Horror sequels tend to get a bad rap, and for good reason. There’s a lot to get into with this, and all of it makes for great debate, but one of the most overlooked reasons is the lack of commitment to continuity. What makes a good first horror movie in a franchise is that it’s usually told as a standalone story without any plans for sequels in the runup. Most slashers fall under this category, with Friday the 13th as perhaps its greatest example given the iconic Jason doesn’t even feature in the first movie. He becomes the killer from part two onwards. When continuity is given a shot, as is the case in Halloween 2, the temptation to go bigger and bloodier results in less character and myth work, things that made the first movie successful.
Rio Youers and Tom Fowler’s Refrigerator Full of Heads manages to avoid these pitfalls by committing to its role as a direct sequel to Joe Hill and Leomacs’ Basketful of Heads while also introducing new characters that flesh out the lore behind the magical Viking weapons at the center of the story. They do an impressive job of it too, creating a very generous gorefest with new monsters and creative kills, but never at the expense of story.
Refrigerator Full of Heads follows Calvin Belinger and Arlene Fields as they head over to Brody Island for a relaxing vacation one year after the terrible hurricane that hit there washed away the talking severed heads and the magical axe that started all the chaos of the first book. Their arrival is quickly met with a group of bikers that are also visiting with the intention of finding the axe. Calvin and Arlene find themselves in the middle of this hunt, but they slowly reveal their own reasons for their presence at Brody.
One of the successes of Refrigerator is owed to Youers and Fowler taking refuge in the “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it” rule, which immediately places fans in a familiar setting without much need to dump large amounts of information on how the world works. What they add to the rule is a bit of excess to maximize the grindhouse/exploitation film elements that made Basketful such uniquely fun and gleefully violent romp.
For instance, instead of contending with the power of a single magical axe, the sequel brings in more mystical weapons into the fray, each with their own powers. One weapon in particular, a kind of chest strap or belt made from the scales of a giant snake from Viking legend turns those who wear it into a monster with a slithery disposition. Youers imbues each weapon with a history that’s as mysterious and creepy as it is compelling, allowing Fowler to fully indulge the horror behind them to create some large-scale terror set pieces that are sure to make creature-feature enthusiasts drool over the pages.
Youers’ script makes sure to honor the title’s promise, almost doubling the amount of heads chopped off by the axe this go-around. As was the case in the previous book, each head retains the ability to continue talking, but one in particular stands out for very unexpected reasons. After they’ve acquired the axe, Calvin and Arlene get attacked by a shark. In the scuffle, the shark gets its head separated from its body by the Viking axe. The head keeps on chomping, eventually becoming a killing tool that’s given its time to shine. This is Refrigerator at its most bonkers, the kind of thing we’d see in sleazy 1980s horror sequels had the budget allowed for it. Only here it serves the purpose of worldbuilding, and it paves the way for a few key sequences that are sure to leave an impression late in the story.
Basketful’s returning characters are also given the space to develop. Saying too much would spoil some surprises, but their place in the story is carved in quite well and it never feels like their presence is mere fan service. That said, Basketful of Heads is required reading for the full enjoyment of its sequel. The foundations for the things that happen in part two were already laid out by Hill and Leomacs in Basketful. Then again, any reason to read or reread the first book is a good one, and Youers and Fowler are glad to it.
Refrigerator Full of Heads achieves the rare feat of becoming a worthy sequel that honors the original, builds upon the world and its characters, and still manages to be more violent and gruesome than what came before it. It’s smart in its execution and unreservedly vicious in the process of dumping buckets of blood on its pages. It’s the perfect book for both horror fans and those looking for a great exploitation-inspired book that is unafraid to throw monsters, dark weapons, and chatty severed heads at readers for an experience they’re not likely to forget.