Horror is an odd genre. One of its most famous unusual traits is how dominated it is by sequels. Until the modern era of superhero movies, no other genre in history has been able to come close to the number of sequels, prequels, reboots, and now, requels that horror movies manage to rack up.
Often, the sequels are nothing more than repeats of the first film, providing more frights for the devoted fanbase. Unfortunately, a lot of sequels also end up being worse than the original too, serving as nothing more than recycled tropes and antics from the first film. But, on the rare occasion, a horror sequel (or prequel) comes along that’s downright amazing – sometimes better than the first, sometimes revitalizing a dying franchise, or sometimes being so damn different that it stands all on its own. Here are the five best horror sequels ever.
After Ridley Scott scared everyone to death with Alien in 1979, director James Cameron found himself helming the sequel in 1986. But whereas the original was a stealth-based suspense film, forcing audiences to quiver in fear knowing that an alien was lurking within the air vents of the USCSS Nostromo, Cameron took Aliens in a different direction.
More action, more aliens, and a bigger cast all gave the film a big-budget ’80s makeover. Turning a horror film into an action movie isn’t easy, especially since the original was so popular, but Cameron made it work because, at its core, Aliens remained a horror movie.
Beneath all the gunfire and explosions were perfectly executed horror moments, like the scene where an alien rises up from the water behind Newt, or when the audience gets its first glimpse at the massive alien queen. The movie walked a tightrope between faithful continuation and action revamp, turning it into a critical and commercial blockbuster that’s still beloved today.
Friday the 13th Part III (1983)
Is Friday the 13th Part III the best in the Jason series? Not really. But is it the most important movie in the franchise? Absolutely. It was here that Jason Voorhees was truly born. Yes, he had a brief cameo at the end of the original film as a child. And yes, he was the killer in Part II, but he wore a burlap sack that did him no favors.
It’s not until Part III that Jason finds the hockey mask (well, he kills someone for it). And, considering how iconic he’s become as a character since then, it makes you wonder how popular he would have been without his trademark mask.
Almost every Jason movie was panned by critics, and most horror fans admit that the Friday the 13th series isn’t exactly known amongst the community for having great acting or cinematography. Yet the films are famous because people love to watch Jason. He’s this towering, emotionless monster, made even scarier because he’s hidden away beneath that ivory-white mask.
An argument could easily be made that Friday the 13th Part III is where Jason was first truly realized, and the movie created not just one of the most famous horror villains ever, but one of the most famous characters in cinematic history. For horror fans, this movie is essential viewing to witness the birth of a slasher icon.
Halloween H20 (1998)
Before Sydney Prescott returned to Woodsboro, before Carrie Bradshaw returned to the streets of New York, and before Neo re-entered the Matrix, Jamie Lee Curtis returned to Halloween, unknowingly paving the way for the “requel” genre. In the film, Laurie Strode is now a grown woman with a son, teaching at a secluded prep school in California.
Part of what makes Halloween H20 such a great sequel is how desperately needed it was to keep the Halloween franchise alive. After Halloween II in 1981, the series took some weird turns. Halloween III: Season of the Witch was an anthology film, focusing on a new plot that didn’t involve Michael Myers; Halloween 4 and 5 returned to Michael Myers, but were schlocky and brainless, receiving horrific reviews and lower box office returns. Then came Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, which involved a young Paul Rudd, a mysterious cult, and DNA experiments. As you can imagine, that didn’t really go over well with critics or horror fans.
After the franchise turned into a circus, H20 promised to return Halloween to its roots. After 18 years, Curtis reprised the role that made her famous, the cult plot was thrown out the window, and the movie centered around what made the original movie so successful – the terror of Michael Myers. The film was a box office success, leading the way to various other sequels, reboots, and even another requel, 2018’s Halloween, which spawned a trilogy that concluded with 2022’s divisive Halloween Ends.
Nobody could have anticipated 2022’s Prey. The movie was a Hulu exclusive, and up until a month before release, it really didn’t have any build-up, publicity, or hype. On top of that, the Predator sequels of the 2010s were insufferably bad (to put it nicely). We ended up with alien monsters, government conspiracies, and plots so agonizingly bad that even hardcore fans found them difficult to sit through.
Then came Prey. Set in 1719, the movie follows Naru, a young Comanche woman who wants to prove herself as a warrior and sets out to find whatever is lurking in the woods. Whereas the last few sequels (and the atrocious Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) had turned the franchise into a series of poorly-made action movies, Prey brought Predator back to its horror roots.
Hunted through the woods without any modern technology to help her, Naru has to hide and outwit the predator, creating a fantastically suspenseful cat-and-mouse chase we haven’t seen since the first film. With its 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Prey is a massive improvement from the previous film in the franchise, 2018’s The Predator, which holds a lousy 34%.
Scream 2 (1997)
It’s the horror sequel that did everything right. In its trademark meta style, Scream 2 was a horror sequel all about horror sequels, making it a smart take on the genre’s obsession with continuing franchises. It also introduced the world to Stab, the movie-within-a-movie that the series has continuously used as a way to mock Hollywood’s desire for endless sequels and franchises.
On top of its clever commentary, Scream 2 also had some of the scariest scenes in the entire franchise, like when Gale Weathers is being chased through the maze-like sound studio, proving once again that the Scream series isn’t just about mocking the genre, but it’s also a genuinely terrifying and well-made horror series. Plus, the cast the time around was fantastic, bringing in Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the fabulous Laurie Metcalf as Billy’s mother, all joining Campbell, Cox, and Arquette, who reprise their roles.
Scream 2 might just be the perfect horror sequel. It stayed true to the original, added more to the plot, had inventive kills, and was genuinely suspenseful, all while making bitingly on-point commentary about Hollywood and the horror genre. If every horror sequel was as good as Scream 2, they might not have such a bad rap.