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Great Movies With Terrible Sequels: Sequels so Bad They’re Scary

Sometimes the most successful and acclaimed films are marked and marred by the absolutely worst sequels imaginable.

On any list covering the Worst Sequels Ever Made, one can be sure that many of the usual suspects would appear over and over again. “Films” like Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood, Weekend at Bernie’s II, Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Amityville 2: The Possession, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Teen Wolf Too and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo commonly make the short list of just about everybody’s most hated (or at least most disappointing) sequels of all time. However, none of these particular prequels and sequels happen to be followers of films that are all that good or acclaimed to begin with.

Yeah, sure, there’ll be a ton of you out there that point to a few of these originals as films that may rank among your “favorite” films, but would you nominate any of those for “best picture”? I mean except for Leprechaun.

Surprisingly many franchises have gone downhill following some truly excellent (or, at least, pretty damned good) first films in their respective sagas. Previously, The Next Reel has tackled such subjects as unrecognizable sequels and hidden sequels. In this edition of The Next Reel, we investigate a number of bad sequels to much better movies; sequels that most of us, quite frankly, wish were both “hidden” and “unrecognizable”.

Let’s start at the top with a devil of a film that was, indeed, nominated for “Best Picture” and was, in fact, the first horror film to earn that distinction from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Exorcist (1973) emerged in the early ’70s as a deep and terrifying horror film for the thinking person. While not all reviewers quite “got it” in its initial release, a demon swarm of awards lauded the film almost immediately.

At the 46th Annual Academy Awards ceremony The Exorcist was nominated for ten Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Best Supporting Actor (Jason Miller), Best Supporting Actress (Linda Blair) and Best Director (William Friedken) with other nominations in technical fields. William Peter Blatty won for Best Adapted Screenplay (from his own novel of the same name) and another golden statue went home for Best Sound Mixing. At the 31st Golden Globes ceremony, The Exorcist was nominated for seven awards and brought home four including Best Picture, Best Director and acting awards for Blair and Blatty again. The film continues to grace the tops of lists of the best films of all time.

And then came its first sequel, a 1977 motion picture eventually known as Exorcist II: The Heretic. Originally envisioned as a low-budget cash-in sequel meant to simply rehash the first film with a new priest and new possessed kid, Exorcist II was budgeted at a meager $3 million. That budget did not stay so low.

Warner Bros. did not merely see dollar signs in the Exorcist sequel, but also a chance to win similar accolades and respect as compared to the first film. And, to be fair, there was a lot of potential in Exorcist II to waste.

Max von Sydow wore old-age makeup to play Father Lankester Merrin in the first film. So convincing was this makeup that the 1973 Merrin looks a hell of a lot like the von Sydow of today. In reality, von Sydow was only 48 at the time of the second film’s release, which gave the filmmakers a chance to go back and tell the tale of Merrin’s exorcism of the young boy in Africa (alluded to in the original film), with von Sydow playing to his own age.

Famed Shakespearean Thespian Sir Richard Burton was brought in to portray the new, Modern day Exorcist. The rest of the cast had more talent than you could shake a bottle of scotch at (and Burton, reportedly, repeatedly did just that). Blair was enticed to return to her role of the “dispossessed” Regan MacNeil, Louise Fletcher was signed up to play Regan’s mentor and protector, Dr. Gene Tuskin and the supporting cast included such notables as Kitty Winn, Ned Beatty, Paul Henreid (in his final performance) and even James Earl Jones made an appearance (yes, folks, that was the same year as Star Wars).

A film is only as good as its director, of course, and so the critically acclaimed and successful (still to this date) John Boorman was approached after having recently brought Deliverance (1972) squealing to the screen to much critical and audience acclaim as well as Zardoz (1974) to much critical and audience confusion. The score was even composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone.

Clearly $3 million wasn’t going to cut it, and so the budget was increased many times over the production to make sure Warners had a winner. It’s safe to say that all the ingredients for success were right there! This makes the ultimate failure of Exorcist II: The Heretic all the more of a sad disgrace, not to mention a public disappointment and even embarrassment to the studio, the cast and the crew. It’s hard to even begin to describe what all is wrong with this film, because this movie has more problems in it than a math book! (Ha, ha.)

Exorcist II: The Heretic is almost as enjoyable as having a hernia. The dialogue is goofy, the sets are obviously false, and the acting is really melodramatic. Burton often looks completely out of sorts as if he wandered onto the set and wasn’t even sure he was in the right movie. At the age of 18, Blair came off as a cross between the little Regan MacNeil and a budding sexpot (attributes Boorman exploits for the sensationalism of this film).

The “science” is far-fetched, the mysticism is buried and the tension is forced. Often, an “epic” scene of a character standing before an expansive backdrop is just that… an actor standing in front of a rear-projected image on a studio set. Warner Bros’ most expensive film to (that) date, a sequel to the highest-acclaimed horror film in history… and this is what they came up with.

With the budget finalizing at $14 million (a huge jump from the original vision), Exorcist II still managed to double its haul with over $30 million at the box office. The original Exorcist has made over $400 million against a budget of only $12 million so, by way of comparison, Exorcist II was still nothing like what the studio had hoped for.

Critically, the film fared much, much worse than it did commercially. Exorcist II has been called “the worst sequel in the history of films”, “a disaster”, a “turkey”, “a preposterous sequel”, “unintelligible”, “amazingly bad”, “extraordinarily bad”, “a stupid mess” and “one of the worst movies ever made”. Blair, the star of both this film and its iconic predecessor, even called it “one of the big disappointments of my career.” This is, mind you, the same Blair who starred in 1988’s Witchery!

The “best” (read: funniest) parts of the film can be found in the dialogue. Burton’s Father Philip Lamont informs a pilot that he had once “flown this route before. It was on the wings of a demon.” Lamont also confesses that “Pazuzu has brushed me with his wings.”, which sounds like a personal problem of some kind. While discussing the MacNeil case with his Cardinal he exclaims that “Satan has become an embarrassment!”, which I’m sure made the poor devil cry. In response, the Cardinal advises that Lamont go on a retreat to which the indignant Lamont replies “A retreat? Why not an advance?”

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Things are OK now in Exorcist II: The Heretic

Burton is far from the only actor to deliver asinine dialogue in this piece of satanic shorthand. Indeed, a list of the most hilarious lines would take up more space than The Next Reel has to offer. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you my favorite line of the entire film, which is delivered by Blair as Regan gleefully explains that “I was possessed by a demon. Oh, it’s okay, he’s gone!” Oh, goody!

The saga amazingly continued after this lamentable joke with Blatty’s own Exorcist III (1990) and two conflicting (and both underperforming) prequels Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005), none of which approached the incredible creative nadir (or all around derision) that the second film “achieved”. Shockingly, Boorman not only worked again but actually made some more acclaimed films. What the hell happened?

In spite of its tarnished legacy, The Exorcist is still an incredible film that helped “legitimize” horror and help the genre to be taken much more seriously. Even schlocky, low budget fare like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) has been re-evaluated and critically acclaimed in the years since its release.

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Can you spot the fake fin in Jaws The Revenge?

Moving up from the depths of Hell into the Deep Blue Sea, we are given the ultimate sea monster movie in 1975’s Jaws. A watershed (if you’ll pardon the pun) moment in film history, Jaws made $470 million against a $9 million budget (making it the highest-grossing movie in history, until Star Wars took that crown) and proceeded to earn several Oscar nominations including Best Picture (lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound (won) and Best Original Dramatic Score for John Williams (won). In addition, John Williams won a Grammy, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for the score.

While Steven Spielberg didn’t gain an Oscar nomination the film did propel him to Hollywood’s A-List, where he still enjoys a comfortable throne. The People’s Choice Awards, Writer’s Guild of America and others all honored Jaws and the film continues to be honored among the best films of all time, much like The Exorcist.

Unlike The Exorcist, however, Jaws managed to become among the first Summer Blockbusters for Hollywood, helping to create the current Hollywood Business model of wide-released action films around peak movie-going dates (see also Star Wars once again). Also unlike The Exorcist, the first sequel to Jaws was a critical and commercial success (although these successes didn’t come close to those of the first film). Universal Studios’ most expensive film to date, Jaws 2 (1978) made less than half of the original film’s gross, but also proved to be the highest grossing sequel of all time (well, to that point), pulling in over $187 million worldwide against a budget of $20 million.

Then, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water Universal smelled blood again and went into a sequel frenzy. In 1983, Jaws 3-D joined Amityville 3-D and Friday the 13th part 3-D as one of a slate of 1983 horror flicks shot and released in the trendy third dimension. After throwing out the original idea for a planned parody called Jaws 3 People 0, Universal brought in the writer of the first two films, Carl Gottlieb and an absolute genius of a writer named Richard Matheson.

Matheson’s many accomplishments included a novella called Duel, which led to Spielberg’s first real success in Hollywood in the 1971 film of the same name. Spielberg included many themes from Duel in his film version of Jaws. For director, the studio chose Joe Alves, second unit director for Jaws 2 and production designer for Jaws. Yes, the man who originally created “Bruce the Shark”. Could the pedigree be any better?

Unfortunately, Matheson and Gottlieb were forced to wrap their original ideas around the story written by Guerdon Trueblood, and Universal had a chum bucket full of its own demands, some of which Matheson referred to as “dumb”. Undaunted, Universal brought in script doctors to pad out the screenplay. Further, while Joe Alves was a gifted designer, he had never actually directed a film before… and he never did again. Sadly, many of these elements waterlogged the film and made it a complete mess.

The cast included Louis Gossett, Jr., Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong and Lea Thompson, but none of them could work much with the script that they had and thus the performances prove to be campy. The gimmick of 3-D worked great when I saw the film at age nine, but comes off as cheesy today. Alves milks these sequences for all they’re worth, e.g., having a fish head float in front of the screen for what feels like an eternity of screen time and throwing shark teeth at us during the congested finalé. We are also given a series of tired underwater sequences that look less like shots from a high-profile Universal Pictures release and more like something out of the 1965 Puppet TV Show, Thunderbirds.

Perhaps worst of all, while Jaws 2 attempted to go in its own direction, Jaws 3-D changed the setting to Florida’s SeaWorld and then attempted to replicate the first film’s plot as much as possible. The peaceful and fun tourist destination is soon terrorized by a killer shark of the great white breed. The park boss is determined to keep the peace, stay open, and hopefully even profit from the whole thing, while the Brody family and their allies are all about saving the day. Sound familiar?

The film received tepid reviews, though the box office take was ultimately more than four times the $20.5 million budget. Critics and audiences, however, tended to believe that Jaws 3-D was better left forgotten.

Universal Studios agreed and in some press releases actually referred to 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge as the “third film of the remarkable Jaws trilogy”. While hardly accurate, this claim seemed to agree with the screenplay as the events of Jaws 3-D are completely ignored and the fourth film proceeded with its own post-Jaws 2 continuity. The cast was graced by the return of Loraine Gary (who starred in the first film) along with up-and-comers Lance Guest and Mario Van Peebles, not to mention the popular and acclaimed actor Michael Caine as Gary’s love interest.

Seasoned director Joseph Sargent was brought in to helm the picture at a time when there was no screenplay and Henry Millar was given the vast task of creating the special effects. An excited Sargent referred to the upcoming movie as “a ticking bomb waiting to go off”. He was right about the “bomb” part.

Jaws: The Revenge managed the seemingly impossible task of making Jaws 3-D look like a pretty good movie by comparison. As bad as the underwater sequences of the third film were, those of the fourth are completely laughable including, but not limited to, a Tom and Jerry-style chase between the shark and Guest’s character through a shipwreck. The acting is goofy, the situations are senseless, and Sargent’s use of slow-motion aids in removing any suspension of disbelief and proving how bad the special effects are.

At one point the shark (who, in this story, tracked Lorraine Gary’s character from Amity Island to the Bahamas… for “revenge”) actually bites into a wooden dock and draws blood from it. The Dock Bleeds! Doesn’t that sound like a bad horror movie title in itself?

At another point the shark attacks tourists on a banana boat. In that scene stuntwoman Diane Hetfield is shown to slowly and carefully place her right leg into the fake shark’s mouth, then carefully get a good grip in two places for the slow-motion ride down to the water. It’s about as scary as an episode of Teletubbies, but without the nuanced and mature storytelling.

Splash image from Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

And It Just Gets Worse

The special effects are the worst, considering the fact that they are neither special, nor effective. While the original Jaws enhanced the terror by leaving the stalking shark unseen for much of the movie, Jaws: The Revenge does the opposite, focusing on the fake beast so much that it’s impossible to believe that the shark is real with its rubber stretch marks and visible mechanics.

When the shark is seen “swimming” over the ocean floor, we see the rig it’s attached to so clearly that this might as well have been a spoof. The rusty arm connecting the shark to the rig is also easily seen in multiple shots protruding from its rubbery underbelly. When the shark opens its maw to attack Guest, the air bladders inserted there for the opening are clearly visible and look like “Bruce the Shark” was caught chewing gum in class. The air hoses that filled those balloons are also very clearly visible onscreen.

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The shark reveals his air bladder innards in Jaws: The Revenge

At other times the shark opens its jaws wide to show the robotic insides to the camera and when the mouth closes, the upper jaw bounces on the lower jaw, limply. At one point the iconic shark fin breaks the surface of the water, just as it does in the other films, but here any audience member can see that this is literally just the disembodied shark fin with the edges of this plastic model clearly shown as broken off just under the crest.

On-Location shots from the Bahamas shoot are intercut with shots filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood’s “Fall’s Lake”, a large water tank with a painted backdrop. There’s no mistaking this as a painted backdrop, either, as there are visible vertical paint lines and the audience can clearly see where the water ends and the “horizon” begins. The “ocean” splashes against the wall visibly, making these scenes look like they were shot in a swimming pool. The dye in the water is clearly visible (and stains Caine’s shirt at one point), making these sequences look like something out of Cool World.

The funniest and saddest part of the entire film comes in the finalé, which makes that of Jaws 3-D look like a masterpiece of American Cinema (by comparison only). The shark breaches the surface of the water and impales itself on the ship’s prow… and then explodes about 20 times. As improbable as the impalement is, this scene is vastly superior to the actual exploding shark scene. The obvious exploding model looks nothing like the impaled shark and the filmmakers didn’t even care enough to make the boat look the same. In fact, the front of the ship is completely split off from the rest of the boat in some sequences.

The shark looks like a jigsaw puzzle put together with pennies over its eyes (did Mario want to keep its soul from escaping?). Millar simply blew up the shark, put it back together and did it a few more times. Most tellingly, though, is where the shark has just breached the surface — the water surrounding the model is gentle and still.

At $23 million, Jaws: The Revenge was the most expensive film in the saga, yet it brought home the least amount of money at just under $52 million worldwide. The film’s tagline, “This Time it’s Personal”, has become a Hollywood punchline. Universal abandoned the series two movies too late.

This wasn’t the first time Universal laid a giant Turkey egg with the third entry into a horror franchise. But to properly set this one up, let’s roll on back to the original Halloween. Universal was one of many distribution companies to pass on John Carpenter’s genre-defining slasher flick back in the late ’70s. When Halloween was released the week before its namesake red letter day in 1978, the little film that cost $325,000 became a surprise success and while some critics lambasted the film, the majority lauded it with praise, comparing Carpenter’s work favorably with Alfred Hitchcock’s more terrifying films. Roger Ebert listed it among his top ten films of 1978 and in the years since, Halloween has been re-evaluated as a critical darling.

With a take of $70 million against that small budget, Universal stepped up to the plate to distribute the 1981 sequel, Halloween II (as directed by Rick Rosenthal) which continued the story from the first film. Much like Jaws 2, Halloween II failed to garner the critical praise or box office receipts of its predecessor, but it did manage to be, overall, well-reviewed and very profitable, to boot. Thus, a second sequel was planned for Universal’s distribution.

Also like the Jaws saga, the third film in the Halloween series was really, really bad. Believing that the story of serial killer Michael Myers had run its course, producers Debra Hill and Carpenter wanted the future of the series to rely on one-off scary movies rather than a continuing saga. Thus, to distance this third film from the first two, we are actually shown a preview for the first movie on a television in a bar (thus proving that the third film cannot possibly take place in the same universe as its predecessors).

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Possessed by pumpkin in Halloween III: Season of the Witch

In truth, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) features no serial killers or slashers of any kind. Instead, it features killer Halloween masks (that seem to teleport snakes and bugs into them for the murdering of children) and an army of robots that methodically attack their victims even after the robots have been decapitated. At one point there is even a laser battle. I wish I was kidding.

Still, this could have been somewhat interesting, or at least not condemnable, had the film been any good. It’s not. Almost every time it starts to get to the point where we might actually become engrossed in the film, director Tommy Lee Wallace throws in something corny like… oh, like a human decapitation scene that shows just how much the producers invested in latex. Seriously, could the special effects look a little more fake, please? I was just getting to the point where I could almost tell the robots from the real people… making a real person look faker than Michael Jackson’s nose blissfully confuses me all over again. Folks, that’s not “good” suspension of disbelief.

In the end, writer Nigel Kneale sued to have his name taken off of this farce, critics and audiences hated the film in unison, and the plight of Irish Americans was set back by a good 25 years. Although the film made over $14 million against a $2.5 million budget, this was only slightly more than half of the previous film’s take (with the same budget) and Universal dropped the series like a hot Halloween mask. But, hey, the studio did go on to make Jaws 3-D the very next year, for what that’s worth.

Not to pick on Universal, but sadly, its destruction of the Jaws and Halloween sagas is not the end of the studio’s sequel crimes (although, admittedly, the Halloween movies after Season of the Witch didn’t help much, either). Way back in 1963, Universal was riding yet another successful wave of classic horror films thanks, in no small part, to the fact that Hitchcock made so many movies on its lot including, but not limited to, the unmitigated classic, Psycho (1960).

In 1963, Universal backed Hitchcock in another tale of terror called The Birds in which our fine feathered friends inexplicably go mad and turn on humanity with a bloody vengeance. Under the hand of any less skilled director, such a premise would have come off as ridiculous and unintentionally funny, yet Hitchcock was a master storyteller and truly made this film terrifying.

Special effects creator Ub Iwerks was honored with an Oscar nomination and star Tipi Hedren won a Golden Globe for her performance in the film. The Birds was a box office success, pulling in over $11 million against a budget of $3.3 million, and it continues to be lauded to this day.

Thirty-one years later, a sequel was released by Universal Studios directly to television. Tipi Hedren was enticed to return and TV stars like James Naughton and Brad Johnson led the cast. Universal even hired Rick Rosenthal (director of Halloween II) to infuse some horror into this promising sequel.

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Very bad birds, in so many ways, in The Birds II: Land’s End

Sadly, The Birds II: Land’s End (1994) failed to deliver on its promise, and proved to be not only one of the worst sequels to a good movie of all time, not only one of the worst sequels of all time, but it’s up there with Jaws: The Revenge and Exorcist II: The Heretic as one of the worst movies made, ever.

Birds II features avian warriors strategically causing explosions as they methodically attempt to wipe out all humanity on their island of “Land’s End” (“LL Bean” wasn’t available for a subtitle). When explosives aren’t available, the birds rip people’s eyes out in unconvincing special effects. A lame “love triangle” sub-plot between Chelsea Field’s character and those of Naughton and Johnson is shoved into this turkey like a meat thermometer.

Tipi Hedren’s appearance is less “cameo” than “painful insult”, as the actress doesn’t even play the same character that she did in the original film. She is pointlessly shoved into the cast haphazardly just so that The Birds II: Land’s End could advertise her returning presence. She and the rest of the cast deliver their lines flatly, run around screaming and perform goofy reaction shots that look like they belong in a Halloween-themed episode of The Monkees.

Needless to say, nobody particularly liked this movie, and they would have liked it even less had they had to pay to see it in a theatre as opposed to tuning in on cable television. Hedren has gone on to say that the film “embarrasses me horribly”, while director Rick Rosenthal had his name taken off of the film completely in favor of the notorious director pseudonym “Alan Smithee”.

While this next film is certainly debatable as to whether it truly is a “great” (or some would say even “good”) film, there are two undeniable facts about Basic Instinct. 1. It was a wildly successful film that spawned one of the worst and most financially disappointing sequels of all time and 2. it was not made by Universal Studios.

The suspense thriller Basic Instinct (1992) gained controversy before it was released due to its graphic sexuality and the supposed negative depiction of homosexuals (i.e., the bisexual was believed to be the killer). Controversy is, of course, free publicity, so the film did remarkably well. With stars like Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, the successful writer Joe Eszterhas and popular director Paul Verhoeven, audiences were willing to take the risk to find out what they might see on screen for the first time.

It turned out that audiences saw quite a lot, especially when it comes to the film’s two leads, and while critical response was mixed (some considered it to be a waste of time, some went as far as to compare it to Hitchcock), the film was an undeniable financial success, earning over $350 million against a $49 million budget, increasing the star power of Douglas and Verhoeven and propelling Stone to the A-List.

Stone went on to make a string of successful films (many of which saw her fully clothed throughout their runtime) and Eszterhas and Verhoeven later collaborated on the ridiculously bad Showgirls (1995). Meanwhile, the long promised sequel had languished in development hell after the collapse of Carolco Pictures.

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Sharon Stone is a little less revealing, but no less provocative, in Basic Instinct 2

By the time Carolco’s successor C2 was ready to move forward with Basic Instinct 2, Douglas was no longer interested in the project, believing himself to be too old at age 61. Slated director John McTiernan dropped out of Basic Instinct 2 after Douglas’ departure and instead made the vastly differently named film Basic (2003). Thus, Stone sued the producers for breach of contract. The lawsuit was settled in 2004 and production moved forward on the film at last. Stone badly needed a hit, considering the fact that her most high-profile recent film was the Razzie Award-winning Catwoman (2004).

I mention all of the hurdles that went into the pre-production of this film because the final film that we now know as Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction was hardly worth the wait until its 2006 release. Let’s not forget that while Douglas’ character described Stone’s own (somewhat crudely) as “The fuck of the century”… that, my friends, was a different century.

Whereas the first film was often so suspenseful that it borderlined on actual horror, the sequel was so formulaic and forced that it borderlined on unintentional comedy. Stone’s obligatory sex scenes are shoehorned into a plot reminiscent of a lame TV movie of the week (on par with Birds II). Stone, who clearly had work done, could still act, but once-acclaimed director Michael Caton-Jones clearly didn’t care much for (or, perhaps, didn’t have time for) retakes, because every scene feels like a first try. Every word is delivered in an attempt to be sexy and dangerous to the point that the film feels like one of the many spoofs of Basic Instinct than a legitimate sequel. Male co-star David Morrissey, meanwhile, is every bit as smooth, suave and classy as “Lumpy” from Leave It to Beaver! The ending even felt like the director hated the audience enough to want to leave them feeling angry and ripped off.

And thus, the sequel that, oh, almost five people were demanding, died on the vine critically. Financially the film did even worse, pulling in $38.5 million against a $70 million budget. Not only did it not make its budget back, it didn’t even make back the budget of its predecessor from 14 years prior. Yes, folks, this was a bigger critical and financial disappointment than even Catwoman.

For all the career revitalization the film did for Stone, she might as well have gone back to star in King Solomon’s Mines III: The Revenge of Jesse Huston. Still, Stone has lobbied for a third film (which was cancelled after the second film’s abject failure). The actress, who was 48 at the time of the second film’s release, claims she would not appear in the film but hopes to direct. Apparently she is actually serious.

Sagas that started with some of the most horrific and suspenseful films ever to be critically acclaimed and successful somehow have gone on to create sequels that rank among the most rank and pitiful. Sadly, these franchises are far from alone, and horror and suspense are hardly the only genres that go on to churn out terrible sequels. Tune in to the next Next Reel and watch the list expand. I’ll see you then.

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