Sequels no one asked for

Happy 2021. Apropos of noth— Who am I kidding, apropos of this here’s a post about the sequels that no one really wanted making but which happened anyway.

Carrie is a pretty iconic film, based on a Stephen King book. Outcast bullied girl has superpowers; things look up for a bit, but it’s a prank involving pig’s blood; girl goes on a rampage, killing her tormentors, herself, and destroying the school. A storyline that launched a million other teen horror franchises.

Carrie was allowed to rest in her grave for 22 years before Carrie 2: The Rage arrived. An awkward, bullied teenager finds that she has superpowers; things look up for a bit… Stop me when you’ve heard this one before.

Fortunately, the ‘90s – that era of postmodern nods and winks at viewers who had watched enough teenagers breaking into the abandoned fairground to see a trope coming a mile off – furnished us with the rules of horror sequels via the medium of Scream 2:

  • The body count is always bigger

  • The death scenes are more elaborate

  • And never, ever, under any circumstances assume the killer is dead

Rules which were carried (if you’ll excuse the pun) through to the execrable Scream TV series. While Carrie 2 had the good grace to shoehorn in a bit-part actress from the original for a different bit-part – and takes the effort to flag this fact, as if to say ‘See, totally a sequel’ – Scream has no such concerns. There are references to a series of killings twenty years ago, but those are quickly forgotten about as various 30-year-olds-playing-college-teenagers get offed in various elaborate and gory ways.

By the end of Season 2, the recurring cast of the TV series appear in a pastiche of a vintage lake-house Halloween horror.

Of course, the problem is when stories that are designed as one-offs prove to be more successful than anticipated. They are created as bubbles – self-contained worlds where the majority of conflicts are neatly resolved. Scriptwriters, under pressure from profit-driven studios, are left with three options:

  1. Work out what happens with the remaining characters after the events of the first story

  2. Tell the backstory of the characters or world

  3. Do the same thing again, but with different characters, and perhaps make it a bit extra.

Sometimes writers will try to combine options. Donnie Darko was a low-key indie hit – quirky, great soundtrack, a couple of stars beginning their late-stage careers, and the launch vehicle for Jake and Maggie Gyllanhaall. S. Darko followed eight years later, with Donnie’s sister retreading much of the same territory as the first film.

Sometimes a film that is languishing in production will find itself attached to a franchise, becoming a sequel in name only. Before Lost (but after Alias), JJ Abrams produced Cloverfield, a mash-up between Blair Witch and Godzilla that proved an unlikely breakout hit. In 2016, 10 Cloverfield Lane was released, a sequel of sorts, set in the same universe. Except, it was only in production that the film became part of the franchise of one. The same production-stage shoehorning also turned God Particle about face to become The Cloverfield Paradox. The secret recipe for converting standalones into a Cloverfield film? Just add aliens.

(Speaking of Blair Witch, can you believe that there have been three films in the franchise since the first was released in 1999? The latest being in 2016? And that there was a Blair Witch video game in 2019?)

The lesson, then, in creating a sequel that no one wants is as follows:

  • It must reprise elements that are distinctive to the franchise…

  • … but those elements must be embraced with a kind of extremist fervour, they must be slightly different, kind of extra, utterly shoehorned…

  • … and we must either relearn the lessons from the original, or have those lessons undermined in such a way as to make the original unnecessary.

So, with that in mind, I’m off to hoard some loo roll, tend to my sourdough starter, bang some saucepans on my doorstep in a quasi-religious fervour in lieu of demanding pay rises for NHS staff and key workers, and continually forget to take myself off mute.

Backlist

  • In stark contrast, the sequel that absolutely everybody does want is slated to arrive this year… provided the Covid doesn’t get in the way. That’s right: Paddington 3! And here’s the Hugh Grant song-and-dance number in all its glory, which is just worth watching because.

  • Speed 2 was an unnecessary sequel. Yet, it inspired Speed 3, which must be one of the best episodes of Father Ted. So, for fans of milk-float-accelerator-based-peril, here’s some high octane action on Craggy Island.

  • Alien 3 would have been the last in the Alien franchise, had it not been for Alien: Resurrection, Prometheus, and Alien Covenant (not to count the Alien vs Predator spin-offs). I remember quite liking the film, but I’m very much in the minority with that opinion. The script was reworked many times before production, including a full treatment by William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, which ultimately influenced The Matrix (and its own unnecessary sequels). The Gibson script for Alien 3 has now been turned into an audio drama, good news if you’ve ever wanted to relive an alternative 1992.

Fin

Like Arnie in The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and Terminator: Genisys (but not Terminator: Salvation) I will be back next week with more distractions. Want more niche jokes?

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And if there’s anything distracting or diverting you’d like to recommend, let me know.