Halloween fans anxiously waiting to see what the third and final installment of the newest trilogy, Halloween Ends, will be like might want to check out some of the most successful threequels in past horror franchises in the meantime. Although many fans grow wary of horror series as they churn out more iterations, some third entries prove that plenty of movie franchises can find new and interesting stories to tell beyond their initial successes.
Series that reach their third movie and beyond often have room to expand on their world, play with more creative ideas, and in some cases, bring about a grand finale to a trilogy. Which horror threequels do all these things best?
10/10 Insidious 3 (6.1)
As one of the best horror movies about fatherhood, Insidious centered around Josh and his family. The latter sequels focus entirely on Elise, the psychic the family consults. Several years before the first film, Elise is grieving the death of her beloved husband and intends to quit the paranormal investigation business. But when a girl trying to contact her dead mother accidentally summons something evil, Elise is the only one who can save her.
Though critics and fans were disappointed in Insidious 3 for its lack of tension and genuine scares, Lin Shaye’s performance as Elise is universally praised as the highlight and emotional core of the movie. There’s a reason the third and fourth films choose to put the spotlight on her, after all.
9/10 Saw III (6.2)
The third film in the Saw franchise, soon to be ten movies strong, completes the first story arc of the franchise. A dying Jigsaw conscripts (read: has his most unhinged apprentice kidnap) a surgeon to buy him more time. His deadly traps still run all over the city, and investigators notice a disturbing new trend. Jigsaw’s traps always had a slim margin of survival, but his newest victims have no possible way out.
Not to be confused with Saw 3D (the seventh installment, also known as Saw: The Final Chapter), Saw III was disliked by critics on release but remains the highest-grossing movie in the franchise. Fans love its heightened levels of gore, creative trap designs, and ending that sends ripples through the entire rest of the series.
8/10 The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (6.3)
The third and least loved installment in the main Conjuring storyline (lagging in the ratings behind the first and second, rated 7.5 and 7.3 respectively) returns the franchise to adapting the real-life exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren. When a young man accused of murder pleads not guilty by reason of demonic possession, the Warrens must uncover the demon behind it.
Its story is considered weaker than the earlier films, lacking their energy and being overly reliant on gore instead of atmosphere to scare. Still, some enjoy its introspective tone and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga turn in another set of powerful performances, ranking it among Vera Farmiga’s best horror movies.
7/10 Alien 3 (6.4)
After escaping the xenomorph colony on LV-426, Ellen Ripley gets no reprieve from her fight. She crash lands on a prison planet and now must contend with both violent inmates and the loose xenomorphs steadily infesting the facility, all without hope of rescue or even weapons.
This threequel is maligned by many for not living up to its predecessors, which rate a comfortable 8.5 and 8.4, respectively. Fans hated the choices made in its script, such as the unceremonious deaths of Newt and Hicks after Ripley’s much-loved character arcs with them in Aliens. Nevertheless, there is praise for its unique visuals and for another standout performance by Sigourney Weaver as Ripley.
6/10 The Exorcist III (6.4)
After the flat disappointment that was Exorcist II: The Heretic, this threequel was a welcome surprise. Seventeen years after witnessing Regan MacNeil’s case, Lieutenant Kinderman investigates a series of murders by a copycat of the long-dead Gemini Killer, only to discover that their origins are supernatural…and perhaps not the work of a copycat at all.
Fans appreciate this film for compelling performances by George C. Scott and Brad Dourif, as well as the movie’s ability to match the original’s intensity. In the book The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows by Bob McCabe, original author William Peter Blatty praised it as “a more frightening film than The Exorcist,” which is widely considered to be the scariest movie of all time.
5/10 A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors (6.6)
The highest rated Nightmare movie aside from the first (which sits at a respectable 7.4), Dream Warriors is loved by fans for the return of original heroine Nancy Thompson, now a mentor to new targets of Freddy Krueger, and the introduction of the Elm Street children harnessing the power of dreams to fight Freddy.
The kids’ powers are unique and creatively used, and the film’s excellent visual and special effects lend themselves well to some of the series’ most iconic kills. Its plot being a direct followup to the first film’s won it points with fans, though for some, the climactic death of Nancy lost them again.
4/10 Son of Frankenstein (7.1)
The very first horror movie franchises came from the Universal monster movies of the thirties and forties, such as Frankenstein, the ongoing tragedy of Henry Frankenstein and the monster he created. Even after Henry dies, the monster lives on, and by this threequel he has lost the kind nature of his early life and seeks only to spread the misery he feels.
Basil Rathbone, star of some of the best Sherlock Holmes movies, plays Wolf von Frankenstein, Henry’s son come home to claim Castle Frankenstein as his inheritance. Little does he suspect that the monster and his father’s old grave robber Ygor are still there as well, leading him to follow in Henry’s footsteps. This film’s entertaining story and memorable characters heavily inspired the plot of Mel Brooks’ hit comedy Young Frankenstein.
3/10 Day Of The Dead (7.1)
The third installment in George A. Romero’s legendary Dead trilogy, Day of the Dead takes place after the zombie apocalypse has fully taken hold and the remnants of humanity are driven into hiding. Scientists trapped with increasingly unstable soldiers in an underground bunker struggle to survive not just the zombies outside, but their fellow man inside.
While Day’s rating drops noticeably below Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, both of which sit at 7.8, it is still a beloved entry in the franchise. Some complain that the action takes too long to get started, but once it does, it doesn’t let up for a single second. It’s a desperate struggle for survival on all sides in one of the bleakest visions of the future.
2/10 Red Dragon (7.2)
The Silence of the Lambs holds an impressive 8.6 on IMDb, while its direct sequel Hannibal dropped to a more average 6.8. Will Graham’s hunt for the vicious serial killer Francis Dolarhyde, with Hannibal Lecter’s attempts to destroy Will from his prison cell a looming background threat, racks up the tension and boosts the series’ esteem back up.
Will is a very different protagonist than Clarice Starling. Clarice is an FBI trainee meeting Lecter for the first time, and is someone that Lecter takes a genuine liking to. Will is a seasoned profiler who has a history with Lecter, as he’s the one who caught and imprisoned him, and Lecter hates his gutsfor it. Their scenes together are brief but shockingly effective. Coupled with Ralph Fiennes’ terrifying portrayal of Dolarhyde, Will and viewers face nightmares on all sides.
1/10 Army Of Darkness (7.4)
Rated on par with the famous original is the final entry in the original Evil Dead trilogy. Ash Williams never gets a break: this time, he not only has to fight cackling demons, but do it after being thrown centuries in the past and forced to contend with a whole legion of the things instead of just a cabinful. Even harder than the battle itself is training a kingdom of medieval peasants to back him up.
Perhaps the reason for Army of Darkness‘ lasting popularity is that, while the first two films were often darkly funny, this third film can comfortably be called a horror-comedy, making it more palatable to audiences more into spookiness than blood and gore. Bruce Campbell’s performance as Ash is classic, delivering iconic lines with both dry sarcasm and macho enthusiasm.