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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.