October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article, about the best sophomore horror movies, is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
A first attempt at something is rarely easy. You’re inexperienced and generally have no idea what you’re doing, and the results can be messy as you stumble and fumble your way to completion. At the same time, the expectations are typically low. Simply finishing can be a triumph in many ways. But what happens if your first time goes really well? How do you follow that up?
For filmmakers that achieve success on their first go-around, whether modest or massive, few films can be more difficult than the one that comes next. A young filmmaker coming off a successful debut desperately wants to avoid the sophomore slump, and once you’ve proven yourself as skilled you’re saddled with expectations. No filmmaker ever wants to be viewed as a one-trick pony.
Today’s entry into our beloved 31 Days of Horror Lists series focuses on sophomore horror efforts by those directors that delivered good to great movies with their first two tries at feature horror. We’re focused on horror to horror, so directors that didn’t start in the genre or jumped around a lot before returning don’t count. Also directors and movies we don’t like don’t count either. It’s our list and our rules. If you don’t like it, you know where to find us (Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell, Kieran Fisher, Rob Hunter, Valerie Ettenhofer, and myself). Boo Crew out.
10. The Devil’s Candy (2015)
The Loved Ones was always going to be a tough act to follow for Sean Byrne. Successfully combining teen and horror movie tropes to demented effect, the movie is a twisted masterpiece that ranks among the very best of the 21st century so far. Most directors would be happy with that achievement, but The Devil’s Candy proves that Byrne is no one-hit-wonder.
The Loved Ones is all about ferocious bloodletting, dark comedy, and tasty twists. The Devil’s Candy, meanwhile, is more concerned with pummeling the viewer with dread and atmosphere. Of course, it’s still a Byrne movie, which means it’s still pretty messed up at points. In the span of two movies, he has proven to be a complete horror maverick. Whether he’s unleashing the gore or trying to creep into your bones, Byrne’s movies are capable of disturbing the viewer in various ways. I hope he makes another one soon. (Kieran Fisher)
9. Child’s Play (1988)
Tom Holland made his directorial debut with 1985’s Fright Night. The result was just one of the most beloved cult classics of the 80s. No big deal. Holland spent the next two years directing an episode of Amazing Stories and helming the Whoopi Goldberg/Sam Elliott action/comedy, Fatal Beauty. In 1988, he finally returned with a sophomore horror feature, this time partnering with Don Mancini on Child’s Play.
Is Child’s Play a better movie than Fight Night? That’s up for debate and depends on who you ask. But it did help further cement Holland’s place in the genre. With Child’s Play, Holland helped usher in a new horror icon in Chucky and launch a franchise that is still thriving more than thirty years later. Hard to ask for more than that. (Chris Coffel)
8. The House of the Devil (2009)
Ti West’s 2005 horror debut, The Roost, is a meta B-movie homage that features feral bats and garnered mixed reviews. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, but if it’s a love letter to horror eras past, it’s one that’s scribbled on a cheap postcard. His second foray into the genre, The House of The Devil, is also a low-budget ‘70s and ‘80s throwback, but this love letter is written on luxe stationery with a pen that glides effortlessly across the page.
Just as The Roost paid respect to the TV movie format, The House of The Devil is authentically built to call to mind the movies that inspired its creator, complete with 16mm film and extended opening credits. Despite only being West’s sophomore horror feature, this terrorized-babysitter thriller presents the sure hand of a seasoned director, orchestrating slow-burn tension and genuine scares on par with the classics it emulates. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
7. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Jack Arnold had something of a meandering path to Creature From the Black Lagoon. After spearheading some (very square) documentaries and industrial films he joined Universal Studios, where he began making (very hip) B-films like Girls in the Night and, more to the point, It Came From Outer Space: a sci-fi horror-ish film about two nerds who witness a meteorite that is, in fact, a spacecraft full of shape-shifting aliens. It Came From Outer Space is very much of its era; an archetypical piece of 50s sci-fi with all the 3-D gimmickry we’ve come to associate with the period. But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as shlock; this is a film that hints at a filmmaker more thoughtful and less fear-mongering than your average B-Movie director.
The following year, when Universal offered Arnold Creature From The Black Lagoon, his goal was not to dredge up some shambling monstrosity with his sophomore horror effort but to conjure up a sense of dread. And as anyone who’s seen the film will testify, Arnold absolutely succeeded, crafting a true anomaly within the Universal monster canon and ’50s sci-fi more broadly: something more accusatory, human, and self-reflexive. (Meg Shields)
6. The Blob (1988)
How do you follow up on your debut film when your debut film is the best entry in a popular horror franchise? Chuck Russell decided to look to the past. Coming straight off directing A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the film that most accurately captures the horror and wit of Freddy Krueger, Russell stepped behind the camera for a remake of 1958’s The Blob. With modern technology on his side, Russell was able to elevate the campy sci-fi cheese of the original to a true work of horror with some of the decade’s best practical effects. Russell’s respect and love for the original shine through, but he makes necessary changes that create a different, and better film.
Instead of the monstrous goop being from Outerspace, Russell’s gelatinous creature is biological warfare gone wrong. Our always trusty government thought they could launch the slime into space and be done with it, but now it’s back and the people are screwed. Come to think of it, The Blob is pretty relevant. Chuck Russell for President? (Chris Coffel)