Best Horror Movies of the 90’s
Horror fans know that the 1990’s was the crash in the genre after the embarrassment of riches the 80’s gave us. That being said there are some true gems hidden among the rubble which fans of scary flicks hold near and dear.
Silence of the Lambs: The movie stuffy critics love to insist is a “thriller” rather than admit the artistic merit of the horror genre. Young FBI profiler Clarice Starling gets pulled into the hunt for a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. For her part in the investigation she must come face-to-face with a charming monster kept locked away in a cell, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Catching the fancy of this cannibalistic serial killer, Lecter draws Clarice into his game stringing her along with clues to Buffalo Bill’s identity. Being confronted with nothing short of pure evil Agent Starling must hang on to her mind and soul as she tries to stop a serial killer. This was not the first film to present the character of Hannibal Lecter (that honor goes to Manhunter) but it was easily the most memorable thanks to a chilling performance by Anthony Hopkins. Silence of the Lambs not only became the only horror film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it also dominated the award show, winning statues for: Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Actor as well.
Candyman: For my money this is 1992 flick is one of the great often overlooked masterpieces of the genre. Virginia Madsen turns in a subtle yet captivating performance as a sociologist who leaves the hallowed halls of academia to research the urban legends spread around Chicago’s toughest housing project. There she learns the tale of Candyman, a former slave who was brutally murdered who now haunts the inner city as his story is spread through myth and modern folklore. She learns too late that there may be truth to the story as Candyman begins to make his presence known. As her life unravels this ominous being stalks her seeking to possess her for eternity so that she too may ascend to become a legend like him. Thanks to a towering performance by Tony Todd, Candyman takes his place among the great monsters of film with a turn which is haunting yet enticing at the same time.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula: 1992 saw legendary director Francis Ford Coppola take Bram Stoker’s vampire classic and turn it into a full-fledged operatic epic. Chameleonic actor Gary Oldman dons the iconic mantle of Count Dracula for a film which remains closer to the source material than many of its predecessors. In following with the Bram Stoker novel, Jonathan Harker travels to the rural and superstitious land of Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula who is interested in purchasing property in England. Dracula becomes enamored with Jonathan’s fiancée Mina and travels to England to not only terrorize humanity but seduce her. Harker and his compatriots are led by the distinguished Dr. Van Helsing, who holds the knowledge and experience necessary to destroying Dracula once and for all. An all-star cast combined with lavish visuals has led to Coppola’s take on the Dracula mythos to becoming a fan favorite.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare: For the final installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street saga, Freddy’s creator returned with an idea which was perhaps ahead of its time. Rather than repeating the same formula of having Freddy Kruger stalking the nightmares of teens, Wes Craven brought Kruger into reality. Heather Langenkamp, star of the original Nightmare on Elm Street was no longer playing the character of Nancy, she was instead playing a hyperrealized version of herself in the real world. As she takes on the challenge of motherhood Heather begins to notice the specter of Freddy Kruger invading her life. Though she chalks it up to her work with the franchise getting to her, meetings with others involved with Nightmare like; Wes Craven, Johnny Depp, and Robert Englund show there may be something supernatural at play. It is learned Freddy is just the latest incarnation of an ancient evil from nightmares who is forcing Heather Langenkamp to battle the real Freddy in a final showdown. New Nightmare may not be for everyone but it has proven to be one of the more fascinating entries in the franchise.
Scream: Aside from returning to Elm Street, Craven also kickstarted a new horror franchise for the edgy 90’s crowd. Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, looked at all of the tropes of the slasher genre and knew by now audiences were too familiar with them. This what they played on in their flashy horror flick, Scream which took an almost satirical look at the genre which dripped of 90’s era trendiness. Sidney Prescott has recently lost her mother and now she and her friends begin to receive harassing phone calls. This gains the attention of local reporter Gail Weathers who decides to look into what is going on. It all comes to a head when Sidney and her friends are stalked by a killer in a Halloween costume who has some kind of connection to the young woman. Granted while Scream did spawn a number of the worst slasher movies ever which tried to imitate it and became instantly dated, the film did leave a mark on the genre.
Perfect Blue: Proof that you do not need live action to make a terrifying flick. This unnerving Japanese anime film follows Mima Kirigoea member of a popular pop group who is looking to strike out on her own and adopt a more grown-up image as an actress. As her star begins to rise her mental state begins to slowly but surely crack as Mima learns that this career path is far darker than she imagined. Soon she is haunted by a taunting personification of her own self-doubt and if that is not enough an obsessive stalker makes her life hell. A unique horror anime which rather than feature monsters and over-the-top gore, plays as an intense Hitchcockian thriller.
From Dusk Till Dawn: One of my favorite movie pranks is to tell people unfamiliar with this flick you are about to watch a heist film, then watch the “WTF” moment hit them once the movie takes a turn. George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the Gecko Brothers, two notorious outlaws making their way around the American Southwest. They end of taking a former minister and his children hostage as they try to make their getaway. Their path leads to the Titty Twister, a rundown bar in Mexico filled with colorful characters, most notably the stunning performer Satanico Pandemonium. Once night falls it is revealed the bar is actually a lair for a group of vampires who have set a trap for all the patrons inside. The Gecko brothers and the family reluctantly with them have to survive the night against a growing army of bloodsuckers. Fans will be delighted to see From Dusk Till Dawn sports a cast filled with cult film icons like: Danny Trejo, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Cheech Marin, John Saxon, and Michael Parks. This helps director Robert Rodriguez take his salute to classic Mexican vampire films to the next level as one of the decade’s most entertaining flicks.
Ring: The blockbuster horror film from Hideo Nakata which inspired kickstarted the American movie trend of remaking superior Japanese horror films. After the death of a relative, Reiko Asakawa begins to look into a strange “Cursed Video” which may be tied to the tragedy. Along with her ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama, Reiko not only watches the tape but researches it’s sinister origins. When her son, Yoichi watches the tape things become personal and lead the woman to a volcanic island as she learns how a psychic woman and her daughter are tied to this mysterious tape. Ring proved to be an absolute chilling film earning praise from international audiences as it took an interesting look at how the modern world was playing into the elements of Japanese lore.
In the Mouth of Madness: From horror legend John Carpenter, In the Mouth of Madness combines psychological terror with HP Lovecraft-inspired elements to make a truly memorable flick. While John Trent may seem like a man who has simply lost his mind, he tells the story of why his mental state is completely justified. He was once an investigator, hired to find famed horror author Sutter Cane who has gone missing along with his latest work. As they reach a community where the author is believed to be, Trent and his partner Linda discover a supernatural evil which is seemingly emanating from Cane’s work. The evil stemming from the manuscript slowly but surely destroys John Trent’s mind as he futilely searches for a way to stop anyone else from reading it. Filled with twists and turns to keep audiences on their feet In the Mouth of Madness is disturbing and definitely leaves audiences guessing throughout.
Se7en: The movie that broke David Fincher into the A-list of directors takes the familiar trope of a streetwise veteran detective partnered with a tenacious new partner into new horrifying territory. Detectives Somerset and Mills (played to perfection by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) discover a demented serial killer at work in their city. Preying on those he deems guilty of the seven deadly sins, this murderer chooses particularly ironic and gruesome means for his victims to meet their end. Everything hits the fan in Se7en’s iconic climax which sees the two detectives discovering a horrifying revelation as they confront the killer John Doe on the outskirts of the city.
Baby Blood: A strange little French film which unexpectedly found a cult audience upon its release. A young woman named Yanka is trapped in an abusive relationship with a the owner of a circus. When a strange creature finds itself amongst the circus, it enters Yanka’s body and urges her to give in to her darkest impulses and carry out murders. With each of her victims, she drinks the blood which nourishes the parasitic creature and the two begin to form a bond. Director Alain Robak had no grand illusions about Baby Blood, and made it as a pure labor of level for B-grade horror flicks.
Audition: Moving on and finding love again after the loss of a spouse can be extremely difficult, which is why Shigeharu Aoyama never remarried after the passing of his wife. So at the behest of his friend in the movie industry, an audition is set up as a ruse to find a girlfriend for Aoyama. This leads to the widower meeting the soft-spoken and reserved Asami Yamazaki, who despite his friend’s reservations has Aoyama completely enamored. But as we learn more about the young woman’s past it becomes clear he is in danger as his new love is hiding a sadistic side. It is impossible not to cringe while watching Audtion, as it proves to be one of the most disturbing films ever made.
Cronos: With this critically acclaimed horror film, the world was introduced to Guillermo del Toro who has gone on to become one of the most revered filmmakers in the world. In the 16th an alchemist hiding as a watchmaker in Veracruz, Mexico builds a device which will grant eternal life. This device dubbed, Cronos is discovered by a modern day antique dealer who is injected by the scarab within the ornate device. While it makes him younger and stronger it also gives him a thirst for human blood. Also searching for the Cronos is an ailing billionaire and his nephew Angel who are determined to get the device no matter who stands in the way. Cronos was the perfect showcase of the combination of horror and heart which del Toro is now famed for, the film became a critical darling in Mexico and around the world.
Misery: We all have a favorite author, and retired nurse Annie Wilkes actually gets the chance of a lifetime to meet hers, with horrifying results. Based on a story by Stephen King, Misery follows Paul Sheldon, an acclaimed author who crashes his car in a freak blizzard. Luckily he is discovered by Annie Wilkes who is his “number one fan” who takes him in and claims to have called the local hospital to come and collect him once the weather permits. It is in her desolate farmhouse, Annie discovers that Sheldon plans to kills the beloved protagonist of his books “Misery” Chastain. Annie forces her unwilling house guest to save her favorite fictional character, even if it means using less than favorable means of persuasion. Filled with engrossing tension with a nice sprinkling of dark humor, Misery has become one of the most beloved Stephen King adaptations.
Army of Darkness: The 90’s saw cult hero Ash Williams’ battle with the evil of the Necronomicon come to an end in spectacular fashion. Taken from the backwoods cabin of the previous two films, the Necronomicon lands Ash in a fantastical medieval era. The locals view the S-Mart employee as a prophesied hero who can save them from the forces of darkness when all he really wants to do get back to his own time. In trying to find a way home, our hero accidentally summons the Deadites who are bent on destroying the villagers. Knowing he is responsible for this, Ash leads the battle against the army of the undead headed their way. Directed by fan favorite Sam Raimi and starring another fan favorite in Bruce Campbell, the Army of Darkness has amassed a strong cult following due to its blending of horror and slapstick.
The Reflecting Skin: Growing up in a dysfunctional Midwest household during the 1950’s, young Seth Dove looks to his father’s vampire books as a form of escapism. With his mind firmly on bloodsuckers the impressionable 8 year old soon begins to believe the widowed neighbor he calls Blue Dolphin is a vampire. His beliefs are exacerbated when his friend Eben disappears and Seth believes his “vampiric” neighbor is responsible, until Eben turns up dead. Seth’s father is blamed for the murder by the town, due to a history of homosexual tendencies. This drives the boy’s father to commit suicide and Seth’s brother Cameron, returns home from the army to take over as the man of the house. Cameron begins to develop a relationship with Dolphin and they grow closer, radiation poisoning from his time in the army begins to afflict the young man. From here everything in Seth’s life spins out of control until we reach an absolutely haunting climax. One of the great underrated horror films of the 90’s, the Reflecting Skin has built a fandom which spans both horror fans and mainstream critics.
Jacob’s Ladder: After going through the horrors of the Vietnam War and losing his son, postal worker Jacob Singer is trying to move on with his life. But the demons from his past begin to take their toll on the man and his mental state. Jacob is constantly thrown around from his current life to the killing fields of the war to a nightmarish landscape populated by terrifying beings with blurry heads. His lover Jezzie thinks his PTSD along with the death of his son and stress of his job is getting to him, but we as the audience have reason to believe that maybe something else is at play, and that perhaps the army did something to Jacob during his service. This is a masterpiece of a film carried by a stellar tortured performance by Tim Robbins who successfully confuses what the audience believes to be real.
Tremors: The town of Perfection, Nevada has a problem and it comes in the form of giant worms beneath them. This is the community where two men, Val and Earl end up in as they take a job watching over a herd of cattle. While Val and Earl begin to piece together that something is picking off the people of Perfection, a seismologist begins to record tremors from beneath the surface in the region. It is revealed that the two are tied because underground dwelling worms are attacking the citizens of the town and it is up to the three heroes to help defend the community from these creatures. Becoming a fan favorite, Tremors is easily one of the most entertaining movies of any genres from the 1990’s.
Sixth Sense: Mostly remembered now for the quoted into the ground “I see dead people” there was a reason why M. Night Shyamalan was heralded as the next big thing in Hollywood upon the release of the Sixth Sense. Philadelphia’s noted child psychologist, Malcolm Crowe has found a patient in the young Cole Sear who he has not quite figured out, but he does know the boy is hiding a secret. Throughout their meetings Crowe discovers that the young boy has the ability to see the spirits of the dead who still wander the earth with unfinished business. He helps Cole understand his gifts and use them to help those who frighten him find resolution. Today’s audiences may get too caught up in the twist ending and the inferior entries in Shyamalan’s filmography which followed that they may have forgotten just how good the Sixth Sense truly is as it is a movie definitely worth another viewing.
Interview With the Vampire: Novelist Anne Rice had a bestseller on her hands by putting a fresh spin on a classic monster in her book Interview With the Vampire. Naturally Hollywood came knocking and made a film version of the popular book. Controversy was kicked up when the lead role of Lestat went to Tom Cruise despite protests from the author. Fortunately for all of us, Cruise proved his doubters wrong and gave a towering performance oozing of rock star charisma. The movie is framed by a discussion between the New Orleans-born vampire Louis and a tenacious reporter who is interviewing him about all that he has seen in his centuries long existence. Louis regales the curious reporter with tales of how he met an egotistical yet lonely vampire named Lestat who turned Louis into a creature of the night during the 18th century. From there we follow the reluctant vampire as he and Lestat bring a young girl into their fold and eventually break free from their sire and explore the world. Despite a cast of heavy-hitting talent like; Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas, and Stephen Rea, a young Kirsten Dunst stole the show and was ultimately given a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
Nightbreed: In 1990, horror icon, Clive Barker took audiences on a trip to Midian, where the monsters live. Aaron Boone dreams of this bizarre community, which he reveals to his psychotherapist Dr. Decker, played by filmmaing legend David Cronenberg. The young man discovers that Midian is in fact a real place, a sanctuary of sorts beneath a cemetery where beings dubbed the Nightbreed live. For his discovery, Boone is killed by Decker who reveals that he is a masked serial killer, trying to get his patient to take the fall for him. However, Aaron is given a second chance at life as he is brought to live in Midian, but his being there attracts both his girlfriend, Lori as well as Decker to this peaceful community. While Lori only wants to reunite with him, the good doctor only brings violence. The theatrical cut of Nightbreed is one that Clive Barker was not happy with, but in 2009 his collaborator Mark Miller was able to track down much of the edited footage to release a cut of the film, Barker was far happier with.