1998 was, in many ways, an age of innocence. These were the years before the tech bubble burst, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and before the events of 9/11—an attack with global repercussions that forever changed the way humans experience and process fear. It’s no wonder that these go-go days were hit and miss when it comes to horror movies. History proves, after all, that harrowing times make for the most compelling art.
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As we continue our retrospective series of horror movies celebrating significant anniversaries in 2018, I recently sought out the best genre offerings turning 20 this year. Like my recent list of the best films of 1993 (those celebrating their 25th Anniversaries), it took a bit of effort just to find 10 horror movies from 1998 worthy of remembering. Lucky for you guys, I found them!
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The 10 best horror movies released in 1998 are listed below in no particular order. Later this week, we’ll be concluding our retrospective series with a list of the Top 10 genre films turning 10-years-old in 2018. Stay tuned!
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The Faculty (Directed by Robert Rodriguez)
Release Date: November 12, 1998
Official Synopsis: To the students at Harrington High, the principal and her posse of teachers have always been a little odd, but lately they’ve been behaving positively alien. Controlled by otherworldly parasites, the faculty try to infect students one by one. Cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster), football player Stan (Shawn Hatosy), drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) team up with some of their other classmates to fight back against the invaders.
Robert Rodriguez’s first English-language film is one of the best of the 1990s and one of the few horror movies of the era that doesn’t feel ridiculously dated. With a veritable Brat-Pack of the era’s teen heartthrobs, The Faculty still works as a metaphor for generational divides and the failures of America’s public-school system.
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Bride of Chucky (Directed by Ronny Yu)
Release Date: October 16, 1998
Official Synopsis: After being cut apart by the police, killer doll Chucky (Brad Dourif) is resurrected by Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), an ex-girlfriend of the serial murderer whose soul is inside the toy. Following an argument, Chucky kills Tiffany and transfers her soul into a bride doll. To find the magical amulet that can restore them both to human form, Chucky and Tiffany arrange to be driven to New Jersey by Jesse (Nick Stabile) and Jade (Katherine Heigl), who are unaware that their cargo is alive.
The Child’s Play franchise seemed to have run its course after its brutal 3rd installment, but original scribe Don Mancini and director Ronny Yu breathed new life into Chucky by infusing a hefty dose of comedy to established slasher tropes. Some fans were irked by the campiest aspects of Bride of Chucky, but the film remains a cult sensation. The film also introduced Tiffany (played by Jennifer Tilly) who has been a franchise staple ever since.
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Blade (Directed by Stephen Norrington)
Release Date: August 21, 1998
Official Synopsis: A half-mortal, half-immortal is out to avenge his mother’s death and rid the world of vampires. The modern-day technologically advanced vampires he is going after are in search of his special blood type needed to summon an evil god who plays a key role in their plan to execute the human race.
Before the Underworld franchise turned vampires into superheroes, Blade blurred the line between action and horror movies better than anything that came before it. It can now be considered a pioneer, as many upcoming superhero movies (like The New Mutants and Spawn) are venturing deep into horror territories.
Disturbing Behavior (Directed by David Nutter)
Release Date: July 24, 1998
Official Synopsis: Steve Clark (James Marsden) is a newcomer in the town of Cradle Bay, and he quickly realizes that there’s something odd about his high school classmates. The clique known as the “Blue Ribbons” are the eerie embodiment of academic excellence and clean living. But, like the rest of the town, they’re a little too perfect. When Steve’s rebellious friend Gavin (Nick Stahl) mysteriously joins their ranks, Steve searches for the truth with fellow misfit Rachel (Katie Holmes).
In many ways, Disturbing Behavior can be viewed as a spiritual cousin of Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty. Both films are highly critical of the competitive educational systems, painting teachers as nefarious overlords seeking to manipulate their charges. Both films are steeped in paranoid akin to classic sci-fi films like Village of the Damned and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Urban Legend (Directed by James Blanks)
Release Date: September 25, 1998
Official Synopsis: A university is beset by a rash of gruesome murders that resemble old urban legends. When her friend Michelle (Natasha Gregson Wagner) is killed by someone hiding in her car, Natalie (Alicia Witt) begins to notice the pattern. Her suspicions grow stronger when her own roommate is strangled to death. Soon the quiet college campus is transformed into hunting grounds for a maniac, and Natalie struggles to find the killer and stop the bloodshed before she becomes the next victim.
One of the many films that attempted to cash-in on the Scream phenomenon, Urban Legend is a capable (if dated) meta-slasher with a twist. It’s worth watching for Joshua Jackson’s performance alone—especially the scene where he eats a pack of pop-rocks followed by a full bottle of Pepsi.
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Wild Things (Directed by John McNaughton)
Release Date: March 20, 1998
Official Synopsis: When teen debutante Kelly (Denise Richards) fails to attract the attention of her hunky guidance counselor, Sam (Matt Dillon), she cries rape, igniting a scandal that results in his arrest. Sam appeals to Ken (Bill Murray), a hack personal-injury lawyer who has never handled a case that couldn’t be helped by a prop neck brace. Soon, a second victim, Suzie (Neve Campbell), comes forward, and Detective Duquette (Kevin Bacon) discovers that the unfolding case is far from what it seems.
Please don’t give me guff for including a thriller on this list! Not only was 1998 a comparatively pathetic year for horror movies, Wild Things deserves some recognition for being one of the most compelling and subversive horror-adjacent films of the year. With genuinely titillating eroticism and a double-cross worthy of a Hitchcock flick, Wild Things features compelling performances by Neve Campbell, Denise Richards, Matt Dillon, and Kevin Bacon. A cameo from Bill Murry also bolsters this immensely entertaining experience.
Pi (Directed by Darren Aronofsky)
Release Date: July 10, 1998
Official Synopsis: Numbers whiz Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) is stunted by psychological delusions of paranoia and debilitating headaches. He lives in a messy Chinatown apartment, where he tinkers with equations and his homemade, super-advanced computer. One day, however, Cohen encounters a mysterious number. Soon after reporting his discovery to his mentor (Mark Margolis) and to a religious friend (Ben Shenkman), he finds himself the target of ill-intentioned Wall Street agents bent on using the number for profit.
Darren Aronofsky is best known for his films Requiem for a Dream and last year’s mother!, but his debut film Pi is uniquely unnerving. Like most of the filmmaker’s works, it can be difficult to watch at times, but you’ll be haunted by both the twists and the unanswered questions that linger. Not for those who like plots handed to them on a silver platter, Pi is a thought-provoking art-house horror for those who enjoy a challenge.
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Dark City (Directed by Alex Proyas)
Release Date: February 27, 1998
Official Synopsis: John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens alone in a strange hotel to find that he is wanted for a series of brutal murders. The problem is that he can’t remember whether he committed the murders or not. For one brief moment, he is convinced that he has gone completely mad. Murdoch seeks to unravel the twisted riddle of his identity. As he edges closer to solving the mystery, he stumbles upon a fiendish underworld controlled by a group of ominous beings collectively known as the Strangers.
My personal favorite film of 1998, Dark City came and went with little fanfare in 1998. It wasn’t until the film was released on DVD that it began to amass the cult following it deserves. A unique mix of horror and sci-fi with an aesthetic akin to a hardboiled Noir, Dark City is both fantastic and intimate, with themes both complex and primal. Put The Matrix, Se7en, and Hellraiser in a blender, and you might get something as bizarre and engrossing as Dark City.
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Very Bad Things (Directed by Peter Berg)
Release Date: November 25, 1998
Official Synopsis: Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) heads to Las Vegas for a bachelor party with four friends. When one of them accidentally kills a hired stripper and a security guard finds the body, unstable Boyd (Christian Slater) kills the guard to keep him from calling the cops, then organizes the group to dispose of the corpses. Back home, Kyle is troubled and has difficulty hiding his worries from his fiancée (Cameron Diaz). Meanwhile, to ensure his own safety, Boyd begins killing the others.
If you dismissed Very Bad Things because you thought it was nothing but a raunchy Bachelor Party redux, think again. More of a pitch-black comedy than a straight-up horror, Very Bad Things nonetheless delivers a visceral gut punch. It’s a film that will have you laughing and gasping in equal measure, guaranteed to put your jaw on the floor as a series of unforeseen events descends into pure, unadulterated mayhem.
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Ringu (Directed by Hideo Nakata)
Release Date: January 31, 1998
Official Synopsis: When her niece is found dead along with three friends after viewing a supposedly cursed videotape, reporter Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) sets out to investigate. Along with her ex-husband, Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), Reiko finds the tape, watches it — and promptly receives a phone call informing her that she’ll die in a week. Determined to get to the bottom of the curse, Reiko and Ryuji discover the video’s origin and attempt to solve an old murder that could break the spell.
Ringu was one of the first J-horror movies to make it overseas, sparking a flood of American remakes in the decade that followed. While cultural differences always make Western adaptations of Asian horror movies challenging, Ringu is nonetheless a supremely creepy experience—one that can transcend personal differences and geographical divides.