I am an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
1. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
When the Sam Raimi feature Evil Dead was released in 1981, it went virtually unnoticed in the United States. Fortunately, it was embraced by horror fans across the Atlantic and a cult classic was born.
What many of those who relished the groundbreaking terror fest didn't know was that the team behind the production always felt that they could have done better. Six years later, they proved it with Evil Dead 2.
Rather than picking up where its predecessor left off, the second effort was basically a re-telling of the original. This time around, however, deeper pockets allowed them to run wild with special effects, creating a comedy/horror masterpiece.
In the sequel, Raimi's childhood friend Bruce Campbell reprises his role as Ash, an unlikely hero who could have taught MacGyver a thing or two about survival. Co-written by actor/director Scott Spiegel, another member of Raimi's inner circle, Evil Dead 2 is a gloriously gruesome roller coaster ride from start to finish.
I won't ruin it for those who have somehow let this one slip by, but let's just say that if you have a proclivity toward buckets of gore, coupled with loads of The Three Stooges-style sight gags, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven.
2. Jaws 2 (1978)
If someone who had never seen or heard of Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic Jaws happened to stumble upon this movie while channel surfing, they would probably enjoy it for the suspenseful thriller it is. Unfortunately, since most people know the original so well that they can recite much of the dialogue by heart, its inspired sequel never got the respect it deserved.
The film brings back a few familiar faces including Roy Scheider as Chief Brody, the only person in town with any sense, and Murray Hamilton as Mayor Vaughn, a man who is apparently incapable of learning from his mistakes.
On this go-round, Brody finds himself pitted against a town council who refuse to close the beaches, even as evidence mounts that a great white shark has once again invaded the waters off of Amity Island. As the plot thickens, he learns that his sons are among a group of youths who foolishly decided to set sail in the middle of the crisis.
After an attack by the rogue shark leaves their boats disabled, the teens, plus one, find themselves stranded in enemy territory. With no viable means of escape, all they can do is sit tight and hope that someone finds them before it's too late.
While the film borrows heavily from the original, it has just enough uniqueness to stand alone. The young cast do an excellent job of relaying their feelings of dread to the audience. The tension is real as we drift along with them, anticipating the inevitable moments when the menace that we know is lurking nearby will strike.
Chief Brody's determination to save the day is made all the more believable by the knowledge that his own children's lives are at stake. The climactic scene, though predictable, is still riveting, and don't let anyone tell you different.
All things considered, while it will never be as respected as its parent film, Jaws 2 is an exhilarating nail-biter that will leave you wanting more. With that said, don't get your hopes up for the third one—it's all downhill from here.
3. The Collection (2012)
In 2009, horror fans were rocked by The Collector, a terrifying tale of a home invasion gone wrong. For those of you who haven't seen the original, skip ahead because a spoiler is on the way.
The first film ends with the protagonist, a burglar with a heart of gold named Arkin, falling into the clutches of a psychotic entomologist who moonlights as a serial killer, or perhaps vice versa. As the credits role, the audience is left to ponder our accidental hero's fate.
The successor begins a month or so later and revolves around Elena, a waifish teenager with a traumatic past and cheating boyfriend. It is while indulging in a night of partying at a mysterious, out-of-the-way club that her nightmare begins.
After seeing her philandering significant other in action, a distraught Elena, portrayed by newcomer Emma Fitzpatrick, flees to a room where she can be alone with her misery. Once inside, she spies a suspicious chest which she inexplicably feels compelled to open.
Now, those familiar with the modus operandi of this particular madman know that he always keeps one victim alive, secreting them away in a wooden box to use as bait for future kills. Unfortunately, no one shared this important bit of information with Elena.
When she releases the latch, a boobytrap is set off. In an instant, someone in the box saves her from certain death. Although he is a stranger to her, we know him well. The man is none other than the beleaguered Arkin, played once again by steely-eyed Sean Penn doppelganger, Josh Stewart.
Elena, unaware that he is one of the good guys, unintentionally activates another device that will ultimately result in the deaths of nearly everyone in the club. After running from the room and seeing the destruction in progress, the thoroughly confused young woman rejoins Arkin. After finding a key that frees him from the shackles put in place by his captor, he breaks a window and jumps to safety.
Elena is not so lucky. Having been spotted by the collector, who was on hand to enjoy the show, she is whisked away to his lair. Since Arkin is the maniac's only known survivor, the teenager's sworn protector, Lucello, tracks him down at a local hospital and recruits him to aid in the girl's rescue.
Needless to say, what follows are scores of gruesome deaths, courtesy of the incredibly adept human killing machine. There are also several harrowing escapes, topped off by a satisfying twist that brings the saga full circle.
The Collection is a suspenseful thriller that will pull you in and keep you glued to the screen until the end. Whether you liked the original or not, you'd do well to give this one a chance. It might just surprise you.
4. Aliens (1986)
When Ridley Scott's sci-fi classic Alien hit theaters in 1979, it scared the living daylights out of audiences far and wide. From the moment the fearsome creature burst forth from Kane's chest, right up to the heart-stopping finale, people were hooked. The film's immense success had fans waiting with bated breath for a sequel that would do justice to the original.
In 1986, director James Cameron granted their wish. The second installment kicks off nearly six decades later with the discovery of the shuttle carrying the Nostromo's lone survivor, Ellen Ripley. Unfortunately for nearly everyone involved, her tale of being set upon by an acid-bleeding alien is met with disbelief by representatives of the space agency. To make matters worse, she learns that they are in the process of preparing the alien's home turf for mass colonization.
When things start to go south, company reps, led by chief lackey Carter Burke, played with just the right amount of sleaze by actor/comedian Paul Reiser, ask Ripley to accompany them to the site. Along for the ride are a group of Marines led by Cameron favorites Michael Biehn as Hicks, and the late, great Bill Paxton as Private Hudson, a character brimming over with false bravado.
Upon reaching the colony and finding it deserted, except for a traumatized girl named Newt, they set about searching for answers. By the time they realize that they are surrounded by a population of aggressive aliens that view humans as things to be used as they see fit, it is too late to turn back.
As the plot thickens, Ripley and the military aids learn that the agency cares more about money than their lives. This revelation results in the good guys having to battle not only an army of aliens, but also the people who are supposed to be looking out for them.
Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role as Ripley, dominates the screen from start to finish. As spectators, we see her softer side as she bonds with the orphaned girl, and her fierce underbelly as she fights tooth and nail against a seemingly unstoppable enemy. Her tour de force performance would go on to earn her an Oscar nomination, a rarity for films in this genre.
Although to date there have been six additional films in the series, if you include the Alien vs. Predator offerings, none were as critically successful as the second in the franchise.
If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out. Better yet, if you want to observe horror/sci-fi at its finest, watch Alien and Aliens back-to-back, but only if your nerves can take it.
IMDB (Internet Movie Database)