Thursday, May 26, 2011

Top 5 Horror Movie Sequels That Live Up To the Original (Or sometimes surpass it)

I think we've all been there at one time or another. A sequel for one of your favorite horror movies gets announced. Finally gets made, and you finally get to see it. What happens? Utter disappointment is what happens. Now it could be because we put such high expectations on movie sequels or maybe we just want to see a great horror movie for crying out loud. A great film that just happens to involve boobs, blood, and mayhem. Hey it can be done. Granted sometimes the awfulness can be attributed to new directors, actors, and radically different scripts and direction. However, such changes can also lead to a different vision and a great movie in its own right.

Of course there have been many great movie sequels to non-horror genres such as Empire Strikes Back, Godfather II, and Rocky II. Unfortunately for horror enthusiasts, great movie sequels are far and few between. All this despite movie studios cranking out sequel after sequel, as well as remakes and reimagining's. I've talked about that dirty little topic before. But there are a few exceptions in that category as well, like the Dawn of the Dead remake and The Thing. Let us now focus on the few entries I could muster for my top five horror sequels that managed to live up to the original, if not surpass it.

Also we are talking about imeddiate horror movie sequels or else I would have had The Final Friday on this list. No part 5's, X's etc. Just Part Duex's. Well, mostly, but we'll get to that later.

**Some Spoilers Below**

Friday the 13th: Part II


Our first taste of the homicidal yet loveable Jason Voorhees, albeit with the potatoe sack mask and somewhat hillbilly look going on. However, some would say that this version of Jason is much scarier and menacing. I would sometimes concur with that observation, but not always. The hockey mask is iconic and however strange and goofy it seems to us now, it still gave me nightmares wondering what the heck was going on under that thing. Initially this second installment was going to just use the title Friday the 13th, but with a different story and setting altogether ala Halloween III. Especially seeing as how the ending of Part I was just supposed to a dream sequence with the young Jason. But, at the persistence from the producers for the first film, we now have a treasure trove of Jason kills to revile in.

I think the reason this sequel works is that one, we actually have a menacing killer here. As much as I loved deranged Pamela Voorhees in the first film, it's much scarier (at least to me) having a giant, angry, and mutated maniac after your blood, rather than a creepy old woman yelling "Kill her Mommy". Sorry ladies to sound misogynic. Two, we have a badass heroine in Ginny. She takes on Jason and gives him all he can handle and more. Does that make up for the earlier remark ladies? Third, we have Crazy Ralph, enough said. Also I tend to think the acting is better, the story is pretty well fleshed out, and there are some memorable kills to boot. I'm looking at you Mark. Poor guy. Not to mention we have a pretty shocking opening scene that was a little unexpected. Jason walking around a suburban neighborhood. Nobody notices this? Tisk tisk. So for me this one lives up to the original and introduces us to our favorite unstoppable cock blocker and sequel generator. I present Mr. Voorhees.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Just as the title suggests, you’re going to hell. Sorry. We have the return of Pinhead and his cenobites in this terrific sequel. We also finally get to see Clive Barker's insane vision of hell which is a real treat. Most of the action of the first film takes place in Kirsty’s house, so it's a nice change of pace. Tony Randal takes over as director and we have the very dark place he himself was in at the time to thank for this bloody fun ride that is Hellraiser II. Reprising their rolls are Kirsty, Julia, Uncle Frank, and brilliant newcomer Dr. Channard.

This sequel gives us more of what we wanted right after seeing Pinhead and his cenobites. More! And we get much, much more. We get to go actually go to hell and see some lovely things. Oh yes, we see some things. We see new and disturbing creatures. Hell, we even get to see Leviathan, the ruler of hell. Good stuff. We also get a new main protagonist shift to the evil Channard cenobite after Pinhead tries to protect Kirsty. I guess hell didn't like that? Oh yeah, there's going to be a battle here folks and it won't be pretty. The film takes a much darker and sinister tone than the original film thanks to a great script by Clive Barker and Peter Atkins, as well as the demented direction from Tony Randal's mind. The film has sort of an acid trip quality to it that makes it unique and memorable. Warning, one should probably not take acid and watch this. You'll be freaking out enough from an overdose of blood, darkness, and gore. So, for all of the above reasons, this sequel does justice to the original and expands on the cannon for us gore hounds.

Army of Darkness (aka Evil Dead Part III)

Alright, I know what you're all thinking. "Hey, what about Evil Dead II"! Not so fast my young padawans. First of all, we can have a debate all day long as to whether or not Evil Dead II was a sequel or a remake of the first film. But anyone that has seen both can reasonably agree that it is indeed a remake of the first film. You could also make the argument that this is not even in fact a horror film, but in my mind the film still retains its basic horror elements at its core. Secondly, the script for Army of Darkness was intended to be the second film according to Sam Raimi, but they just couldn't get the budget so that was scrapped until after the success of Evil Dead II. So there you have it. This 'second' installment takes place directly after the events of the first (second) film. We have our charismatic hero (Bruce Campbell) with boomstick in tow transported back to the dark ages to face off with some demons. What more could you ask for?

This sequel follows the same comedy / horror premise even more so than Evil Dead II. This is part of why it works so well and makes Army of Darkness so memorable. Sam Raimi dared to do something different with the genre and for that I applaud him. I remember seeing this film in the drive in with my brothers and my mom as a double feature with TMNT II. I laughed my ass off while still being generally scared in some scenes. Hey I was 11! The much bigger budget allowed for better special effects, along with some awesome Ray Harrhausen stop motion like effects in the end battle scenes. Of course this is one of Bruce Campbell's finest performances, so that doesn't hurt either in making this film a standout in horror movie sequels. "Give me some sugar baby".

Halloween II

"I shot him six times", exclaims Dr. Loomis after realizing the presumed dead Michael is gone from the scene and on the rampage again. What a way to open this second installment which takes place literally five minutes after the first one ends. After the wildly successful first installment you knew a second one was not far behind. Carpenter wrote the script again, but refused to direct. He chose Rick Rosenthal, although Carpenter did come in for some re-shoots in post production for more gore and scares.

The 'Shape' is back and he still wants to kill Laurie. Ok, so not much has changed. But does it need to? The first one was brilliant and this sequel is no exception. It pretty much follows the same formula, but with  much more gore. Sprinkle in some boobs and a kid with a razorblade in his mouth at the local hospital and you got something here. Works for me. Basically Donald Pleasance and Jaime Lee Curtis carry most the film with their great performances. The direction was well done, although I'm not sure how much Carpenter had to do with that. See above. Michael was played this time by Dick Warlock very similarly to the first film, so you can't tell much of a difference. Halloween II scared the crap out of me as a child and I can still watch it over and over again today with much enjoyment and glee.


Here we have as the title suggests, plural Aliens as opposed to the singular alien in the first film. James Cameron again brings us the sci-fi horror goods here. This film is one of his best and really solidifies his master status in film making. Again, one could argue that this film is more action and sci-fi than horror, but I would disagree. I believe it's a mixture of all three in fact. A perfect mixture of guns, space, and guts. Aliens vs. Ripley and her Space Marines. I love it.

Not much needs to be said here does it? One of the best movies of all time, let alone horror sequels in my opinion, and I'm sure many others. Some would in fact say that this film even surpasses the original. This second film takes a decidedly more in your face and actiony approach, but it really does work. Now we have many different aspects that make Aliens great. I mean take a look at the characters alone. We have the badass Lance Henrikson as Bishop. He does a hell of a cool knife trick. We have the full of it Hudson. Get some! Vasquez and Drake's tough as nails and take no prisoners attitude. Weyland-Yutani's whiney bitch Burke. And of course our heroine Ripley is back for even more Alien killing and she's got some experience under her belt this time fella's. Last, but not least, we finally get introduced to the Alien Queen. Definitely one of the coolest looking aliens in all of sci-fi lore. All in all this sequel is a masterpiece as was the original Alien. Two pretty different films, but both great in their own right.

Honorbale Mentions

Dawn of The Dead: One of the best horror movies of all time, let alone zombie movies. If you do indeed consider this the sequel to Night of the Living Dead as I do, then this could be # 1 on my list. The fact is that it's too loosely related to the first one to be a true sequel, although still part of a proper trilogy. Tricky how that works isn't it.

Blade II: Best one of the series. Great action. New vampire species and Del Toro at the helm. All good stuff.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre II: Following in the same vein as Evil Dead II. Some memorable characters, some slapstick comedy, and Dennis Hopper going insane with a huge chainsaw. Now that's a horror movie.

Well there you have it. My top five picks for horror movie sequels that did not in fact suck. You may have some picks of your own so feel free to comment. I'll be back soon with some more reviews from The Devils Backbone and Pet Sematary.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: Hatchet II

Adam Green again writes and directs the sequel to the underground cult hit 'Hatchet'. Kane Hodder reprises his role as Crowley, as does Tony Todd as Reverend Zombie. Danielle Harris takes over the role of Marybeth and hell; we even get Perry Shen back as Shawn's twin brother. The movie was released unrated in U.S. theaters briefly before AMC pulled it due to complaints. That act alone gets my seal of approval. This time we have double the budget, twice as much blood, and you guessed it, twice as many kills.

                               Reverend Zombie working the 'ol charm.

*Some Spoilers Below*

The sequel picks up right where the last film ended. The deranged and disfigured Victor Crowley has Marybeth in his clutches ready for the kill. She quickly jams her thumb in his eye and he releases her in agony. She then swims away only to be picked up by a local fisherman named Jack Cracker. Fitting I suppose. He takes her to the safety of his shack to tend to her. But, when he realizes who Marybeth and her family are, she is quickly kicked out and sent on her way back to New Orleans with no explanation. She is only briefly told to ask Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) about her family's past. The Reverend hesitantly tells Marybeth about her family's past, as well as more of Victors. Apparently her father was part of the group of three children that started the fire which helped kill Crowley, as you see in flashbacks from the first film. With some obvious ulterior motives at hand, Zombie agrees to help her go back to the swamp and retrieve her family's body along with his lost boat. Of course not without some backup and heavy firepower. We do need more death you see. The call goes out to the local fisherman for a five hundred dollar reward for their help that night and five thousand for the head of the fabled Victor Crowley. Few brave souls take the challenge, but those who do will be in for a real surprise courtesy of a vindictive hatchet wielding madman named Victor Crowley. Pretty much the same movie as the first film. People in a swamp getting hacked up by Victor. Not a bad thing though.

                                    A face only a mother could love?

The acting is pretty bad all around here minus Tony Todd and Danielle Harris, and even they are hamming it up most of the time. What did I expect though? Todd of course is a veteran of horror movies and most well known for "Candyman' and the 'Final Destination' series. His deep voice an imposing stature make him an ominous figure in almost any horror movie, but it just seems like he was phoning it in most of the time. Not good, but just alright. Now Harris was great in the 'Halloween' series and remakes, but some of her lines and acting were just atrocious. Again, meh (and yes, I hate this quasi word too!). It's probably as much to do with the fairly awful script as it is the actors. Well, wait a minute though. I must say that the character of Layton played very well by AJ Bowen is the actor with the most charisma. He is fairly well developed and likeable, as well as being able to actual not overact in his scenes. I’m looking at you Todd and Harris! I wish they would have done more with the Layton character. Look out for him in the future. Everyone else is generic. The token black guy, the hot chick, and the tough guy. If it's not broke, don't fix it I suppose.

                      Victor is a ready for some cuttin' action. Big enough for ya?

The blood flows frequently and by the buckets in this second installment. It is reported that 136 gallons of fake blood were used for Hatchet II. That's more than double than the original installment. There are some original and interesting kills, but I was pretty underwhelmed by most of the special effects. They just didn't look as good as the original and they had double the budget. What went wrong? One ridiculously long chainsaw and a double cut in half scene sticks out. Also, a funny sex scene with a hatchet to the vaginal area stay with you. The Hatchet is used much more in this installment, and Crowley even brings back the much beloved belt sander for some gruesome work. I like it!

                     Marybeth seems a bit mad here and wants a piece of Victor.

Overall I was a little disappointed with this sequel. Maybe I was expecting too much, or maybe I was just sober. It seemed a little rushed and the actors uninspired. A weak script and so-so special effects in certain places really do a disservice to the film. We do get some more back story about Crowley, but it actually seemed to detract from the mythos and wasn't really necessary in my opinion. According to Adam Green, there are supposed to be two more installments in the series. Just two more? Tisk tisk. Di you learn nothing from Friday the 13th, or the Saw series? I just hope that those sequels rise to a somewhat higher level of writing and originality than this one. I would say at least check it out if you have an hour and half to kill and love slasher flick as much as I do. 2 1/2 skulls out of 5 friends.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: Three Extremes

Here we have an anthology horror flick brought to us by three different and extraordinary talented Asian directors. First we have ’Dumplings’ by Fruit Chan representing Hong Kong. Next we have 'Cut' by Park Chan-wook hailing from South Korea. Finally we have 'Box' by the brilliant Takashi Miike out of Japan. The film runs in at just about two hours, which as you'll see, was plenty of time for each segment to develop thoroughly and tell their horrifying tales in bloody fashion. Three Extremes is a movie that lives up to its namesake in every way. Extremely frightening, bloody, and strange as you shall see.

*Some Spoilers Below*

                   Ummm this dumpling looks......strange...and fleshy. Yummy

Let us start at the beginning of course. 'Dumplings' from Fruit Chan. How to describe this one? Hmmmmm. Well, if you have an aversion to food and horror, you may want to skip to the next segment. Here is the tale of the rich and former actress Connie (Tian Meme). She is starting to feel her looks are fading and she sees her husband is seeking comfort elsewhere. In order to get her youthful looks and husband’s affection back, she'll do whatever it takes. And I do mean whatever. She hears tell tale of a woman named Mei (Bai Ling) who makes 'special' dumplings that can takes years off your looks. So off she goes to visit Aunt Mei (as she is apparently called) in what appears to be the poor part of town. I can never tell in China. Sorry. After some brief conversation about how to make 'good' dumplings, she reluctantly agrees to eat them without really knowing what's actually in them. Not the best idea is it? After a couple more beauty sessions, Connie soon finds out that Mei has her own special ingredient to add to the dumplings and things take a bizarre and horrifying turn.

                             Aunt Mei showing off some dough handling skills.

The acting is pretty decent all around here, but really Bai Ling (Mei) is really the shining star. She exudes charisma and sensuality, with just a dash of craziness for good measure. I must say I'm not the biggest fan of food and gore either, although the director did a good job of not just focusing on that particular gross aspect entirely. There are some scenes that make you cringe, such as the sounds of bones crunching and unholy bloody vagina's. I know, scary huh? There was also one laughable love scene between Connie and her husband. It involves water in the'll just have to watch and see. Overall I liked the subject matter, story, and gore, but it was definitely the weakest segment for me. Make your own conclusions ultimately. Interestingly though, Fruit Chan released a 90 minute uncut version of the segement. I haven't seen it, but it could fill in some gaps and questions I had.

                                            Fingers need a choppin'

Next up is 'Cut'. As the name implies, there is plenty of that going on in this segment. This tale is that of a famous and wealthy director played here very nicely by Lee Byung-hun. But for all of his wealth and fame he is still a very nice and down to earth guy. He seems to have it all......but does he? After another hard days work, he shows up back home to get some rest. Well that isn't going to happen because there is a deranged man that wants to have some words with him. The director and his lovely wife are captured by this weirdo, brought back to the studio lot, and subdued in some quite elaborate ways. There is also a random little girl tied up as well, but that is a whole other thing all together. So this hilariously awesome psycho turns out to be some disgruntled extra that has worked on all of the directors movies, yet the director still has no effing clue who he is. He soon tells the director that for every five minutes he doesn't get the answers he wants he's going to cut off one of his wife’s fingers. By the way all of her fingers are super glued to her piano. That much easier to cut off. Oh yes, the blood will flow. Any way, he also gives the director the alternate option of killing the little girl tied up instead and this will horror can all be ended. Will such a nice guy be able to do such a horrible thing and is he really so good after all? Check it out and see. You will be pleasantly surprised.

  You might lose some fingers but rest assured you'll keep that hairdo. Torture enough.

I must say that this segment was my favorite by far. It really had it all. Great acting, blood 'o plenty and an interesting plot. The standout here though has to be the crazy and disgruntled extra played by Lim Won-hee. His mix of physical comedy and serious psycho calm brought a whole new depth to an otherwise generic character plot. Mention must go to Lee Byung-hun though as well. His character arc from nice to crazy is very well acted. The director Park Chan-wook managed to capture a surrealism and dream-like quality to this segment that entrances you and doesn't let go. The blood and gore wasn't overdone here. It was used in all of the right spots and I must say I was quite impressed by the practical special effects. Very nicely done.

                           I'm not sure where one ends and the other begins.

And last but not least we have 'Box' from beautifully insane director Takashi Miike. I must say this one is the hardest to describe properly. We have a young writer name Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) who is having strange dreams / visions of her young sister Shoko and a masked man named Yoshii. In this segment you will see everything from strange tiny boxes, burnt corpses, creepy dead girls, midgets, Siamese twins, and contortionists. Yeah, you heard me right. Really that's as far as I'm going to go with this one. Sorry. One must really see it first hand it for their own interpretation. Yes, it's that strange. I do feel like I'm somewhat coping out on this segment review, but I'm not even sure what I just watched!!

                                             Why hello there! I see you........

Now don't get me wrong, I really liked this segment. My second favorite in fact. And I definitely love pretty much all of what Miike does. His movies always have a very strange dream like / hallucinogenic state to them that really suck you in and let me tell you this segment is no exception. The acting is good, the story while very strange, is strangely compelling. At Miike's direction we are shown a masterful, artistic, and haunting story. While it's probably the least 'horror' filled segment, it does have a very creepy vibe to it. More akin to a ghost story than anything else, while actually not being a ghost story. Again, well done, but ultimately I found it a little jumbled and strange. Just watch it!

I really miss horror anthology movies. I grew up with the Creepshows and Tales from the Darkside movies and I loved them. Three Extremes brings me back to those times, and I hope it brings you back as well. While all three segments are very well done and have their own distinct flavors of horror and gore, they all still share a somewhat dream-like quality to them. I'm not sure if that was planned or just coincidence. Either way it just serves to enhance the overall surreal experience of watching this film. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you want well done horror movies, we must turn our heads East ever and ever increasingly. I would definitely recommend this film and I hope to see many more like it in the near future. 4/5 skulls.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: I Saw the Devil

You know I usually do my reviews right after I watch the film, or maybe a day later. But this film was so intense; I had to actually wait a couple of weeks to let it all the madness sink in. This masterpiece of mayhem is brought to us by premier Korean director Park Chan-wook, who also brought us the disgustingly awesome 'Cut' segment from the underrated horror film 'Three Extremes'. It also just so happens to star two of the best working Korean actors today, veteran Choi Min-sik from 'Oldboy' fame and the dashing Lee Byung-hun, who also plays Storm Shadow from 'G.I. Joe'. Throw these three together and what you are left with is a haunting horror film filled with beautiful imagery, terrific acting, and blood a plenty.

                              He seems so unnaturally calm doesn't he?

The film starts out with one of our main characters Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) and his fiancĂ© Joo-yun (Oh San-ha) chatting on the phone while she is driving through a desolate stretch of mountain road. I know, I know this is how many horror movies start, but stay with me. Her car breaks down and she is forced to the side of the road to wait for a tow truck. This is when our main villain shows up. Kyung-chul is played devilishly (pun intended) brilliant here by Choi Min-sik. Unfortunately for Joo-yun, Kyung-chul just happens to be there with bells on. In a very brutal opening scene, Kyung-chul beats her near to death and then takes her back to his lair for some unremorseful fun in his chamber of horrors. It is a very powerful and somewhat sad scene that shows us just how psychotic Kyung-chul really is. Once her dismembered body shows up in the local river, the movie then switches to Soo-hyun. It becomes his mission to find whoever is responsible and make them pay dearly. And I do mean dearly. See, Soo-hyun just so happens to be a top government secret agent of some sort and all around badass. This is not good news for Kyung-chul as the movie shows us throughout. What culminates is a cat and mouse game where the hunter becomes the hunted. Much pain and blood shall be felt by many on both sides before this one is over. The ending will leave you speechless.

                           Soo-hyun looking like he's ready to kick some ass!

The acting is stellar all around here. Lee Byung-hun as the stoic secret agent Soo-hyun works very well here. His descent into depravity and sadness is shown to us with great force and power. Choi Min-sik as his nemesis Kyung-chul  shows us a masterpiece of insanity. Not since Hannibal Lecter have I seen such brutality and madness translated on screen so effectively. Every time he looks at someone you just know he's not thinking good thoughts. Director Park Chan-wook brings us some terrific scenes filled with blood and the anticipation of more blood. One wonderfully directed and chair gripping scene is when a couple of bandits try to pick up and rob our bad guy. Kyung-chul figures out what's going on and it gets messy from there. Chan-wook manages to capture some great acting as well from some of the supporting cast. He makes us care just as much about Soo-yun's father Det. Jang and the lead detective on the case Det. Oh as we do about the leads. Even Kyung-chul's cannibal friend Tae-joo (Choi Moo-sung) is given time to shine and shows us some new and wonderful horrors. Well done Mr., Chan-wook.

                                  Kyung-chul doesn't look too happy here.

This film is hard to review because there is almost nothing wrong with it. I must say the movie could have been a tad shorter and the pacing at times could be slow. But, that really doesn't matter too much when you're glued to your seat trying to figure out what's going to happen next. The film really keeps you involved and that's why it works so well. Not just because of the blood and guts, mind you it has plenty of that, but the fact that the acting and story are so well done here. That's what Hollywood needs to understand. You can make a longer horror movie that revolves around actual acting just as much as it does the blood and storyline, while still making a good movie. Definitely check this one out horror fanatics. You will not be disappointed 5/5 skulls.