The Unspeakable Horror of… THE SEQUEL

October 2, 2010

Few things are as terrifying as a bad sequel. They wait for you, seductive, promising a continuation of the characters and story you onced loved. You can resist it… for a while. But the temptation overpowers you; you draw too close, and it ensnares you.

That’s when you learn the awful truth. The limp, dead thing in your arms doesn’t have the same “soul” as the story you loved. It’s a diabolical mockery- a cruel taunt. Though you may fling it aside, you’ll never really escape it. What has been thought cannot be un-thought. A vestige of the horror will always remain.

You may have guessed by now that I’ve been seduced, and attacked, by some pretty terrible sequels. Two of the worst cases involved sequels to two of my favourite works: The Phantom of the Opera and Dracula.

Both of them aroused skepticism long before they were released. “I won’t read/watch them,” I told myself. Yeah, right. In my defence, my copies of Dracula: The Undead (a book) and Love Never Dies (a soundtrack) were gifts. So I figured, it would be rude to not even give them a chance. Right?

A sequel is worse than Homer’s sirens.


These two beasties have a few things in common. The originals were written by someone else (Gaston Leroux for Phantom, Bram Stoker for Dracula). Neither original was meant to have a sequel. The sequels followed long after the originals had established a fan base and become icons in their own right. And the sequels involved people acting in ways completely contrary to their characters as established in the originals.

Love Never Dies saddened me because I actually liked the music. If you could just play the instrumentals, and forget the appalling lyrics and ludicrous plot, it wouldn’t be half bad. The Undead, on the other hand… well, it may be kinder to seal that one off in a deserted castle somewhere.

 The problem with these sequels is that they were essentially “tacked on” to the originals. (Take Phantom. In the original, he says, “It’s over now, the music of the night! If that’s really the case, why does the story continue past that?). If you plan a sequel, or a trilogy, or a series, then good on you. I don’t mind those sequels, because the author (one assumes) deliberately structured the story to extend over more than one work.

Form and content are closely related, so if your story really, truly needs a sequel or two, and you know that going in, then that’s what has to happen. The issue comes when the story’s integrity (the “soul,” if you will) gets betrayed. If the story is over, if the original author has reached The End, then I don’t see how re-opening it avoids cheapening the original work.

There are a few exceptions. To my knowledge, Pirates of the Caribbean was meant to be a stand-alone. However, in the following films, the characters continued to grow and develop, and the story stayed true to itself. We may be reaching the Terrible Sequel point with this next movie (considering the third seemed to have finally hit The End), but we’ll see.

Three pirates, three (mostly) good movies.

I post this at the risk of eating my own words. Project W is, at time of writing, a stand-alone book. However, while it’s The End for this batch of characters, I’m not convinced that’s the case for the universe as a whole. Again, we’ll see.

Sequels don’t have to be a bad thing.  When they’re necessary and deliberate, and done for reasons beyond bleeding an entertainment franchise dry, they can be wonderful. Otherwise, they’re undead themselves; alive, but not alive.

And we all know what the undead do.



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