As Halloween Ends approaches, filmmakers are assuring fans that it’ll be a bold sequel that doesn’t play it safe. That’s a relief for horror fans, who associate sequels with tepid, formulaic cash-grabs that usually rehash the previous film’s storylines instead of advancing them.
But that’s not the case for all horror sequels. In fact, some of them swing for the fences and take huge risks with the storyline, for better and worse. With that said, here are 10 horror sequels that took huge risks, ranked by how much they shocked, upset, or confused fans.
Prom Night 2 (1987)
The first Prom Night was one of the first slasher movies to capitalize on the success of Halloween and help establish the formula of the genre. So fans would’ve expected the sequel to be more of the same, but it’s barely even a slasher movie. Instead, it’s a supernatural black-comedy about the vengeful spirit of a slain prom queen, and almost has more to do with Heathers Friday the 13th.
The first Prom Night was just about a man in a mask killing some teenagers, so fans had no idea where this direction came from. And if it doesn’t feel like a sequel, that’s because it wasn’t “meant” to be a sequel. It was filmed under a different title before the studio decided to slap the name Prom Night 2 onto it. Still, fans appreciate that it’s a unique and fresh sequel, even if it’s a sequel in name only.
Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
While the Hellraiser sequels aren’t exactly critical darlings, they had still cultivated a fanbase that was enamored with their nightmarish visuals and unnerving body horror. But fans were treated to something quite different with Hellraiser: Bloodline, which might be the most ambitious Hellraiser sequel, but also the most convoluted.
Essentially, this sequel takes place over three different eras, as the iconic Pinhead and his cenobites battle a generation of men whose destinies are intertwined with the infamous Lament Configuration. The first slasher sequel to put their villains in space, Inferno alienated so many fans that it ended up being the last theatrical Hellraiser movie. That said, plenty of fans defend it for its grand, almost epic vision.
The Exorcist 2: The Heretic (1978)
One of the most infamous horror sequels of all time, The Exorcist 2 baffled and outraged fans of the original when it came out in 1978. It’s since garnered a legacy as one of the most bizarre and ridiculous sequels by a major studio. That’s because director John Boorman wasn’t even a fan of The Exorcist and wanted to do something completely different. And he most certainly did.
The results are a film that couldn’t have less to do with the original. It introduces one strange idea after another, from telepathy to locust swarms, and doesn’t even attempt at making a coherent, logical follow-up to The Exorcist. Hopefully, Boorman was proud of himself for defying both producers and audiences to make a sequel that was well and truly “his” vision, because that’s about the only piece of consolation he could’ve received.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a risky sequel that fans embraced wholeheartedly. After House of 1000 Corpses, audiences expected Rob Zombie to make a traditional slasher sequel and set the Firefly family on a new host of hapless victims. Instead, Zombie turned his franchise into a neo-western and made his band of backwood sadists into the protagonists.
While that was a shocking turn for some fans, they were ultimately compelled by Zombie’s vision of creating the ultimate anti-heroes and pitting them against a sympathetic, if ultimately corrupt, sheriff. Zombie finds the humanity in some of the worst people ever put to film and delivers a horror sequel unlike any other.
Halloween 6: The Curse Of Michael Myers (1995)
By the mid-90s, fans had largely agreed that the Halloween franchise was running out of steam, so the Halloween producers attempted to make a sequel that would breathe new life into the series through an entirely new approach. And the results were one of the most polarizing entries in the series.
Troubled with production issues and hasty rewrites, Halloween 6 ultimately centers around a runic cult that has been controlling Michael Myers since the very beginning. This retroactively turned Michael Myers into a pawn, which infuriated fans. But this sequel also has its defenders, who find the cult angle to be a welcomed addition to the Halloween lore.
Alien 3 (1992)
It seems like a sequel to Aliens would be a lay-up, but the team behind Alien 3 practically shot themselves in the foot when they killed off Newt, Bishop, and Hicks in between films. After the thrilling events of the previous films, audiences had grown attached to the characters and felt betrayed by their unceremonious and abrupt exits.
Some would argue that Alien 3 was practically doomed from the start due to creative differences between director David Fincher and his producers. Of course, fans could have forgiven that if this sequel stayed true to what fans had loved about the franchise. But this sequel tends to leave a bitter taste in most fans’ mouths. Then again, there are defenders who think that killing off those characters raised the stakes and helped create a dark and even nihilistic tone.
Saw III (2006)
By Saw III, Jigsaw had become one of the premiere horror villains of the 2000s. That’s why it was so shocking to fans that he was killed off in only the third installment. They might have thought it was to be the last film, but a sequel was obviously on its way. And unlike other horror icons on this list, Jigsaw actually stayed dead for the rest of this series.
While some fans argue that this led the series into a downward spiral of convoluted storylines and endless twists, other fans applaud the sheer audacity of killing off Jigsaw so early in. Critics might dismiss the Saw movies as mindless “torture porn,” but this installment proved that the filmmakers weren’t afraid of taking chances and that they wouldn’t pander to their audience.
New Nightmare (1994)
New Line Cinemas had intended to end their legendary Nightmare on Elm Street series with Freddy’s Dead, but quickly realized they needed to do another installment if they were going to end the series on a good note. So Wes Craven tried something unprecedented: to take Freddy into the “real world” and have him face off against the actors and filmmakers behind the Elm Street films.
Craven had actually wanted to use this concept for the third film, but it was deemed to be too ahead of its time. That was probably true, as fans were still taken aback in 1994. But critics hailed New Nightmare as a masterpiece that transcended the genre with its meta-analysis. Craven found so much success in this approach that he went on to direct the equally-meta Scream films.
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Much like the Halloween films, Jason Voorhees seemed to be on his last leg when New Line Cinema produced Jason Goes to Hell. So, the filmmakers went all out and crafted a new mythology for the character that would explore his supernatural qualities. To say that the results were controversial might be an understatement.
A huge departure from the simplistic approach of the franchise, Jason Goes to Hell is a metaphysical, almost Lovecraftian tale that fans either detest for betraying the original movies, or love for completely reinvigorating the franchise. Plus, it perfectly set up Freddy vs. Jason with its infamous cliffhanger.
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)
After Halloween II, John Carpenter was determined to put Michael Myers to rest. That’s why he and Debra Hill decided to continue the Halloween franchise as an anthology series of Myers-less horror stories centered around the eponymous holiday. The problem is that Michael Myers had become so synonymous with the Halloween films that fans widely rejected Season of the Witch and demanded that Myers return.
But fans have now come to appreciate this sequel for its own merits. By now, it’s become a genuine cult classic that’s celebrated by fans, so much so that the last Halloween film paid homage to it. While Carpenter’s gamble may not have paid off in 1982, Halloween III’s stock has risen sky-high since then.