Movie Sequels That Are Better Than You’d Expect
‘The Godfather: Part II’ … ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ … ‘Aliens’ … Only a few movie sequels merit respect and appreciation from audiences and critics. The paradox of the sequel is that while we sigh and moan every time a new one turns up, we keep going to see the damn things anyway, ensuring that the cycle continues. After all, sequels to ‘Saw’ and ‘The Fast and the Furious’ aren’t made because some director is burning to tell a story. They’re cash cows, and usually that’s what they look and feel like. But here’s a list of sequels you shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss. They may not outshine their respective predecessors, but they all find interesting ways to justify their existence.
‘Psycho II’ (1983)
‘Psycho II’ (pictured above) is much better than it has any right to be considering it’s a sequel to an Alfred Hitchcock classic. Taking place 22 years later, Norman Bates is about to be released after being put away for murder by reason of insanity. He’s cured! But Marion Crane’s surviving sister, played again by Vera Miles, has her doubts. By effectively keeping its audience in the dark when bodies start piling up, ‘II’ pulls off a nifty trick by keeping us guessing: Has Norman returned to his old ways, or is something equally dark afoot? We won’t tell, but suffice to say a strong cast (Meg Tilly and Robert Loggia included), a twist ending that works and a performance by Perkins that provides a logical extension to his original portrayal of Bates all contribute to keeping the flick from feeling like a B-movie cash-in. It’s easy to dismiss a sequel as audacious as ‘Psycho II,’ but it’s full of surprises and worth a go-round for adventurous horror hounds.
‘After the Thin Man’ (1936)
The continuing adventures of hard-drinking, married, crime-solving sophisticates Nick and Nora Charles picks up in the days following their first movie’s adventure (based on Dashiell Hammet’s ‘The Thin Man’ mystery novel). Stars William Powell and Myrna Loy have by now fallen into a comfortable comedic rhythm that makes their onscreen chemistry even more palpable. ‘After’ is funnier and more frantically paced than the original, and features a young Jimmy Stewart in a supporting role. There isn’t a bad Thin Man sequel in the six-feature series, but ‘After the Thin Man’ might be the best place to start for the uninitiated.
‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ (1991)
Four years after the surprise hit ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,’ Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter re-team as Wild Stallions, but instead of conquering world history, they poke around in what can best described as an existential nightmare. Being the doofuses they are, they make the most of it. No one expected anything from this sequel, but it’s full of surprises and is (almost) as funny as ‘Adventure.’ The mentally challenged rockers go to heaven and hell, and play board games in purgatory with Death (William Sadler, being awesome as usual) in a quasi-homage to ‘The Seventh Seal'(!). Hearing Death whine, “You have sunk my battleship!” is comedy gold.
‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ (1982)
Most fans of the ‘Halloween’ franchise hate ‘Season of the Witch’ because it’s the only sequel to have nothing to do with faceless killing machine Michael Myers. In fact, it was supposed to be the first sequel in a franchise that hoped to crank out a new unrelated Halloween story every year. That idea died a quick death in the wake of ‘III’’s dismal box-office performance. But viewed as a standalone without the series name, it makes for great, if fairly over-the-top, seasonal viewing. An evil toy manufacturer plans to use his line of rubber Halloween masks to wipe out all of America’s trick-or-treaters. Legendary cult hero Tom Atkins is the single-dad hero burdened with saving the world whether he likes it or not. There’s plenty of great gore (some of the best in the entire ‘Halloween’ series), and the story’s approach is imaginative and unpredictable (which can’t be said of any other ‘Halloween’ sequels). The poster’s tagline is one of the greatest in horror history, playing off the original’s “The night he came home” with the new and improved “The night no one comes home.”
‘The Great Muppet Caper’ (1981)
You really can’t beat ‘The Muppet Movie’ (which, in some ways, is the perfect example of the great American road movie), but ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ works beautifully as a follow-up. Oddly, for a kids movie, ‘Caper’ seems designed as a nod to screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s, with Kermit, Gonzo and Fozzie inexplicably in the role of shoe-leather newspaper reporters out for a scoop involving the theft of Lady Holiday’s (played by a game Diana Rigg) baseball diamond. Charles Grodin is the villain and romantic foil for Kermit, competing for the affection of Miss Piggy. Think ‘The Pink Panther’ crossed with ‘His Girl Friday’ starring anthropomorphic felt.
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ (1987)
The second ‘Nightmare’ sequel wisely ignores part two. The last of the Elm Street kids are all hospitalized in a mental ward because their nightmares have been causing weird behavior and suicidal tendencies. Nancy (Heather Langerkamp), sole survivor of the first movie, returns as a counselor to save the kids from what she knows is the real trouble: Freddy. We get some back-story on Freddy that reveals that he’s “the bastard son of 100 maniacs” … which would be effective if it made any biological sense. (Subsequent sequels would prove that the less we know about Freddy, the better.) A very young Patricia Arquette plays the lead. The special effects are first-rate, and the story is the strongest in the series. Even the acting is better. There are wonderfully disturbing cameos by Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dick Cavett, and the titular theme song, by Dokken, had a fairly popular video on MTV. This was the high point of the ‘Nightmare’ sequels, and it’s bursting with imaginative scares. Every sequel that followed was worse than the one before it.
‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ (1990)
A ridiculously convoluted series of events land Gizmo (a.k.a. the worst pet in the world), Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates) in a super-automated NYC skyscraper owned by a Ted Turner/Donald Trump hybrid played by character actor John Glover. Joe Dante returned to direct this sequel to ‘Gremlins’ which, not unlike ‘Evil Dead II,’ almost plays like a parody of its predecessor. Naturally, the three rules of Mogwai maintenance are breached again, unleashing another army of monstrous (and now lab-mutated) gremlins that bring anarchy, elaborate set pieces and puns galore to a new level in the high-rise tourist attraction. There are few scares to be found in this sequel, but it has so much more to offer in the way of Tex Avery cartoon-style comedy. Dante (and Roger Corman) regular Dick Miller returns, despite his almost certain death in the first movie. Tony Randall provides the voice for a super-intellectual gremlin, and Christopher Lee plays an evil scientist. Despite being completely different in tone, ‘Gremlins 2′ is every bit as much fun as the first go-round.
‘Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut’ (2006)
This is not the ‘Superman II’ you grew up watching countless times on cable. It’s a reconstruction of director Richard Donner’s original vision for the sequel, which was being shot in tandem with ‘Superman: The Movie.’ Donner got yanked off the project to be replaced by Richard Lester, who re-shot much of the movie (though reels of Donner’s footage remained intact, despite his name missing from the credits) and refocused the tone to accommodate awkward slapstick comedy that undoes a lot of the greatness Donner had already invested in the sequel. The Donner cut, which Warner Bros. reassembled based on fan demand, features unused scenes (many featuring Marlon Brando), alternate takes and even Christopher Reeve’s and Margot Kidder’s screen test footage to fill in some of the narrative holes left by unfilmed scenes from Donner’s script. The Donner cut makes more sense, and functions better as a second half to a two-movie story arc, with more attention paid to the Clark-Lois-Superman love triangle and Kryptonian supervillains who seem far more sinister when played straight without Lester’s pratfalls and gags. Despite some familiar scenes and dialogue, this ‘Superman II’ is a completely different movie than what was released theatrically.