The film industry is built on sequels. In fact nearly the entire entertainment industry is built on sequels, reboots, and remakes. Of course the general perception is sequels, especially horror movie sequels, are worse than the original films and are usually just a cash-in to milk a franchise’s fans for more money. While I can see a point to this some sequels rise above that label and either build upon the first film’s successes or even improve it. When thinking of the best horror sequel one film always stands out to me…Aliens.
Yes it IS Horror: Before everyone goes on a rant that Jim Cameron’s follow-up to Alien isn’t a horror movie I provide personal evidence. I saw Alien and Aliens on the same night at about the age of 12. Alien I found interesting but slow and suspenseful. The creature looked great in quick, shadowy flashes and the scenes built suspense rather than fear. I was never afraid of the xenomorph, but I was afraid for the characters. That means it was a great movie, since I felt for the characters, but it didn’t scare me. Aliens however did scare me. One scene in particular had me checking under the bed and in the bathroom cabinets. The intense facehugger stalking scene where two of the little beasties are set loose on Ripley (of course played to perfection by Sigourney Weaver) and Newt (whose character’s dialogue still works its way into my every day speech). The tense nature of that scene, the fear and unknown presented by the monster and its location was relatable. Who has ever tried to smash a spider and missed? Then had the critter scurry out of site and stayed up all night watching for it to re-appear? That’s how I felt watching that scene. That’s why I checked all the nooks and crannies before bed that night. And in that one scene alone it proves its horror cred.
New Kinds of Victims: But it also transcends it. In most horror movies the protagonists are unwitting and helpless. Maybe they have a trick up their sleeves like in You’re Next that no one expected, but for the most part they are over their heads and faced with horrors they never anticipated and have to scramble to survive being picked off one by one. That’s not the case here. The protagonists are Colonial Marines, described in one scene as “tough hombres” and de-briefed by Ripley, who faced the alien creature before. They aren’t helpless, they are well-trained, tough, violent, and in the opening scenes of their landing show their precision and meddle. When the creatures turn up they’re simply lost at sea. It works even better than it did against the helpless crew of the Nostromo as we know these marines have handled problems like this before and are still terrified and overwhelmed by the xenomorphs. It works psychologically because you think if these people can’t stop xenomorphs what can? You identify with Ripley and Newt (and to some extent the colonists), regular non-marines who seemingly have no hope to survive. The aliens are wily, powerful, fearless, and the “Warrior” design is far more menacing than that of the original alien. The tone is sci-fi, action, and horror all rolled into one. The first film I can recall containing all those elements, and it’s this movie, rather than its predecessor, that spawned an entire new genre of horror-action-sci fi.
Lasting Impact: Finally it has serious, SERIOUS longevity in the culture. It is one of the most stolen concepts in modern media (Contra, Tyranids, Dead Space…etc…). Not only that but it battles with Scarface as one of the most quotable movies I’ve ever seen. “Game over man,” “Sweethearts,” “five-by-five,” all these quotes spawned from Aliens and even if they didn’t originate with the film you quote them from the film. If you don’t say “Game over, man; Game over” like Hudson you’re doing it wrong.
While trying to think of the “best horror sequel” I was torn. It came down between Aliens and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Dream Warriors certainly changed the landscape of the Nightmare movies, but Aliens changed the nature of sci-fi horror. It was tense, scary, bloody, action-packed, and even had a final girl. It surpassed the original to become a movie classic and infiltrated modern culture to create new genres and new kinds of horror experiences.
So to me Aliens is by far is the best horror sequel. Take it away Hudson: