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10 Fantastic Horror Films That Avoid the Sophomore Slump

You never forget your second.
Sophomore Horror Movies
By  · Published on October 25th, 2020

5. Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs sophomore horror

The New French Extremity movement of the 21st century’s first decade resulted in more than a few bloody gems, but Pascal Laugier‘s Martyrs remains the best, most effective, and most memorable. As a follow-up to his debut, Saint Ange (2004), it was both to be expected and an ambitious upgrade that makes for one hell of a sophomore horror film. The earlier film is a ghost story built on guilt, madness, and other dark threads, but Martyrs quadruples down with some of the grimmest sequences and themes that you’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing on screen.

Well, pleasure probably isn’t the right word, but good golly is this the rare horror film that goes out of its way to challenge viewers both viscerally and emotionally. It’s a harrowing and thought-provoking exploration of humanity’s incessant need for purpose, meaning, and confirmation of an afterlife. Horror is often political, but like Laugier’s under-appreciated third film The Tall Man (2012), Martyrs is equally infused with philosophical and sociological commentary. This is a film that will horrify and disgust viewers even as it makes them think — and refuses to let them ever forget. (Rob Hunter)

4. Evil Dead II (1987)

Evil Dead Ii

Sam Raimi‘s 1981 “debut,” The Evil Dead, is one of the most important horror films of all time. It’s the film that put Raimi and star Bruce Campbell on the map and caught the attention of Stephen King. But his 1987 follow-up/remake is one of the best horror films of all time. The plot is basically the same — a group of friends heads to a cabin in the woods and read from the Book of the Dead, in doing so they unleash awful evil spirits — but there are some important tweaks as Raimi was able to work out the kinks of the first film. Most noticeably, Raimi and Campbell had perfected their brand of slapstick horror. This Three Stooges inspired schtick would become the calling card for the pair and in Evil Dead II it’s on full display. Whereas The Evil Dead was a really good first draft, Evil Dead II is the perfect final paper. (Chris Coffel)

3. The Descent (2005)

The Descent sophomore horror

To properly talk about the ascension Neil Marshall made with his sophomore horror feature, we have to talk about his freshman debut: Dog Soldiers. Both films share an understanding of tension and release, letting their monsters lurk in shadows to strike like vipers when our protags are least expecting. But what his first film is missing is the confident visual language that Marshall leans on in The Descent. With cinematographer Sam McCurdy, he created a striking atmosphere, using the architecture of the vast cave to create tight craggy corridors that his scenes – and action set pieces – could play out in.

Where Dog Soldiers is a straightforward low-budget actioner with the looks to prove it, The Descent gains an air of maturity through its visual competency as Marshall continues to explore themes that he introduced in his freshman feature, like gender dynamics and the lasting effects of trauma. The Descent and its unflinching eye is the style that would define the rest of Marshall’s career from films like Doomsday and Hellboy, through to the thrillingly tense Game of Thrones episode “Blackwater.” (Jacob Trussell)

2. From Beyond (1986)

From Beyond sophomore horror

What worked for Roger Corman worked for Stuart Gordon. Inspired by the low budget maestro’s collaboration with Vincent Price on the Poe Cycle of the 1960s (House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, Premature Burial, etc.), Gordon re-teamed with his Re-Animator co-stars and many of its production crew to achieve his second spin on Lovecraftian horror. Already accustomed to strange ideas and the orders that come with them, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton dove into this psychosexual escapade with tremendous gusto.

From Beyond has all the flavor craved by those expecting a Re-Animator repeat, but it sinks even further into oddity and depravity. Conquering death is old news. The new game is dominating reality — scratch that, dominating all realities. It’s another Dr. Frankenstein god complex pretender on the surface, but the dressing is what matters. Gordon’s second twist on Lovecraft takes the core ideas of the short story, which were already heavily borrowed from those that came before, and blows them out into wild displays of gooey revulsion. Nothing can replicate the first kiss of Re-Animator, but as far as second smooches go, the wetter the better, right? (Brad Gullickson)

1. Dead Alive (1992)

Dead Alive sophomore horror

Dead Alive a.k.a. Braindead a.k.a. the best zombie slapstick either side of the International Date Line. This Kiwi gem from director Peter Jackson was his follow-up to the carnage calling card Bad Taste. Jackson’s debut launched him onto the horror scene and Dead Alive confirmed that his penchant for crafting rip-roaring gore-fests wasn’t a one-off.

Dead Alive follows the plight of Lionel (Timothy Balme), a man whose Lucille and Buster Bluth dynamic with his mother becomes even more unbearable when she’s turned into a zombie by a rabid rat-monkey hybrid. There’s more slime and fake blood here than some directors have in their entire filmography (cowards), and the result is a beautiful display of bloodshed with well-deserved cult status. So yeah, of course, it takes the top spot in our list of sophomore horror movies. (Anna Swanson)

Looking for more seasoned horror? You’re in luck! Read more 31 Days of Horror Lists!

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Chris Coffel is a contributor at Film School Rejects. He’s a connoisseur of Christmas horror, a Nic Cage fanatic, and bad at Rocket League. He can be found on Twitter here: @Chris_Coffel. (He/Him)