Part 2 horror movies are underrated. Of course I speak in a rather vague and generalised way but from these two eyeballs and this genre-hungry brain I reckon they cop a bad wrap. In the context of larger franchises, which have multiple sequels riding the wake of an original, it's usually the first sequel (ie Part 2) that showcases the most audacity and gusto. Sequels are rarely better than their original predecessors, however the creative motivation behind the first sequel of a franchise does tend to have the most freedom.
When a horror movie goes gangbusters at the box office or turns a big enough profit to warrant a sequel then obviously the studios are going to seize the opportunity. With a yet to be established mythos and/or set of rules the direction can be boundless. Take A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET for example. Wes Craven might have created a powerful film that's stood the test of time (and acted as an example to other genre movies) but his creation had the potential to go anywhere and do anything.
When part 2 came along, it was widely criticised for “breaking the rules” that Craven had established – whereas I would argue that it build upon his concepts and dared to do something different. The series hadn't become a “franchise” at that point and this gave the makers room to be bold. Recycling the original formula and making a carbon copy ran the risk of upsetting audiences and baring even more criticism than it eventually received. When Nightmare 2 was not well received the studio panicked, called Craven back and returned to the original themes. The rest is history, however, time has been kind to Nightmare 2 and it's finally getting the recognition is deserves.
Tobe Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 is another example. The original story and timeline was continued into the second instalment, however, the tone and aesthetic was a stark contrast to the original. Again it comes down to doing new things. Audiences embraced the original film to such an extent that to make a straight sequel would inevitably piss them off and tarnish the TCM property. And so Hooper changed the game and set new rules. Where the original film dealt with hippies and a relentless (bloodless) terror, the sequel was a satirical story of yuppies and excessive violence. New envelopes were pushed but sadly few people responded to it well. The humour was lost on most and the farcical nature of the movie proved to be ahead of it's time. Only now, decades on, has the appreciation for TCM2 taken hold. With so many subsequently mediocre sequels following it, people's understanding and affection for part 2 has solidified it as a classic.
When I think about horror movie franchises I recall the Part 2's with affection – well, most of them. They're very rarely the best of a series but they're often the most original and undaunted. There are exceptions to every rule and my thoughts might not necessarily sit well with you but when I cast my mind back to popular franchises I can't help but revisit #2's more than others. CHILD'S PLAY 2, HOUSE 2, PIRANHA 2, EXORCIST 2, HELLRAISER 2, PSYCHO 2, EVIL DEAD 2, PHANTASM 2, ALIENS, CHILDREN OF THE CORN 2, CRITTERS 2, AMITYVILLE 2, BASKETCASE 2 – just some that come to mind.
I can see you rolling your eyes and I can hear you cursing me. I bet you even picked up on THE EXORCIST 2 hidden amongst the titles I listed. Ha. Well, I can appreciate that but I give the film more credit than most. How do you possibly follow a film like THE EXORCIST? Short answer – you don’t! But the nature of the beast is that studios are greedy and will capitalise on a winning name. They could have rehashed the same formula but the creative minds decided to do something drastically different. The result was disastrous and even now, it's still lambasted. I like the movie. I think it stands well on it's own and it had balls of steel to be so blatantly different to the original masterpiece. I do hope it appreciates... but I doubt it will.
I have interviewed several directors who have been responsible for sequels to huge films and I asked most of them what their personal philosophies are when approaching a sequel. Almost all of them share the consensus that putting something new on the screen is fundamental and not producing more of the same... all the while pleasing fans. Creative endeavour pushes them to use the originals as a springboard and with a new canvas, free of restraint, they try to forge a new direction. The consequence is usually futile and part 3 is often where the franchise returns to it's core concepts... but when it comes to Part 2's I think they're hugely underrated and definitely undervalued and are usually stronger films when they stand alone.