Continuing my occasional series of articles about the wonderfully murky world of sequels (see 10 films that deserved a sequel and 10 sequels we should all pretend don’t exist), here are a bunch of follow-ups which are much better than their reputation (or indeed their title) suggests.
I’ve banged on about the overlooked merits of David Fincher’s Alien 3 elsewhere, but I’m more than happy for an excuse to talk it up again. It might not be the equal of its perfectly formed predecessors, but it’s a vividly atmospheric slice of sci-fi horror that brings Ripley’s story to a suitably fiery conclusion (until Alien: Resurrection anyway). Trust Fincher to sweep away the crumbs of comfort left over from Aliens and close the original trilogy with a crowd-unpleasing bleakness; yet with hindsight it’s a tone that feels absolutely right.
2. Predator 2 (1990)
Here’s another one I’ve flown a flag for in the past: the first sequel to one of the best sci-fi action films of the 80s. Though Arnie jumped ship (which doubtless scuppered the project from the start for many fans), there’s plenty to enjoy here – a fresh location and story (set amidst open warfare between drug cartels in L.A.), characters that aren’t bulging musclemen (the casting of Danny Glover is a remarkably brave one in this genre) and some pretty decent set-pieces. It may lack the suspense and memorable one-liners of the original, but those with an open mind will find plenty to chew on.
3. Psycho II (1983)
This sequel should have been a disaster. How on earth do you follow-up a Hitchcock masterpiece – one that was so successful it spawned its own sub-genre (the slasher movie)? The answer: switch genres to psychological thriller and keep the audience guessing as to whether Norman Bates is responsible for a new spate of murders. It works perfectly, thanks to neat misdirection from Richard Franklin and a pitch-perfect performance from Anthony Perkins, superbly reprising the role he was forever associated with.
4. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
For my money this was the best of the prequels. It didn’t have the extended periods of tedium that afflicted The Phantom Menace, and neither did it tip over in to the overly dark faux-tragedy of Revenge of the Sith. Instead there’s intergalactic intrigue combined with some decent action and SFX; the addition of Christopher Lee and a sexed-up Natalie Portman don’t do any harm either. Shame that Anakin is still annoying as hell – his romance with Padmé is the worst part of the whole thing – but this is otherwise good clean fun. Just as a Star Wars film should be.
Before watching this, I was fully expecting a cheap and cheerful effort from a studio desperate to squeeze whatever drops of profitability remained from two of its most popular horror franchises. But with a script by Curt Siodmak (who wrote the original 1941 The Wolf Man) and efficient direction by Roy William Neill, the film in fact defies expectations to become a strong entry in its own right. In fairness, this is more ‘The Wolf Man II featuring a guest appearance from the Monster’ than a genuine Avengers-style team-up, but by saving the big meeting for the grand finale the film ends up a small treat. Let’s just ignore the labyrinthine Frankenstein family tree that allows a new descendant to appear in every sequel.
6. Quatermass 2 (1957)
I suspect this film’s reputation is already better than its simplistic title might otherwise indicate, but I’m more than willing to help raise its profile a little bit further. The first film in Hammer’s adaptations of Nigel Kneale’s groundbreaking TV series, The Quatermass Xperiment, was (and still is) a fine effort; but the sequel is a step up in every way. A shadowy government conspiracy, plenty of action and suspense, good use of atmospheric locations and tight direction from Hammer veteran Val Guest make this arguably the finest cinematic outing for Quatermass – even if Brian Donlevy remains miscast as the Professor.
7. Mimic 3: Sentinel (2003)
Shot with a tiny budget even by direct-to-dvd standards, this second sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 1997 original unashamedly rips off Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window by confining the film’s story almost entirely within a single location: the apartment of a young man who is housebound because of a crippling disease he suffered from as a child. He takes photographs through the window as a hobby, and notices that one or two of his neighbours are getting bumped off by a sinister looking thing. It’s nicely written and directed by J.T. Petty, and even though it feels a bit stretched (despite a sub-80 minute running time), it does have the feel of a pleasingly creepy short story.
This entry is often accused of being the point at which the rot set in, as the series moved further away from the epic romance of Richard Donner’s original to the tongue-in-cheek silliness favoured by producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler. And of course that’s true to a large extent. But to write the film off entirely would be a mistake, as there’s also a fair bit to enjoy. Christopher Reeve is still on terrific form, and we get the added bonus of him playing an evil Superman when Kal-El splits in to two. The scenes between Clark Kent and Lana Lang when he returns to Smallville are nicely played. Richard Pryor is generally given too much screen time, but even so he still gets a good few laughs. And though the computer-centric plot is horribly dated, the cyborg woman who emerges near the end has an element of genuine comic-book scariness about it.
9. Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)
Now this should have been perfectly dreadful. It’s not as if the original 1992 actioner starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren was anything more than a passable Terminator knock-off. The 1999 sequel was utter dreck, though it somehow limped in to a small number of cinemas before beating a hasty retreat to dvd. But this second follow-up (this time straight-to-dvd) manages to outclass both previous entries. Director by John (son of Peter) Hyams, the opening chase sequence compares favourably with anything from the Bourne franchise, while the rest of the film’s action (set within the ruins of Chernobyl) is visceral and intense, meagre budget notwithstanding. Notably, JCVD first appears onscreen around the halfway point and barely speaks a line throughout.
10. Return to Oz (1985)
Disney’s rather belated follow-up to the classic 1939 MGM musical goes down a darker path than its predecessor, more explicitly suggesting that Oz is just a figment of Dorothy’s over-active imagination. With no toe-tapping songs to its name, and with a cast of characters far creepier than before, it’s no wonder that Walter Murch’s film disappointed fans of the original. But time has been somewhat kinder to this admirable venture: its trouble production occasionally shows through (hasty script rewrites, followed by Murch being fired at one point) but its vision of Oz is one that continues to dazzle and scare in equal measure.