Looking to fix a sequel that retains none of the original cast? Just add Dennis Hopper and a bunch more chainsaws.
There's no getting around it: The Last Exorcism Part II is a really stupid title. Surely the previous movie was, well, the last exorcism, wasn't it? And didn't everyone die at the end? But no, there's Ashley Bell turning up for a new round of mayhem in this week's sequel, which will do its best to retcon the events of The Last Exorcism's last reel to allow for more story (and more ticket sales). And that got us thinking about other one-offs that turned themselves inside out to continue the franchise.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
When he redefined horror cinema, and independent filmmaking/distribution more broadly, with 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, writer/director Tobe Hooper probably wasn't banking on franchise potential. But by the mid-80s, the success of slasher flicks like Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th (all of which owe a huge debt to Hooper's original film) proved that spinning a good idea into a string of sequels could mean big bucks, even if the returns frequently diminished, creatively. Having killed off his cast of road-tripping teens in the original, Hooper shifted his focus to the cannibalistic chainsaw-killing family, who by the time of the sequel are entering their human-meat chilli in cook-off contests. For a protagonist, Hooper brought in Dennis Hopper as loose canon ex-Texas Ranger, and avenging uncle to the original's Sally and Franklin. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 distinguishes itself from the original by totally changing gears, grinding out black comedy (even its poster was a send-up of The Breakfast Club's, for some reason) and cartoonish gore instead of grisly realism. By making no real effort to match the tone of the original, Hooper's sequel stands on its own weirdo merits - like its twangy alt-rock soundtrack dominated by The Cramps, Lords Of The New Church and Concrete Blonde. JS
2. Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Any sequel to The Blair Witch Project was doomed from the start. The story of three student filmmakers who fall victim to an unseen malevolence leaves no room for a sequel, as we know from the very first frames that poor Heather, Mike and Josh will never be seen again. But a hit demands a franchise, so Artisan Entertainment tapped Joe Berlinger - then best known as one of the Paradise Lost filmmakers - to find a new place to go. Berlinger and co-writer Dick Beebe came up with the premise of staying in the world of the first film: Heather's footage was real, as was the wealth of websites built up around it. The actual movie doesn't really live up to the premise, following a new set of characters (including a pre-Burn Notice Jeffrey Donovan) obsessed with finding out what happened to Heather and her friends and quickly turning into a standard slasher movie with a lame supernatural twist. But damn, that was a great idea. NW
3. Hard Core Logo 2 (2010)
Remember at the end of Hard Core Logo when - spoiler alert! - Hugh Dillon's aging punk Joe Dick blows his own brains out? Seems like a non-starter for a sequel, right? Undeterred, Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald found a fairly clever workaround for his own attempt at tentpole, franchise filmmaking. Though the second Hard Core Logo shifts its focus from the fake punk band Hard Core Logo to the real punk band Die Mannequin (themselves pretty fake), it's McDonald himself who emerges as the film's real star: playing the role of aging, self-destructive narcissist previously inhabited by Dick in the original. It may not have acquired the cult cache of the original, but for a director with a spotty filmography, Hard Core Logo 2 may be McDonald's most unblinkingly honest work. JS
4. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Oren Peli's 2009 horror smash ended with one of its protagonists dead and the other possessed by the demon that had stalked her since childhood. The sequel opens with new parents (Sprague Grayden and Brian Boland) plagued by equally creepy occurrences, and elegantly knits itself into the larger Paranormal Activity mythology by eventually revealing that Grayden is the sister of Katie Featherston's character from the original, and the events we're seeing run roughly parallel to the narrative of the previous movie. It's an ingenious way to open up the story and shift the nature of the menace without altering the horror beats that made the first film so successful. NW
5. The Final Destination cycle (2000 - 2011?)
The fun of the Final Destination movies - for horror fans, anyway - is that everyone in them will end up dead. The whole point of the series is that Death can't be cheated, and over five movies the producers have delighted in figuring out ways to connect each new chapter to the previous one. The first two were directly connected; the third and fourth, less so. But the fifth and most recent movie (somehow not called Five-nal Destination, and what's up with that?) ingeniously loops the entire narrative back around on itself like a snake eating its tail. It's a climactic twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan - well, early M. Night Shyamlan, anyway - and it gives one hope. If a franchise as hidebound as this can still surprise after five movies, anything can be given new vitality. Someone put these guys on the Saw file. NW