There are few traditions as hallowed in cinema as the horror movie sequel. The first film is haunting, refreshing, and groundbreaking, and now that it’s made a ton of money, it’s time to try and repeat its success until the wheels fall off. In particularly long series, some of the elements that made them famous tend to run together a bit. Have they been pre-installed since the beginning, or did they show up somewhere along the way and audiences just accepted them as gospel?
What aspects are in the original recipe, and which came in later to spice things up? It’s time to dive into that question regarding iconic bits of six lengthy horror series — bits that might seem to have been foundational text but actually didn’t get inserted until a little later.
Frankenstein’s monster’s iconic walk
The Frankenstein films were the bread and butter of the golden age of Universal horror, with two fantastic films by James Whale (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein,) an extremely solid turn starring Basil Rathbone (Son of Frankenstein) and then a quick descent into cheaper, clunkier efforts. Boris Karloff, who played the titular monster in the first three films, delivers a thoughtful, tragic performance, so it’s a little weird that the iconography that’s remained is that of a man with his arms raised, clumsily shuffling through castle sets.
This character-defining image wasn’t actually set until the final moments of the fourth film, The Ghost of Frankenstein. (Quick synopsis: The monster, played here by Lon Chaney Jr., has his brain replaced with his conniving sidekick Ygor’s, played with raucous malice by Bela Lugosi. This allows him to speak and plot, but thanks to a medical mishap, he’s pretty immediately rendered blind.) The monster spends the last few minutes of the flick groping around and then, in the sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, he shows up with arms outstretched.
In the subsequent movies, no one ever mentions he’s now blind, whether it’s in his Wolf Man battle or House of Frankenstein or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. So the Frankenstein walk that would come to define the time period not only didn’t occur until the end of the fourth movie, but is part of a plot point that no subsequent movie could be bothered to remember.
Jason’s hockey mask
If there’s any item on this list that has gone down in the annals of horror trivia, it’s this one. In the first Friday the 13th, it’s Jason’s sweater-wearing mother Pamela doing the killing. In the second film, Jason finally shows up, but he’s donning overalls and a burlap sack over his head. It’s only in the third movie that he robs a comic-relief character of his hockey mask and decides that’s the look to keep. Since then, Jason has been irreversibly tied to that particular mask, one that has come to represent the slasher genre as a whole.
However, it’s still important to bring up because this omnipresence diminishes just how rad Jason looks in Part 2. Lanky and unkempt, Jason feels a bit more like a guy that would actually be hanging out in the woods outside of a summer camp rather than the brand name he’d evolve into. Also fun is the relative lack of machete in Part 2 — Jason’s general toolkit is pretty diverse here, and the weapon he uses in the climax is a My Bloody Valentine-esque pickax.
Godzilla as a good guy
When Godzilla shows up in the original 1954 film, it’s atomic nightmare incarnate. It is the death and mass devastation of nuclear holocaust brought to life in the form of an unstoppable creature, one that can’t be understood or reasoned with as it menaces Japan with blistering hellfire. And then, in 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, it’s mostly around to wrestle with another monster and knock stuff over. This first sequel would set the template for a majority of Godzilla films going forward — Godzilla is heavyweight champion of the kaiju division, and one that’s ready to rumble with all challengers.
Even though Godzilla fought other monsters, that doesn’t mean there was a role reversal the minute something else wanted to throw down. In the first four films, Godzilla is an unambiguous asshole, less a defender of Japan and more like the country’s awful landlord who comes to evict any new monster tenants. In the third movie, King Kong is given the unspoken moral high ground, and in the fourth one, Mothra and her young symbolize the beauty of nature, while Godzilla symbolizes the beauty of what things look like when they’re on fire.
It’s not until the fifth film, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, that Godzilla, now forced to team up to tackle an extraterrestrial dragon, actually shifts into hero mode. And the change doesn’t come without prodding — one of Mothra’s larvae from the last film has to entreat Godzilla into being friendly for a change. Going forward, the big lizard just has to hope Japan has forgotten about the whole “I am become death” phase.
Freddy Krueger’s one-liners
Freddy Krueger, the dream-invading villain from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, has always been a li’l scamp. Since the beginning, he’s loved tormenting people, and by Freddy’s Revenge, it’s clear that he also has a keen sense of irony. Does a character have an interest in bicycles? Freddy will crush them with a wheel while shouting “BETTER PUMP THE BRAKES!” A character with a drinking problem? Freddy skewers them with a toothpick and gulps them down in a giant martini while winking at the audience: “DRINK RESPONSIBLY!”
You get the idea.
It wasn’t always to this magnitude, though. Freddy’s embrace of puns only really became a defining part of his personality with Dream Warriors, the third film. It’s here that nearly every Freddy kill comes with some kind of wordplay or one-liner, turning him into equal parts slasher icon and late-night host. It’s a natural fit, with actor Robert Englund being one of the few horror stars to be adept at every stage of his character’s evolution.
Pinhead is one of those hole-in-one horror designs — no notes needed. It’s instantly iconic, which makes it all the more interesting that there was no actual name attached to him when he joined the pantheon of Freddy, Jason, and Michael. He’s nameless in the original novel by Clive Barker, The Hellbound Heart, and the first film credits him as “Lead Cenobite,” a moniker that probably wouldn’t look good on posters. Barker later refers to him as the “Hell Priest,” having really disliked the name Pinhead.
So where did “Pinhead” come from? It shows up in the credits of the severely underrated Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but the first time anyone calls him Pinhead occurs in the third movie and the name is kind of a joke. But it stuck, and thankfully, in the 2022 reboot film, the character has managed to reclaim a little bit of dignity. (They’re now known as simply “the Priest.”)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is a delirious dark comedy and a comically brutal slasher film, taking anything that might’ve seemed subtle in the original and turning the volume up to deafening levels. In short, it’s beautiful, and it recognizes that you can’t really outdo the grisly macabre of the original. Returning director Tobe Hooper doesn’t try, allowing his favorite clan of cannibals to spiral into freewheeling self-parody. He also gives them names: the Sawyers. Get it?
If you’ve only seen the original, released 12 years before Part 2, and that name sounds unfamiliar, it’s for good reason — no one really has a name in the first movie. The “Bubba Sawyer” of the sequel is only referred to as “Leatherface” there, and oddly enough, the “Cook” (or “Old Man,” as he’s referred to in the script) asks Leatherface, “Why didn’t you wait for Bubba?” seemingly referring to his hitchhiking brother. If you’ve never heard it, I don’t blame you — it’s barely audible over all of the screaming.
But that brother is never referred to as “Bubba” again in the 1974 original, the name having been passed on to Leatherface himself by the sequel, with the now-deceased brother called “Nubbins” Sawyer. Now, it could just be that the Cook was calling him “bubba” as in “your brother,” which is a common Southern colloquialism, but it is funny in the context of the wider series. The last name Sawyer is carried into the third film, but by the fourth, the family is now known as the equally explicit Slaughters. Look, it’s America’s most treasured chronicle of flesh-eating Texans. This kind of thing matters.