Horror Sequels: What Do They Need To Make It Work?

The evil never truly ends in the horror movie world. It merely just binds its time until it comes back stronger than ever…or not. After 90 minutes of death, panic, and watching our beloved “Final Girl” (the lone survivor left standing at the end) make it out alive through their horrific ordeal, we’re left with the sun rising with relative peace and the killer dead (or the curse stopped, the monsters subdued, a cliffhanger…you get the deal). It seems to be the end of their story. However, no Final Girl can escape a potential change in development: A moderate-to-successful box office gross.

The Conjuring 2 The Warrens

Sometimes a simple one-and-done story becomes so successful (or, sometimes, “successful enough”) to justify a sequel. If they’re really profitable, you’ve got a franchise on your hands–think of flicks like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the SAW series, Scream, and even The Conjuring series. The story and/or characters will be back to tell another tale to dole out the fears and cash in at the box office.

But does a sequel equal another hit? The original fear–the big bad, as it were–is what drew us the first time around and if it’s not handled correctly, it could ruin any potential for any future horror editions. Through extensive horror movie marathons, here are a few points about what a horror flick should do (and NOT do) to make it work as a sequel.

A Genuine Hero / Growth With The Final Girl

The main lead–the person to follow on their adventure–determines the tone for the rest of the movie. If they’re emotionally strong and sincere, we’ll root for them to survive but if they’re annoying, flat and/or unrealistic, it’ll distance us from relating with them.

If the main hero is a new character, they’ll have more to prove to stand out from the past; there’s a big difference between Nancy and Jesse from the first two Elm Street sequels. While Nancy started meek and scared, she grew through the ordeal to fight Freddy and take charge. Jesse, however, succumbs to his nightmares and needs someone to help him “win” his sequel. It’s one of the reasons Elm Street 2 pales in comparison to the original–he isn’t the hero in his own movie, Lisa is.


The same can be said if the lead is a returning character, like the previous Final Girl. The sequel is the second chapter of this character’s horror experience–they’ve already fought the big bad. The character needs to keep growing and become stronger against the villains. Characters like Sidney from Scream and Ash from Evil Dead grew from their earlier films to stand up and fight terror, refusing to back down. If they rehashed their original state (i.e. scared, oblivious, etc.), the sequels wouldn’t have been as powerful.

Well-Developed Cast / Body Count

A Final Girl is nothing without her group of supporting characters and cameos. These vocal players pop up to add to the body count, survive with the hero and possibly return to another sequel. If they’re not fun-to-watch, genuine or original (nobody likes to watch a copy of a character from the previous film), then the effect of them biting the dust or surviving is lost on the audience. The characters of the original I Know What You Did Last Summer are so strong that it makes the movie what it is; a tale about former friends trying to survive. However, the sequel didn’t compare with its batch of bland characters, uninteresting back stories and uncalled for stereotypes. (Really, Jack Black, really?) It’s no surprise the film doesn’t work.

Keep With The Horror Tone

Some horror sequels have fallen victim to this. Once a sequel comes around, it deviates away from the original scares and quirks that made the first film so scary. While the franchise and villain/characters can develop over time, when it changes drastically from one film to the next it can be jarring. Jeepers Creepers 2 goes for a more expressive version of their (previously hidden/silent) monster and The Rage: Carrie 2 focuses more on teen-tropes than its horror elements. This is a horror movie, after all; it needs to feel as such to create the full experience.

Paranormal Activity

Limit The CGI And Walk Away

It’s easy to CGI everything. Sequels tend to have bigger budgets and some of that goes into special effects, especially more CGI to create bigger scares. Throw a digital monster or paranormal moment on-screen, and you’ve got yourself a scare. But when it’s overdone to the point where everything scary is essentially because of CGI (and it LOOKS computerized), that is where the problem is of concern. Piranha 3D’s horror elements are basically all in CGI and it takes away from the experience. It needs to be subtle and a part of the overall surroundings, like with the Paranormal Activity series.

Raise The Stakes

The killer is dead? Bring back her son as an inhuman killing machine (Friday the 13th Part 2). Survived death’s first attack? Tie up loose ends between BOTH movies (Final Destination 2). Trapped in a room? Try an entire killer house (Saw 2). This is the second adventure of these characters; audiences have already seen them running through the woods or stopping the killer. Go big or go home–more blood, more horror, more action. What makes this second go-around different? However, with that being said…

Don’t Mess With The Original

There’s a reason the first movie succeeded. Be it the groundwork, the story or the memorable moments it created, the original is essentially the one flick that will be compared to other sequels in the future. The challenge with horror sequels is living in that shadow while also standing apart as its own. It takes knowing what to pull from the first movie, and what to establish in the sequel.

Scream 2 Maureen

Halloween 2 continues the story going from the original mayhem, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 provides dream powers to the victims of Elm Street, and Scream 2 flips the story on its head by being influenced by the original victims. These are all different takes that honor their predecessors; however, not all can do the same.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is such a departure from the original that it’s barely a sequel in its own right (think found footage from the first film and then a scripted drama for the second). And any sequel that has to do with a space-theme should be forgotten now. Let’s not ruin a good thing by tarnishing the original entry in the series.

Justin is a fun-loving twenty-something living in downtown Toronto, Canada. He’s an avid TV buff, movie fan and gamer. In addition to writing for The Young Folks, he has contributed to EW's The Community, Virgin.com, ghostwritten for The Huffington Post and The Globe and Mail, and he runs his own blog, City Boy Geekiness. When he's not writing about his latest favorite guilty pleasure, he's working in the Comms and Social Media field. Follow him on Instagram & Twitter: @JustinMC16.