During the late ‘80s, up through the early ‘90s the horror genre was a branch of the entertainment tree that critics deemed as either dying, or outright dead. Little did those pundits who looked eager to pound the final nail into the coffin, realize that horror was on the verge of making an amazing comeback.Some of the best horror we’ve seen was released in the 1990s.
There are a few specific titles (you’ll spot many in this list) that aided in the recovery of the genre, and since then macabre cinema has been on a consistent rise. We may still be the black sheep of celluloid, but there’s no denying the impact that horror has left on fans and society alike.
What you’ll find below are a list of 20 pictures released in the 1990s that arrived with defibrillators in tow, prepared to give the old horror heart a jump start. Thankfully, for us fans, those tools work, and the pulse of terror came alive once more.
Scream did what no one believed possible: it completely reinvigorated the long-thought deceased slasher sub-genre. But Kevin Williamson’s script and Wes Craven’s flawless direction forced pundits to reassess their dismissal of hack and slash material. The fact that fans were introduced to some of the most realistic high school kids certainly didn’t hurt the Scream cause. It was also a blast, I must say, to see a brand new, completely lovable heroine in Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott. Scream is the best slasher to appear in decades.
Silence of the Lambs
Cannibalism, creepy facial restraints, torture and the weight of the world on the shoulders of one young FBI cadet. Jonathan Demme did an outstanding job of bringing Thomas Harris’ earth-shaking work of fiction to the big screen. Very few felt as though a picture could provide the justice the novel is worthy of. Somehow, it did. Demme’s film is magical to say the least. I mean come on, this is a horror film that won five Oscars!
Bernard Rose’s film differs from Clive Barker’s story on a number of levels. This could, under most circumstances produce a failure of a feature. But Rose not only avoids failing, he scores a homerun with this. The Candyman is a terrifying presence, and the atmosphere of the film, coupled with the unbelievably sinister look of Tony Todd as the titular character who enjoys impaling his victims with a nasty, nasty looking claw, just sends shockwaves through the body. Fast approaching 40, I’m still terrified by the movie.
Come on, now. Giant all-eating subterranean monsters that look like enormous mutated worms with teeth (or is that just a beak?) trapping a tiny rural town, eyeing their very next meal… that doesn’t sound awesome to you? Well, let me also help jog your memory and tell you Kevin Bacon is featured in one of the heroic leads of the film. Appealing now?
I have always been and will always be deeply disturbed by this movie. Obsession is a damn ugly beast that breaches all too often. For poor best-selling author Paul Sheldon, he learns exactly how far his “biggest fan” will go to spend time with her favorite author. Hobbling, drugging, pummeling – it’s all part of Annie’s plan. The big question quickly becomes centered on the enduring victim Paul Sheldon: can he survive a journey to Annie’s home, or is he destined to die in the casa of a truly mad woman.
Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes.
Army of Darkness
The third film in the Evil Dead franchise takes the story in a completely different direction (don’t worry, we still get plenty of Deadites). Somehow that creepy, black cyclone that appeared in the waning moments of Evil Dead 2, sucked Ash right in with the rest of the otherworldly insanity. Ash quickly learns that he’s landed in the middle of no man’s land, and he’s a century or so removed from his actual life. But it all makes for insane showdown after insane showdown. The movie is loaded with awesome villains, and if you’ve skipped it, you’ve missed a damn funny, uber-violent flick!
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
It’s very easy to argue that this is the greatest Nightmare film released since the original. Dream Warriors, the third piece in the franchise, most certainly deserves big acknowledgment and consideration for that number two slot, as well. But, back to what currently matters in this discussion: New Nightmare was a meta movie before meta movies existed. It was an extremely intelligent film by slasher standards, and we got a chance to see some great performers inside and outside of the dream world.
The Sixth Sense
This movie owns an interesting distinction, as the story is elementary, dot-to-dot content that any 10 year old should identify with relative ease. And yet, it’s not – at all. Watching this one on the big screen when I was 19 or 20, I missed all the blatant giveaway signs. Now it’s easier to spot the foreshadowing and cryptic nature ingrained in the film. But the first time you watch it… holy hell is it chilling. Bruce Willis does a great job, but he’s no match for the then-cute-as-a-button Haley Joel Osment, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work.
From Dusk Till Dawn
The Titty Twister. That name alone should be enough to inspire a return to your favorite bar that stays op from dusk ‘till dawn. Right?
One of the greatest vampire films we’ve seen in history, Robert Kurtzman, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez joined forces to create a masterpiece. Everything you could possibly hope for in a horror film is here. We’ve got sultry Salma Hayek, we’ve got graphic violence and stomach churning gore, body parts flying every direction, truly infinite action, some of the creepiest looking vampires you’ll ever see, an over-the-top tribal tat, a gentleman named Sex Machine who has a retractable pistol positioned where his… pistol is. And to top it all off, we even get stunning supporting performers like Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini and John Saxon.
There’s absolutely no way to lose with this picture. It may be a wild amalgamation of ideas, but damned if they don’t come together in beautiful fashion!
Seven combines crime, mystery and horror, and it does so with seeming ease. These are three entirely different genres, and yet they come together to give us one of the more magnetic films on the market. Most know the story, but for those who don’t: It’s about a pair of detectives hunting a serial killer whose crimes are directly inspired by the seven deadly sins. The film is extremely emotional, and arguably more frightening (scene with the mummified looking corpse, anyone?) than the majority of other films on this list.
Of all the movies to be featured on this list, Ravenous is likely the least praised and least respected. Truth be told, that’s absolutely terrible, because Ravenous is a witty flick that reaches some legitimately disgusting lows. The performances are stellar across the board, and from a purely visual standpoint, this one looks nothing short of stunning. I implore you to look into this flick, if you haven’t already, it’s an awe inspiring work that even brings out the best in David Arquette!
If you look into this one, be prepared for a series of surprises. After all, everyone is a bit discreet when living an existence that demands devouring the men of your fleet!
There are very few pictures that truly work for Halloween. We’re talking capturing the complete essence of the season, including the iconic Jack o’Lantern that finds a way to pop up numerously in Tim Burton’s classic. Johnny Depp is perfectly likable as Ichabod Crane, but he’s got a bunch of awesome supporting characters.
We know All Hallows’ Eve is now a thing of the past (for a year), but it’s never the wrong time to submerge yourself in this atmospheric and dreadful form of entertainment. The only wonder is how in the hell little Ichabod manages to avoid having his head lopped off.
Night of the Living Dead
Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead was about as good as a sequel/remake gets. The cultural shocker that stunned everyone who tuned into Romero’s film of the same name, wasn’t quite as ubiquitous here, but there’s certainly some commentary at work. Tony Todd fills the massive shoes of the great Ben, and he doesn’t let down. Todd’s work is just one piece of the puzzle, however, as this pic is loaded with plenty of grim visuals and strong supporting cast members.
J-Horror can be a damn tricky thing. Most of the films that head our way from Japan feature strange water spots on walls and or ceilings, or creepy young ladies with hair long enough to touch the back of their knees. These are prevalent themes in J-Horror, and while they can often make for some eerie sequences, they have, in general, become a bit cliché. But don’t sweat that, Takashi Miike’s profoundly disconcerting story of a man who opts to wed a lunatic, steers – for the most part – clear of those forms of international tropes. No, this one goes for huge shocks and one of the most unsettling finales in history.
Never take your feet for granted… that’s all I’m saying.
Martin Scorsese’s remake of J. Lee Thompson’s paralyzing adaptation of John D. MacDonald’s riveting novel, The Executioners, was pitch-perfect. It isn’t often we see remakes live up to, or surpass the genius of the original, but this isn’t your typical remake, and it is infinitely more frightening than Thompson’s picture. When revenge comes knocking at your door, say a silent prayer that it isn’t Max Cady, because if it is, you’re bound to die a horrifying and potentially prolonged death. Cape Fear was an amazing way to launch the ‘90s!
Before Peter Jackson decided to go all fantasy/Lord of the Rings on us, he shot a couple of stunning horror films. It started with Bad Taste, moved on to Dead Alive (a film that barely – just barely missed a place on this list) and ultimately culminated with his most refined genre work, The Frighteners. The Frighteners juggles true fright with varying degrees of humor (see Jeffrey Combs and R. Lee Ermey for two polar opposite characters who both syphon extreme laughter), and an amazing performance from Michael J. Fox, the kinda-crook-turned-genuine-good-guy. The movie still holds up extremely well, 20 years after release.
The mind bender to bend all mind bender, Jacob’s Ladder is a heartbreaking and emotionally devastating piece of art. The story focuses on the titular Jacob, whose life is crumbling at an alarming rate, and at the center of his growing madness lay jolting memories of his time served in the Vietnam War. The film isn’t for the faint of hearted, and it isn’t really aimed at the gore hounds of the world. What it is aimed at is the viewer with a degree of sympathy for the tormented mine. Adrian Lyne directed Fatal Attraction, which may always stand as a career high, but for my buck, Jacob’s Ladder is exponentially more frightening.
You know we had to cater to those who adore J-Horror. And, if you are one of those people, you probably understand that it doesn’t get all too much better than Hideo Nakata’s (Dark Water) Ringu. American fans and filmmakers owe a great debt to this film, as the story – about an evil spirit who waits seven days to come and kill anyone who’s watched one particular VHS tape, leaves a nasty knot in the stomach and a sudden urge to dump what remains of your VHS collection. On paper the idea does admittedly sound absurd; on screen it’s nothing short of terrifying.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
There were a few adjustments in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful rendition of Dracula, but those adjustments were certainly overlookable, as this film really comes down to performance over story. Don’t get me wrong, we all love Stoker’s tale, but it isn’t the narrative that takes center stage, it’s Gary Oldman’s wildly over the top yet fear inducing portrayal of the titular character. The film’s set pieces, I might add, are virtually unrivaled when it comes to vampire flicks!
The Blair Witch Project
I’ll be the first to tell you that The Blair Witch Project doesn’t hold up all too well today. Attention spans are far too thin to become entangled in a slow burn found footage like this. There are a few creepy moments to take in, and a finale that was somehow simultaneously anticlimactic and satisfying. That’s a rare feat and Ed Sanchez deserves a wealth of credit for making that happen. Just the same – I’ll iterate – the picture doesn’t hold up in 2016. However, this is one of those rare movies that was remarkably important, as it served as a launch point for the now insanely popular found footage sub-genre.