Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Laws of Bad Sequels

Yesterday, I blogged about some terrible movie sub-titles. Warlock's The Armageddon and Star Trek's Nemesis were on that list, for instance.

But for some reason I've been stuck on this thought of weak follow-up franchise films, and today wanted to meditate on which sequels are really bad, and why. There are any number of reasons why a sequel might fail, I guess, so I'm going to enumerate some of the common "laws" of bad sequels and name a few egregious examples.

The Poltergeist III Law of Cast Changes. I understand why, on occasion, sequels have to be produced without returning cast-members. Perhaps actors are not available, unwilling to return, or - God Forbid - have passed away between installments. Often, a movie can indeed get around a cast change with a little ingenuity and intelligence (The Matrix Revolutions; "The Oracle"). But other times...yikes! For instance, the entire Poltergeist film franchise concerns a family, the Freelings, coping with a supernatural attack. That supernatural assault, depicted in Poltergeist (1982) and The Other Side (1986) brings the family closer together. The Freelings lose their house, but they gain togetherness. I mean, Mom Freeling (JoBeth Williams) actually crosses into the nether realm to bring back her daughter, Carol Anne. The family is tight-knit...clearly. And though a cast member, sadly, was killed (Dominique Dunne) before it was produced, the first sequel, The Other Side at least had a reason for her absence: the character was away at college. Okay, that's believable as far is it goes.

However, for Poltergeist III, we are supposed to believe that Mommy & Daddy Freeling have sent their little ten-year-old girl to Chicago to stay with an aunt and uncle and attend school. Now, this is the girl who is the fulcrum of the continuing poltergeist manifestations. The one who has been abducted to the other side, and twice pursued. Worse, the movie establishes that psychic Tangina has time to board a plane and get to Chicago to protect Carol Ann because she senses danger. What, she couldn't spring for a telephone call to Steve and Diane Freeling on the way? You don't think they would have shown up in a heartbeat to help their daughter out? And they didn't even warn their relatives that, ahem, Carol Anne has an unusual history?

Of course, the actors (Craig T. Nelson and Williams) didn't want to return for Poltergeist III, but - for me, anyway - it's just never really believable that this very close family, having survived all these terrors, would just send their daughter off to a different state. Especially knowing that "the Other Side" has taken her before and will most likely try again. I prefer the Predator 2 approach to cast changes. Arnold wasn't going to be involved, so a new character, played by Danny Glover was created. The Predator, his tools, his nature, remained the same, however.

The Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Law (Or Let's Make it Cheap & Funny) : Mea culpa, here. There are parts of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier I absolutely adore. I can watch it anytime and get a kick out of it. Anytime I see the original cast in action...I melt. But, come on...this entry is not exactly a "quality" Star Trek film. And I think that's for two reasons.

One, the producers cheaped out on special effects so that the visuals became laughable.

And two, and more importantly (and this isn't Shatner's fault...), the studio demanded that the script be "funny" like the successful previous entry, The Voyage Home. Shatner and his cohorts wrote a serious treatment about religious zealotry, with epic battles, divided loyalties and the like. And that all got cut out. Between the new accent on silly humor (Scotty bonking his head in Engineering) and the low-tech effects, the result is a deeply messed-up sequel that comes off as campy. So, note to future sequel makers: don't cut the corners so much that special effects stink, and don't force moviemakers to compromise their vision for the sake of adding humor.

The Jaws: The Revenge Rule (Or Keep it Simple). "This time, it's personal." Why? This sequel is so god-awful, and it actually combines a number of "bad sequel" laws. Again, the good, name cast of Jaws has been replaced. No Richard Dreyfuss. No Roy Scheider. Even the kids who survived Jaws II don't make a return. Who's our lead? Lorraine Gary, playing Mrs. Brody. That's excitement for you. More action movies need to star my Granny.

But the real reason Jaws: The Revenge is so unrelentingly bad is the concept erosion, and the effort to pile on ridiculous details to what should be a simple thriller. Horror movies work best when they have a pretty cut & dry premise that exploits a universal fear. A great white shark is one scary mother%(#*$. So why - in God's name - do you take this already fearsome force of nature on a ridiculous "quest" to kill off the Brodys. Like this is a clan battle between the McCoys and Hatfields or something. Why do you grant the shark the supernatural ability to swim across the world in less than a day? Why is the shark seemingly able to target Brodys amongst scores of other swimmers in the water (and yet still miss the little Brody girl on a banana boat, and strike the kid next to her?) Missed her by...that much! This is a classic example of overthinking a sequel, and destroying the original film's brilliant, elegant and simple concept. Jaws should be a really simple movie series to do. Men + shark = terror. Just add water.

The House & House 2: The Second Story Rule (Or, if you liked the first, you won't recognize the second!) Or, what I call, the rule of "in name only." When a film ends with the death of a hero, or even the death of a villain, sometimes it is hard to make a sequel that is consistent with the original installment. So what is a producer to do? Why, you make a totally new movie with different characters, different concerns, a different director, and slap a franchise name on it. You see, each one is about a different haunted house? Right! (And weirdly, both House movies star cast members from the TV series Cheers.) But the people who enjoyed the horror spectacle of William Katt fighting an evil Vietnam Vet ghost and rescuing his son from the nether realm aren't necessarily going to enjoy a comedy sequel, starring Arye Gross and a stupid-looking baby pterodactyl. Get it?

The H20 Rule (Or, Just Kidding! The Last Three Movies Took Place in an Alternate Universe Law): I liked H20 well enough, and I enjoyed seeing Jamie Lee Curtis back in action against Michael Myers. But okay, you know what? I also loved Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris in Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). Halloween H20 negates that film's very existence. It takes the saga back to Halloween II. Of course, considering that you can get rid of Halloween V and VI too, maybe it's not such a bad deal. Still, this idea seems like really bad business. With the DVD market making all these movies available, you may keep your wallet in your pocket and safely skip movies IV - VI, and just watch parts I, II, and H20. That should be good for sales...

Finally, PART 3 in 3-D Law: Friday the 13th Part III in 3-D, Amityville 3-D and Jaws 3-D. Nuff said. Franchises which were previously scary (or at least creepy) are suddenly reduced to pointing sharp objects at the camera.

What are your laws of bad sequels? And what is the worst sequel of all time?


  1. Lee Hansen5:49 PM

    Scarlett...the sequel to Gone With The Wind

  2. Highlander 2: The Quickening is my vote for worst sequel ever. Not only does it replace the fantasy concept of immortality with a pseudo-scientific explanation that the immortals were aliens exiled to Earth and cursed with immortality, it doesn't even remain consistent within its own premise. For example, if the exiles were "cursed" with immortality," and 500 years have passed, why is Michael Ironside's character still alive on the homeworld, if they're not supposed to be immortal? And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

  3. Howard:

    I think I had psychologically blocked all traces of memory regarding Highlander 2: The Quickening from my mind. Seriously. I'll never forget the sense of disappointment, anger and befuddlement I felt over that damn movie. You are quite right. The Quickening is a MAJOR contender for worst sequel ever.

  4. Anonymous11:50 PM

    The Jerk Too! AUUUGHHH!!!


  5. Anonymous1:08 PM

    Any of the Disney-straight-to-DVD sequels that babysitters are forced to watched. They better than Chinese Water Torture or a thumb screw...Cinderalla 2, Hunchback 2, the endless Aladdins...

    And topping it all off, not a Disney production, but personally my worst and most dreaded movie(s)...
    Any of the Land Before Times.

  6. At least 'Jaws: The Revenge" had a shark in it! Halloween III: Season of the Witch.....has no Michael Myers, no mention of Michael Myers, not even a wink wink moment acknowledging Myers and the previous films to the viewers.

    I mean I know by that time Jamie Lee Curtis went on to bigger and better things like 'Trading Places', but so what. And Carpenter had completely washed his hands of this franchise. But did I miss something somewhere? To this day I do not understand why the iconic Myers was left out of his own franchise. I still cannot get the goofy electronic synthesizer music out of my head from that film. The filmmakers should have gone all the way hog and set the film on Easter Sunday!! IF they had done that it might be a classic!!


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