Horror does sequels better than any other genre. The expansion of pre-established universes and characters is much more creative than critics may admit and one of the most creative forms of expansion is The Prequel.
Prequels provide us with origin stories of monsters, the birth of curses, the outbreak of viruses, the start of killers’ careers, and so on. They pull us into stories and universes that we have already become close to, and force us to become more invested in them by keeping us on the journey longer. The prequel is a tight rope of a storytelling device that can either create interesting additions to a series of films, or kill entire franchises. Here are 10 of the greatest horror movie prequels the genre has given us.
10. Leatherface (2017)
While Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) probably didn’t need another prequel, French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo gave us one. Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has spawned an entire franchise of sequels, including another prequel prior to Leatherface. The original film had a big impact on the horror genre, specifically within the slasher sub-genre. It introduced several tropes that still appear in films today. It also introduced us to a very unforgettable and disturbing character: Leatherface.
Leatherface shows us how Leatherface became Leatherface. The movie takes us all the way back to his childhood where we also meet his savage family. He spends time in an institution and eventually escapes along with a nurse and two other patients. The trip that follows this escape results in plenty of violent murders that we expect from movies in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. Leatherface may rely a little too heavily on tropes at times, but it is an interesting film simply because we are shown the birth of the infamous monster. The prequel also earns points for keeping the spirit of gore alive within a series of films that does gore better than almost any other.
9. Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)
Alfred Hitchcocks’s iconic psychological horror film Psycho (1960) is frequently considered one of his best and received Academy Awards nominations in Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography (Black and White), and Best Art Direction (Black and White). Beyond that recognition, it formed a template that slasher films have been using for decades and features one of the best-known scenes in all of cinema. I think you know which one I’m talking about. Psycho follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who, after stealing money from her employer, flees to a quiet motel owned and managed by a sick young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).
Psycho IV: The Beginning was directed by Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers) and written by original Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano. In writing the script for this made-for-television prequel, Stefano interestingly ignores the two sequels that followed the original 1960 film. However, like the all three previous films, Anthony Perkins reprises his role of Norman Bates. This prequel finally reveals to us why Norman’s relationship with his mother was so strange and complicated. We also get to sit in on the inception of Norman “becoming” his mother, Norma, after he murders her. While it is a bit disappointing that Psycho IV: The Beginning does not take into its account the Psycho mythology that had been established, Mick Garris’ vision of the beginning of this surreal story and deranged killer is definitely amusing and is worth the watch.
8. Cube Zero (2004)
Cube, directed by Vincenzo Natali followed as a group of strangers struggling to survive after waking in a mysterious maze of cube-shaped rooms. No one in the groups knows why they have been placed in the lethal labyrinth, but they realize very quickly that they are going to have to work together if they want to make it out alive. The film was shot in Toronto over just 20 days, on a single 14′ x 14′ set for a budget of $365,000. Cube grossed over $560,000 at the box-office in a limited release and spawned 2 sequels, including Cube Zero.
Cube Zero is the only film of the Cube series to be set both inside and outside “The Cube”. The cube is an amazing visual in all three films, but it may look its freshest and its sharpest in this prequel. Breaking the rules set out by the previous films, the third installment is surprisingly more sinister than its predecessors. We’re given a peak into some of the enigma that is The Cube and its role, while still keeping us in the dark about about the inner workings of the creators and their motivations, a choice the franchise has continued (thankfully!) to make. Despite being the third installment in a wonderfully independent horror franchise, Cube Zero remains a fantastic horror film and a pretty awesome prequel.
7. Final Destination 5 (2011)
The first entry in the Final Destination franchise began as writer Jefferey Reddick’s spec script for an episode of the X-Files. When he was convinced to write it as a full-length film, X-Files writers James Wong and Glen Morgan jumped on board to rewrite and direct the film. Final Destination (2000) was a financial success and began a series of films that would go on to create some of the best death scenes in horror. All five movies in the series follow a similar formula: the main character gets a premonition that something they’re about to do is going to turn into a catastrophe with a lot of people dying. In a panic, they warn everyone and stay away from whatever incident they saw in their premonition. When those horrific incidents end up happening, all of the people the main character saved start dying one-by-one as death seeks to fulfill its mission.
The Final Destination franchise made it five films deep and despite there being poor writing and acting at times throughout its run, it has remained an entertaining film series nonetheless. Final Destination 5 is the prequel to Final Destination and, like the other films of the series, contains A LOT of imaginative death scenes. The fifth installment is also the only of the franchise to earn a majority of positive reviews, and it definitely deserves them, especially with the best effects of the five movies in the series. The opening major catastrophe looks incredibly real and horrifying which beautifully sets up the rest of the gory and entertaining death scenes. The film then seamlessly connects itself to the rest of the series by revealing to us the steps that lead to Flight 180’s explosion, which began this entire nightmare.
6. Annabelle: Creation (2017)
The Conjuring‘s release in 2013 was a major financial success and received fairly positive reviews all around. This success has now turned in a franchise comprised of five films with more on the way. The Conjuring tells the story of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) helping a family who are suffering from a witch’s curse. The curse has caused the mother in the family to become possessed and the Warrens are forced to perform an exorcism. In The Conjuring, we are introduced to the possessed doll Annabelle.
Annabelle: Creation shows us Annabelle’s creator, a dollmaker named Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia). Mullins and his wife are grieving the death of their daughter, Annabelle, who died at the age of seven. Twelve years later, the couple opens their house to a nun and six young girls who have all been left homeless due to their orphanage’s closing. This sparks a wave of demonic activity that begins terrorizing the girls in the house. While 2014’s Annabelle did not do well critically, this prequel both did well financially and critically. The film is a strong addition to the universe, adding more layers to the evil that has remained scary for several films now.
5. The First Purge (2018)
The idea of a future America that has reduced all manner of crime to a holiday, is legal came to James DeMonaco after a road rage incident. This idea bloomed into The Purge (2013) however, James DeMonaco built upon that interesting concept with three more movies that continued to outperform each other. Each movie follows a set characters as they attempt to survive the night. The sequels allowed audiences to explore this twisted vision of America before seeing where it all begun.
The First Purge drops us into early days of the New Founding Father’s takeover of America’s. The Purge planted this seed by presenting us all with a very interesting concept for a story: what would happen if all crime, including murder, was legal for one day a year? The First Purge is the gratifying unveiling of the early stages of that Purge night that we’ve become too familiar within the films that proceeded it.
4. Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)
The Insidious film series couldn’t exist without Leigh Whannell (Saw, Upgrade), who wrote all four films. Each follows a character who has somehow gotten lost in the supernatural realm, “The Further”. After tragedy befalls the Lambert family Parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is called in to help the family get their son back from this other dimension, safe and sound.
Insidious: Chapter 3 brings us back to Elise’s early years, and shows us how she overcame her own hauntings to save a teenage girl. Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2 both created a unique dimension with The Further and introduced us to some very strange and very terrifying supernatural forces.
3. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Paranormal Activity (2007) is an effective found footage horror film that began the construction of an intricate and intense storyline. Paranormal Activity 3 brings us back all the way to Katie and her sister Kristi’s childhood, revealing to us the beginning of the terrifying hauntings that were caught on film in Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 (2010). It is obvious that the series had an impact on the horror genre because the hunger for more caused Paranormal Activity 3 to set a new financial record by earning $8 million, making it the highest midnight opening of a horror film. The film also set the record for best opening day for a horror film in the United States by earning $26.2 million.
The first installment of this franchise was as compelling as it was due to its ability to be scary while being very simple. By the third film, they strayed from this tactic a little bit by making the scary moments a bit more visible. Paranormal Activity 3 is still chilling and impressively continues telling the story of these two women by showing the beginning of their relationship with the demon. The girl’s mom’s boyfriend, Dennis, sets up cameras in the house after concerns about strange happenings in the house and these cameras are what allow us to see Kristi’s frightening early friendship with “Toby”.
2. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Paranormal Activity 2 takes place only two months before the events that we watched unfold in Paranormal Activity. This time, we get to see what strange things have been happening at Kristi’s house. This second installment also allows us to see exactly why the terrible things started happening to Katie in the first film so abruptly. In the film, Kristi and her family begin seeing and hearing strange things in the house after Kristi’s baby, Hunter, has been born. Kristi’s stepdaughter, Ali, starts to notice strange things also happening with Kristi herself, which she explains to her father and backs it up with footage of the incidents from their security cameras and which causes them to take action against this demon immediately.
While Paranormal Activity 3 explains the genesis of the possession, the second film gives us almost immediate answers to why the first film took place at all, which makes it a very enjoyable prequel. Paranormal Activity 2 also introduces us to the format of watching the hauntings happen through security cameras. Like Paranormal Activity, this prequel ends with an intense and shocking conclusion. This ending goes on to set up the continuation of the story, which we got to see more of in Paranormal Activity 4 (2012).
1. Red Dragon (2002)
Silence of the Lambs (1991) made its mark on not just the horror genre, but on filmmaking in general. In this film, we see Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), an FBI trainee, being assigned to interview cannibal and former psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) where he is incarcerated. Dr. Lecter’s assistance is sought in order to gain knowledge on how to find a current serial killer, “Buffalo Bill“. Silence of the Lambs, with its $19 million budget, became the fifth-highest grossing film of 1991 worldwide by earning $272.7 million. It also went on to become only the third film to win in the top five categories of the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Ten years later, a sequel was released titled Hannibal (2001) and a year later, a prequel was also released titled Red Dragon. This wonderful prequel uncovers how Dr. Hannibal Lecter was caught and sentenced, which involved him almost killing the agent who had discovered his secret. Red Dragon introduces us to this FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) who caught Dr. Hannibal, and sets us on course to follow him while he attempts to catch another serial killer. Unfortunately, he finds himself, again, in need of assistance from the good doctor. Like the first two films of this series, Red Dragon is extremely creepy and dramatic and full of wonderful writing and astounding acting, making it fit in perfectly with this incredible series of movies.