Sure, horror thrives on mystery. To offer too much backstory is to demystify and thus defang our greatest monsters. But sometimes an origin story can shed new light on a previous film, cleverly elaborate on an otherwise impenetrable plot point, or simply breathe new life into a fading franchise. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, for instance, jumped back in time 20 or so years to show the first two films’ protagonists as children. Doing so not only gives us a fun taste of throwback technology, but also the backstory needed to help flesh out the franchise’s mythology. Most fans consider it the pinnacle of the series.
Other strong prequels include the latest INSIDIOUS
, which gave virtuoso character actress Lin Shaye a starring role and FINAL DESTINATION 5, a bloody good throwback that revitalized that series in a way nobody expected. Of course, there are plenty of bad ones too, so many that to name them would engulf this entire piece. That’s not why we’re here, however. We’re here because we’re interested in the films that could be. So as a companion to our piece on 5 Horror Movies That Really Deserve a Sequel, we’ve decided to share five horror movies that very well might benefit from their own prequel.
Stephen King often keeps the origins of his evil forces a mystery, or offers just a tantalizing glimpse into their creation (anyone else remember Richie and Mike’s smokehole vision in IT?). At the center of his 1983 novel and its 1989 film adaptation is an ancient burial ground that, according to local lore, was once used by a Micmac tribe of Native Americans. Anything that was buried there would come back from the dead, but be different somehow. Violent and malevolent. It’s not mere senselessness, that violence, but obviously the work of some evil spirit that knows your thoughts and fears. It’s terrifying stuff, and its message about accepting death and coping with grief is one of King’s most fully realized. The ground in PET SEMATARY
may be sour, but the soil of this story is fertile. There’s more to explore.
That’s not to say a prequel should explain away the force behind it all. A prequel could, however, take us back to a time when the ground wasn’t sour. Was there a time when the land could resurrect our loved ones as they were? What, exactly, made it sour? Was it a Native American ritual gone wrong, or was it compromised when they were driven from their land? The film could explore the intimacy of personal death, but also grander ideas about the death of a culture.
THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES
This 1971 cult classic stars Vincent Price as Dr. Anton Phibes, who, years after the death of his beloved wife, seeks revenge on the doctors who he believes allowed her to die on the operating table. He tracks them down one by one, offing each in a way that corresponds with one of the biblical plagues. It’s ridiculous and fun and, believe it or not, a precursor to the SAW franchise–at one point, he tasks a doctor with excising a key from inside his son that will unlock the boy’s restraints and save his life. Tell me that’s not something Jigsaw would do.
Anyways, a prequel covering the years between the death of Phibes’ wife and his revenge could be fascinating. See, at the beginning of the film we find out that society believes Phibes died in a car accident shortly after the passing of his wife. Turns out, he was disfigured and lost his speech, but did not die. The four years in between his accident and revenge were spent rebuilding his voice and body with prosthetics and his knowledge of acoustics. Witnessing these years could make for some deep psychological terror, like if Dr. Frankenstein had operated on himself. And Johnny Depp doing his best Vincent Price impression? That’s money in the bank.
Origin stories for ghosts or demons are, more often than not, unremarkable or curiously maudlin. Alien origin stories, though? That’s got legs. And who hasn’t wanted to spend more time with the disgusting, skull-faced abominations of THEY LIVE? In the film, the aliens (and their subliminal messages and surveillance drones) can only be seen with special eyewear, and are only found out when our hero (R.I.P. Rowdy Roddy) destroys their top-secret signal broadcast. It’s revealed at one point that it’s the aliens’ goal to deplete planets of their resources before triggering a global warming epidemic and moving on. That’s a lofty plan. How does that process even begin? A prequel could place us in the middle of this particular race of aliens, where we’d watch from the inside as they’d invade a planet, target its weaknesses, and execute its subliminal messaging strategy. The scathing capitalist satire of the original would still be intact, but filtered through a different lens that focuses on the business rather than the consumer. And who doesn’t want to see what those things look like when they’re not taking on the human form?
First things first, no one here’s asking for writer/director David Robert Mitchell to explain away the origins of whatever malevolent spirit is at heart of this indie horror darling. The premise of IT FOLLOWS is absurd enough that to overthink its central conceit is to undermine the excellence of its execution. A ghost that travels between bodies in the same fashion as STDs? Nobody needs to know how that curse started.
Honestly, it would just be cool to see the horror of IT FOLLOWS manifest in a different time and era. Mitchell already plays fast and loose with the setting of his film with curious, yet-to-be-invented modern innovations residing inside an altogether ‘80s aesthetic. He could do the same in a prequel, or simply whisk us back to an era that’s pre-automobile. That would sure make it a lot harder to outrun the film’s endless stream of walkers. But it’s the sexual milieu of the chosen timeline that would really sing. IT FOLLOWS takes place in a culture that’s learning how to be sex-positive. Setting the prequel in a more buttoned-up era could give it a SCARLET LETTER effect that naturally dovetails with themes of societal pressures and sexual shame.
28 DAYS LATER/28 WEEKS LATER
Okay, maybe I’m kidding. There was a sequel called 28 WEEKS LATER, for Christ’s sake. But, hey, 28 WEEKS LATER was pretty good. And, when combined with its predecessor, gave us the kind of fascinating macro look at an apocalyptic virus that THE WALKING DEAD’s limited focus can’t. To take a deeper look into the virus’ origins and the beginning of social and political fallout could create a triptych of films that broaden that exploration even further. Sure, it might be dumb to call it 28 DAYS EARLIER, but it might also be sorta brilliant?