Contemporary movies are in the age of reboots. From White Men Can’t Jump to Evil Dead, the retelling and reimagining of stories we know and love have been long imbedded in the culture of movie making. Horror has a more nuanced affinity to reboots and sequels. The horror genre is infused with repetition and the re-organization of narratives. Sequels are canonical to the genre and there are beats not only in narrative structure, but the cinematic structure of a franchise that audiences have come to expect. Like, is it really a horror franchise if we don’t have a movie set in space? While the ouroboric nature of sequels in horror is primarily applied to slashers, on occasion the requel (a sequel that serves also as a reboot) is applied to other sub genres of horror. But what happens when studios attempt to improve upon a classic?
Rumors of a follow up to Beetlejuice, one of the most iconic horror comedies ever made, have swirled since the premiere. For whatever reason the sequel project didn’t get immediate backing. Ideas for the titular character have come and gone, including a penned sequel set on a Hawaiian resort that, thankfully, never made its way in front of a camera. Talks with the iconic cast on reprising their roles have been had over the years, dangling the possibility of a continuation of the story like a carrot just out of reach. 30 years after the original, fans finally got confirmation of the sequel earlier this month. Since the announcement the horror community is buzzing with both delight and panic. While Beetlejuice 2 is one of the most highly anticipated film sequels ever, many folks raised concerns that the sequel wouldn’t capture the same magic of Burtons first film.
The requel structure doesn’t work for the fantasy sub-genre in the same way that sequels work for slashers. The doom of repetition makes endless slasher sequels work, and the modern duplication of the original narrative is necessary for sequelling to be a success. Every major franchise has a re-do; the original film re-told almost shot for shot, but with a more diverse cast and better cameras. For other sub genres, the requel must serve as a true part two. A thoughtful addition that not only improves upon the original story but has the narrative strength to stand alone.
The challenge for any requel is a beloved film balance. These films must have the ability to maintain enough of the original to make OG fans happy without the story being too repetitive. At the same time, they can’t leave out too much information that would confuse folks new to the story. The most recent beloved classic that got a modern requel is Hocus Pocus. The second installment was highly anticipated by audiences for years, it received mix reviews by critics and audiences alike. The requel leaned heavy on the nostalgia factor, calling back to key moments in the original from subtle easter eggs like having background actors dressed as characters from the original film to more over the top instances of a musical number at the first appearance of the Sanderson sisters. While there were the expected modernizations to the film’s narrative, overall audiences were disappointed by the execution. Hocus Pocus 2 suffered a death by comparison. No retelling, no matter how modernized, could live up to the original.
So where does that leave Beetlejuice 2? In a world of grey. Director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman are expected to return. Wynona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, and Michael Keaton are all set to reprise their iconic roles. Breakout scream queen Jenna Ortega has also joined the cast. Hopes are high that Beetlejuice 2 will be able to capture the campy magic of the first film and modernize the humor in a way that doesn’t cheapen the story, but often in cases like these, some things are better left in the land of the dead.