In Hamlet 2, drama teacher Dana Marschz, played by Steve Coogan, tries to save his high school's financially imperiled drama program by staging an original student production: a sequel to Shakespeare's classic, Hamlet. Undeterred by the fact that all of the main characters die at the end of Shakespeare's play, Marschz creates a totally insane theatrical extravaganza, complete with Vegas-style stage effects and a moon-walking "sexy Jesus."
In creating his Hamlet 2, Marschz is motivated by grandiosity, sincere affection for his students and, certainly, a whiff of madness. But when it comes to greenlighting their own sequels, movie producers are often compelled by something far baser: the lure of filthy lucre. Sometimes this avarice leads to great films — The Godfather: Part II, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Aliens, for example. But sequel producing has also lead to plenty of clunkers — inexplicable films that betray more than a trace of Marschz-ian madness. In coming up with the below list of movie's most insane sequels, we left off obvious duds — Teen Wolf Too and Weekend at Bernie's 2 — in favor of titles in which craziness and ego collide to make films that can't just be explained by a desire to cash in.
Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski, scripted by Robert Towne and starring Jack Nicholson, is one of the undisputed classics of the 1970s, a piercing tale of corruption and romance set against the political backdrop of California's water system. After the film's success, Towne stated that it was to be part of a trilogy, with each film to take place at 11-year intervals. Part two, in which older and wiser private investigator Jake Gittes (Nicholson) teams up with another detective named Jake (played by Harvey Keitel) in a convoluted story dealing with corruption in California's oil industry, was long planned by producer Robert Evans but consistently delayed. And strangely, for a film that took 16 years to gestate, the finished movie feels simply thrown together. Evans wrote in his autobiography that he considered the script "half-finished" when production began, and critics and audiences, who missed the taut construction and menacing atmosphere of Polanski's classic, agreed. Plans for a third film dealing with corruption in the construction of L.A.'s freeway system were placed on hold. But of course, if you like your noir muddy, chaotic, and a bit kooky, Two Jakes could be better than one.
2. Wild Orchid
In Wild Orchid, erotic impresario Zalman King airlifted the Mickey Rourke character from Adrian Lyne's 9 1/2 Weeks to Rio, pairing him not with the previous film's Kim Basinger but instead with his real-life girlfriend, model Carré Otis. Critics razzed the film while stories that Rourke and Otis's on-screen coupling was for real kept the picture in the news. But if the first one borders on camp, Wild Orchid completely crosses over. Between King's tacky erotic moves, Carré's limited thespian reach, Rourke's budding inexplicable face work, and the terrifying possibility of watching real, not simulated, sex, one hardly knows where to look. Perhaps one could look forward to a "9 1/2 Weeks" marathon. In addition to the 1989 original, and the 1990 Wild Orchid, there is also the 1992 Wild Orchid 2: Blue Movie Blue the 1997 Another 9 1/2 Weeks, the 1998 prequel The First 9 1/2 Weeks, all of which add up to — surprise, surprise — about 9 1/2 hours.
The Blair Witch Project was the indie film surprise story of the 1990s, a cultural and box-office phenomenon made by a group of unknowns that used a mock-documentary style and a shaky camcorder to genuinely terrifying effect. For its sequel, distributor Artisan hired a great documentarian, Joe Berlinger, whose own films — the Paradise Lost docs — were themselves scary tales of teen madness. Part of the problem with this sequel, however, was that the original was a surprise hit; its allure was getting to be part of the phenomenon As Salon's Andrew O'Hehir smartly comments about the remake, "it's a movie fighting a battle it can't win, attempting to escape its destiny as an ordinary horror film." Berlinger attempted to defy expectations by not delivering a faux doc, but rather by telling a story that put the whole idea of faux docs into parentheses. But such intellectual buffers left the rabid horror fans yawning. It didn't help that ongoing rancor between Artisan and the original Blair Witch creators added to the unpleasantness. As such, it was no mystery that there would be no Blair Witch 3. But here is a sequel that perhaps now can be viewed as an original film all its own.
If lack of quality were the criterion, then the truly horrendous A View to a Kill would be the James Bond picture on this list. But the story behind Never Say Never Again, the only James Bond film proper (we're excluding the comedic Casino Royale) not to be produced by the official franchise's EON Productions, is a better example of ego-fueled sequelitis. Producer and writer Kevin McClory, who had worked on the novel Thunderball with Ian Fleming, battled for years with United Artists to make his own independent Bond picture. He was finally allowed a one-off remake of Thunderball and brought back Sean Connery, who had retired as Bond with Diamonds are Forever. The media delighted in this "Battle of the Bonds," and, in truth, Never Say Never Again is not bad at all, with a great villain (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and villainess (Barbara Carrera). But lacking signature (and copyrighted) elements like the blood-dripped cross-hair opening, John Barry's Bond theme and certain key characters, the film, which did well at the box office, feels like a designer clothing knock off. Indeed it's fascinating to watch as a lesson in branding — it has the right name, but is missing the aura.
Rated the worst sequel of all-time by Entertainment Weekly, this follow-up to Saturday Night Fever, the classic story of a Brooklyn boy who finds transcendence on the disco dance floor, stripped away the original's emotional heart in favor of lycra-skinned banality. EW called it "a disaster of such epic proportions they should have handed out HazMat suits and Cipro when you entered the theater," and, indeed, the film, directed by none other than Sylvester Stallone and scored by his brother Frank, seemed maniacal in its excision of everything fans liked about the original. But those of us who love train wrecks can find a lot to like in this sequel.
The Wachowski Brothers' The Matrix was so great that soon after its release not one but two sequels were instantly greenlit. And while the first, The Matrix Reloaded, can be recommended for its nutty, tantalizing plotting and fantastic car chase sequence, The Matrix Revolutions disappointed both fans and critics with its uninspired wrap-up of all the story's riddles. And if the first Matrix drew its ideas from the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the third, with its lengthy rave sequence, seemed inspired by the apocalyptic drag of the Burning Man Festival. My suggestion is to watch the trilogy in reverse, adding, rather than subtracting, all the mystery. When you reach the end, you really will wonder, "how did I get here?"
Another pick from the EW list. Technically this is actually a sequel to a sequel, since it's a follow-up to the fifth in the Leprechaun series. After appearing in the modern world to scare a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston (Leprechaun), trying to snag a comely bride (Leprechaun 2), wreaking havoc in Las Vegas (Leprechaun 3), heading to outer space (Leprechaun 4: In Space), our favorite nasty little green man ends up next as Leprechaun in the Hood, the fifth installment. Here he terrorizes a group of rappers at the evil bequest of record producer Mack Daddy (Ice-T), and he likes it so much that he sticks around for Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha' Hood, with Sticky Fingaz as a hip-hop artist about to get popped by the 'chaun. Perhaps it is the luck of the Irish, that the weirder this series gets — and Back 2 Tha' Hood is profoundly weird — the more sense it makes.
This 1982 film was marketed as a sequel to the S&M sensation The Story of O. The original film was directed by softcore director Just Jaeckin, but this sequel, based on O novelist Pauline Réage's Return to Roissy, was produced by one of the great art-film producers, Anatole Dauman, starred Klaus Kinski at his craziest, and was directed by the Japanese poet Shuji Terayama. More insane than the film's talent, though, is its transplantation of its characters from present-day Paris to a 1920s Hong Kong where all temporal and narrative logic fails to exist. Actors spoke in their original languages of English, French, Japanese and Cantonese, all of which were dubbed into English for the film's release, further contributing to the film's strange, culturally unmoored fun.
Sometimes the opportunity to create a sequel brings with it high-minded intentions. Russell Mulcahy's derided sequel to Highlander abandoned the swords and sorcery of the original to deal with the destruction of the ozone layer. While the original was rooted in some legendary lore of the fan-boy imagination, the sequel seems to make it all up as it goes — the ozone problem leads to a shield around the earth, which creates eternal night and regression memories of the Higlander's life on the planet Zeist, from which follows an evil alien dictator, a sexy scientist, and a greedy corporation out to take over the world. While the franchise continued with two more sequels and a TV show, none could match the incredible and wild imaginings of Highlander 2.
Most everyone would agree that William Friedkin's The Exorcist is one of the scariest films ever made. For the sequel, reins were handed to another great director, John Boorman, who delivered a picture both philosophically challenging and histrionically overwrought. Friedkin, of course, had the benefit of William Peter Blatty's novel for source material. All Boorman had was the character Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) and the devil, from which he and screenwriter William Goodhart concocted a mind-sweeping tale of Africa, anthropology and ancient legends, not to mention the Catholic church and locusts. The film was praised by both Pauline Kael and Martin Scorsese, but audiences laughed at the story line and earnest performances. While the Exorcist's following sequels and prequels stuck closer to the narrow Christian evil of the first Exorcist, there is something marvelously mysterious about the Exorcist II: The Heretic's spiritual mumbo-jumbo, even if Boorman later recognized this as a problem. He commented that the "sin" he committed was not giving the audience what it wanted: pure horror. And he quoted Irving Thalberg, who has the last word on sequels: "Films aren't made, they're remade."