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. This 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!

Back From The Dead: Part 2

PROBLEM: A popular actress has opted to return to the now-flagging franchise that shot her to stardom. There’s just one setback – her original departure was explained by killing off  her signature character.

CASE STUDY: Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween (1978)

After  portraying Laurie Strode, the target of masked maniac Michael Myers in Halloween and Halloween II, “scream queen” Jamie Lee Curtis said goodbye to her signature role, and the film’s producers did as well. The Halloween franchise continued on – and now focused on Laurie’s young daughter, orphaned after her parents’ death in a car accident. After three films though, the storyline was pretty much played out and the franchise seemed as dead as one of Michael’s hapless victims.

But then in 1996 a little film called Scream was released and suddenly the horror genre was revitalized. That, along with the approaching 20th anniversary of the original Halloween, had Curtis herself thinking that the time was right to revisit her iconic character.

There was just that one minor problem to address – what about those pesky three previous Halloween films which had all but nailed shut the coffin (literally and figuratively) on Laurie Strode?

SOLUTION: No problem – just ignore them!

Not to worry though,  it wasn’t quite the “it never happened” tactic that was employed by Dallas (as covered in Part 1). The film in which Jamie Lee Curtis was making her return – Halloween: H20 – was being touted as a direct sequel to just the first two Halloween films and was picking up on Laurie Strode, now living under an assumed name and still dealing with the trauma she experienced on that fateful October 31st  two decades earlier (a point that was even helpfully laid out in the film’s full title, Halloween: Twenty Years Later). The producers weren’t necessarily saying that the in-between films no longer existed, just that they simply “weren’t canon” anymore and this was the direction the franchise was now following.

RESULT: A slashing success. Fans loved seeing the franchise resurrected with Curtis returning as a stronger-than-ever Laurie and the film did a good job of honouring the original with nods to classic characters and locations. Halloween: H20 went on to become the highest grossing of all the Halloween sequels – pulling in $55 million at the box office.