These prequels turned the scare factor up to 11.
Whether it’s the spine-tingling chills from psychological horror franchises or the endless blood and gore we get from some of the lengthiest slasher sagas, no genre is as adept as horror at extracting every bit of entertainment from its film series. While plenty of franchises in the genre have spawned countless sequels, far fewer have been willing to embark on prequels, but the ones who have usually produced something memorable.
After all, without horror prequels, we would never see the creation of Annabelle, why Toby targeted the sisters in Paranormal Activity, and how the Predator was a part of human history. Whether it’s demons, serial killers, ghosts, or something else entirely, these prequels enlightened us as to the origin of some of the genre’s most iconic figures and matched their predecessors’ fear factor.
A24’s gamble on producing Ti West’s X trilogy as back-to-back-to-back releases has proven to be a risk worth taking, with both X and its prequel Pearl among the best movies of 2022. Set in 1919, Pearl tells the story of the murderous farmer from X when she was a young woman struggling to find her way in the world.
Adding a solid layer of psychological thrills to the blood and guts of its predecessor, Pearl was far more chilling than X, with an effortless ability to get under the skin of audiences. Mia Goth’s spellbinding performance as the titular character was a significant reason for that, with her unforgettable monologue the icing on the cake of a fantastic, original horror film.
1987's Predator stands among the greatest and most iconic monster horror movies ever made, yet, as brilliant as it is, it doesn’t truly terrify its audience. Admittedly, Prey exists in much the same tone, but it excels at using the audience’s knowledge of the Predators against them through the first half, which seamlessly blends rising tension with gripping action.
Set in the Comanche Nation in 1719, the distant prequel follows aspiring hunter Naru (Amber Midthunder), who crosses paths with a Predator and tries to protect her tribe from attacks. The back-to-basics approach makes for the best Predator movie since the '87 original, as well as one of the most intense installments of the franchise.
With such films as Upgrade and The Invisible Man being added to his resume since, Insidious: Chapter 3 marks a telling directorial debut from horror filmmaker Leigh Whannell. Set years before the events of Insidious, the franchise’s third installment sheds light on Elise’s (Lin Shaye) backstory when she encounters a teenage girl being hunted by an evil entity.
While some have questioned the necessity of the film within in Insidious series, the sense of palpable tension it brought to the screen makes it a worthwhile watch for all horror fans. The long stretches of silence, impactful jump scares, and surprising thematic depth of the story all contributed to making Insidious: Chapter 3 the eeriest and most chilling entry of the series.
Released in 1979, The Amityville Horror is one of the most renowned haunted-house horrors of all time. It’s also kick-started one of the biggest franchises cinema has ever seen, but few of those installments—including the original—have been as shocking as Amityville II: The Possession.
A prequel inspired by the real-life case of the DeFeo family—who were murdered in the Amityville household by their teenage son who claimed he heard voices—the film exudes an imposing, sinister dread over its viewers. With plenty of shocking imagery and disturbing sequences, the film may not be remembered as a great horror story but as a sickening horror experience; few stand as its equal.
While some later installments of the Paranormal Activity franchise left a little to be desired, the first three were intriguing horror films that made the most of the found-footage trope they popularized. While the second and third movies both served as prequels, it’s Paranormal Activity 3 that wins out as the scarier entry with its focus on Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi’s (Jessica Tyler Brown) childhood.
There’s a natural discomfort surrounding children in horror movies, and Paranormal Activity 3 uses that well to build tension as we learn why the sisters were targeted throughout their lives. With Kristi’s imaginary friend “Toby”, mysteries of the occult, and even a witch’s coven, Paranormal Activity 3 had plenty of scares throughout it to arguably be the most terrifying installment of the series.
In typical Final Destination fashion, the film series' fifth and (so-far) final entry focuses on how Death creatively catches up with those who have escaped it. In the case of Final Destination 5, it’s Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) who saves a number of lives on a collapsing suspension bridge.
The true genius of this prequel is it didn’t let anyone know it was a prequel until the final minutes as Sam and his girlfriend (Emma Bell), seemingly set to survive, board a flight to Paris. The revelation that they were onboard Volée Airlines’ Flight 180 was the ultimate twist to send fans of the series home in a state of pandemonium.
Making a prequel to a film like The Silence of the Lambs is no mean feat. After all, 2007’s Hannibal Rising tried and failed abysmally, but 2002’s Red Dragon had something more on the right path. It follows Will Graham (Edward Norton), the FBI agent who caught Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), as he investigates another serial killer case post-retirement.
The dynamic between Will Graham and Lector—while not equal to the relationship between Lector and Clarice Sterling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs—is worth the watch, and the case of the Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes) offers plenty as a bloody psychological horror. The Silence of the Lambs is the best picture in the Hannibal Lector filmography, of that there is no doubt, but Red Dragon does plenty to challenge its standing as the scariest.
The third and final installment of the Cube trilogy, Cube Zero, serves as a prequel to the 1997 sci-fi horror, which saw a group of strangers forcibly explore a labyrinth of cube-shaped rooms, some of which contain deadly traps. The series was defined by its surreal atmosphere, gruesome traps, and characters who were always quick to betray one another when the opportunity arose.
Cube Zero was no different, following another unfortunate group of prisoners but also telling the story of two technicians who ran the Cube. Boasting a lot more blood and gore than its predecessors, the prequel made for the trilogy's most violent and disturbing viewing experience.
The fourth film in the Conjuring franchise, it is amazing in hindsight that horror fans had to wait so long to see Annabelle fully realized. Still, better late than never, and Annabelle: Creation more than made amends for the wait audiences had to endure.
Set in the 1950s, a demonic entity takes advantage of a grieving couple and torments the nun and six orphans they welcome into their home as it looks for a human host. It had a natural creepiness that much of Annabelle lacked and imbued the titular doll with a sheer terror befitting its eerie appearance.
While 2014’s Ouija was a commercial success, it was panned by critics and audiences alike, so many were surprised when it was announced that it would get a prequel. Many more were surprised when that prequel turned out to be quite good.
With the talent of horror master Mike Flanagan at the helm, Ouija: Origin of Evil was a more inspired and direct movie which boasted more terror and a much better story. While it didn’t end up kick-starting the Ouija franchise, it did scare audiences out of their wits and proved Flanagan to be a rising force within the genre.
KEEP READING: The Best Horror Movies of 2022 (So Far)
Ryan Heffernan is an Australian writer and aspiring filmmaker with an Honours degree in Film Production from the University of Canberra. With a great love of storytelling, he adores films with complex characters and challenging narratives. His other hobbies and interests include Australian sports, history and gaming.
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'Pearl' and 9 Other Great Horror Movie Prequels That Were Scarier Than Their Predecessors – Collider
These prequels turned the scare factor up to 11.