mental institution where he’s spent the intervening years and, perhaps unwisely, returns to Bates Motel to try to reintegrate himself into society. Before long, the local homicide department is being kept busy with a steady stream of knife murders, and poor Norman fears Mother may have taken control again…
It’s not Hitchcock, of course, and tonally, Psycho II leans hard into pitch-black comedy. But this late sequel stands up, mostly due to Anthony Perkins’s performance. Twitchy, nervous, and vulnerable, Perkins completely re-inhabits the character he so unforgettably brought to life in 1960. He’s lost none of his creepy charm, and, older and wiser, he also lends Norman an air of pathos. It’s not often a horror movie makes you really wish its killer could just get some proper therapy, for their own good.
Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Just in case you were starting to think that every sequel on this list would just be the second in a franchise, here comes the sixth Friday The 13th film, proving that sequel number is really just a number.
In case you need a quick refresher: in the first Friday The 13th, Camp Crystal Lake cook Mrs Voorhees went on a counsellor-killing spree to avenge the death of her son; in the second one, her son Jason turns up to avenge the death of his mother; in the third one, Jason goes on the run, picking up his now-iconic hockey mask in the process; and in the fourth, Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter, yet another killing spree ends with Jason being killed by the kids he was trying to menace. But as everyone knows, knife-wielding maniacs in the movies never really die, so after a copycat killer took over for the fifth movie, the sixth one brought Jason back to murderous life. How? It’s probably best not to question that. Suffice to say it involved a couple of unfortunately timed strokes of lightning…
Jason’s backstory hasn’t ever really made sense, and this sequel marks the point the franchise stopped even pretending that it did. Instead, director Tom McLoughlin concentrates on making this movie a really, really good time. Stylishly shot, inventively gory, and with an economical script that ensures every character gets at least a little bit of personality, this is the kind of slasher sequel that would go down a storm at a kitschy little drive-in cinema.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)
When is a sequel not a sequel? When it’s an unrelated film that’s been retitled in order to cash in on the name of the original, like Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2. Directed by Bruce Pittman, written by Ron Oliver, and sharing absolutely none of the original cast, the only connection between this and the first Prom Night is that the high school the characters attend has the same name in both films – and even that was a coincidence.
Still, since the ending of Prom Night pretty much put a lid on its story, it doesn’t really matter. Hello Mary Lou is a supernatural romp with a brilliantly defiant villainess at its heart. By the time you’ve got through the wonderfully nasty opening in which a prank gone wrong leads to her tragic demise, all memories of Jamie Lee Curtis disco-dancing to made-to-order electronica will have long since evaporated.
Social and sexual mores of the 1950s are compared and contrasted with those of the 1980s as the vengeful spirit of Mary Lou turns good girl Vicki bad, with plenty of fun supernatural set-pieces along the way. This film is like Stephen King’s Carrie but with the ‘80s fashion turned up to 11. Plenty of horror movies have crowned their own prom queens since, but none of them could hold a stink bomb to Mary Lou Maloney.