Whether you love, loathe or merely try to ignore them, horror remakes, rehashes and sequels have been a cinematic fact of life since the earliest days of the medium. The trend of rebooting successful films has, for better and too often for worse, been a staple of the genre since its inception. Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde was adapted for film an astonishing 11 times during the silent era alone. Nevertheless, only Paramount’s 1920 production starring the great John Barrymore has had lasting influence—a testament to its innovation and quality. As the saying goes, cream rises to the top.
On the other hand, sequels, for the most part, have fared much better with genre audiences. From Universal’s classic monster rallies that brought heavy hitters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman together time and time again to the innumerable slasher sequels of the ’80s, fans have always been eager for a second (or third) helping of horror from their favorite boogiemen. Still, sequel mileage varies. As summed up by Drew Barrymore’s assessment of the A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise in Wes Craven’s supremely selfware satire Scream, “The first one was [scary], but the rest sucked,” the law of diminishing returns always leads to the sequel’s inevitable downfall.
However, there are those occasions when a sequel or remake either matches or transcends its source material. We’re going to take a look at 20 of the greatest (and 100% suck-free) horror sequels, reboots and remakes of all time.
The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)
Universal’s 1935 classic The Bride Of Frankenstein is that rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor in every way. Working from a key premise from Mary Shelley’s novel left unexplored in the first film—that the monster demands a mate—director James Whale delivers a complex work filled with surprising subtext and laden with unexpected meaning. Boris Karloff shines under Jack Pierce’s groundbreaking monster makeup in a pathos-filled performance that sets an unrivaled standard for all cinematic interpretations of the creature, and despite limited screen time, Elsa Lanchester’s hissing, otherworldly bride has become as iconic as any monster in the horror pantheon. The Bride Of Frankenstein is undoubtedly the best of Universal’s legendary monster cycle and one of the greatest horror films of all time.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
After a lackluster second outing in Freddy’s Revenge, everyone’s favorite child killer was back on his game in 1987’s A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, thanks to the return of series creator Craven as co-writer and the original’s star Heather Langenkamp as Freddy Krueger’s (Robert Englund) nemesis Nancy Thompson. Dream Warriors is the creative peak of the Elm Street franchise, expanding the first film’s mythology while driving the story in a more elaborate, fantasy-horror direction. On the cusp of becoming a pop culture fixture to rival Santa Claus or Mickey Mouse, Krueger would never again be this scary. For the franchise, it’s mostly downhill after Dream Warriors, save for the noncanonical New Nightmare in 1994, which found director Craven performing a post-modern deconstruction on his most famous creation.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
No film blurs the line between remake and sequel like Sam Raimi’s 1987 horror-comedy masterpiece Evil Dead 2. It also holds the distinction of being one of a handful of horror-comedies that effectively delivers both scares and laughs in equal measure. Using the film’s opening moments to cover the plot of the first Evil Dead, Raimi launches knucklehead hero Ashley J. Williams (Bruce Campbell) into a gore-strewn nightmare that has him facing off against both the living and the dead. Part Three Stooges, part Grand Guignol, Evil Dead 2 drops the original’s deadpan tone for pure slapstick mayhem punctuated by moments of intense terror and gore as Campbell gets his ass kicked by everyone and everything in sight. Followed up by the equally insane Army Of Darkness and the sadly short-lived Starz series Ash Vs Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn will satisfy even the most jaded genre fan.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Overall, the Hellraiser franchise is one of horror’s greatest missed opportunities. With a truly unique premise by horror master Clive Barker, who wrote and directed the first film from his novella The Hellbound Heart, the series rapidly descended into ’80s clichés as subsequent writers and directors attempted to recast Barker’s heady conceptual horror into something more akin to the Nightmare On Elm Street sequels. Nevertheless, Hellraiser’s first sequel, Hellbound, is more than worthy as a follow-up to its innovative predecessor. Featuring a solid script by Peter Atkins based on a concept developed by Barker himself, Hellbound expands upon the mythology set forth in Hellraiser while remaining true to the original’s diabolical intent.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
If only one film can be singled out as a textbook example of how to remake a classic film for a modern audience, it’s undoubtedly Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of the science-fiction horror classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Updating Don Siegel’s 1956 Red Scare subtext to reflect the post-1960s malaise and homogenization of middle-class culture in the “me” decade, Kaufman’s update stars the always superb Donald Sutherland as a San Francisco health inspector who stumbles onto a viral/botanical invasion from space. Far more subtle than its classic source material, this 1978 remake spins an inescapable web of paranoia and fear.
The Thing (1982)
Kurt Russell stars as chopper pilot R.J. MacReady, a member of an Antarctic research outpost that’s slowly consumed by a shape-shifting extraterrestrial in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Initially roasted by critics, Carpenter’s update of Christian Nyby’s 1951 The Thing From Another World has been reassessed as one of the greatest science-fiction horror films of all time. Adhering closely to John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?, the source material of both films, The Thing features one of cinema’s few truly alien entities realized through the mind-bending special effects of Rob Bottin. Graphically violent, claustrophobic and unabashedly nihilistic, The Thing gives Ridley Scott’s Alien a run for its money.
Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
Released the same year as John Badham’s romantic, big-budget adaptation of Dracula starring Frank Langella, Nosferatu The Vampyre gave international audiences a decidedly different and more horrific interpretation of literature’s most celebrated bloodsucker. Abandoning the suave and aristocratic image of Dracula that had become fashionable since Bela Lugosi’s legendary 1931 portrayal of the Count, filmmaker Werner Herzog instead chose to use the shocking, feral imagery of Graf Orlok from F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu for leading monster Klaus Kinski. Nevertheless, Kinski strikes a compellingly seductive note through his rat-like makeup that is somehow both repellent and sexy. Expanding on Murnau’s unique interpretation of Bram Stoker’s novel, particularly Lucy’s (Isabelle Adjani) role and the plague that the vampire brings, Herzog weaves a cinematic tapestry that both terrifies and fascinates.
The Fly (1986)
Director David Cronenberg substituted the campy science-fiction thrills of the 1958 original for utterly nauseating body horror when he remade The Fly in 1986. Jeff Goldblum stars as Seth Brundle, a brilliant scientist who invents a working matter transporter. However, when he uses his invention on himself, he soon discovers that an unexpected passenger has hitched a ride on his telepod trip. Where the 1958 film had the matter transporter split scientist and fly into two creatures with swapped heads and appendages, Cronenberg instead uses the device to fuse them into a disgusting, genetically devolving hybrid of man and insect. Featuring outstanding performances by Goldblum and co-star Geena Davis, The Fly expertly balances human emotion with technical virtuosity for a surprisingly heart-rending experience.
Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Dawn Of The Dead is arguably the greatest zombie film of all, perhaps only surpassed by its predecessor, 1968’s Night Of The Living Dead. A horrifying satire of American consumer culture, Dawn Of The Dead is a thought-provoking thrill ride through George A. Romero’s singular vision of hell on Earth. Featuring the stomach-churning effects work of Tom Savini, solid performances from leads Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, Scott H. Reiniger and David Emge and Romero’s razor-sharp direction, this film’s effect remains undiminished after decades of imitations, rip-offs and parodies. Dawn Of The Dead is the gold standard of the zombie subgenre and essential viewing for all horror fans.
Psycho II (1983)
Making a sequel to a certified classic directed by one of the greatest filmmakers in history takes guts and maybe even a touch of insanity. Nevertheless, Richard Franklin and screenwriter Tom Holland proved they were up to the formidable task when they made 1983’s Psycho II. Anthony Perkins reprises his role as Norman Bates, recently released from a mental institution after a 22-year stay. At first, Bates’ reintegration into society seems successful, but soon Mother is back to her old tricks. Although Psycho II obviously lacks Alfred Hitchcock’s genius touch, Franklin’s workman-like direction gets the job done. However, the real star of the film is Holland’s expertly crafted script, which honors both the integrity of the returning characters and the spirit of the original film while taking the story in a new, suspense-filled direction.
When tasked with creating a sequel to the 1979 science-fiction horror hit Alien, filmmaker James Cameron, hot off the success of 1984’s The Terminator, adopted a decidedly “bigger is better” approach to the material. Abandoning the first film’s claustrophobic ambiance for an assault of action and survival horror, Cameron places the franchise’s heroine Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) with a ragtag squad of space Marines charged with fending off an onslaught of deadly alien xenomorphs. Aside from the sheer spectacle of Aliens’ alternately suspenseful and explosive sequences, Ripley’s evolution from logical, level-headed officer to vengeful action hero is the film’s highlight. A hit with both audiences and critics, Aliens is one of the most successful sequels of all time. Unfortunately, the franchise would never again rise to the heights of its first two entries.
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)
Still a controversial subject among horror fans nearly 40 years after its release, Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is a film that elicits either unqualified praise from its growing cult of die-hard fans or howls of derision from the legions of rabid Michael Myers devotees. The first and only film to fulfill creators Carpenter and Debra Hill’s vision for the series as an ongoing horror anthology format with a focus on the Halloween season as its only thematic throughline, Season Of The Witch abandons the slasher formula for a science fiction-tinged techno folk-horror plot involving a mad mask maker (Dan O’Herlihy) and his genocidal plan to return Halloween to its bloody, pagan origins. Lambasted by fans and critics in 1982, the film has slowly built an audience through cable and home video, leading to a more positive reassessment in recent years. For best results, we suggest you put Myers out of your mind for 98 minutes and enjoy Halloween III based on its merits as a standalone thriller.
The Blob (1988)
The original 1958 version of The Blob is a science-fiction horror classic. It’s the ultimate ’50s drive-in movie packed with action, an unforgettable monster, a young Steve McQueen in his first starring role and an earworm of a theme song co-written by none other than Burt Bacharach. The 1988 remake retains much of the original film’s unexpectedly deadpan tone without ever devolving into manufactured campiness that characterizes so much of late ’80s horror. Like the original, Chuck Russell’s The Blob focuses on a gelatinous, man-eating creature hatched from a meteorite to wreak destruction on small-town America. Starring genre favorite Shawnee Smith (Saw) and Kevin Dillon, The Blob hits all the notes that made the 1958 film great while adding an unforeseen conspiratorial element that would satisfy even Alex Jones.
House On Haunted Hill (1999)
Like the 1959 original, William Malone’s 1999 remake of House On Haunted Hill has no pretensions to be anything but big, dumb, spooky fun. Retaining the original version’s premise of a group of strangers gathered by a millionaire to spend the night in a haunted house, or in this case, an abandoned, fortress-like insane asylum, to win a million dollars, 1999’s House On Haunted Hill is a worthy update to its B-movie source material that generates a surprising number of shivers. Geoffrey Rush is a standout, channeling a serviceable impersonation of Vincent Price that often skews a little closer to John Waters than the legendary master of menace. It’s not a smart horror film; it’s not necessarily a good horror film (neither is the original). House On Haunted Hill is, however, a fun horror film with a goofy charm that makes for some enjoyable light viewing.
The Ring (2002)
For the most part, the phenomenon of Americanized remakes of contemporary Asian films should be met with scorn and derision. Thankfully, the success of Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 hit Parasite may at last stem that tide and lead to wider distribution of foreign films in the United States. Yet, there’s that rare occasion when a Westernized remake gets it right. One such film is Gore Verbinski’s The Ring. Adapted from the 1998 Japanese horror hit Ringu directed by Hideo Nakata, the plot of The Ring centers on a cursed videotape that promises death in seven days for anyone who views it. True to Ringu’s spirit, Verbinski’s version makes use of a muted color palette, incessant rain and a creeping feeling of unease to create an atmosphere of abject dread. At times genuinely terrifying, The Ring is a brilliant, tautly paced supernatural thriller in its own right as well as an excellent companion piece to Nakata’s original film.
The original television miniseries version of Stephen King’s best-selling novel It is beloved by so many, horror fans immediately (and incessantly) drew comparisons when Andy Muschietti’s adaptation was released, and that’s why we’re including it here. We’ll leave the debate on whether separate literary adaptations constitute remakes or new works to someone else. It is a faithful rendering of the first half of King’s horror epic about an ancient entity feeding on fear. Muschietti’s film explores the Lovecraftian cosmology of its titular creature in ways ignored by its small-screen predecessor while upping fright. Although Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise lacks the unhinged charisma of Tim Curry’s performance—the miniseries’ one saving grace—It and, to a slightly lesser extent, its sequel It Chapter 2, represents a tighter, more cohesive interpretation of King’s vision.
In 2018, many devotees of Euro-horror feared director Luca Guadagnino was committing an act of blasphemy by remaking Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece Suspiria. Those fears were soon assuaged when Guadagnino’s film provided a respectful, expertly crafted take on Argento’s celebrated “Mothers” mythos that kept the original film’s artistic flair intact while tightening its admittedly loose narrative. Although the 1977 film’s signature Technicolor flash is replaced with more muted tones and Argento’s stylized direction is abandoned for Guadagnino’s more restrained style, the 2018 remake surpasses the original in terms of performances, especially Dakota Johnson as dance student Susie Bannion and the always compelling Tilda Swinton in multiple roles. A more complex film than its celebrated progenitor, 2018’s Suspiria adds narrative, thematic, emotional and, most surprisingly, political depth to Argento’s nightmare.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)
The only Texas Chainsaw sequel to continue the storyline of the original 1974 film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 picks up 13 years later with the continuing adventures of Leatherface (Bill Johnson standing in for the original’s Gunnar Hansen), the Cook, (Jim Siedow reprising his 1974 role) and a new character, Chop Top (Bill Moseley), the groovy twin brother of part one’s Hitchhiker (Edwin Neal). Holed up in a defunct amusement park, the first family of human headcheese now runs a successful catering business with the Cook, now named Drayton Sawyer, a champion on the chili cook-off circuit, thanks to his special ingredients. With the addition of makeup effects maestro Tom Savini, director Tobe Hooper ups the gore quotient to ridiculous levels. Truly nauseating set pieces aside, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is more black comedy than pure horror due to the wholly demented performances of Siedow and Moseley. Avoid the rest: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is by far the best of the franchise’s many sequels, remakes and reboots.
The Exorcist III (1990)
Despite endless meddling by studio executives, 1990’s The Exorcist III is an excellent, albeit flawed toward the end, film. Directed by The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty from his 1983 novel Legion, The Exorcist III mercifully ignores the events of 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic. George C. Scott stars as detective William Kinderman (a minor character from the first film originally played by Lee J. Cobb), a veteran cop investigating a series of murders seemingly committed by a dead serial killer. Kinderman discovers a bizarre link to the first film’s events, putting his soul and faith in humanity to the test. The Exorcist III is nearly flawless for a full two-thirds of its running time. However, studio insistence that Blatty tack on an exorcism sequence mars an otherwise excellent supernatural thriller. Nevertheless, some memorably terrifying scenes and Brad Dourif’s performance as a mental patient make the film’s flaw easy to overlook.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Shock rocker and filmmaker Rob Zombie is a polarizing figure among horror fans. A superfan of classic horror and grindhouse cinema, Zombie’s films have a grimy aesthetic that horrorphiles find appealing or repellent. Most, however, agree that The Devil’s Rejects is one of the best genre films of the 2000s. For his second chapter in the saga of the murderous Firefly family, Zombie abandons the trippy, Day-Glo visuals and music video editing of House Of 1000 Corpses for pure 1970s-style grit. The Devil’s Rejects has no redeemable characters on either side of the law yet manages to inspire a mix of admiration and sympathy for its homicidal protagonists—a testament to both Zombie’s still largely untapped skills as a director as well as the undeniable chemistry of its principal cast of Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie and the late Sid Haig. Haig, the underused highlight of the previous film, gets some long-overdue screen time with his performance as Firefly family patriarch Captain Spaulding that’s worth the price of admission alone. With a soundtrack composed of largely forgotten 1970s classics, washed-out visuals and shockingly ugly scenes of realistic violence, The Devil’s Rejects is a welcome throwback to the grindhouse era in the spirit of Craven’s Last House On The Left.