The 40 Best Horror Movie Sequels of All Time

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The 40 Best Horror Movie Sequels of All Time

Sequels, no matter their genre, are very often taken with a grain of salt—normally because they are often products of blockbuster IP franchises just churning out content to make millions, sometimes billions, of dollars every single year. But the horror genre was one of the first sectors of Hollywood to implement a sequel, and you can trace that all the way back to 1935 when Universal Pictures put out The Bride of Frankenstein. But horror sequels outside of the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises were rare, at least up until the 1970s when George A. Romero began making follow-ups to his groundbreaking film Night of the Living Dead. To find the best horror movie sequels ever, you’ll have to comb through nearly a century of material.

But even then, horror sequels became standard in the 1980s, when franchises like Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street figured out that, if you churn out a new chapter every single year, folks will pack the theaters for every single one. And, as we’ve seen greatly with IP cash-cows in the last decade, you’re likely to put out some absolute dud movies in the process of seizing the opportunity of demand. But what about the horror sequels that are actually good? There are more than you think. The great ones are obvious and have earned their immortality, but there are some real gems—like The Conjuring 2 or 28 Weeks Later or, even, Phantasm 2—that get drowned out by horror’s recent propensity for reboots and re-quels. I’ve assembled a list of the best horror sequels, putting some campy favorites up against the legacy picks. Prequels are not being considered, so no Ouija: Origin of Evil, Pearl or Fire Walk With Me, unfortunately.

Here are the 40 best horror movie sequels of all time:

40. V/H/S/2 (2013)

Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Evans, Jason Eisener

V/H/S/2 is a faithful sequel to V/H/S, a frame narrative that links a bunch of vignettes to create a single throughline. Bloody Disgusting and Roxanne Benjamin teamed up to bring V/H/S/2 to life, and they made it an anthology of horror shorts that can each stand on their own. What’s great, though, is V/H/S/2 can only exist because of its predecessor—as the segments are taken from the VHS tapes found in V/H/S. It might sound complicated, but V/H/S/2 is a pretty easy and exciting watch. You’re going to realize quickly that it’s a scattered production, but that should be expected when you’re dealing with a short story collection working towards a singular end goal. It’s gory and perfect for found-footage truthers. Standout chapters include “Phase I Clinical Trials” and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” but the whole film is a spectacle to behold.

39. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Director: Deborah Brock

I’m a big fan of any movie starring the son of the guy who invented Little Caesars Pizza. It doesn’t hurt that he plays a serial killer whose murder weapon—a huge drill—is also an electric guitar. I mean, if that doesn’t have you sold on Slumber Party Massacre II then nothing will get you over the hump. This franchise is underrated, though Slumber Party Massacre III is hot garbage. The first two films, though, are inventive and implement what we understand about the slasher genre in a new environment. The stereotype of slumber parties turning into violent killing sprees exists because of this franchise, as executive producer Roger Corman took what might be the baseline of a teenage novel serial and turned it into a blood-soaked hootenanny.

Slumber Party Massacre II and its predecessor brings exactly what you would expect from a slasher film taking place at an all-girl get-together: Breasts and blood. Corman and writer/director Deborah Brock are not exactly re-inventing the wheel here, but the sequel is a kickass string of shenanigans that are as absurd as they are entertaining. With a budget of just $500,000, Slumber Party Massacre II made $1.3 million at the box office and has become a cult favorite in the 36 years since. This movie is, without a doubt, a run-of-the-mill slasher flick, at least from a skeletal standpoint. You’ve got your standard final girl (Courtney, played by Crystal Bernard) and you’ve got a group of her friends who are doomed to die one by one in outrageous ways. But, this time, the Driller Killer (Atanas Ilitch) is absolutely flooring and not at all like his mask-wearing peers. He’s a greaser wielding a drill-bit guitar and he’s going to impale you while shredding on his six-string. It’s goofy but thrilling, worthy of infinite rewatches.

38. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Growing up, I hated this movie. Halloween 4 meant nothing to me. And this is coming from someone whose favorite horror franchise of all time is Halloween. But, over the years, The Return of Michael Myers has become one of my most-rewatched sequels across the board. Perhaps it’s my Midwestern lifeblood (this film is so Midwestern it aches), or my immense love for how Danielle Harris singlehandedly resurrected the franchise, or the great pleasure I get from watching Donald Pleasence bumble and stumble like a maniacal idiot whenever he’s on screen. But this movie is fantastic from a Halloween standpoint. On its own, it only succeeds when it is interacting with its own lore. No one who hasn’t fully bought into the franchise will be much invested in what this film has to say—and I love that.

The Return of Michael Myers says it all in the title: Our favorite babysitter killer is back, and he wants to kill his niece! I really enjoy the family element to the original Halloween timeline; this idea that Michael wants to murder his own bloodline. That makes sense, which is something that this franchise will not have much of in the installments that come after 1988. Jamie Lloyd (Harris) is a more compelling protagonist than Laurie Strode—there, I said it! Jamie Lee Curtis might be the ultimate scream queen, but Harris stole the show 35 years ago. I stand by that. This was a film that circumvented the poor reception of Halloween III, serving as a swift abandonment of the “anthology” concept that John Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted the franchise to become.

Halloween 4 didn’t make a lot of money, but that was to be expected of a franchise that had lost its momentum and become less important than Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street during its six-year dormancy. But it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, which is actually what makes it so appealing. It’s a standard slasher that tries to re-center Halloween’s story, painting it as a very rudimentary “Michael is hunting Jamie” narrative. What the film does do well, however, is experiment with the concept of generational violence, as the ending suggests that Jamie will follow in her uncle’s violent footsteps because it’s in her DNA. Halloween Ends tried to do something similar last year, and I just wish these filmmakers had the guts to explore it fully—because that cliffhanger would be disastrously abandoned by Halloween 5. Oh well, at least we’ll always have Haddonfield.

37. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Director: Rob Zombie

I’m not much of a Rob Zombie fan. His Halloween remakes are absolutely horrendous and unnecessary. But, then again, his brand of terror doesn’t really gel much with the story of a babysitter killer. His horror is much more graphic and insidious, which makes his Firefly Trilogy a pretty rewarding one—especially if that’s your bag. House of 1000 Corpses was nasty and kept me up at night the first time I saw it; The Devil’s Rejects was much more of the same two years later. It’s a continuation of the Firefly family’s story, and I would consider it Zombie’s greatest film. I mean, if Roger Ebert gives you three out of four stars, then you’re doing something right. “There is actually some good writing and acting going on here, if you can step back from the [violent] material enough to see it,” he wrote.

But what Ebert was getting at, how the gruesomeness arrives through the story and not just the sickening gore, is exactly what makes The Devil’s Rejects a great horror film. The kills are nasty, but the heart of the story is moving and deliberate. The Southern-fried soundtrack, which contains everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Elvin Bishop to the Allman Brothers Band, encapsulates the vibes of the psychopathic family at the center of the franchise (and you’ll never think of “Free Bird” in the same way after watching). The Devil’s Rejects is a serious level-up for Zombie and his brand of torture. The New York Times said that there was a “curious emptiness” at the film’s core. I think that’s a solid compliment.

36. Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

I adore Zombieland—the first film, that is. I think a cast of Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin is hard to muck up, and Zombieland: Double Tap manages to avoid doing the impossible. It took a decade to make the sequel happen, despite having started development almost immediately after Zombieland came out and found dashing success. It proved to be worth the wait, though, as Double Tap arrived fresh and avoided feeling contrived or forced. I chalk that up to the cast, with the inclusion of Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson, all of whom are absolutely batting 1.000 every time they’re on screen (I’m not including Avan Jogia in this math, because his character is awful and annoying, sorry Beck Oliver, you’re still a hunk).

Double Tap is bigger and bolder than its predecessor. The kills are gorier, the jokes are just as pointed, the Elvis adoration continues to floor me and Harrelson is still as charming and effortlessly humorous as ever. Throw in the complexities of Columbus (Eisenberg) and Wichita’s (Stone) relationship and Little Rock’s (Breslin) yearning for something better in the desolate world she calls home, and you have a dynamic horror-comedy full of heart and soul. I don’t think anyone was demanding a Zombieland sequel, but it’s one of those instances where what we got wasn’t a trainwreck—which could’ve happened, considering the buzz around zombie flicks that had helped propel the momentum of the first film had long died out. It just goes to show that good writing can carry any movie as far as it wants to go.

35. [•REC]² (2009)

Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Speaking of found-footage films, they are usually hit or miss for me. Ever since The Blair Witch Project changed the game in 1999, every entry has tried to replicate its impact—and so few have ever come close. I’d say that the [•REC] series, along with Paranormal Activity, are the only that have come close– and [•REC] does a better job of eliciting realism-stoked horror from its audiences. The OG [•REC] from 2007 was great, and it remains one of the strongest Spanish horrors ever, as a television reporter and her cameraman are tasked with accompanying firefighters to an apartment building brimming with a devastating infection. It was remade in America as Quarantine in 2008, but it was nowhere near as impactful or terrifying.

[•REC]² arrived two years later, this time shifting its focus onto SWAT soldiers protecting a scientist charged with investigating the root of the outbreak that plagued the first film. It hits a bit harder now, given their use of quarantine as a horror element. It’s uncomfortable how intimate that’s become in the last three years. [•REC]² doesn’t have the same raw, untapped energy as its predecessor, but that’s just par for the course of found-footage films. But, it does keep the unease that made [•REC] so enthralling in the first place. Folks have wagered that it’s the best zombie sequel since Dawn of the Dead. That’s high-praise that I can’t deny the validity of.

34. It Chapter Two (2019)

Director: Andy Muschietti

It Chapter Two has a barrage of imperfections, this much is true. But it’s such an epic attempt at bringing Stephen King’s book to life that you can’t have a list like this without it. For all of its flaws, it’s a fun watch. A big problem I have with this sequel comes right at the beginning, when Stan (Andy Bean) commits suicide as an attempt to “strengthen the friend group,” completely disregarding his motivations in the book, which came from a place of pure, inconsolable terror. I wish they’d not made Stan’s ending come as a weakness instead of a portrait of someone whose wounds are far too deep to risk reopening.

In this sequel, the Losers Club is all grown up. Bev (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben (Jay Ryan) and Eddie (James Ransone) defeated Pennywise once and now, 27 years later, they’re tasked with returning to Derry, Maine to do it again. The runtime is too long and the kills aren’t all that menacing, but the chemistry of the cast, the production design and the true-to-King’s-source-material-sans-Stan’s-suicide themes are so rewarding. What makes It Chapter Two so, so good is the strength of the performances by Bills Skarsgård and Hader, the latter of whom—in a perfect, just world—would have gotten some Best Supporting Actor consideration at the Oscars. If you can sit through three hours, you’ll be met with a lot of lovable, brilliant marks of horror.

33. Scream 2 (1997)

Director: Wes Craven

Scream is one of my favorite horror films of all time. Scream 2, however, is not always my cup of tea. That’s mostly because it’s a near-replica of the first movie, just transplanted into a college storyline rather than a high school one. It helps that Wes Craven returned to direct, that keeps the film from plummeting into a parody of its own genius. It also is essential that Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is the core focus again, as she is the lifeblood of the franchise and any entry without her is kind of a bummer. The whodunnit bliss of Scream 2 comes via a copycat Ghostface killer who, again, is stalking Sidney. The ensemble cast shines, thanks to some heat-seeking performances from Laurie Metcalf, Jerry O’Connell, Timothy Olyphant, Jada Pinkett Smith and Liev Schreiber.

Given the dumpster fire that is Scream 3, I hold Scream 2 in high reverence purely because you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone—though, I’ll never forgive Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson for killing Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy). Such sac-religion. But getting Scream 2 into theaters was a labor. The plot was leaked onto the internet, the script went through numerous rewriters and filming was rushed. It still made over $170 million, nonetheless. Scream 2 adhered to the rules of sequels: It its body count go up, bigger names join the cast and the ambiguity around the killer and their motivations only become greater. I wanted to include I Still Know What You Did Last Summer on this list, because it—somehow—takes itself less seriously than Scream 2. But, let’s be honest, Scream 2 is still pretty good.

32. Candyman (2021)

Director: Nia DaCosta

The first Candyman movie is perfect. The sequels? Eh. I think Farewell to the Flesh was fine and Day of the Dead was rough, but Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld and Nia DaCosta’s 2021 re-quel is pretty great—and any opportunity to get Tony Todd back onto our screens should be seized immediately. Peele and company got back to basics with this one, conjuring what the first film did best—beautiful cinematography, complex interpersonal relationships, a dynamic score—and distilled it into their own unique entry. Like Halloween 2018, Candyman 2021 feels like a tried and true spiritual successor to the OGs they’re paying homage to.

Candyman 2021 keeps on trend with recent legacy franchise resurrections, in that it completely disregards the timelines of the sequels that came before it—and thank goodness. There are hiccups here, which is to be expected of any horror film, but DaCosta’s direction can be felt throughout in visceral, vivid ways. The film dares to tackle social injustices in much more brash, punctuated ways than Bernard Rose’s original did 29 years prior. Candyman 2021 tackles everything from police brutality to inherited trauma to historical whitewashing. Through all of its flaws, DaCosta’s take on the franchise is bold and does a damn good job of naming its oppressors. On top of that, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II gives a career-defining performance. And with supporting acts from Colman Domingo, Vanessa Williams and Teyonah Parris, Candyman is one of the strongest re-quels ever.

31. Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Director: Christopher Landon

I’m convinced that Blumhouse will go down as one of the most important horror distributors ever, with titles like Get Out, Halloween, Us, The Invisible Man, M3GAN and Insidious in their repertoire over the last 15 years. The best sequel they’ve ever produced, Happy Death Day 2U, continues to float under the radar. It made a modest $64 million at the box office in 2019, and it ran circles around its predecessor. You can thank Jessica Rothe’s performance as Tree Gelbman, the survivor of Happy Death Day, for that. Writer/director Christopher Landon opting to merge sci-fi, slashers and black comedy was a genius move, and the results are immense. Happy Death Day 2U is genuinely terrifying.

When Tree wakes up in a parallel universe, she finds out that her boyfriend Carter is dating somebody else and notices that all of her loved ones are completely different people—all because Carter’s roommate, Ryan, has been altering the fabric of time and space, one that makes her the target of the Babyface Killer yet again. Ryan is living in his own Groundhog’s Day, getting murdered over and over again by the same killer. Tree gets stuck in the same loop and, inevitably, has to die over and over again so everybody she loves can survive and, hopefully, gets her sent back to her own dimension. Happy Death Day 2U can get a bit complicated at times, but its adoption of more comedic relief and science-fiction tropes helps turn it into a fresh film separate in energy from its predecessor. Much of its success comes from its Final Destination-level momentum, as the film just doesn’t quit once it gets going. Not every risk Landon and co. take lands with flying colors, but so few sequels in recent memory have achieved such originality.

30. Halloween (2018)

Director: David Gordon Green

I’m in the minority as one of the few folks who thoroughly enjoyed David Gordon Green’s re-quel trilogy. I thought he paid a great deal of service to John Carpenter’s original installment, though that doesn’t come without its hiccups. Halloween, as a franchise, is largely cursed when it comes to making a good sequel—doomed by its incessant need to make Michael Myers a marketable villain. Fully retconning everything after Halloween 1978, Green and his co-writers, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, tapped into Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) trauma and how, for 40 years, it’s torn her family apart. She’s largely estranged from her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and doesn’t have a close relationship with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak)—though you can tell that Allyson holds a deep, unconditional love for Laurie. It felt like a perfect way to pick the franchise back up and finish its story with grace. I don’t think we needed two more sequels, if I’m being honest. Concluding Michael’s arc with him burning alive in Laurie’s basement, as the three generations of Strode women ride off to safety, would have been an apt way to conclude the story.

But Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends do not negate how good Halloween 2018 is. I remain firm on that. We get a great performance from Curtis, who taps into Laurie with nuance; Matichak establishes herself as a top-tier protagonist who, if Green, McBride and Fradley had even a lick of sense, would’ve become the shining star of this franchise and completely owned every second of it; and James Jude Courtney plays, perhaps, the most menacing Michel Myers ever. I’m always hesitant about horror remakes. For every great one we get, like Friday the 13th in 2009, we get an absolute garbage heap, like A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2010. Halloween 2018 largely avoids spinning its own tires—implementing great moments of comedy, compassion and terror into a lean 106 minutes. It’s the highest-grossing slasher film of all time, and I’d say it earned every penny.

29. The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Director: James Wan

One of the best modern depictions of paranormal horror, The Conjuring franchise has become a monumental series for director James Wan—and it’s gone on to spawn a universe of eight films, most recently The Nun II in September 2023. The Conjuring 2 takes what was best about its predecessor—the dynamic, relentless chemistry between Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga—and cranks it up to 11. They play Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators who specialize in poltergeists. The second Conjuring film is bigger, bolder and wiser—as the Warrens go to England to examine the Enfield poltergeist in North London. The demonic possession at the core of the story is deviously chilling and will stick with you. It’s like a perfect amalgam of The Exorcist and Hereditary, and its dedication to the spousal dynamics between Ed and Lorraine cannot be overlooked.

As a Bates Motel devotee, I’m convinced that Farmiga remains our most underrated leading woman. She completely shape-shifts across the film’s plot, bringing Wilson with her. While the Annabelle spin-offs have taken the spotlight off of the Conjuring films, I can’t stop returning to The Conjuring 2 and kneeling to the pure terror that it evokes. I don’t believe in ghosts, but The Conjuring franchise is almost enough to make me reconsider my stance.

28. The Purge: Election Year (2016)

Director: James DeMonaco

I remember seeing The Purge: Election Year at the drive-in and then, less than 12 hours later, my grandmother was dead. Those two things aren’t really connected, but they always come hand-in-hand in my memory. The film came out the summer before Trump was elected, though the tagline “Keep America Great” would later be used by the 45th president when he was running for re-election in 2020. The dystopian hellscape of the third Purge movie became a grim reality, at least emotionally, in America. It made $118 million on a $10 million budget, further proving that folks will shell out hordes of cash to see uninteresting characters murder the shit out of each other.

But The Purge: Election Year is not the tasteless horror flick that its senseless kill numbers might suggest. Taking place over 20 years after the original Purge film, Election Year’s core story surrounds a country split in half by its annual decriminalized crime night. Rather than just being a vessel for limitless gore, Election Year opts to explore the political ramifications and motivations that make the Purge such a divisive event in the franchise’s universe. It’s no longer about us latching onto the lives of a few protagonists; it’s a moral question that gets to the root of violence, corruption and capitalism and how they all intersect in the name of inequity. Of course, films like Get Out have opened the door for more thoughtful, universal commentary on social issues in horror, and I’m not saying that Election Year is a banner example of such an endeavor, but it’s nice when films in the genre try to outmuscle the urge to just make it about blood and guts.

27. Scream 4 (2011)

Director: Wes Craven

It was a close call here between Scream 2 and Scream 4, but I went with the latter primarily because the first sequel of the franchise was just too damn goofy and copycat for my liking. A second movie that does exactly what the first installment did is only preferable when it’s doing its predecessor’s work better (Friday the 13th Part 2, Evil Dead II). Not to mention, there are some pretty ridiculous plot decisions in Scream 2 that are a dealbreaker for me. (And, I know, ridiculous plot decisions are par for the course for horror films, but Scream is supposed to be smart and meta, and the characters can’t even keep up with that blueprint?) Scream 4, however, is a much, much better sequel (and lightyears better than the rotting pile of shit that remains Scream 3), ushering in new and exciting cast members like Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts and Alison Brie while keeping the spotlight on the OGs like Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette.

Scream 4 centers around the 15th anniversary of the original Scream murders. Ghostface is on the loose again (go figure) and killing teens at Woodsboro High. Whether or not you think the franchise should have been resurrected after the original trilogy, it’s hard to argue against this film, especially because it makes up for the series ending on such a bad note of quality with Scream 3. Just as Scream honed in on the stereotypes, plot holes and rules of horror films, and just as Scream 2 made fun of the idea of sequels altogether, Scream 4 makes strong notes about reboots and torture porn.

But what makes Scream 4 so great, though, is that it leans into the gore of slasher films while not losing that whodunnit charm that made Scream so rewarding in the first place. It’s also one of the only horror movies of the 21st century that attempts to place a commentary on social media obsession and virality without getting too heavy-handed in the process. Scream 4 isn’t a perfect movie by any means, what with all of the red herrings and their refusal to kill any OG characters. If our beloved Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) had to be killed off in Scream 2, then maybe Officer Dewey (Arquette) could’ve gotten the axe this time around. Just a thought!

26. Phantasm 2 (1988)

Director: Don Coscarelli

In 1979, Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm changed the face of sci-fi horror forever—all while being a locally financed independent film. Scholars have studied the movie for years, trying to better understand how it examines themes of mourning and death, had a young fan base of teenage boys and, according to cast member Angus Scrimm, gave “expression to all their insecurities and fears.” The film’s villain, The Tall Man, is a funeral director who serves as a living embodiment of childhood fears and how horror films and modern culture project and depict death. With great visuals and stellar pacing, Phantasm was a beautiful, marvelous distillation of original horror and humor.

Phantasm 2 built off of that momentum with ease. It sees the return of The Tall Man (Scrimm) and Mike Pearson (James LeGros), a survivor from the first film who is now a mental patient still suffering from hallucinogenic nightmares about the funeral director. Mike and his buddy Reggie (Reggie Bannister) aim to kill The Tall Man once and for all and make sure no kid is ever plagued by his presence ever again. Of course, Phantasm 2 couldn’t help but bend to the will of bigger, bolder expectations that horror flicks of the 1980s were expected to uphold. The upgrades in weaponry and scope don’t obscure the core themes of loss and trauma, but they remove the abstractions that made Phantasm so wonderful. Nonetheless, Phantasm 2 is macabre and roaringly colorful.

25. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Director: Wes Craven

I wish New Nightmare got more love than it does. It’s basically a proto-Scream, as Wes Craven was testing out meta, self-referential tricks before exploring it further in his 1996 masterpiece. I’ll say it again later on, but a Nightmare on Elm Street film cannot fail if Heather Langenkamp is involved. She’s unbeatable. We’ve seen Laurie Strode rise and fall in the Halloween franchise (Resurrection remains a catastrophic L for killing her off), but Nancy Thompson will succeed in any film she lands in. New Nightmare is not a part of the franchise’s original continuity, instead zeroing in on Freddy Krueger being a fictional movie villain who splits the fabric of time and starts wreaking havoc on the real world. He haunts the cast and crew, which includes Langenkamp and Robert Englund playing themselves.

New Nightmare operates on fan-fare, and to a great extent. We get numerous references to A Nightmare on Elm Street and great cameos from Jsu Garcia, John Saxon and Tuesday Knight for the die-hards, while new viewers can still appreciate Craven’s take on a familiar character like Freddy and the premise of meta-horror. This film is about Craven reclaiming control over Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise altogether. It’s a hilarious commentary on how Freddy became a caricature by the conclusion of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare three years prior, and the legendary slasher villain even sees his trademark razor hand get an upgraded look. The most important detail about New Nightmare, though, is that, for the first time since Dream Warriors, Freddy Krueger is a terrifying antagonist. If your sequel can resurrect a menace, then it’s a success for that alone. New Nightmare, however, succeeds by doing that and also boasting a good script and a unique premise. It’s great when beloved film franchises take risks like this one; sometimes it’ll get you Scream by doing so.

24. A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

Director: John Krasinski

A Quiet Place could have stayed a one-off horror film and remained one of the greatest entries in the genre of the last 20 years. Written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski (and directed by the latter), it was an innovative, original concept that really blew the roof off. The earnest, gut-wrenching portrayal of two parents, Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) trying to help their two children, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds) survive in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by blind extraterrestrial monsters, who can hear even the faintest of sounds, was a home run. But Lee dies at the end of the first film, making us question where the story might be able to go from there.

Of course, Krasinski hits us right back with a story that’s just as heartbreaking and rewarding, as we follow Evelyn, Marcus and Regan as they continue to navigate the ruins of the Earth together and avoid getting ripped to shreds by the monsters who stalk them in A Quiet Place Part II. The family has the tools to survive and, now, are on the hunt for others just like them. It’s an emotional and original thriller that takes the framework of apocalyptic tales and plugs them into a scenario that is particularly chilling. Instead of doing what most horror sequels do and making the story about one character, A Quiet Place Part II has multiple souls at the core of the film. So few movies like it can say the same.

23. 28 Weeks Later (2007)

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

As far as post-apocalyptic horror films go, I’d say 28 Weeks Later is a pretty good one. It’s a standalone sequel to 28 Days Later, and it ushers in a brand new cast in the process. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s still pretty brutal, emotional and clever—all essential tropes in a zombie flick. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo had a lot to live up to, as Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was an achievement that couldn’t be replicated, so Fresnadillo opted to not try to milk what’s already been tapped dry. Instead, he took these deep, bountiful relationships and intermingled them with visceral horror and made them sing through performance from Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Idris Elba, Imogen Poots and Robert Carlyle.

London has become a war zone as the contagious, aggression-inducing Rage Virus that led to the breakdown and demise of society is still wreaking havoc on the world. But NATO is trying to return it to safety. If you’re interested in spending time with a film that centers on the survival of one family and you’ve already seen A Quiet Place Part II, then 28 Weeks Later is the answer for you. It’s a deft examination of repercussions in the wake of epidemic tragedy — one that, somehow, capitalizes on the momentum of 28 Days Later and endures as a sequel worthy of standing toe-to-toe with its predecessor.

22. Final Destination 2 (2003)

Director: David R. Ellis

There are so many Final Destination films to keep up with, but Final Destination 2 is fun from start to finish. The franchise’s premise of premonition is such a unique concept that very few films have tried to replicate since. This idea of fatal events in nature being unavoidable, that death waits for no one and cannot be outmuscled, is a brilliant one that deserved better productions after Final Destination 2. Some stories just ought to end on high notes, but film studios would never dare try such a bold move. I prefer Final Destination 2 over its predecessor, but that’s likely because I think Ali Larter and A.J. Cook are an incredible protagonist tandem. I still can’t drive behind a logging truck.

Final Destination 2 works under the idea that if you try to prevent death, it will still find those whose time has come. A fire escape ladder kills a man retreating from a burning apartment, a windowpane crushes another character, during a car accident an airbag impales another character’s head on a headrest pipe, a cigarette gets flicked into a gasoline leak and the subsequent explosion dismembers someone. It’s just such a clever attempt to reconfigure our preconceptions of what horror can—or should—be on-screen. But the crux—or fatal flaw, even—of the Final Destination franchise is that the ideas are prone to becoming rudimentary or goofy. Thankfully, Final Destination 2 is the last gasp of fresh air before the series crashes and burns like the doomed flight from the first film.

21. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Jason Lives is often the fan-favorite of the Friday the 13th franchise—and I totally get it. Director and writer Tom McLoughlin resurrects the film’s throughline. Coincidentally, Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) also resurrects Jason Voorhees in the cold open. Thank God McLoughlin didn’t feed into the direction that the previous film, A New Beginning, wanted to take the franchise in: Making Jarvis the new villain. What makes the best installments of Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th so great are when a familiar face is squaring off against the killers. Jarvis is as great a hero as Nancy Thompson and Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott—not fully in their realm, but in the same orbit. He’s compelling (thanks to Corey Feldman’s brilliant performance in Part IV) and tough (thanks to John Shepherd’s…average performance in Part V) and empathetic (thanks to Mathews’ tour de force portrayal in Jason Lives).

There’s a good bit of comedy and meta horror in Jason Lives, and that’s why it still holds up. The film doesn’t take itself all that seriously, nor does it try to dumb itself down into something that’s good for easy viewing. There’s lore, supernatural theories and gothic and action elements running rampant, and that’s a great thing that more horror flicks should try their hand at. The humor and fourth-wall breaks and self-referential jokes predate Scream, which has led to a great critical and commercial reassessment of the film in the years since it came out. Not many horror movies get such a kind historical lifespan, but Jason Lives is a well-written (as well-written as a slasher sequel can be) film that doesn’t let its villain get menacing to the point of unbelievability. He’s an unkillable zombie, of course. But, he’s also inhuman and prone to being the butt of some good jokes and hilarious combat scenes. I’ll take that over A New Beginning’s flailing abandonment of narrative or Part III’s gross 3-D accruements any day of the week.

20. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

Director: Terence Fisher

The third installment in the Hammer Productions series of Dracula films, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is the best of the nine entries. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave gives it a run for its money, but Prince of Darkness is pretty incredible—much of that due to Christopher Lee’s return to the franchise. After Dracula awed audiences in 1958 and killed its titular villain, The Brides of Dracula struggled to find its footing without its namesake. Prince of Darkness quickly righted the ship. In the film, Dracula is brought back to life when his servant Klove mixes his blood with his master’s ashes—thus bringing great terror to Dracula’s castle, which is being inhabited by English tourists, the Kent family.

Prince of Darkness works because Lee’s performance as Dracula never fails. He was born to play the legendary villain (and Count Dooku), but his turn in this film was extra special because he doesn’t utter a single line. Lee found the dialogue to be ridiculous, so he refused to recite any of it. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster disputed that, saying that “Vampires don’t chat, so I didn’t write him any dialogue.” But nonetheless, has anyone ever been so terrifying in silence? I’d wager Prince of Darkness is the best vampiric portrayal ever, aside from Def By Temptation, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Lost Boys. Its place on this list is more than earned.

19. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Is the secret to making an incredible horror sequel adding John Goodman to your cast? I can’t say for certain that that’s the case, but it certainly worked for the Cloverfield franchise. 10 Cloverfield Lane is miles and miles greater than its found-footage predecessor, and we only had to wait eight years to find that out. The film is only connected to Cloverfield by its twist ending, when the monster that plagued the first film returns again and completes the circuit. Otherwise, 10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the few sequels on this list that is largely detached from its source material—such a truth helps it not be so stunted by Cloverfield’s missteps (something unavoidable in most found-footage flicks).

The story surrounds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who gets in a car crash and then wakes up chained to a wall in an underground bunker. She is met by Howard (Goodman), who tells her that an attack outside—possibly done by Russians or aliens—has left the air outside poisoned. Everyone is dead and that they cannot leave for two years. In turn, they (along with Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr.) begin adapting to life beneath the surface as they wait for life to be hospitable again on the outside. 10 Cloverfield Lane is not the first kidnapping movie of its kind (sans sci-fi elements), but it does the subgenre some immense justice. Just a year prior, Room was a critical darling; in 2021, The Black Phone made good on its own rendition. The difference-maker here is, truly, the horrifying performance from Goodman, who distills such monumental terror into this film that it still lingers with me seven years later. His flashes of jealousy and rage that swell into all-out viciousness is menacing. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a masterful story of delusion, paranoia, fear, regret and claustrophobia, all punctuated by the false-hope ending it gives us.

18. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Director: Tony Randel

It took me quite a long time to warm up to the Hellraiser franchise, even though Pinhead was one of the first horror villains I remember encountering in popular culture. It felt a bit out of my wheelhouse when I was younger, as I was more enticed by the accessibility of slasher films. The supernatural elements of Hellraiser, though, once I got invested in them, were more than worth the wait. The mythology around the sadomasochistic Cenobites remains alluring for curiosity’s sake alone. Original filmmaker Clive Barker returned to write the story for Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and I chalk that up as being a main reason that the sequel is so good.

Body horror is not the most glamorous subgenre of horror but, when it’s pulled off well, it’s an immaculate realm to spend time in. Hellbound is brimming with blood, guts and viscera that’ll leave you chilled to the bone, while Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is no longer the immediate focal point of the story. Instead, it’s Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham) and Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins), who absolutely steal the show as an incredible duo facing off against another incredible duo, Kirtsy Cotton (Ashley Laurence) and Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) in the labyrinths of Hell. Hellraiser would go off the rails quickly—thanks to Barker’s involvement fading—but Hellbound remains singular.

17. Saw X (2023)

Director: Kevin Greutert

The most recent entry on this list and, perhaps, a hot take—though critical consensus would surely be in our corner on this one. Saw X is not just the best Saw sequel, it’s the best Saw movie period. Purist fans of the franchise will no doubt hold the original close, Saw II equally as dear. But, Saw X does what none of the nine previous entries could manage to do: Give its protagonist the depth he deserves. In this new installment, John Kramer (Tobin Bell)—aka Jigsaw—has purpose and volume. I’m not saying we should all band together and support a serial killer, but this film makes it quite easy to, as he’s torturing criminals mercilessly, root for him.

A big flaw that Saw has long carried is that Jigsaw’s character has been horrendously underwritten—and, after production killed his character off in Saw III, they spent a handful of subsequent films trying to amend their mistake by incorporating him into expositional, uninteresting flashbacks that are meant to give us some idea of who John Kramer was when he was living. Saw X upends all of that by giving us a visceral depiction of Kramer’s downfall in real time, not through corny flashbacks or unnecessary timeline filler. From a technical standpoint, the film is well-made, the traps are good and disturbing, Bell gives the best performance of his career and, at the end of it all, the writing argues that Kramer is some kind of good person beneath the madness of his will-testing methods. I’m not saying we should all go around calling Jigsaw “misunderstood” or a “hero,” but it’s a more interesting watch when you start believing that the protagonist of a film is more than just the deaths he is responsible for. It’s a game of moral tug-of-war, one that I’ll happily keep playing as long as we get more Saw entries as compelling as X.

16. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Director: Steve Miner

It was between Part 2 and Part VI for me, in terms of best Friday the 13th sequels. I went with the second film, but mostly on the grounds that it is, arguably, just a re-do of the first installment but done 100 times better. Seriously, Friday the 13th is so bad that Friday the 13th Part 2 looks like an Oscar-caliber film. But the characters are much more interesting (sorry, Kevin Bacon) and their deaths are much more fun. Like many of the films in the franchise, the MPAA cut a lot of the gore so it could carry an R rating into theaters—which means that a lot of the kills, the literal backbone of the slasher genre, are scrubbed of the blood and guts. Nonetheless, Friday the 13th Part 2 still tries to make sense of the lore surrounding Camp Crystal Lake—at least in a more compelling way than the first film. Jason Voorhees’ devotion to the spirit of his mother Pamela is a much more interesting story arc than Pamela killing innocent kids after 20-year-old negligence resulted in Jason’s drowning.

But of course, that is why these films exist—we must suspend reality. Part 2, however, feels like a well-rounded conclusion to the story, at least in a way that makes a shred of sense. This is why the Friday the 13th remake from 2009 is so good, as it combines the best parts of the original four films into one succinct story and really taps into the relationship between Jason and Pamela. It’s not a flick that is predicated on “teens stupidly spend the night at a cursed camp and get slaughtered.” There’s much more nuance, and that is thanks to what Part 2 established in 1981. Not to mention the film’s final girl, Ginny (Amy Steel), is the best of the franchise—and one of the most compelling final girls this side of Laurie Strode, Sally Hardesty and Nancy Thompson. For all of the ways that the Friday the 13th franchise goes off the rails and implements ridiculous storylines for the sake of making more money, Part 2 has a soul and characters to root for. As the films get worse, finding empathetic folks on screen becomes more and more rare. “Use a little bit of that child psychology you’ve been studying” is one of the smartest foreshadowing tricks Friday the 13th ever pulled off.

15. The Exorcist III (1990)

Director: William Peter Blatty

As far as this list is concerned, Exorcist II: The Heretic does not exist. The 1977 sequel was an abysmal slog of a movie that was, by my account, rather sacrilegious in the name of the Oscar-nominated original film. This time around, William Peter Blatty—the man who wrote The Exorcist novel that the OG film was adapted from—wrote and directed The Exorcist III, and few decisions in horror history have been greater than that one. His vision, and execution of the source material he created, led to one of the most brilliant resurrections of a horror franchise ever. The Exorcist III pays no mind to the architecture of the first film, opting to raise the stakes and widen the scope away from a singular girl possessed by the Devil. Instead, Blatty puts the focus on a series of demonic murders in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. from the Gemini Killer (a slasher that Blatty based parts of from the Zodiac Killer case).

Much of the film is carried by the performance of Oscar-winner (and rejector) George C. Scott, who plays Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, who faces the supernatural terrors head-on while attempting to solve the murders. Not to mention, Brad Dourif (who voices Chucky in the Child’s Play franchise) plays the Gemini Killer. It’s hard to fail when you have those two on board, and The Exorcist III succeeded with flying colors. But when you factor Jason Miller’s return as Damien Karras into the fold, you’ve got a perfect cast of legends. Oh, and New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing plays the Angel of Death and Fabio plays an angel. For that alone, this film deserves its slot.

14. Day of the Dead (1985)

Director: George A. Romero

George A. Romero had high intentions for his third installment in the Dead series. He wanted Day of the Dead to be the “Gone with the Wind of zombie movies” and, while it doesn’t necessarily deliver on the same type of grand epicness, it does remain one of Romero’s very best flicks—and one of the best zombie films ever produced. When a group of scientists in the Florida Everglades get holed up in a military bunker, they seek a cure for the pandemic that will wipe out the reanimated undead that have been hunting them. Day of the Dead is an immense tragedy that taps into how, when people don’t communicate with each other, civilization as we know it is destined to collapse.

Day of the Dead is rough around the edges, yet intelligent and emotional, enduring as one of the most cynical depictions of a post-apocalyptic world we’ve ever seen on the silver screen. Yet, there’s hope to be found across this film, a colorful room inside a massive house of horrors. Romero’s collaborator Tom Savini returned from Dawn of the Dead to do the special effects, and it’s what sets this film apart from any of the other horror flicks of its era. Released smack-dab in the middle of the Brat Pack’s reign on cinema, Day of the Dead sticks out like a sore thumb with its misanthropic themes and focus. It’s a slam dunk of philosophical chaos.

13. Child’s Play 2 (1990)

Director: John Lafia

It’s not often that a sequel outshines its predecessor, but Child’s Play 2 absolutely obliterated everything that was rudimentary in Child’s Play two years earlier. To start, Child’s Play 2 doesn’t dilly dally when getting the story started; we don’t have to sit through a huge chunk of set-up exposition. We enter the film knowing exactly who Chucky is and what his business is going to be. I mean, he holds a guy at gunpoint right at the beginning. Writer and franchise creator Don Mancini leaned into much more humor this time around, too, a trait that would become synonymous with Chucky in subsequent films. And the jokes almost always land in this film, a quality that not every horror film has the luxury of proctoring.

But what makes Child’s Play 2 so great is we get the return of protagonist Andy (Alex Vincent), the child whose life was upended completely by Chucky—especially after his mom was institutionalized for believing his stories about the killer doll. But he’s the Kevin McCallister of horror heroes, drumming up clever and resourceful ways of combating Chucky’s lingering evil. Andy’s relationship with his foster sister Kyle (Christine Elise) is, perhaps, one of the greatest on-screen bonds in all of horror—as the two kids defeat Chucky together (and by “defeat,” I mean they make it out of Child’s Play 2 alive). Most of all, though, the kills in Child’s Play 2 are some of the funniest and most memorable of all time—including very unforgettable uses of a yardstick, Xerox machine and a factory assembly line.

12. Fear Street 1978 (2021)

Director: Leigh Janiak

Yes, the Fear Street trilogy is one consecutive story broken up into three parts. But they were released in separated installments across just as many weeks. This counts! Fear Street 1978, the middle section in the franchise, is absolutely incredible and completely obliterates everything we’ve ever known about the camp-based slasher genre. Between 1978 and 1666, the third and final installment, the former is much more fun and proper. The latter, which deals with Salem Witch Trials-style lore, is a bit more avant-garde and not nearly as horrific (though, it is a beautifully made film that rocks and has some sinister pieces). While Fear Street 1994 was a foray into a world that would be definitively shaped by Scream and holds more reverence for the supernatural parts of the series’ themes, 1978 taps into a place that Halloween, Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp made huge: Slasher flicks predicated on dynamic backstory and mythical killers.

The Fear Street franchise, which is based on R.L. Stine’s book series of the same name, is more geared towards teenagers—instead of how his other famous series, Goosebumps, catered to pre-teens. But what’s so great about Fear Street is how it’s a YA film that doesn’t baby its own audience. Filmmaker Leigh Janiak puts a trust in her audience, adding subtext and nuance in ways that are accessible yet, if you think on them long enough, complex enough to dazzle. 1978 works because its cast is incredible, led by Sadie Sink, who runs circles around her scene partners. If Stranger Things’ fourth season turned Sink into a bonafide superstar in 2022, then Fear Street 1978 gave her the keys to get there a year earlier. It’s absolutely unbelievable how good she is in this film, and how well her co-stars—Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins and Ted Sutherland—play off of her energy.

Fear Street 1978 is a massive success because it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Rather, it takes what most slasher films do wrong and does each of them right. With a combination of lovable, empathetic characters, a story lore with deep-rooted DNA, a menacing, axe-wielding villain and a familiar setting, 1978 shines and shines and shines again. The fact that it’s a film entirely told as a flashback only adds to its singularity. It shouldn’t work, because it’s been re-done over and over, but it positively soars at every turn. Netflix is likely never going to make another Fear Street installment, but perhaps they should reconsider.

11. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)

Director: Takao Okawara

There are almost 40 Godzilla films in existence, which makes for a deep treasure trove to mine through. You don’t have to go too far though, as the best of the sequels to Ishirō Honda’s groundbreaking 1954 original came at the tail-end of the Heisei Era (1984-1995) with Takao Ōkawara’s Gozilla vs. Destoroyah. It gained a lot of intrigue from fans because it was touted as the film that would finally kill Godzilla, and it actually did! Sort of. Godzilla’s heart, which is actually a nuclear reactor (???), is faced with a potential meltdown that could destroy the Earth. Subsequently, there is a colony of sea mutants called Destoroyah that are wreaking havoc on Japan. Out of all of the crossover films that the horror genre has spawned, few have been as cool or as memorable as this one. It’s also the swan song of longtime Godzilla character Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka), a psychic who appeared in six of the seven Heisei Era films—which remains the most in the franchise.

But what’s so great about Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is that Godzilla’s spawn, Junior, is all grown up and ready to become the new King of Monsters. But it doesn’t come without its hiccups, including him dying and absorbing his deceased father’s radiation—which resurrects him and vaults him into his destiny. Who knew a generational film like this could be so impactful, and it just speaks to how the franchise has proven time and time again that it is one of the most important series in history. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is like a victory lap, one that shows just how brilliant a Godzilla film can be.

10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

Director: Tobe Hooper

While The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the very few perfect horror films ever made, I sometimes think that its immediate sequel is a better flick. Franchise creator Tobe Hooper took 12 years to make his follow-up—though the franchise could have endured as just a standalone film. That being said, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 completely flips the events of the first film on its head. From the movie poster alone—which features the Sawyer family posed like they’re in The Breakfast Club—it’s clear that the tone is about to shift, and it sure as hell did. The sequel is a black comedy slasher that takes the menacing presence of the cannibalistic Sawyers, and their chainsaw-wielding son Leatherface, and turns them into walking caricatures—but in a perfect way.

Leatherface (Bill Johnson) is a bumbling romantic, while Chop Top (Bill Moseley) is a scab-eating lunatic. Sawyer patriarch Drayton (Jim Seidow) is an award-winning cook with an eye for “prime meat.” Radio DJ Stretch Brock (Caroline Williams) injects some serious heart and soul into the film, while Lt. Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper)—the uncle of Texas Chain Saw Massacre final girl Sally Hardesty—is as off-his-rocker as the Sawyers, but in a vengeful hero kind of way. The Sawyers are holed up in an abandoned amusement park, in a lair decorated with human bones, a kaleidoscope of lights and carnival ride pieces, and they all go down in a blaze of glory (at the hands of a grenade and some scuffling). What Hooper did with this film cannot be understated; he meta-gamed his own creation and turned it into a complete disembowelment of what fans might have expected or wanted from the franchise’s continuation. Of course Texas Chainsaw Massacre would get back to the basics (and jump the shark) later on down the line, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 will forever endure as one of the riskiest and most original sequels ever made.

9. Army of Darkness (1992)

Director: Sam Raimi

After the franchise remained dormant for five years, Evil Dead picked back up in 1992 with Army of Darkness, a legitimately brilliant and incredible cult-favorite horror flick that took Sam Raimi’s vision, Bruce Campbell’s all-time performance as Ash, and indestructible visual aesthetics to the max. Army takes a much lighter approach to the source material, something that would come under critical fire—but I don’t mind it. Evil Dead is one of those franchises where the comedy is as essential to the tone as the gore, unlike A Nightmare on Elm Street where it forced its casts into caricatures of actual people. Plus, with Campbell as your hero, it’s hard to gum up the works in that regard.

What’s cool about Army of Darkness is that it’s, essentially, a period piece. Ash gets transported back to the Middle Ages and must escape capture by Lord Arthur. He must then, with only his infamous chainsaw, recover the Book of the Dead—a Necronomiconical tome that will grant him the power to summon armies of, you guessed it, Deadites. Army of Darkness is an incredible take on the horror genre, as it revolts against the notion that you have to continue to milk the cow dry just to make an impact. Raimi’s refusal to just make a run-of-the-mill demon-slaying film like Evil Dead II was a risk that paid off for him. Evil Dead is now one of the most revered horror franchises, and Army of Darkness is what shepherded it into immortality.

8. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

I know there are some folks who stump for Halloween II—I used to be one of those people! It’s a fine film, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a slog of a follow-up that utterly strips the franchise’s lifeblood—Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)—of all interest, power and autonomy. She’s stuck in a hospital bed for most of the movie! Halloween III: Season of the Witch, however, was the breath of fresh air that this franchise needed—or, perhaps, it was its greatest downfall. John Carpenter never wanted Halloween to be all about Michael Myers; instead, he wanted it to be an anthology series about the different shapes and spirits that evil can take around and on Halloween night—hence why Season of the Witch has no Michael at all (except for a clip of him in the first film shown briefly on a television set). Folks were livid about this change in artistic direction. Where was the knife-wielding gore? The plain-faced, masked-killer who slaughtered his sister and then, like, 20 people a decade later? This led to a poor box office performance and a complete reconfiguration of the franchise altogether.

Director Tommy Lee Wallace (who edited Halloween and Carpenter’s The Fog) wrote the script while Carpenter and Debra Hill returned to produce Season of the Witch. It deviated immediately from the slasher genre the franchise helped get popular, focusing primarily on science-fiction, witchcraft and corruption. The big bad man became Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) and his company Silver Shamrock Novelties. All annoying jingles aside, Season of the Witch finds Cochran and his android henchmen wanting to kill every child in America by melting their heads with popular Halloween masks (a witch, jack-o-lantern and skull). Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), an alcoholic, sex-addicted doctor, lives on a completely different planet than Laurie Strode—he’s a brute stumbling through his own life and, then, onto a potentially devastating global conspiracy. Wallace, Carpenter and Hill took a big swing with Season of the Witch and landed the punch—even if it was a critical and commercial failure that forced Halloween to lay dormant for six years until Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

7. Psycho II (1983)

Director: Richard Franklin

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a masterpiece that didn’t need to be expanded upon. The story was cut-and-dry, or at least that’s what everyone thought. 23 years later, however, Richard Franklin, Tom Holland and Universal Pictures resurrected the franchise. While Hitchcock had adapted his original picture from Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name, Psycho II drew no inspiration from Bloch’s own sequel. It’s a puzzling affair, why anyone would want to re-open the wound of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). But, yet, Psycho II somehow obliterates any negative preconceptions about continuing the franchise. It’s slow, campy and kind of ridiculous—and that’s what makes it so great. Bates is the most complex and interesting horror villain to ever grace the silver screen, and his story gains even more volume 23 years after the fact.

Set 22 years after the events of the first film, Psycho II focuses on Norman’s reintegration into society after being released from the institution he was in. What does a reformed psychopath want? A quiet life back at his motel. But you can’t outrun your past, especially not when the sister of the woman you infamously murdered wants you to continue reaping what you’ve sown. Marion Crane’s sister, Lila (Vera Miles), returns to exact psychological, brutal revenge on Norman, who is trying to get his business back up and running. Norman takes on a job at a nearby diner and befriends a young waitress, Mary (Meg Tilly), but it turns out that she is Lila’s daughter—that they’re in cahoots together. I’m not going to give you the full synopsis, but the twist ending we get at the conclusion of Psycho II may just be one of the very best (or at least the most clever) in horror history. The franchise should’ve ended here, though, as Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning are dumpster fires (although they do make for a fun watch if you’re the type of person who loves to hate-watch bad films).

6. Evil Dead II (1987)

Director: Sam Raimi

I went back and forth on whether or not to include Evil Dead II—mainly because many folks consider it to be a remake. Others think it’s a bonafide sequel. I think it’s a re-quel, so let’s toss it in here—and it gets a high placement because it’s so damn good. Sam Raimi co-wrote the script with Scott Spiegel, and the two filmmakers managed to pull the best out of Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell). By merging the slipshod gore, slapstick humor and a truly remarkable, charming and physically brilliant performance from Campbell, Evil Dead II is a swift change in tone for the better. New Line Cinema wouldn’t give Raimi and producer Robert Tapert the rights to the first Evil Dead film from six years prior so, instead of being able to use clips for a flashback/recap segment at the beginning of the story, Raimi elected to just have his cast re-enact those events (including the cliffhanger). It’s odd yet great, because it provides a deft continuity between the films (even if it does muddy whether or not Evil Dead II is completely a sequel or not).

Evil Dead II, much like The Evil Dead, finds Ash battling demons at a cabin in the woods. Most films should not just do the same thing again, but I’ll let Evil Dead II have a pass—mainly because it’s a near-perfect horror movie. It’s similar to Friday the 13th Part 2 in that way, how it builds on the story of the first film while also doing everything its predecessor tried to achieve but infinitely better. The flesh-possessing spirits are way scarier, the suspense is so thick you’ll never be able to cut through it with a knife and the dry comedy is out of this world hilarious. Not to mention, this is where Ash infamously cuts off his possessed hand and, afterwards, adds a chainsaw where his limb was once just a severed end. You could put Army of Darkness in this spot, too. Both are great, but I’m giving the edge to Evil Dead II—because it’s just got that specific brand of over-the-top comedy and gore that feels so ordained to Raimi’s vision.

5. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Director: James Whale

The classics are the classics for a reason. It wouldn’t have been right for me to leave a few of the heavy hitters off the list. 1931 was a huge year for horror, as it saw the introduction of its two most-groundbreaking films: Dracula and Frankenstein. Both were monumental originators who helped usher terror into the box office and, while Dracula lost its steam for about 30 years, Frankenstein turned into a blockbuster franchise spawning seven sequels in 17 years. Realistically, a few of them—including Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein—could have had their place on this list, but it’s so hard to stack them up against more modern works that take far more risks and implement far more gruesome terror.

Bride of Frankenstein, though, which came out in 1935, completely altered the course of horror sequels forever. Boris Karloff again shines as The Monster, as does Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein. But, without a doubt, it’s the introduction of Elsa Lanchester as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and The Monster’s Bride (though she was funnily credited as “?”) that turns the film into one of the greatest horror stories ever told. Watching Henry struggle with abandoning his dream to create life out of nothing and be tasked with building a mate for his monster is heartbreaking to watch, even nearly 100 years later. It adds another layer to the surface that Frankenstein barely scratched four years prior. Don’t let the black-and-white picture deter you, it’s a whole mess of fun that still evokes terror without any gore to be found. When it comes to pre-Psycho horror flicks, Bride of Frankenstein trumps almost all of them.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Director: Charles Russell

While I do think that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was a good sequel, there’s no touching the franchise’s third film, Dream Warriors. I don’t think you can make a bad Nightmare on Elm Street film if Heather Langenkamp is involved; she’s the heart and soul of the franchise for a reason. This isn’t a hot take, as most fans of Elm Street are in agreement that Dream Warriors is the best sequel—that it, at times, greatly rivals the original. Much of that is to do with the cast, which included Langenkamp, Laurence Fishburne and Patricia Arquette. It’s like the Avengers of horror, as the film takes place in a psych ward and finds a group of teens (all of whom have been taunted, harassed and beaten by Freddy Krueger) battling back against Freddy in an effort to rid the world of him for good. These characters are worth rooting for, something that’s so often lost in the horror genre. The kills and the gore take a backseat to these kids’ arcs. It’s refreshing, New Line Cinema made a bunch of money off of this film, and it bought the franchise another handful of installments.

The Freddy Krueger in this film is a unique one, because he’s boasting a blend of the serious, menacing terror that made him so iconic in the first two films as well as this legacy that finds him as a pop cultural icon. By the time Dream Warriors came out, Freddy was as synonymous as Michael and Jason, perhaps even more so. This is the last time until New Nightmare where we see Freddy’s comedy done perfectly; he’s not yet a bloated corpse of cheesy one-liners that turn him into an overcooked Muppet. His viciousness is clever, as he uses pieces of the Dream Warriors’ trauma to inflict even more pain onto them. It’s torture that isn’t gratuitous or sensationalized; it’s troubling and adds depth to protagonists who are genuinely good people.

Dream Warriors most importantly proves that when A Nightmare on Elm Street is firing on all cylinders, it’s the greatest slasher franchise. Maybe to its own downfall, however, it’s such a good film that it makes the duds in the timeline even worse to revisit. If you’re like me and you live in a world where the only entry after this one is New Nightmare, then you’ll be fine. This is Nightmare on Elm Street fully taking control of the spotlight and proving why it goes toe-to-toe with the more revered horror classics, like Dawn of the Dead and Aliens. As Freddy himself says, “Welcome to Prime Time, bitch!”

3. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Director: George A. Romero

All hail George A. Romero! After Night of the Living Dead became such a revered horror classic in 1968, it’s befitting that the film’s sequel took 10 years to make. It arrived, in 1978, bigger, bolder and better—showing how the events of Night turned into an all-out global catastrophe. When I think of zombie apocalypse films, I think of this one first. It’s not just about a few people holed up in a farmhouse as the undead envelop them, it’s a widescreen portrayal of how America has deteriorated in the wake of the epidemic. But, just as quickly, the story shrinks back into a bottle, depicting four survivors decamped in an abandoned shopping mall. Where Night was revolutionary, Dawn of the Dead was a magnificent touch of continuation that exemplifies Romero’s extraordinary vision for the horror genre.

It’s the greatest zombie movie ever made, this much is true, and it’s such a revelatory piece of filmmaking that you might even forget that it was a horror movie made on a shoestring budget. My favorite horror make-up artist, Tom Savini, is responsible for the incredible visual effects that the undead sport in Dawn of the Dead, and it’s what really helps it become larger-than-life. Spearheaded by benchmark performances from David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger and Gaylen Ross, Dawn of the Dead is a masterpiece all the way through. Good luck finding much to critique, as its prog-rock score, groundbreaking effects and satirical portrayal of consumerism through clever gore and good humor all make it not just Romero’s best, but one of the very best movies of the 1970s and beyond.

2. Doctor Sleep (2019)

Director: Mike Flanagan

Continuing the story of The Shining is no easy feat. Yet, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is, in some ways, even better than its predecessor. I mean that. While Stephen King’s 2013 book of the same name, to me, had its characterization and pacing flaws, Flanagan’s adaptation holds no such faults. It’s a perfect film that flew under the radar when it came out four years ago. I’ve seen folks argue that it would have done better at the box office had it been commercialized as a Shining sequel—some folks have even argued it should have been titled The Shining 2: Doctor Sleep, which I don’t think would have been a terrible idea. But, then again, Doctor Sleep manages to stand entirely on its own, something not many horror films can claim, except our #1 pick.

Doctor Sleep catches up with Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) in adulthood. He’s now an alcoholic, much like his father was years before, but he still shines, and works as a hospice orderly who uses his psychic abilities to comfort dying patients. We learn that, many years earlier, Jack had an affair with a student teacher at Stovington and has a daughter, Lucy Stone (Jocelin Donahue), whose own daughter Abra (Kyleigh Curran) can shine better than Danny ever has. Together, along with his father’s ghost, the trio must fight a group of vampires called the True Knots—who survive by feeding off the psychic essence that emits from their torturous killings of those who possess the shining.

It’s an unbelievable continuation of The Shining’s story, one that greatly outpaces its own source material. That is mostly a mark of Flanagan’s brilliance, as he has come to be one of the most important horror filmmakers of this century, and the performances of McGregor and Curran (along with Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Rose the Hat rather sinisterly). What’s most important about this film, to me, is that it serves as a way of letting Danny and his father reconcile. When you think of sequels that not only do their source material justice, but further the mysticism of their stories’ lore, Doctor Sleep is right on the money at every turn.

1. Aliens (1986)

Director: James Cameron

You can make a case for any of my top five picks being better than their predecessors, but Aliens is one of the greatest horror films ever made. James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece is, I think, better and more well-rounded—and it’s even more terrifying. After 20th Century Fox didn’t want to make another installment, and after rounds of lawsuits and management changes up top, it took seven years to get Aliens off the ground. Cameron, then just 32, got the gig after striking big with The Terminator, but I don’t think anyone could have foreseen him completely altering the science-fiction genre forever.

But that’s what Aliens did, and it helped that Sigourney Weaver returned as Ellen Ripley. I mean, the woman was nominated for Best Actress for this film; few horror flicks have ever earned such a distinction. That’s just one of the many instances of how Aliens achieved such strong crossover appeal (it grossing $180 million at the box office on an $18.5 million budget doesn’t hurt, either) in the mainstream. Aliens has a 137-minute runtime, and it uses every single second to terrify you to the bone. Ripley’s been dethawed from her 57-year stasis and embarks on a mission to exterminate the extra-terrestrials she encountered over a half-century earlier. It quickly morphs into her battling the Alien Queen and her offspring. It’s a natural progression for the franchise, one of the most chilling “fuck around and find out” moments in all of horror—and a mortifying commentary on colonization. The performance of Carrie Henn as Newt, a survivor on the LV-426 exomoon, cannot be understated when talking about the greatness of Aliens. For all of the reasons that Ripley is one of the greatest horror protagonists in the genre’s history, Newt is often the heart of this sequel. Even at the film’s conclusion, when Ripley sends the Alien Queen through an airlock on the Sulaco ship, there’s no resolution that offers any type of ease. Those creatures are still alive, and they will strike again (there are five more films, of course). Aliens, though, is how you make a masterpiece out of a second act; it’s a great, daring example of why franchises can—and should—exist.

Matt Mitchell reports as Paste‘s music editor from their home in Columbus, Ohio.

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