In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
You either die as Child’s Play or you live long enough to become Seed of Chucky. That’s a rule in horror film – success means sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and reboots. This can go a few ways: a great concept is underused and merits further tinkering (The Purge), an opportunistic producer runs with a title, continuity be damned (Friday the 13th), or Troll 2 happens (Troll 2). In any of these situations the result can be anywhere from very bad to so-bad-it’s-good to legitimately great, and as such I find it very hard to harsh on pending horror sequels. You really just never know. Here are a few examples of horror sequels that really got it right.
- The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence (2011 – dir. Tom Six)
After receiving criticism that the coldly clinical The Human Centipede was not the gross-out film audiences had expected, Tom Six decided to pull out all the stops and give audiences exactly what they thought they wanted. By switching out the surgeon’s tools for a hammer and a staple gun, and by extending the length of the titular centipede, this balls to the wall sequel spat in the face of Six’s critics, delivering a film that would be more than welcome amongst the Video Nasties. Anyone who alleges that Tom Six isn’t an artist should note that The Human Centipede 2 is shot entirely in black and white.
Except for the poop. The poop is brown.
- Final Destination 2 (2003 – dir. David R. Ellis)
When Final Destination was released, it was on the tail end of the American Pie era of post-Scream horror. At this time the dated morality play of slasher films was being juxtaposed against the dawn of meta-horror, placing hunky teens into a situation where death is imminent, regardless of one’s behavior. Final Destination also served to eliminate the “whodunit?” aspect of 90s slashers by making the villain a faceless, unfeeling force. The script, by X-Files alums Glen Morgan & James Wong, even gave each character a name referencing a horror great (Larry Murnau! Ha!). It was a novel twist posed to bring teen screams into the new millennium, but it was the sequel which ended up giving the series legs.
Final Destination 2 expanded upon the mythology of the original film while keeping the same template. Our cast of potential victims fortuitously avoids a disaster only to find that death plans to pick up the pieces all the same. But we now find out that each character has a loose connection with those from the first film – namely that they’d already be dead if not for serendipitous interactions with Devon Sawa and friends. Furthermore, Ellis stepped up the humor and the gore in a big way by introducing not just a wealth of over the top practical effects, but the notion that death, somewhat more sentient in this entry, tends to cleverly telegraph its macabre plans. This entry set the tone for the rest of the series which spans a total of 5 films.
- Hostel: Part II (2007 – dir. Eli Roth)
With the previous film being amongst the progenitors of the torture-porn genre, it was easy for a lot of folks to dismiss Eli Roth’s follow up film as more of the same, but the more thoughtful viewer will see that Hostel: Part II is a movie with a lot on its mind. This isn’t to say that it’s not torture-porn (which has become a bit of a dirty word, unless you like this sort of thing, which I do), but it’s clear that Roth wanted to expand upon the social considerations of the original film. Mainly, Part II provides a window into the mentality of those sadistic folks who purchase the torture rooms, in doing so calling into question our desire to watch this type of movie. Secondly, there’s an exploration regarding the gender politic of horror – our cast of potential victims is female this time around, each approaching the freedom of a trip abroad from a different angle. This all leads to the most gruesome literalization of gender-based power structure in horror that you’ll ever see.
Also, it’s just really good torture porn.
- Day of the Dead (1985 – George A. Romero)
Say what you will, but Day trumps Dawn for me. Maybe I’ve oversaturated my brain with Dawn‘s charms over the years, but to me, Day remains the superior film. . .
You see, Romero’s Dead films have each sought to further the zombie/human societal shift in a notable way, and it’s Day of the Dead that represents the most potently horrifying change. Night introduced the zombies and showed how their existence affected a small location. Dawn introduced the idea that some of these creatures still had remnants of humanity, while our protagonists held onto hope that one day this zombie attack will end and humanity could begin to rebuild. Day is the entry in which it has become clear that the zombies aren’t going anywhere, and that humanity is on its way out. The next evolution is happening, and we civilized folk are now in second place.
The setting is indicative of this shift. The humans are in an underground bunker – the only safe place in a world where zombies walk most of the earth. It’s only this small bubble of civilization as we once knew it that keeps the living alive. When near the surface, groans can be heard bleeding through the walls, and as this outward threat becomes the norm, the real threat comes in the form of fellow humans, desperate to return to a normalcy that no longer exists.
That, my friends, is terrifying.
- [Rec] 2 (2009 – dir. Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza)
I remember watching this one with a friend of mine when it first came out. About 20 minutes into it she said “I’m not okay. I can’t do this,” before leaving my house. I was equally terrified and upset by the raw intensity of the film, but it was cold outside, so I managed to tough it out. I’ve watched this one multiple times since then and each time I find myself in a similar state of distress. Seriously, [Rec] 2 is that scary.
Following in the found footage footsteps of the original film, and picking up immediately at the moment where it left off, [Rec] 2 starts in full swing as rescue workers attempt to find survivors of the rage-zombie virus who may be trapped in a quarantined apartment building. Meanwhile, a group of camera-toting teens find themselves in over their heads when they break into the building to engage in some mischief.
Balagueró and Plaza stretch the found footage device to respectably clever ends, juggling the adjacent narratives in a way that keeps the tension at a high for the entire runtime. They also expand the mythology beyond rage-zombies and into the world of demonic possession. There’s a sequence in which a young man is instantly possessed while tied to a chair that is positively chilling. I think about it most days and manage to freak myself out.
28 Weeks Later
Curse of Chucky
The Devil’s Rejects
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Evil Dead 2 and Bride of Frankenstein are inarguably the best ever, so I left them off of my list in favor of less talked about fare.