The 90s was a bit of a low period. The mainstream was steering towards the psychological thriller and neglecting the horrors. Mike Myers, Freddy, Jason, Chucky and Leatherface all suffered mediocre iterations of their former glory days. However, all was not lost.
Among the mediocrity, there were some shining examples of what the face of horror should look like. A more sophisticated approach to the story and even better special effects kicked off the new decade. Without further rantings, below are my top ten picks.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
It’s hard to believe with the amount of lost/found footage movies out there that this low budget production is what started it all. Amateur filmmakers venture into the forest near Burkitsville to seek out the Blair Witch. They get lost pretty quickly. The situation becomes increasingly hopeless, frightening and hostile. The disappearance of Mike really brings home that this isn’t just banal noises in the woods, it’s for real. Terror of the unknown, ghost and witches are age old scares that really resonate in this movie.
Army of Darkness (1992).
If you haven’t seen this one, you probably should. Ash and his boomstick are sent back to 1300 A.D. where he must do battle with hordes of the undead and find the Necronomicon to get home. I think that fighting an army of the undead is far more exciting than working at Wal-mart. Sorry. S-Mart.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, the Japanese, Koreans et al., really came into their own with a distinct and unique flair for creating ultra-creepy horror movies. This one is no exception. Two teens talk about a mysterious videotape that reputedly has a curse that kills the viewer within seven days of watching it. This movie was so good, the US remade it practically frame for frame in 2003.
Another entry from Japan. A lonely widower hosts fake auditions to try and meet someone new and exciting. He soon meets Asami who, in very short order, redefines the term lunatic. Glen Close in “Fatal Attraction” is an angelic girl guide compared to Asami. This movie holds many cringe-worthy scenes.
There seems to be some smug and self deprecating themes in this Stephen King adaptation as Paul Sheldon, a famous writer, is saved from a horrific car wreck by his “Number 1 fan”, Annie Wilkes. Without question, he would have died if she hadn’t been there to pull him from the wreck in the middle of a snowstorm. The irony, of course, is that she keeps him captive in her home for months while his shattered body heals. There’s a cool yin – yang thing between the two characters; Paul’s damaged body and Annie’s damaged psyche. The lawnmower scene is unforgettable.
Night of the Living Dead Remake (1990).
The 90s didn’t like zombies too much. I don’t blame them as the 80s had over-exposed them as badly as the band Twisted Sister. However, this re-make was decent; it was true to the original yet included some modernization of the characters and some subtle plot variations. And lots more blood and gore. That’s what happens when Tom Savini gets involved.
Dead Alive (1992).
While this movie may fall into the horror/comedy category, there is no question that it’s one of the goriest, blood splattered movies I have ever seen. It’s centralized around the relationship of a mother and her son, Lionel. The mother is bitten by a rat-monkey, turning her into a zombie. Lionel tries to keep her a secret, but the more he tries, the more people end up as zombies. This cycle continues to ramp up to an utterly bloody climax that involves an improvised handheld lawnmower.
The Cube (1997).
This is one that flew WAY under the radar. It’s a Canadian movie that has a really simple premise. Several strangers wake up inside a cube, not knowing what they’re doing there or who put them there. This movie came out long before The Saw movies, so don’t get any ideas. There is a trap door in the wall of the cube, leading to yet another cube. They quickly discover that the entire place is booby trapped in many various and inventive ways. The trick, obviously, is to get out before you get killed in some horrific manner.
A ghost with a hook for a hand is unwittingly brought to life by a grad student who is researching the legend. This movie has a slight twist on the ghost story mythology with some delightfully gruesome kills.
Kevin Bacon and the rest of the small town population are being hunted and killed by massive subterranean teethy worms. It’s an enjoyable flick with plenty of action, violence and likeable characters.
There’s plenty more that are wothy of this list such as Body Parts and Frankenhooker, I just don’t have room for them all!