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?"
Things are OK now in Exorcist II: The Heretic
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.
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)