Collins’ Crypt: Yes, Virginia, There Are Two Sequels To The Mangler

They've never once been successful, but that hasn't stopped Hollywood from sequelizing the hell out of Stephen King.

I don't know how or why I started it, but whenever I want to self-deprecatingly talk about my oft-lamentable movie-watching habits, I use the Children of the Corn sequels as my go-to example (i.e. "I still haven't seen Spotlight, but I HAVE seen Children of the Corn 7!"). If you haven't kept up with the series - and no normal human being should - I'll have you know that there are actually TEN Corn films in all - the first two were the only ones to have theatrical releases, but they were followed by six released sequels, another in the works, and a remake of the original that actually stuck closer to Stephen King's original short story. And yes, that's SHORT story - it's only 45 pages (not even the longest one in the Night Shift collection that you can find it in) but somehow sparked enough imagination (...) to yield over thirteen hours of cinema. I kind of love that King writes these doorstop books that get turned into two hour movies, but a short story produced enough content to match the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

With so many movies, makes the Corn series by far the most prolific franchise for any that have spawned "from the mind of Stephen King" (a phrase the marketing likes to use), but it's certainly not the only one. Recently, King has seemed more into the idea of writing sequels, with Doctor Sleep continuing the adventures of Danny Torrance and the trilogy of books that started with Mr. Mercedes, but outside of the Dark Tower series and the Talisman followup Black House (which were both collaborations with Peter Straub) he's rarely followed up any of his own books in a traditional way - he's always used continuity as more of an Easter Egg, with passing references to other characters in otherwise unrelated stories (like two of the kids in It showing up in 11/22/63). Hollywood has had other ideas, however - there is no shortage of sequels to the movies made from his novels and short stories, most of which the average movie fan probably hasn't even heard of - and that's nothing they need to change for the most part.

The one exception, and probably the most "famous" of the lot, is Pet Sematary II, released three years after the original, which was at the time the highest grossing King adaptation ever (not with inflation, but still ranks highly even with that factor) and ushered in a new wave of King films in the early '90s. Since they pretty much all died it makes sense none of the characters returned, but director Mary Lambert did, and offered a fairly enjoyable tale that didn't copy the original too much and presented new reasons to visit the titular locale. This time we focus on younger characters, namely Edward Furlong (in his first movie after Terminator 2) and his pal Drew, who use the cemetery to resurrect the latter's asshole stepdad, played by Clancy Brown (who'd go on to appear in a slightly more respected King movie). Unlike the original film's good-natured victims who turned bad after being brought back, Brown's character was already a terror, so it's interesting to see him go from bad to worse, and the movie doubles down on the original's nonchalant attitude toward killing kids (not as young as the first film's Gage, but not quite Friday the 13th character "old" either). The Creed family only gets a quick nod via a mailbox in front of their vacant home, so you don't even need to see the original to follow this one - but that accessibility didn't help its box office much, getting clobbered by Honeymoon in Vegas (!) on its opening weekend and ultimately earning less than a third of what its predecessor did. But it didn't reprise The Ramones' theme song from the first film, so what the hell did they expect?

They probably expected better than that, since it was only a few years since the last one, hardly enough time for the audiences to forget about it, or to have to win over a new generation. This wasn't the case with 1999's The Rage: Carrie 2, as it was released a full twenty-three years after Brian De Palma's classic, making it one of the bigger divides in Hollywood history from original to sequel. But unlike Pet, it had some legit continuity in the form of Amy Irving, who reprised her role as Sue Snell and probably doesn't bring it up around De Palma very often. The film is one of those "sequels" that actually hews closer to remake, telling a the story of another outcast who is mocked by her classmates and tricked into thinking things were about to turn around only to be humiliated in front of everyone and kills them all in largely uncontrollable response. The movie at least gives a good reason for the coincidence - she's actually Carrie's half sister, born to a different mother (one thankfully not a Piper Laurie stand-in) by the same mysterious man, with Sue Snell filling in the backstory gaps by taking her to the wreck of the school (which looks like it was destroyed the week before, not over two decades prior). This loose thread is the only thing that keeps the film from being anything more than a typical post-Scream horror flick, complete with lots of CGI-addled death scenes and a laughable soundtrack. And poor Irving, she was stooping just by being in the movie to begin with, but then has to suffer the indignity of dying in one of the most ludicrous moments in a movie chock full of them.

Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (later subtitled Jobe's War) was also released theatrically, though concrete evidence might be hard to come by - at the time it had one of the worst openings of all time, and twenty years later remains in the top ten for movies with the biggest 2nd weekend drops - not a good sign when it already broke records for opening low to begin with. As with Carrie 2 only one cast member returned (Austin O'Brien as the kid hero Peter), though I can only assume Patrick Bergin's character was supposed to be the same one Pierce Brosnan played, changed quickly when Brosnan proved to be smarter (or Bond-er) than to bother returning to this somewhat less popular franchise (the loss of Jeff Fahey as the title character didn't faze them - they just recast him with Matt Frewer). Of all the King adaptations to get a sequel, this has to be one of the weirder options, as King sued to take his name off of the original film since it was so far removed from his story. Don't forget, King quite famously shrugged off bad adaptations of his work, saying that they didn't "ruin" his books as they were still right there on the shelf, so for him to actually sue (successfully) to not be associated with one should have been enough to let the Lawnmower Man series die. Alas, New Line didn't see the writing on the wall, sinking what was probably a lot more than the mere $2m the film grossed - about 1/13th the take of its original. 

Larry Cohen's Return to Salem's Lot didn't have to worry about its theatrical performance compared to the original, at least in the States. While the original film by Tobe Hooper was cut down and released theatrically in Europe, it was always just a television movie here, which is probably part of why Cohen's unnecessary followup got such a minor release (BoxOfficeMojo doesn't even list it, though it supposedly got a limited release in May of 1987 - can anyone verify this?). But it's also not very good, thought it possibly inspired Pet Sematary 2's plot as it concerns a father and son going to the same town as the original characters, again without anyone actually returning (including the villainous Barlow, whose bedroom window appearance in the original is pretty much all anyone ever seems to remember). Produced back-to-back with Cohen's also underwhelming third It's Alive movie, it's probably best remembered as the movie that features Tara Reid's debut performance, though if you're a fan of Michael Moriarty (and why wouldn't you be?) it's got some of his trademark whacked-out moments that he always brings to the table when working with Cohen. 

This wasn't the only sequel to a TV movie though - the 1991 adaptation of King's short story Sometimes They Come Back (which aired on CBS, if memory serves) got a direct to video sequel five years later, titled, wait for it... Sometimes They Come Back Again. Why anyone would want to follow a broadcast network movie-of-the-week with an R rated sequel for the video market is anyone's guess, but like Carrie 2 it's basically a remake of the first film, right down to the '50s James Dean reject look for the film's villain and the hero who returns to his childhood home and has to confront the repressed memories of his dead sibling. It adds a daughter to the mix (played by Hilary Swank), but otherwise follows the original film's structure and story closely enough to warrant the "Based on Stephen King" credit all these things have, and I don't think anyone was really clamoring for another version of the fairly ho-hum story to begin with. The third film wins for stupidest title (Sometimes They Come Back For More) and I can give it credit for mixing it up a bit (setting it on an Arctic base and giving flashback hauntings to multiple characters), but ripping off The Thing and Event Horizon doesn't mean their quality comes along with it. 

Still, I am impressed that a movie of the week managed to spawn two R rated sequels, since it usually it goes the other way, with theatrical features getting cable followups. Firestarter 2: Rekindled (gotta love that pun) is a Syfy channel movie that was intended to kick off a regular series, though it didn't pan out that way - I'll let you judge if that was for the best or not. Being that it was nearly twenty years later and a cheapo Syfy production, it unsurprisingly doesn't retain any cast members, with Marguerite Moreau stepping in for Drew Barrymore and Malcolm McDowell in the George C. Scott role (which amuses me as, long before Rob Zombie's Halloween remake came along, I thought Scott would be an ideal Donald Pleasence replacement if one was ever needed). It's not particularly good, but I give them credit for doing a legit followup (with the now adult Charlie) instead of just a full blown remake like most would when adapting a book for a TV series. On that note, King's books have been turned into TV series, most notably The Dead Zone and Under The Dome, which obviously embellished their source material - that's a whole other category. 

The weirdest of the bunch has to be the pair of Mangler sequels, following up the "classic" about a murderous laundry machine. The first sequel, simply titled The Mangler 2, doesn't even bother with its title character and instead concerns a computer virus that controls the machines in a high tech school. As horror movie villains tend to do, it uses its power to murder some prep school kids and ultimately the headmaster, played by Lance Henriksen (in what has to be the low point for what he calls "Alimony movies", playing his final scene strung up by cables and reciting Spice Girls lyrics). That it actually manages to be worse than the original film is almost impressive in a way, as is the fact that it more closely resembles Lawnmower Man (because of the computer virus stuff) and Maximum Overdrive (machines coming to life and killing, including "machines" that aren't connected to anything, like garden shears). It's like they were going for a hat trick - combining the most notorious King film (Overdrive), the only one he sued (Lawnmower Man), and The Mangler, which has the sad distinction of being the lowest grossing of his adaptations that were given a wide release. The next one, The Mangler Reborn, is somehow the best of the lot, reviving the killer laundry machine (albeit smaller) and containing everything to a single house. Our protagonists are a pair of burglars (one played by Reggie Bannister) who get trapped inside the house they were planning to rob and have to find a way out before the machine's possessed owner feeds them to it - it sounds dumber than it is, I assure you. And it's hardly great cinema, but considering everything it had going against it, it's a miracle the movie's even watchable, let alone half decent.

Interestingly, while he's had plenty of short story collections, every one of the above short stories that spawned a sequel or sequels came from the same source: 1978's Night Shift (which also had a story called "One For The Road", a sort of Salem's Lot followup that has nothing to do with Cohen's movie). Plenty of other stories from that collection have been adapted, either as feature films (Graveyard Shift), anthology segments (Quitters, Inc. and The Ledge both showed up in Cat's Eye), or "Dollar Babies" (pretty much every other one in there). But none of them ended up in Creepshow or its first sequel, which I bring up because I need to make sure no one asks about the third film. If you haven't seen it yet, consider yourself lucky, but know this: Creepshow 3 had absolutely nothing from King (or George Romero), and is just a terrible movie to boot. In fact, if memory serves they didn't even give King (or Romero) a special thanks, so even though none of these movies are particularly great they don't deserve to be tainted by having that pile of crap in their number. And shame on you for making me think about Creepshow 3 again.

King's cinematic fortunes are seemingly about to return to their former glory, however. In addition to the fact that The Dark Tower movie is finally happening after years of false starts, we're also finally getting the full blown, big budget version of It that we've wanted for the past thirty years (the TV movie is no slouch, but there are things in the book that certainly wouldn't have made it past ABC's censors). And perhaps The Stand will follow suit - like Dark Tower, it seems like we get news of a new director every other month, though I wouldn't be surprised if the success of these other two movies will determine how quickly Warner Bros. fast-tracks (or finally dumps) a mega-budget version of King's "other" magnum opus. And King himself has been churning out books faster than ever, so once THOSE start getting made into movies, I'm sure we will see a fresh batch of money-hungry producers using familiar titles to sucker idiots like me into watching followups that King probably isn't even fully aware that they exist, let alone has anything to do with. In fact, it seems there's already at least one in production - a Cujo followup titled C.U.J.O: Canine Unit Joint Operations. I'll be waiting by my Redbox!