The Sarah of the Dead column: unworthy successors

Sarah likes sequels. Her favourites are usually number 3. But sometimes, a sequel can be so mindblowingly dreadful that it actually takes the sheen off the original...

Battle Royale

Someone suggested I should write a column about Battle Royale at some point. And while I agree wholeheartedly that Battle Royale is worth talking about, I don’t think I’ve got anything new to say about it. I can remember hearing rumours about it when it was first released, and then eventually seeing it and falling in love with it. It’s brilliant. A few years ago, it was also considered to be pretty ‘extreme’ – and subversive, and political, and exceptionally violent. Compared with some more recent Western horror movies, it doesn’t seem quite so bloodthirsty (though the first example of how the explosive collar works is still pretty horrific). Battle Royale has now, more or less, claimed its rightful “classic” label: box closed.

Except that sadly, the universe didn’t let things lie at the end of Battle Royale. Depressingly, Battle Royale 2: Requiem exists. And while it’s a separate film, on a whole other DVD, and doesn’t actually change anything about the original film, it still manages to take the sheen off a bit. Battle Royale 2 picks up the original pristine movie and smudges it all over with its grimy fingers; sure, you can wipe the mess off and still enjoy Battle Royale, but you can’t forget how messed up it got for a while.

See, the thing with Battle Royale 2 is that you can’t help feeling like the filmmakers didn’t really understand why the original worked. It’s like they said “hey, well, last time we put some exploding schoolchildren on an island with lots of political undertones, and everyone loved it, so all we have to do this time is put some more exploding schoolchildren on an island with some politics thrown in for good measure and it’ll be just the same!”

Except, no. Battle Royale 2 is a jumbled mess of nonsense. It just doesn’t make sense; no-one’s sat and thought it through. The linked collars were a cool idea, but it’s completely thrown away. The politics aren’t cohesive; it’s basically just the ravings of a madman. In the first movie, the kids were a degenerate class used as a warning to other teenagers to toe the line, or else; this time, they’re … a randomly selected class who’ve been sent on a mission to infiltrate the base of the survivors of the last movie. Because clearly that’s a better idea than sending in soldiers, or, like, anyone who didn’t have explosives strapped to their necks. In the first movie, the question posed was “could you kill your best friend?” – if it came down to it, if it was kill or be killed, which would you choose? In Battle Royale 2, it’s just senseless explosions for no reason. It’s rubbish. And it turns Shuya, the hero of the first movie, into an annoying, posing git whose political standpoint is patently nonsense. So after watching Battle Royale 2, when you rewatch Battle Royale, you find yourself wishing he’d just get killed so the sequel couldn’t happen. Urgh.

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A more recent example of a sequel that completely destroyed the original is Hostel Part II. There’s all sorts of clever stuff going on in Hostel – the idea that people have become so jaded that they’ll torture and kill one another just to feel something; parallels drawn between the way men objectify women sexually with the way the rich torturers objectify their victims; a criticism of the way the Western world mostly ignores poorer countries and pays no attention to anything that happens outside their own bubble… there were interesting and nuanced characters, great dialogue, and, yes, some gore, though not as much as the marketing campaign promised. The first half of the movie was spent establishing characters so that when everything went horribly wrong, we’d identify with them and root for them, even though we knew they weren’t innocent or particularly virtuous. There’s also plenty of humour, used to release tension when necessary and to throw the pain and nastiness into relief. It’s one of my favourite horror movies of recent years.

And then Hostel Part II comes along: hamfisted, clumsy, trying to replicate the successes of the original by playing it entirely by numbers. The gore is amped up, at the expense of characterisation. The dialogue is clunky and lazy; later developments are scrawled in huge letters across the first part of the film. The characters… just aren’t. They’re just actors, saying words in order to move things along from one event to another. Plus, as an unexpected extra bonus, there’s lot of sexualised, exploitative violence and misogyny thrown in for larks.

Urgh. I just wrote “why do people do this?” and then deleted it, because I know exactly why: money. It’s an easy way to cash in on a successful film – make a sequel, and fans of the first one will go and see it. Even if it sucks. Half your marketing’s already been done for you; you don’t need to win an audience, you’ve already got one. Maybe that’s why there seems to be so much less effort put in. And while there are plenty of shitty, incoherent, terrible horror movies out there, bad sequels to good movies seem somehow much worse, much more annoying and disappointing and all the rest of it, because they cast a shadow over the original film. A sequel should add to a great movie, not subtract. But then, as long as bums are on cinema seats or DVDs are shifting off the shelves, who really cares?