Halloween Treats: Surprisingly Good Late-Series Horror Sequels

The horror genre is easily the most prolific when it comes to sequels. Unfortunately, quantity rarely means quality, and most horror franchises tend to see diminishing returns with each lackluster entry. So it’s always a treat to stumble across a late-series entry that’s actually better than would ever be expected. So if you’re looking for some such treats this Halloween, here are a few you can check out.

Final Destination 5

The unique thing that sets apart the Final Destination films from other horror fare has also been its downfall. In the first FD, the idea of turning Death itself into a supernatural slasher (determined to right the scales in his favour when a teen’s premonition saves him and his classmates from a plane explosion where they would have surely perished), was original and exciting. But with each sequel simply repeating the same conceit with different characters, it quickly became old hat – not only to audiences, but to people within the movies themselves. The characters in the fourth installment don’t even bat an eye when they find out Death is stalking them, they just dutifully move the action along from one high-concept deathtrap set piece to another.

So it was surprising that when Final Destination 5 came out, there was some obvious effort on the filmmaker’s part to kick the quality back up a few notches. And it worked. Suspense oozes out of every deathtrap sequence and the signature opening catastrophe was stellar – second only to the highway pile-up of FD 2. The collapse of a huge suspension bridge is well staged and choreographed and the special effects are incredible (and personally, a little jarring – since the bridge that was used in the film is Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver, which is just a mere 5 minutes away from where I live, and I always think of it collapsing whenever I drive over it now).

Another plus is that the film tries to mix up the whole “Death is killing the survivors in the order they should’ve died” by adding in a ghoulish twist – that the survivors may be able to avoid death by Death by killing someone else in their place. And to top it all off, the 3D work is handled very well, with set-ups designed specifically for 3D filming – no muddy, post-conversion 3D here.

Saw VI

I liked Saw. I did not care for Saw II. And I have no idea why I saw every subsequent Saw film even though I’m not a fan of torture and the copious flashback reveals made each film just more and more muddled. I guess I just kept hoping that one of the sequels would at least be able to hold up to the first one. Thankfully, it finally paid off with Saw VI.

Sorry, you'll have to wait - this ride's all full.

Sorry, you’ll have to wait – this ride’s all full.

Instead of deadly games master Jigsaw or his minions selecting immoral or damaged souls to “learn the value of life” by placing them in deathtraps (which is about as morally righteous as Jason Voorhees narrowing his victim list to only trespassing campers and annoying teens), this time the action is centered on a person whose day-to-day life involves playing god with people’s lives. A health insurance agent whose personal selection policy favours the healthy over the ill has resulted in the deaths of a number of individuals who were denied coverage and treatment (including Jigsaw himself). After being kidnapped, he awakens to find himself trapped in a deadly funhouse of terror traps along with six of his coworkers and associates, who are strapped to a literal carousel of death. He now has to make his way through the funhouse by juggling the fates of the lives of those six just as he juggled with the lives of every sick person who he denied coverage. And just for an extra kick in the ‘nads, he is being observed by the wife and child of one such man who recently died.

Hmm…a Saw film that is actually comments on a current and controversial topic (health care)? And does so while offering some great suspense-filled set-pieces? Yep, there you have it – Saw VI, the best of all the Saw sequels.

Halloween: H20

How many times do I have to tell you - we have no more candy!

Go away – we have no more candy!

I’ve already mentioned the film officially known as Halloween: Twenty Years Later in a few previous posts, so I’ll just sum it up quickly: this seventh installment of the Halloween franchise disregarded sequels 4-6, brought back ultimate final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and had her face off once again with the murderous, masked Michael Myers in a direct follow-up to the first two Halloween films, which is easily the best sequel since Halloween II. With a focus that leans heavily on suspense-over-gore that was the original film’s trademark, the only quibble here is that it’s too short. The set-up seems a tad rushed and an extra 10 minutes before the final act would have been welcome. But no deal breaker is this! I’ll take a brisk Halloween: H20 over the other late sequels or either of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes any day.

Honourable (Video Game) Mention

Silent Hill Downpour

SHDPThe survival horror franchise that is Silent Hill has seen many ups and downs since it’s high-water mark of Silent Hill 2: Shattered Dreams. When subsequent installments like Silent Hill: The Room and Silent Hill Homecoming didn’t do much to thrill fans or critics, not much was expected from eighth entry Silent Hill Downpour.

Gladly that was not the case. In a serious effort to bring back the creepiness and chills that have been missing from the survival horror genre, Silent Hill Downpour wrapped its single-protagonist main story in the pseudo-open world setting of the town of Silent Hill itself – complete with a number of optional side quests and stories to explore. These side quests, which involve solving mysteries connected to the macabre history of the town, is what actually provides most of the chills of the game, and it was just great to see Silent Hill (the town) being treated like an actual character instead of just a backdrop. Sure there were a few shortcomings with the game itself, but again – we’re talking about Silent Hill and about surprisingly good late-series horror entries, and that means that the box next to Silent Hill Downpour is the one to check off.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

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Single-Player Scares

Each year as October 31st nears, the interwebs abound with “Scariest Movies” lists. And while I love me some scary movies, I thought I’d spend this Halloween post focusing on a lesser-mainstream way of entertaining yourself with thrills and chills. So, in the name of all things spooky-ooky, here’s my little list of 5 of the scariest video games that will have the single player in you screaming for more.

xbox

Silent Hill 2

When I purchased my first Xbox, I bought two games to go with it. One of them was Superman: The Man of Steel, and it was so craptacular that it could’ve turned me off of Xbox for good. Luckily, the other game I bought was Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams, and that game more than made up for the failings of the last son of Krypton, and instantly turned me into a Xbox fan for life.

pyramidhead

Silent Hill has a real problem with neighbours who like to pop by unannounced

I knew nothing about Silent Hill 2 (or the “survival horror” genre in general) but the box art caught my eye and being a horror movie fan, the synopsis on the back reeled me in. You play as James Sunderland, a man who receives a letter from his wife stating that she is waiting for him in the town of Silent Hill. Only problem is James’ wife has been dead and buried for quite a while now…or has she? This sets off James’ journey through the psychological and physical terrors that abound in the deserted and deadly hamlet of Silent Hill. Before this game, I never thought I could get scared playing a video game – but I quickly learned otherwise, and many a late night playing session would have me nervously checking over my shoulder just to make sure there weren’t any sketchy abominations creeping up behind me.

Fatal Frame and Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly

Fatal_Frame

Say cheese!

The Fatal Frame games seem to have clear aim – to subject the player to a continuously mounting feeling of dread and terror that doesn’t let up until the game is shut off. Both games involve cursed and haunted locales in Japan (the go-to country for all your cursed haunting needs) – a house in the first game and a secluded village in the second – but it’s the game mechanics that’s the clincher. Attacked and tormented by malevolent spirits, your only weapon is the mystical Camera Obscura  – which you can use with special film to weaken and destroy ghosts…provided you can snap their picture at the precise moment that causes maximum damage. When you’re not fighting for your life, you are trying to unravel mysteries (concerning a missing brother in FF1 and cursed twins in FF2) that just become more chilling with each new clue you uncover. With imagery and themes that stay with you long after the game is done, the Fatal Frame games are picture-perfect examples of survival horror.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

Originally one of the launch games for the Xbox 360, Condemned isn’t a survival horror game per se, but that doesn’t stop it from containing some of the most pants-wettingest moments in video game history. Very much in the vein of cinematic thrillers like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, you play as an FBI agent framed for murder. The only way to clear your name is by tracking down a number of serial killers who hold the clue to who set you up. Creepy environments abound in this atmospheric game – most notably in a sequence set in a deserted shopping mall where there’s something just a little off about all of the mannequins…

Dead Space

Dead Space could probably best be described as a video game mash-up of Alien and Event Horizon. You play Isaac Clarke, a ship’s system engineer in year 2508, charged with responding to a distress call put out by mining ship. Once aboard the disabled ship, you discover that the crew has been slaughtered – and are now being reanimated by some sort of alien infestation as grotesque creatures called Necromorphs.

Aw, I'm sure she just wants to play

Aw, I’m sure she just wants to play

Making your way through the deserted decks, you find that the creatures can jump out at you from literally anywhere, so every trip down a deserted hall turns into a tense journey of trepidation. And to make matters worse, you can just shoot blindly at the creatures til they die, oooh no. You have to employ what the game calls “strategic dismemberment” – meaning that unless you actually blast off the limbs of the creatures, they will keep coming after you in their relentless pursuit of making you one of their own. However, the game does give you the ability to curb stomp the creatures once they are taken down, and believe me, after getting the crap scared out of you for the umpteenth time by some huge creepy crawly, there’s nothing more cathartic then getting your stomp on, right on their crunchy, squishy heads.

Happy Halloween, everyone!