The 1990’s are widely regarded as the very worst decade for horror movies, especially when considering the range of quality fright flicks produced during the previous decade. There are gems amongst the crud of the 90’s though, and the ten very best, in my humble opinion, are listed below.
P.S. The Exorcist III is not included as I haven’t seen it, I know its omission will get me shouted at, apologies.
#10 From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Picking the tenth entry on this list was tougher than I thought, there were a few excellent movies that deserved a spot almost as much as the movie I eventually chose. However, being a lifelong fan of both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, it had to go to this demented crime movie/vampire B-flick hybrid. The first half is pure Tarantino, as a pair of notorious bank robbers named the Gekko brothers make a break for the Mexican border with a preacher and his two children as hostages. Smart mouthed, cool dialogue is spouted, brutal violence occurs, feet are stared at for longer than is necessary, as I said, pure Tarantino. It’s in the second half of the movie that Rodriguez’s presence is more keenly felt, as the Gekko brothers and their hostages make it across the border and hole up in the delightfully named Titty twister strip club, only to be assailed by some particularly vicious vampires. It’s pure B-movie mayhem from here on out, with the likes of Fred Williamson and Tom Savini joining the excellent A list cast (Clooney, Keitel, Tarantino himself) for some hardcore, gory and highly inventive vampire slaughter. It’s a really, really fun movie that’s full of surprises, the biggest surprise perhaps is how damn good Tarantino is in it, but was playing a whack-job with a foot fetish REALLY that huge a stretch?
#9 Stir of Echoes (1999)
I’m sure a lot of folks would expect to see M. Night Shyamalan’s hugely successful supernatural mystery The Sixth Sense somewhere on this list, however I’ve always been just a little more fond of this similarly effective little flick. It’s one of two Kevin Bacon movies to make an appearance here, but unlike Tremors where Bacon is one part of a winning ensemble, this movie is driven almost entirely by Bacon’s barnstorming, awards worthy performance as a blue collar skeptic haunted by ghostly visions after a hypnotherapy session. It works a treat as both a spooky mystery and a man-on-the-edge crack up movie, as the increasingly manic and obsessive behaviour of Bacon’s family man drives a wedge between himself and his concerned, helpless wife. It’s a phenomenal performance from Bacon in a smart, fascinating little movie that deserves a much wider audience.
#8 The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Of all the movies Wes Craven directed in the 90’s, The People Under the Stairs is far from his biggest, but in my humble opinion it’s his best by some margin. Three would be burglars, one a 12 year old boy nicknamed Fool, attempt to rob the home of their cruel landlords to save their home from demolition. All that stands in their way is the utterly psychotic, gimp suited, shotgun wielding occupant, his incestuous and equally insane sister/wife, their bloodthirsty guard dog AND their deformed and abandoned cannibal offspring, the aforementioned people under the stairs. It’s one of those crazy horror flicks that throws a hundred deranged ideas into the mix, and in this case pretty much all of it works a treat. Brandon Quinton Adams is fine in the lead as Fool, Ving Rhames is memorable in a minor role and Sean Whalen makes an impact as the tragic wall dwelling Roach. This show however, belongs almost entirely to the magnificent duo of Everett McGill and Wendy Robie as the wonderfully unhinged occupants, simply named Man and Woman, they are truly unique and unnerving creations that lift the entire picture from cult oddity to minor classic status. Probably Craven’s last truly great movie.
#7 Braindead (1992)
A head spinning mix of nutty slapstick comedy and obscene zombie gore movie, it’s sometimes hard to believe that Braindead was created by the same man responsible for movies as elegant as the Lord of The Rings trilogy. After his ultra low budget alien invasion comic horror Bad Taste, Peter Jackson found himself with an much increased budget for his next flick, the story of a nerdy mummy’s boy juggling new found romance with an undead invasion led by his own zombified mother. There’s a kinda sweet romance amongst all the zombie sex, kung fu priests and Sumatran rat monkeys, but it’s very much secondary to the torrents of imaginative and disgraceful gore and filth, climaxing in a power tool based zombie massacre for the ages.
#6 Ravenous (1999)
The movie I’d imagine to be the least seen on the list is this eerie and peculiar period cannibal movie. To say too much about Ravenous might spoil the many grisly surprises it has up its sleeves, so I’ll just say that it has a superb cast, wonderful soundtrack, tons of atmosphere, a wicked line in pitch black humour and a quirky, bizarre sensibility all of its own. An absolute gem, once seen, never forgotten.
#5 Tremors (1990)
A delightful, lovingly crafted homage to B-grade monster movies AND a deliriously entertaining movie in its own right, Tremors may well be flawless. A tale of giant, razor toothed worm monsters attacking a near empty, dust bowl desert town, Tremors is a giddy triumph of whip smart writing, fantastic, authentic characters, terrific performances from a hugely talented cast (Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and Michael Gross in particular), wonderful creature design, perfect pacing, even some genuinely effective horror in the Jaws-under-the-floor tension. It’s a movie I honestly cannot find fault with, even the three direct-to-video sequels are a whole bunch of daft fun. If you missed it somehow, seek it out immediately.
#4 Cube (1997)
A group of strangers awake inside a brightly lit, cube shaped room with doors on each wall, the floor and the ceiling, with no memory of how they came to be there. As they make their way cautiously from room to room, they soon discover that many of the cube’s rooms contain horrific and deadly traps. It’s a startlingly simple idea, but also a fantastically effective one. It’s an utterly exhausting experience that contains some of the most devastating, soul destroying twists in horror movie history. Saw borrowed many of its finest ideas, but never came close to the gut-punch horror and grinding tension that Cube so masterfully creates. A cult classic that deserves its place amongst the great innovators of the genre.
#3 Candyman (1992)
Have you managed to look into a mirror and say his name five times yet? I’ll do it now, “Candyman, Candy…”, ok, I can’t do it either, but with good reason, Tony Todd’s take on Clive Barker’s mythical monster is truly terrifying. A smart combination of supernatural slasher flick, gothic romance and razor sharp social commentary, Candyman may well be the smartest and most beautiful horror movies of the decade. Virginia Madsen is wonderful as the skeptical student investigating the urban legend of the hook handed Candyman, Tony Todd creates an indelible icon of modern horror cinema as the aforementioned bogeyman. Perhaps the finest Barker adaptation outside of Hellraiser (avoid the sequels).
#2 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
(Bit of a cheat, Henry was made in the late 80’s but not released until 1990)
Not only is John McNaughton’s Henry… my second favourite 90’s horror movie, it is also, quite easily, my all time favourite serial killer flick. Based very loosely on the (probably false) confessions of one Henry Lee Lucas, this is a bleak, authentic, horribly matter of fact and totally uncompromising study of the banality of evil. Tom Towles and Tracy Arnold give stellar support as Henry’s sadistic partner in crime and the woman who might just offer Henry salvation, but it’s Michael Rooker’s turn as Henry himself that makes the movie such a chilling experience, his dead eyed, pitiless killer is the stuff nightmares are made of.
#1 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The very definition of a love it or hate it horror flick, The Blair Witch Project is my favourite horror since John Carpenter’s Halloween in ’78, and it terrifies me almost as much. Much was made of the marketing campaign that turned this tiny budget feature into the most profitable film of all time, and while the viral marketing was smart and effective, the movie itself stands as a classic on its own merit. That feeling of being lost in the pitch black woods, not being able to see, yet hearing everything, it’s a primal fear, and The Blair Witch… milks that deep rooted terror for everything it’s worth. Possibly the movie’s greatest triumph is its devastating climax, where many filmmakers fall at the last hurdle, The Blair Witch… creators Sanchez and Myrick drive that final nail home with a single, horrifying, split second shot that is seared into my my memory for all time. Exceptional.
The Sixth Sense – Terrific supernatural mystery, only just missed the cut.
The Relic – Silly but fun monster-in-a-museum B-movie.
Scream – Self referential horror satire with plenty of scares and gory action.
Tales From the Dark Side – Witty, nasty and surprising horror anthology.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – ANOTHER Self referential horror satire from Scream director Wes Craven AND The best Nightmare… since part 3.