Retro Rewatch: Horror Movies of 1994PoppaScotch
Retro Rewatch is an ongoing editorial that takes a look into certain films, conventions, crazes, and characters of the horror genre years after their heyday. It is an effort to try and put the magnifying glass up to the horror world with the much needed luxuries of time and perspective applied in order to fully understand the impact and social significance of these projects/themes/ideas (if any). So for this installment of Retro Rewatch, we’re going to open it up a little bit and take a look into a supposed “down” year in horror that was 1994. When people analyze the horror genre in the early nineties, the most popular opinion in the mainstream media was that the horror genre was “dying” (they like to be overdramatic). It was becoming a straight to video festival of low budget horror films and last leg sequels getting dumped hastily from the theaters to make the distributor a few bucks.
It really wasn’t until Scream came along in 1996 when the genre got the mainstream recognition again for being a profitable genre. Of course, we hard core fans all knew that the genre was never dead or dying, it’s just that no one was breaking boundaries and pushing forth new ideas or even fresh glances at old formulas. Up until a while ago, I agreed with this camp that many good horror films were released in the early nineties. It was only after I expanded my horizons and put the ole “magnifying glass” above every horror release that came out in 1994 and I have to say that there is absolutely no way that the year could have been considered “down” by any rational person. Of course this is with the gift of hindsight available to me, but regardless, there were a number of fantastic horror movies released in 1994. The most high profile of all the releases in the genre was the blockbuster hit “Interview with the Vampire” which brought home a number of genre awards (Saturn, BAFTAs, no Oscar though).
It was a respected critical entry as well as the film that solidified the new Tom Cruise’s (post heartthrob, after boring lawyer, before psycho), made Brad Pitt a household name, and showed the world what a little girl named Kirsten Dunst could do. Due to its pop culture status, it’s not a surprise that Interview with the Vampire pretty much overshadowed all of the other big budget genre releases. This included Kenneth Branagh’s retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which starred an unrecognizable Robert Deniro as “The Creature”. It’s a shame because although flawed, Frankenstein was a faithful retelling of an amazing novel that the mainstream wasn’t willing to get on board with especially since Interview came out only a week later. The reason that I mention these two films was because they are culturally significant as attempted award contenders and to show people that in the eyes of some amazing artists, the horror genre was far from dead. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, these weren’t the only two horror releases that year.
I’ve already talked about a few genre films that I felt hold at least some kind of resonance including Demon Knight, Cemetery Man, and Brainscan. In short, if you don’t feel like reading 3000 more words about those three movies, basically Brainscan and Demon Knight were low brow good times while I felt that Cemetery Man was one of the most deeply layered films I’ve ever seen. Also in 1994, one of the horror genre’s masters (John “mother**kin’” Carpenter) came out with his film In the Mouth of Madness, which was pretty much ignored by everyone. Personally, I felt that although it wasn’t as iconic or as culturally relevant as movies like The Thing (1982), Escape from New York (1981), or Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), it appeared as a more mature version of John Carpenter who was still in love with the horror genre, but didn’t want to pander to the camp crowd. It’s another movie that is worth a look (imdb users give it a 7 out of 10) if you are in to freaky Steven King-esque stories and general suspense driven atmospheric horror.
Of course… there was one other movie that came out in 1994 that started a whole hoopla that I in good conscience can’t ignore. Embrace of the vampire. There I said it. Now half of you are going to be looking blankly at one another while the rest of you are now clicking away on the article or laughing your ass off. Embrace of the Vampire starred Alyssa Milano (that’s Sam from Who’s the Boss? No? Ask your older siblings/rents about it) as a college teen transforming into some kind of Vampire. I don’t remember, it’s been a while, but the real reason anyone remembers this film is because Alyssa Milano bared it all in a pseudo-lesbian sex scene to try and show the world that she was ready for some adult roles. Again, no one really cared, except for when people decided to take “screen grabs” from the movie and post them on this new fangled thing called “the internets”. Alyssa Milano and her mother immediately threw down an epic s**t storm on any website that hosted the images with an immediate cease and desist order.
This thusly started an argument about rights issues, accountability, and responsibility on the internet that had never really been discussed before. There is clearly more to the story and if you would like to know more about this complex and groundbreaking legal argument, do a safe-search free google image query for “Alyssa Milano embrace of the Vampire”. This will of course bring up NSFW images, so do so at your own risk (if you are 18 of course!). Final thoughts on 1994: For a year when the horror genre was supposed in a lull and dying, a number of quality films hit the marketplace and still hold up today. I didn’t even mention Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare and the Danish television presentation of The Kingdom (which would be remade as Kingdom Hospital, although not a direct remake, more so inspired by) which were also two great projects. I guess it goes to show you that if you are a fan of the genre and willing to sit through a bad movie here or there (as if you don’t love them), then you will eventually find some hidden gems. In this case time to reflect and analyze movies years after their release was a great tool to sift through the alleged trash pile and find some truly great movies.