The purpose of a sequel is always in debate. There is a sense that a follow up is automatically inferior due to being derivative of another work. And, if that sequel is released direct-to-video then it must fall even lower on the proverbial totem pole. The horror genre is often a place where if a film does moderately well, an attempt at making that picture into a franchise will soon follow. This can lead to a watered down duplication of the original feature leading to outrage from fans and critics.
Still, if the right people become involved, these sequels can actually be quite enjoyable. What is “good” can often be subjective depending on whether or not you enjoy the return of characters, ideas, or the possible answers to questions left behind. Sometimes, the fact that these follow up efforts are of poorer quality can be just as much fun. As follows is a list of direct-to-video sequels that may not be considered critically-acclaimed, but are certainly worth a look and turned out better than expected.
Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return
This franchise has generated lots of entries from one short story. When I was a child, myself, 1984’s adaptation of Stephen King’s work scared the hell out of me. I found both Linda Hamilton’s Vicky being almost crucified on a corn stalk and the performance of John Franklin as Isaac Chroner particularly terrifying. Therefore, when Franklin decided to return to the series I could not resist checking this entry out. Although Isaac’s Return is often a misfire, the movie attempts interesting links to the first film. The audience gets a glimpse into how the rituals of the children would have played out over time. Additional performances by horror staples Nancy Allen and Stacy Keach give this flick a much-needed boost. For those that enjoyed Franklin’s iconic performance as the child prophet Isaac, Isaac’s Return is worth a look and it’s certainly better than you might expect.
Lost Boys: The Tribe
1987’s The Lost Boys is a cult-classic that marked a defined shift in bringing vampire lore to a younger demographic. Without the original film, it is highly unlikely that the teen heartthrob vampires to come would have had such an impact on mainstream audiences. So, it was inevitable that a follow-up would eventually occur albeit more than twenty years later and direct-to-video. The Tribe is certainly not a classic and should never ever be confused as such. Still, what one considers quality can directly conflict with what is enjoyable. And, the return of Corey Feldman as Edgar as well as the novelty casting of Angus Sutherland (younger brother to the iconic Kiefer Sutherland who played David in the original) is definitely appealing to fans of the 1987 flick. Also returning in a fun cameo appearance is the late Corey Haim as Sam Emerson. While it’s not classic cinema, The Tribe still surprised me by being entertaining and watchable.
The Invoking 2
Anthologies are not easy to pull off in the horror genre. While not a hard-and-fast rule, story and character development play an important part in setting up a good scare. Out of the stories contained in this feature, two work surprisingly well. “Alone” and “Natal” both revolve around the idea of what happens when one loses his or her sanity and how nobody can know exactly what a person experiences when they die. To be fair, The Invoking 2 (a sequel in name only) is a mixed bag. For every story that works well, there is another that is nonsensical or derivative of better films. But, it’s still better than what one might expect from such a venture.
The Descent Part 2
I think the enjoyment of the sequel to the very successful The Descent depends on which ending of the first film you watched. Personally, I find both endings to be well-made; however, I prefer the darker, ambiguous U.K. ending where one is not certain Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) made it out of the cave. Due to the original ending, I was prepared to have the sequel mess with my mind and be unreliable. Therefore, the logic maintained was pleasantly surprising. And this return to the cave did not let me down with the disturbingly shocking images contained within. It by no means has the same impact of the all-female cast of the original but The Descent Part 2 manages to find its own claustrophobic footing. In addition, seeing Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Sarah’s relationship resolved was quite satisfying.
Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering
The fourth entry in this franchise continues the tradition of deviating from the previous films’ setups. If you go into this franchise seeking a solid connection between the films then you will undoubtedly be disappointed; however, accepting each film as a standalone piece provides a more satisfying experience. The Gathering’s strongest asset is Naomi Watts as Grace. She is a medical student returning home to care for her mother (Karen Black). The main theme of this sequel is accepting and embracing one’s past. This is dealt with by both Grace as well as the sins of the town. Having a thematic foundation in which viewers can relate to makes The Gathering one of the better entries from the series. The audience can empathize with the well-rounded characterizations leading to a sense of the stakes being raised.
When a Stranger Calls Back
This sequel to 1979’s When a Stranger Calls was released by Showtime and ended up going direct-to-video. I wore out my local video store’s copy. I would argue that this sequel has one of the best openings from a horror film of all time. Carol Kane’s return is solid, but the rest of the movie requires way too much suspension of disbelief for its target audience. Regardless, horror-icon Jill Schoelen’s performance at the beginning is perfection. The timing and suspense of the first ten minutes of When a Stranger Calls Back are impeccable. Countless times have I shown this opening to friends and gleefully watched as they jumped out of their seats. For anyone that has ever had to babysit before, watch the first ten minutes of this film to be reminded of that chilling feeling of being in charge and alone is enough to give you a solid fright.
The Hellraiser series certainly has ebbs and flows in the quality of each subsequent film. But my personal favorite character from the series is Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence). While her appearance in Hellseeker is barely more than a cameo, she definitely makes her mark. With Kirsty’s addition to this entry, her struggles in the first two films are finally concluded in a more satisfactory way. Like Pinhead, Kirsty’s moral line has become blurred. The main narrative following Kirsty’s husband (Dean Winters) is compelling enough to carry the rest of the feature along.