Summer of '86: Revisiting 5 Big Sequels

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Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio reunited in summer 1986 for ‘The Karate Kid Part II’ (pictured), two years after ‘The Karate Kid’ (Columbia Pictures)

Thirty years after their debut, Top Gun, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and more of the best original films of summer 1986 retain loyal fans. The season’s sequels, however, were a mixed bag. Aliens, which topped the box office for four weeks from late July to early August, certainly set the bar high. But that film’s achievement was more the exception than the rule. Let’s look back at five notable summer ’86 attempts to double down on a past success and see how they fared.

Poltergeist II: The Other Side
Four years after Poltergeist earned kudos as one of the scariest movies ever, this dud burst out of movie screens and fell frightfully short of the original.

Watch a promo for ‘Poltergeist II: the Other Side’:

In some respects, Poltergeist II was even more disappointing than the garden variety cash grab sequel because it flashed several reminders of what made the first film so good, including the charming Freeling family, portrayed by all of the same actors from 1982′s Poltergeist, and impressive special effects. But it was also missing one key ingredient to the original’s success: Steven Spielberg. The Hollywood great had writing and producing credits on Poltergeist (and some wonder if he directed, too), but he had nothing to do with the sequel, and it shows. The story has the Freelings fending off the ghost of a diabolical preacher who has set his sights on little Carol Anne. It’s too far-fetched, even for a sci-fi horror flick. On the bright side, there’s some excellent design work by H.R. Giger, who gave us the “Vomit Creature.” He may not have liked it much, but you will.

The Karate Kid, Part II
After 1984’s tale of a plucky California kid and his Japanese sensei earned Columbia Pictures nearly $91 million, the studio wanted more. That might explain why The Karate Kid, Part II picks up right where the original left off, opening in the parking lot of the All-Valley Karate Tournament. Quickly though, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) are whisked away to Okinawa, Miyagi’s hometown, to tend to his dying father.

Watch a promo for ‘The Karate Kid, Part II”:

The location is exotic and the characters, outside of the two leads, are new, but it all feels very familiar. Daniel flirts with a cute girl, faces down a comically evil teenage villain, and learns a wise lesson or two from Mr. Miyagi. One difference for the better: Unlike The Karate Kid, this one lets the camera linger a bit longer on Morita, who gives a deep, thoughtful performance. It all paid off for Sony: The sequel earned $115 million, and spent four weeks at No. 1 in late June/early July.

Psycho III
After working strictly in front of the camera in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 original and again in 1983’s Psycho II, Anthony Perkins both starred in and directed the third Psycho film, which Leonard Maltin succinctly called “pointless.” In the film, Norman Bates is still working at his eponymous motel, which slowly fills with a cast of oddball characters, including a vile assistant manager, an emotionally disturbed nun, a writer aiming to do a story on Bates, and a group of goons celebrating their high school reunion.

Watch a trailer for ‘Psycho III’:

As ever, Perkins excels in the role he originated, playing Norman with a touch of humor while retaining the awkward personality quirks viewers had come to expect. What really differentiates Psycho III from its predecessors is Norman Bates joining the ranks of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers to become something of a slasher, even if, as Roger Ebert wrote in his review, he’s not “a wholesale slasher like the amoral villains of the Dead Teenager Movies. He is at war with himself.” Moviegoers ultimately paid little attention to Psycho III, which earned only $14 million. By the time Psycho IV arrived four years later, it was downsized to a made-for-TV movie.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Typically, when a film franchise makes it to the sixth installment, quality becomes less of a concern than repeating a formula that sells tickets. Jason Lives is an exception. After a couple of dire Friday the 13th outings, Part VI reinvigorated the franchise thanks to its bigger, badder Jason Voorhees, resurrected at the beginning of the film to terrorize Camp Crystal Lake as an unstoppable, supernatural slasher. That marks a change from previous films, and it’s not the only one. Writer-director Tom McLoughlin also introduced self-aware humor to the franchise, a decade before Scream won acclaim for doing the same thing.

Watch a trailer for ‘Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’:

Jason Lives is full of winks, nods, and meta-commentary on the horror genre, from Jason’s Frankenstein-like resurrection to names that honor John Carpenter and Boris Karloff. In one scene, a gravedigger breaks the fourth wall and says directly to the audience, “Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment.” That’s not a criticism of the viewers as much as a commentary on the doddering prudes making that criticism. Financially, though, Jason Lives didn’t do much to resurrect the franchise. It made less money at the box office than any of its predecessors, although it did better than the next four installments.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Twelve years after the release of his horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director Tobe Hooper reignited his love affair with Leatherface and the rest of the cannibalistic Sawyer clan. However, things were slightly different this time around. For starters, Hooper had more money to work with, which wasn’t necessarily an improvement. Part of the brilliance of the original was the low-budget, documentary-like tint that helped trick people into believing it was a true story. The sequel did away with that, and brought in gushing gore and outright comedy.

Dennis Hopper plays Lefty, uncle to the first movie’s only survivor, Sally, and a cop who’s dead set on finding the Sawyers. He gets his wish when Leatherface and newly introduced villain Chop Top (Bill Moseley) turn up at a radio station and attack a DJ named Stretch (Caroline Williams). Then it’s back to the Sawyer family home for gobs of bloody carnage.

‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2′: Watch a clip of Dennis Hopper:

Tonally, TCM2 is far removed from the original, but the dark humor and graphic violence that threw off viewers in ’86 (the box office was a paltry $8 million) would look better to future fans. In fact, this sequel has become a cult classic in its own right and was recently saluted with a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray loaded with bonus material.