Split Decision: Best 90s Horror Movies
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This week’s question:
What is your favorite horror movie of the 1990s?
I already wrote about my deep abiding love for Ravenous, so I'm going to go with Poison, Todd Haynes' New Queer Cinema classic. This 1991 film intercuts three "toxic," horrifying stories: Hero, Horror, and Homo, that feature social outcasts. One is a documentary about a boy who kills his father, another a b/w 1950s homage/AIDS parable about a disfigured scientist, and the last (and arguably the best/naughtiest/most disturbing) vignette concerns a gay prisoner grappling with obsessive, jealous love. Todd Haynes' film is simply brilliant and disturbing in all the right ways. It gets under your skin and stays there.
The 1990's was an interesting time for horror. The 1980's were clearly a hard act to follow, with it being perhaps the most iconic decade for horror cinema. Many of the best directors, who had gotten their start in the mid to late 1970's–David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, George Romero–were entering an era of redefinition, with possibly their best work already behind them. The studios were more focused on big action and big comedy. The genre itself had grown tired, stale and repetitive, which perfectly set the stage for Wes Craven to swoop in and comment on it, with New Nightmare and Scream.
But another way that the genre was fresh for reinvention was in embracing a new diversity of voices. The great documentary Horror Noire, released, last year, noted the 90's were a great time for black horror films. After a decade of playing little more than stereotypes and tokens, there were a group of terrific horror films released- the anthology Tales From The Hood, the Rio Bravo style Demon Knight, Candyman and more. I must say that Tales From The Hood is my favorite of the bunch. Not only do I love anthology films, but it also uses the very real life horror facing the black community, and turns them into riveting scary stories. I only saw Tales From The Hood last year for the first time- and it may not necessarily be my favorite of the 90's (Scream and The Blair Witch Project are the obvious, unequivocally best of the decade), it feels the most exciting to me now.
I am surprised to find that this is a legitimately hard question to answer. Candyman and New Nightmare jump to mind, though I only saw them for the first time this year which makes me feel tepid about choosing them. In The Mouth of Madness, Scream, and The Blair Witch Project are all bona fide classics of the genre at this point and in my opinion, all of them are 5-star movies. Bride of Chucky, Gremlins 2, and Army of Darkness are all excellent examples of why we should never say no to another horror sequel. The horror of the 90's is surprisingly, remarkably stacked and as such severely underrated. But if I have to choose a favorite, it is hands down Peter Jackson's insane splatter comedy Dead Alive (aka Braindead). As funny as it is gross, as over-the-top as it is charming, this was one of the early "weird" movies that got me into horror. Owing as much to Herschell Gordon Lewis as it does Sam Raimi, that anyone saw this movie and thought "He's who should adapt the most beloved fantasy series of all time" is one of the early miracles of the 21st century.
Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers is a forgotten great. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies have always driven me nuts because of their endings, when everything is doomed, but really because of their middles— that tipping point where the protagonists realize something is going wrong and figure out how to stop it after it's too late to do anything but head to the hills and die. The Donald Sutherland scream ending from Philip Kaufman's version is the ultimate expression of that sense of doom at the ending, and it deserves to be as iconic as it is, but this remake has a scene where Meg Tilly calmly tells one of the protagonists that there's no escape, and her calm is terrifying for how flat she is, and yet she's mocking and has this little hint of edge ("Listen to me. This is important. Where are you going to go?") and this is the ultimate expression of the Body Snatcher middle, even though this scene comes 80% of the way through the film, and it is why this is, in turn, the ultimate Body Snatchers movie.
Fittingly, as Wes Craven returns to the series, New Nightmare feels the most like a "real" movie since the original film. While Dream Warriors is the most fun sequel, the way this film marries the fun of an Elm Street with both middle age anxiety and metafiction makes it my personal favorite.
Coming exactly 10 years after the original, this film brings back Heather Langenkamp, but playing herself this time. John Saxon, Wes Craven, and Robert Englund also play themselves, all on the verge of Craven completing the script for a new Freddy film. But Freddy is trying to break from the film world into the real world, and using Heather's son, Dylan as a sort of conduit. That idea is something that the series has touched on before, but the added layer makes it new.
I really enjoyed how Craven, feeling that anyone who was 16 at the time of the first film would now be 26, reaches out to those same fans, but about parental and career anxieties. All of Heather's fears are more about her family life and raising her son than they are about sex and drugs, and the most terrifying moments in this film are when Dylan faces seemingly everyday dangers.
It also makes sense that just two years later Craven would do Scream, as this film is basically a halfway point between the first Nightmare and that landmark film. Playing with the idea of rules and how the real world would handle a horror film scenario are shared across both, even if Craven ultimately finds more success in terrorizing teenagers.
I think I have to go with The Silence of the Lambs. I am a huge fan of the Thomas Harris Hannibal stories and the tv series is one of my favorite shows ever made. I think this is one of the films my parents let me watch when I was pretty young and I remember liking it because I love serial killer stories but it is only in recent years that I really appreciate the horror elements of that film. The performances in this are absolutely amazing especially a young Jodie Foster.
One of the stand out scenes for me is when the FBI is about to raid a home and it is cut with scenes of alarms going off at Buffalo Bill's house. It is so well done and iconic and I think about it all the time. Also the scene when she is in Buffalo Bill's house is so scary, especially when she is scrambling around in the dark trying to find him. I really hope they bring the Hannibal show back to do this story!
Looking back on the 90s it becomes clear how truly exceptional the decade was for horror. It's almost as if horror was always around and unless we were looking for it, we missed it. I wonder if the subsequent decades will feel the same, especially with the recent resurgence of mainstream horror enthusiasm.
Anywho, the 90s is chock full of classics, but for my money, the best horror film of the decade happened right at the outset. It was a time when larger budgets were thrown at stranger material; a time when Fred Ward was a viable leading man; a time when Reba McEntire made for a believable hardass who had no problem shooting elephant guns at giant worms.
I'm referring, of course, to Tremors. Equal parts comedy, adventure, and horror, this 1950s throwback has something for everyone. As one of the few VHS tapes I had as a kid, this flick is burnt into my brain wrinkles in a big way. I remember when I first saw it I found myself afraid to move for fear of being heard by a graboid. I remember being so grossed out by the saucy innards of the creatures that I was unable to eat pizza for months.
Childhood is strange.
Tremors is much of why I love movies (and practical effects), and while it may not be the best horror of the 90s, it's certainly the closest to my heart.
The 90's looks to be saturated in Horror, most of which I was exposed to as it appeared at random on network television, where Jason, Michael and Freddy seemed to have unlimited capacity to return and cause a ruckus. As for the most memorable, I have to side with two from 1998, one I saw DURING the 90's, and another I saw after the turn of the millennium though it hails from the previous decade. First, is Halloween: H20 (1998) which I recall viscerally seeing as a family, being that the Halloween entries were a household staple. That at the time Jamie Lee Curtis was returning for a then "final" confrontation with her brother had us bristling with anticipation (one of the few things we were ever so completely unified in), and my teenage self was more than a little thrilled to see Jen (Michelle Williams) from Dawson's Creek in such perilous circumstances. We made it our rainy day Shore movie on vacation that August and likely went back a second, possibly third time. At the time it seemed as taut as any slasher could be, electric with the prospect of bloody reunion. What my younger self didn't give credence too was the attempts of the filmmakers to suggest Laurie Strode's (Jamie Lee Curtis) damage and alcoholism as a plot element, not quite convincingly portrayed but none the less posited. In hindsight, the lean 86 minute runtime is almost too short for what H20 hoped to accomplish, but it did a wonderful thing and made of Laurie a slightly different kind of "final girl"....not the kind the kind who runs, but the kind who decapitates motherf*ckers.
Second is RINGU (1998), which I saw as a college student, and only after the American version had been made. (yes, I love both versions). What RINGU did better than the predominating and more gruesome slasher fare of the decade was create a fantastically potent, moody mystery with an escalating enigmatic threat. Utilizing an intrinsically Japanese specter called an Onryo, a vengeful Yūrei (a scorned, betrayed, and departed spirit), which would later take the world by storm, the horror was embedded in story and enriched through discovery. This was unlike anything the world had seen at the time, more trenchant and brooding than any horror I had experienced, more tied to human traumas and personal histories, where the urgency feels deep seeded. Onryo would become part of the global Horror film language, a spirit in tattered white with long black hair so beholden to their vengeance which radiates outward like a plague, of which there is no abatement, from which there is no protection, resultant from the atrocities committed by people.... *looks over shoulder.
While it's certainly a bad movie, I love The Faculty. They stab a teacher in the eye with COCAINE to kill ALIENS. Usher gets top billing, even though he only appears for roughly 20 seconds. I had a gigantic crush on Elijah Wood and angsty Alice Cooper covers in high school. This movie scratches both of those itches.