Oct 262018

90s horror has a bad reputation, remembered as made up of fading franchises and the bloom of self-award/meta horror, that seemed so clever at first, but most people find irritating now. And yes, there is truth in that reputation. Notice how many on my list have numbers after their title. Originality was hard to find. It’s been suggested that the 90s has no identity of its own, but then, when you are stuck between the two worst sub-genres, slashers and the yet to come torture porn, maybe no identity is a good thing. And the problem with those meta films is less the “meta” nature and more that they are meta-slashers. My top 50 is a drop from my 80s list, but not a huge one, and it actually has stronger bottom third.

This is a horror list, and I split horror from thrillers. Where that line is is up to the individual, so I’m only concerned with my line. That means no Silence of the Lambs or Se7en. Horror comedy gave me some trouble as it is unclear where to draw the line. I include all the horror comedies when chatting with friends, but for here I’ll pull that back a bit, so I’m only going to give honorable mentions to The Addams Family and Death Becomes Her, both of which would be quite high on the list. Also an honorable mention to the Gamera trilogy, which was an unexpectedly good daikaiju series; while I have a few giant monster films on my list, I decided these fall outside of horror.


#50. Sleepwalkers (1992)

We’re in 50th place—you didn’t expect a great film? This is gonzo silliness written by Stephen King when he was in a goofy mood, and elevated by Alice Krige.


#49. Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)

Perhaps the definition of an unnecessary sequel, Tsukamoto takes the cyber-body-horror surrealism of the first film and tries to make it coherent. It’s much less than the first, but the first was fantastic, so lesser is still good.


#48. Frankenstein Unbound (1990)

Some films are worthwhile purely based on weirdness. Roger Corman directs a Brain W. Aldiss story that sends John Hurt’s scientist back in time to meet Frankenstein. And that’s not even the weird part. (My review)


#47. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)

Sure, the word that comes to mind is “disappointing” but it is less disappointing than Hellraiser 3, and it, at times, feels like a Hellraiser film (the only one after the first two to do so). Doug Bradley still works as Pin Head, and Valentina Vargas in a fine new demon. The rest… well, the prelude stuff is good and the space stuff is zany.


#46. Mimic (1997)

A bland, nothing-special horror story handed to a master. Guillermo del Toro couldn’t make a masterpiece out of this, but he gave this giant bug movie a lot of style.


#45. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

The best of the 90s meta horror films as the actors and director of A Nightmare on Elm street play themselves being haunted by an actual Freddy after making the film about Freddy. (My review)


#44. The Haunting (1999)

Call it Art Design: The Movie. It gets unfairly criticized for not being the same as the 1963 film, but this has a different goal and a different audience. That one was for people who dislike ghosts but love unnecessary narration (My review). This one is people who love set decoration and CGI ghosts.


#43. Night of the Living Dead (1990)

If this had come out in the ‘70s, I’d rank it higher. It isn’t that it is specifically an unnecessary remake, but that it is generally unnecessary. But if you are looking for the same old thing, this is a reasonable version. Besides, I’ve met Tom Savini and he’s a hoot.


#42. A Chinese Ghost Story III (1991)

The second sequel to the classic A Chinese Ghost Story is essentially a remake. As the original was so good, this one is good as well, but it is a copy. Once you’ve watched the first multiple times and feel like watching it one more time, then try this.


#41. Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Space horror from the director of Amelie… Well, that’s…odd. Alien 3 was a miserable A-movie, so they went for B-movie this time and did OK. It’s not deep or emotional or sensible. It’s guys with big guns fighting monsters and Sigourney Weaver playing way over the top. It’s stupid fun.


#40. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

John Carpenter ruled the ‘80s, but this is his only passable entry in the ‘90s. It’s one of the better Lovecraft-inspired films. I like it, but find it disappointing. It should have been more. Carpenter would revisit the themes in 2005 with Cigarette Burns.


#39. Bride of Chucky (1998)

It took them multiple attempts to work out that the franchise should be comedic, and then they got it right. Jennifer Tilly was the perfect addition (she always sounds a bit like a killer doll).


#38. The Craft (1996)

The precursor to Charmed, there’s more high school social structure here than spells, but it works either way. This is where the pop culture version of a witch took the final step from Satanic hag to hot Wiccan. (My review)


#37. The Faculty (1998)

A nice little teen alien monster flick, with a fine cast and solid direction from Robert Rodriguez. It doesn’t break any ground, but it doesn’t need to.


#36. Haunted (1995)

The first of two miscastings of Aidan Quinn on this list. He does his best to drag down the film, but can’t quite manage with everything else so good, particularly Kate Beckinsale. It’s a nice version of the standard movie ghost story. (My review)


#35. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

It has been superseded in the public consciousness by the TV show, as it should, but that doesn’t mean this version doesn’t have some things to like, particularly Kristy Swanson’s take on Buffy.


#34. Meridian (1990)

It’s a dark erotic fairytale that starts with roofies, rape, and evil carnies, and slides into were-beasts and ghosts. It is the best looking film made by Charles Band and while it isn’t to all tastes, if it is to yours, it’s hard to forget.


#33. Idle Hands (1999)

The best of the slacker horror comedies. A demon possessed hand kills a stoner’s parents and friends and his buddies are too lazy to bother going into the light. The jokes are good and Jessica Alba is adorable,


#32. The Prophecy II (1998)

Extremely unnecessary and what’s good is a rehash, but it’s still wonderful to watch Christopher Walken do his thing as Gabriel, the perching angel. (My review)


#31. Predator 2 (1990)

Another sequel! Much like the first. Danny Glover is a no-nonsense tough guy, but instead of a soldier he’s a cop. The Predator comes to town and things play out as expected. (My review)


#30. Practical Magic (1998)

Aidan Quinn appears a second time in a movie he shouldn’t have gotten close to. The romance and Quinn don’t work, but Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are so cute together that nothing else matters. Their late night party, with Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest makes it worthwhile.


#29. Species (1995)

A ‘50s-style alien film merged with ‘70s Euro-cult and it comes out as stupid and as enjoyable as that sounds. The turnaround is nice—the alien wants our men instead of our women. (My review)


#28. Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

Re-Animator was one of the great surprises of the 1980s. This sequel is… good. Jeffrey Comb’s Herbert West is one of the finest mad doctors, so it worth spending a bit more time with him, even if it was done better before. (My review)


#27. Nightbreed (1990)

What might have been. Chopped up and left with an unfinished story, it is still Clive Barker at his most Clive Barkerist. It’s a celebration of monsters and blood and sex and the night.


#26. Blade (1998)

The beginning of the horror-action craze and the rebirth of superhero films, Blade was a revelation. It can’t compete with what was to follow, or even its own immediate sequel, but it’s still cool. (My review)


#25. Trancers II (1991)

Trancers was B-movie mogul Charles Band’s greatest work. Trancers II is much like the first, but a little less. Tim Thomserson is again a riot as Jack Deth, zombie slayer, and where else are you going to see Helen Hunt in a low budget horror film? The series would continue, but best to ignore that fact.


#24. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Two separate films stuck uncomfortably together. I’m not fond of Tarantino’s crime section, but Rodriguez’s vampire strip club is exciting and sexy and funny. Salma Hayek’s erotic snake dance is the high point.


#23. Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996)

Hey, it’s another sequel. I can just simply cut and paste my comment: It’s much like the first, so it’s good because that one was, but not quite as good.


#22. Innocent Blood (1992)

John Landis’s companion piece to An American Werewolf in London. I prefer this one. Anthony LaPaglia is wrong for the part of the romantic cop, but Anne Parillaud is a sexy bloody vampire and this is my favorite Robert Loggia mob performance. (My Review)


#21. Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

It’s not often that the third is the best, but Brian Yuzna dialed down the wacky comedy of the franchise and added his brand of twisted humor and created one of the best zombie movies. Mindy Clarke’s pierced zombie doesn’t hurt either. (My Review)


#20. Dreams {Yume} (1990)

I got Akira Kurosawa onto a horror list! This strange anthology includes fairytales, ghost stories, science fiction, and post apocalyptic demons. It doesn’t all work, but some of the imagery is fabulous.


#19. Braindead (1992)

Before Peter Jackson went nuts on big money, never-ending, fantasy epics, his skill lay in splatter comedies, and this was his best. It’s claimed to be the bloodiest movie ever made (at least at the time), and the lawnmower massacre scene supports that.


#18. Army of Darkness (1992)

The one where Sam Raimi got a budget. There are 13 different cuts of this demon-zombie-comedy, and some are better than others, so good luck on the search.


#17. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

A Faustian lawyer flick with Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. It’s better than it has any right to be. Unfortunately, a lawsuit has made the theatrical version impossible to find (they didn’t get rights to include a relief sculpture that I mentioned in my original review).


#16. Event Horizon (1997)

Think Hellraiser in space, done far better than when they actually made Hellraiser in space. This is another of those “what might have been” films, with 30 minutes cut and now missing. What we have is good, but it could have been a masterwork.


#15. Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

In an alternate reality where magic is common, detective Phillip Lovecraft searches for the Necronomincon. Made for HBO, It didn’t get a theatrical release, which is a shame.


#14. Deep Rising (1998)

Before Stephen Sommers made The Mummy, he tried it out here. It’s the same feeling, but in the water. Treat Williams makes an amiable hero after Harrison Ford bowed out. It’s all fun and explosions and monsters eating bad guys.


#13. Candyman (1992)

It’s poetry meets slasher and both are caught off guard. Candyman is an atmospheric art film with hooks rending flesh and pools of blood. Tony Todd creates one of the great modern horror icons. (My review)


#12. The Forgotten One (1990)

Maybe it’s the purity of it that works so well. This is the standard ghost story told straight. No wild effects or twists to complicate or screw things up. It’s just a haunting and a mystery and a hot ghost who likes to take baths. (My review)


#11. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

The story is overwhelmed by appearance, but that’s because the appearance is spectacular: magnificent gothic structures, writhing vampire babes, a half-human bat, extravagant gowns, independently moving shadows, and translucent lingerie. Sometimes overindulgence is what you need. (My review)


#10. Wolf (1994)

It’s a satire mixed with a monster mash which works out nicely. Jack Nicholson works well as the broken man who goes a little nuts (that’s his bread-n-butter), though James Spader steals the show. It’s easily a top 5 werewolf film of all time. (My Review)


#9. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

More of a gothic soap opera than a monster movie, Interview gives us beautiful people in beautiful surroundings doing beautiful things. It’s not surprising that the film is as seductive as its characters are supposed to be. (My review)


#8. Tremors (1990)

I must have seen this film twenty times during the ‘90s, and it never got old. Lots of gore and lots of jokes and some characters to care about. It doesn’t aim high, but it also never misses.


#7. The Ninth Gate (1999)

Johnny Depp, before he went crazy, stars in this calm and focused mystery involving a book that may have a supernatural connection. This is Roman Polanski’s second shot at Christian-mythological horror and he does it better this time.


#6. Ringu (1998)

Ringu kicked J-horror into high gear and set the path for a decade of cinema. It’s also excellent, appearing to tell the standard movie ghost story right up until it doesn’t. Few films are half as creepy. (My review)


#5. The Prophecy (1995)

It asks the question, “Would you want to meet an angel?” and answers it: no. The conception of angels is marvelous, but the specific execution is even better. In any normal movie, Viggo Mortensen would steal it all with his powerful and frightening Lucifer, but not here. Christopher Walken rules as the warped Gabriel. (My review)


#4. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

This is the perfect Halloween celebration movie: emotional, creepy, and beautiful. Tim Burton creates a lush, dreamlike, bewitching world where even a beheading looks elegant and the grotesque is alluring. (My review)


#3. Jurassic Park (1993)

Yes, it’s a horror film. People get hunted by monsters in the dark—that’s horror. It also has a strong theme, which everything in the film contradicts. Is making dinosaurs a bad idea? Sure. Would I do it? In a second. It would be wondrous.


#2 The Mummy (1999)

One of the finest adventure films of the last 50 years, and one that’s surprisingly gory. The dialog is clever, the characters pull you in (both the likable ones and the villains), the effects look great, and the monster is menacing. This is Deep Rising perfected. (My review)


#1. The Sixth Sense (1999)

What else could it be? It’s the best ghost movie since the 1940s. It does what other twist movies fail to do—that is, have a great story without the twist. The twist just makes it so much better. It’s been a long time since M. Night Shyamalan and Bruce Willis were thought of as great talents, but in 1999, they were. (My review)