So moving on from features which go in new and humorous directions with the follow up story, it's time to take a look at those inevitable sequels - ones which follow popular or acclaimed releases. With so many book franchises lined up it should be easy not to screw things up that much, right? After all a cash grab rehash is a rare occurance... yeah. Sarcasm and cynicism aside, the lineup we have here doesn't ever get too ridiculous although the results do vary wildly at times. It's interesting that they all use that old trick of delaying the story for a few years to go off on new tangents and recast certain characters. Some might actually be good, which is just a crazy idea. Let's take a look...
Kicking things off Damien: Omen II does trip and stumble a little, and it's not just because of that awkward wording in the title of the film. Richard Donner's first evil child outing still holds up as a tense and atmospheric shocker, with uneasy build ups in the dark room scenes, a moment with some sheets of glass as well as the worst children's party ever amongst others. A real classic, ripe for a sequel. This time around things seem a little tame and all but one of the victims who fall into the Satanic plot go out in ways that don't have the same kind of bite. The film as a whole isn't necessarily poor but it just seems rather pedestrian, vehicle accidents and icy lakes all lack that punch. Knowing there's a third part doesn't help either I suppose but the same could be said of other series.
The Beast himself as a teenager never has the kind of creepy edge which came with his portrayal as a child though the performance isn't too bad. It just worked better when he had that butter-wouldn't-melt look on his face. The plot itself is fine setting up Damien's rise to power through economic means as Thorne Industries agricultural program moves into questionable new directions and the allies of evil reveal themselves. Scenes involving an ancient painting showing the Anti-Christ begin to seem a little ridiculous with people declaring the 'boy must die' immediately on seeing it, and while the whole thing starts to feel a little Final Destination in places. It's watchable overall but nothing special.
While the Omen series follows the original stories as far as I'm aware, Psycho II drops the novel entirely which was deemed the time not to be commercial enough. It works better than you'd expect though, with direct shots lifted from the Hitchcock classic and transferred into high contrast 80s colour and accompanied by an appropriate Jerry Goldsmith score. The big factor in this is Anthony Perkins, who remains as likeable as ever in his performance as a cured Norman Bates. I have heard Christopher Walken was considered and this might all have been a... rather different made for TV movie. After being deemed not responsible for all those murders he's released from care - in the face of protests in the court room. But not to worry a doctor will turn up at the motel when he feels like it for a couple minutes of chit chat, what can go wrong?
It's a very eyebrow raising setup to say the least in terms of psychiatric help, but it means that Norman is out in the real word. Is he still crazy or are there vengeful parties out to get him put back inside? That basic premise gets this all moving, and to be fair it's a decent enough plot which works thanks to a lot of slowly paced suspense scenes that at least try to emulate the first film's style. Let's be honest people watching want him to go to pieces in a twisted way, which adds to this. It's not a great success by any means but I'd still call it a fair effort. Adding to this a sleazy new owner to the Bates Motel (does Dennis Franz play jerks or jerk cops in every film?) and some odd goings in the basement and other rooms of that house on the hill, it's an entertaining mystery thriller.
Dracula Prince of Darkness on the other hand is more selective with the source material, but still a pretty loose adaptation. A few moments have been taken straight from Bram Stoker including a bug eating hospital patient and Dracula's method of turning his victims via his own blood. This isn't really saying much since in the whole course of Hammer's vampire franchise scenes like this which use the novel directly have been fleeting. The story itself follows up years on from the original (like all those featured in here) allowing for them to come up with a new story in a time when vampires are seen as superstition. But as ever more people visit the Count's castle, another vampire killer has to get to work, and more red paint is spilled.
They make an odd choice to include flashbacks of Peter Cushing in the climax of the first film, since this shows the kind of energy which has been lost here. They do have Andrew Keir from the movie version of Quatermass and the Pit at least, doing his part as a stoic priest reluctant to believe that evil has returned and getting odd looks from the local villagers who don't appreciate is attitude. Elsewhere familiar faces from Rasputin the Mad Monk do a fair job as visitors to vampire country, though if you've ever watched this double feature the reused elements are a bit distracting. The problems of this series remain - Dracula is less a character and simply a monster - but while it's not great this is probably the last sequel to be of any merit until Scars of Dracula which ditches any continuity.
Ending this on a higher note, The Exorcist III sticks more closely to the original book. Legion was written as a murder mystery complete with a detective hero who briefly appeared in The Exorcist. After talks with John Carpenter, William Peter Blatty decided to direct it himself. I'd have liked to see Carpenter's version. But on the subject of different versions, studio interference meant the story name was changed and additional footage was added so it would be more in line with that new title. But knowing they had stuck their oar in it has to be said nearly everything here works, which is more of a shock than some of the jump scares here. Yes there are jarring moments when a priest arrives to excise evil raising a lot of questions of how and why, but this is still a very sinister and creepy piece of work on the whole. It looks great and has some effective set pieces, and not just the blood soaked moments as a dream sequence shows. As a horror feature it's got a lot to like.
The rest of it works pretty well just as a film. George C. Scott as the protagonist investigates the possible return of a serial killer from many years prior, leading him to a mystery patient at the local hospital 'high security' ward. His performance is a bit over done but it's a good character. The dialogue between his friends and the hospital staff is really fun too, with plenty of dry humour and cynical quips. The best stuff is courtesy of "Patient X" played by Brad Douriff, who gives a great turn as usual. Their battle of wits has a lot of tension to it well before the supernatural craziness starts to be introduced. I hate to say this but some parts have aged better than the original film, and while some parts can be shelved under rehash easily what works is the new direction as a hunt the killer plot.
(PART 1) (PART 3) (BONUS)