Oh boy, here we go. Okay, if you’ve been following the site as of late then you know that we’ve been counting down the greatest horror movies of all time, year by year (each year we rank the top 15) – starting from 1970 to [insert current year here]. After making our way through the ’70s and ’80s, revisiting such classics as Alien, Halloween and The Thing, we’ve now made our way to the greatest decade for horror yet… the good ole ’90s. And yes, we’re being sarcastic. This was a horrible decade!
One of the key reasons behind the long-standing fascination with horror is that every era of the genre provides insight into what that particular generation was afraid of, and what was considered taboo. From a modern perspective, the ’70s and ’80s remain of particular fascination, as this period really blew the door open on what horror films were allowed to do, not only in terms of violence and sexual content, but also in the themes and issues dealt with.
So what happened in the 1990s? The most iconic franchises of the time fizzled out, the great filmmakers of the past two decades all seemed to hit dry spells; it was as if the genre itself suffered an identity crisis. Movies which tried to preserve the spirit of years gone by frequently failed; those which tried to do something new typically came up wanting.
This is not to suggest there was no great horror in the ’90s. On the contrary, this is why we’re here. Indeed, we’ll eventually make our way through the entire decade but, for now, this is the 15 Best Horror Movies Of 1990.
15. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Director: Jeff Burr
Stars: Kate Hodge, Ken Foree, R.A. Mihailoff, Viggo Mortensen
Man, New Line Cinema sure had a thing in the ‘90s for taking all their acquired horror movie franchises and rebranding them with the slasher’s name as the title. Jason Goes To Hell, Freddy’s Dead and, of course, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Anyway…
This time around, a young couple, Michelle and Ryan, are making their way through the dirt roads of Texas and, as you could probably guess, that means their day is about to go not at all as they planned. The charming Tex Sawyer, the handyman Tinker Sawyer, the bumbling perv Alfredo Sawyer, the voicebox-impaired Mama Sawyer and “little girl” are ready to chow down on some sweet human flesh. Michelle may just find rescue from a local survivalist, Benny, but to reach her, he’ll have to match his AK-47 against the chainsaw-swinging stylings of Leatherface. Taken as a separate entity (lord knows you shouldn’t compare this to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre), TCM 3 is a competently packaged horror movie that plays by the rules and delivers what the title promises: sadistic killers, whimpering victims, and chainsaws.
14. Two Evil Eyes
Directors: Dario Argento, George A. Romero
Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Harvey Keitel, Ramy Zada, Madeleine Potter
Two separate tales from Edgar Allan Poe are loosely adapted in this horror drama. George Romero’s The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar deals with a wife’s evil scheme to seize her husband’s money, while Dario Argento’s The Black Cat concerns a police photographer who turns into a murderer.
All said, Two Evil Eyes is neither a highlight of Romero’s nor Argento’s career, however it is still a good film. Let’s not forget we’re talking about two geniuses here! If you set your expectations too high and expect a masterpiece of the brilliance of Night Of The Living Dead or Suspiria you’ll be disappointed. Fans of the directors should check out the films, and decide for themselves how they hold up. It’s two tall tales of curses and death, derangement and the surreal, and it’s a concoction worth at least one viewing.
Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin
In an attempt to discover what awaits us after death, med-school buddies Nelson Wright, Rachel Mannus, Joe Hurley, David Labraccio, and Randy Steckle concoct a plan to temporarily “flatline” themselves one at a time, stopping all brain activity, to briefly experience death before being resuscitated. A number of them are “killed” and brought back with vivid memories of their past, and the experiment is deemed a success. However, it seems as though they may have gotten more than they bargained for when their past literally comes back to haunt them.
If Flatliners works so well, it’s mostly because of screenwriter Peter Filardi. Before it’s a good movie, it’s a great story, period. The flatlining scenes are all crackling with tension because they are always torn in between the thrill of important discoveries and the obvious danger of what the students do. The ecstasy of absolute truths versus the recklessness of their project. It’s a very interesting dynamic. Whenever the students aren’t flatlining themselves, they are also endangered, being prowled upon by their ghosts. Terrifyingly real. Freakishly unforgettable. This is one of director Joel Schumacher’s best movies (yes, even better than Batman & Robin).
Director: Frank Marshall
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Julian Sands, John Goodman, Harley Jane Kozak
The fear of spiders ranks as one of the most popular phobias out there. It seems it would be one of the most unavoidable fears people would have to deal with on a daily basis. Let’s face it, if you had to you could avoid flying, you could refuse to go up into that tall building and you could always buy a bright night light for when it gets dark. Snakes can’t be that big of a problem in major metropolitan areas. You could relax a bit knowing they’d have a tough time getting up to your third floor apartment. Even if they did manage to slither across the highway they’d have to take the elevator. Hopefully they’re suffering from claustrophobia. But spiders – how are you going to avoid them? They’re everywhere!
Arachnophobia follows a breed of killer spiders on the loose. It’s pretty straightforward, and it’s great. What we have is basically a slasher film with spiders doing the work for the masked serial killer, and director Frank Marshall twists that formula around for a diverse audience. It never indulges in ultimate gross-out effects and carefully chooses both its victims and its means of depicting their dispatch.
11. The Exorcist III
Director: William Peter Blatty
Stars: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif, Scott Wilson
Mention The Exorcist in a conversation and most horror fans will declare it the scariest film of all time. While that declaration is well deserved, a film that is quite often overlooked when it comes to the legacy of that film, is the third film in the series, The Exorcist III. While wisely ignoring the events of The Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Exorcist III did what very few sequels were able to do and it did it with an intense amount of fervor: it rose to the challenge of not only being as good as the original but, it could be argued, it actual improves on the original in some ways, giving a solid, well told story of a Detective caught in between a personal battle between his faith, a murderer, a demon and a familiar face from the past.
The Exorcist III is set fifteen years after the original film. It follows Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, a grizzled old policeman who should have retired years ago. He is investigating a baffling series of murders that appear to have a satanic motive behind them and furthermore have all the hallmarks of “The Gemini,” a deceased serial killer. This leads him to question the patients of a psychiatric ward. In the style of classic old-school horror, much is left to the imagination of the viewer – and there is plenty of disturbing, shocking stuff to imagine. In one conversation you’ll hear about a murder so vile that you’ll never want to hear the word “catheter” again. And the beauty is that you never see a thing. If this subtle style appeals to you, then you certainly won’t be disappointed.
10. Night Of The Living Dead
Director: Tom Savini
Stars: Patricia Tallman, Tony Todd, Tom Towles, McKee Anderson
In the overcrowded and largely derided horror remake canon, Tom Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead is an anomaly: a remake made for a totally justifiable reason. Typically, genre fans are quick to lambast Horror Reboot No. We’ve-Lost-Count and mourn the perceived death of originality and creativity, but with Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead, only the ultra-cynical horror lovers can truly decry its existence.
The rest of us horror die-hards, meanwhile, can’t knock the original Night’s team (director George A. Romero, writer John A. Russo and producer Russell Streiner) for re-imagining their seminal 1968 masterwork of zombie cinema. They were just trying to finally make the hard-earned bucks they’d so rightfully deserved yet could never obtain for over 20 years. Knowing that, it’s even more impressive watching Savini’s film and applauding its all-around greatness – even though it was literally made for purely monetary purposes. All of the classic elements (the feud between Ben and Cooper, the claustrophobia) and a few new ones (a smarter female lead, a new ending) make Night Of The Living Dead a horror update to be applauded.
9. Tales From The Darkside: The Movie
Director: John Harrison
Stars: Debbie Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Christian Slater, Julianne Moore
An extension of the original 1980s TV series of the same name, we have Tales From The Darkside: The Movie. It was a spiritual successor of the popular TV show, framed in an anthology format. The movie takes us through three different spooky stories with a wrap around story to tie them all together.
The first segment features an animated mummy stalking selected student victims; the second tale tells the story of a “cat from Hell” who cannot be killed and leaves a trail of victims behind it; the third story is about a man who witnesses a bizarre killing and promises never to tell what he saw, and the “in-between” bit is the story of a woman preparing to cook her newspaper boy for supper. Overall, this is one of the most underappreciated and forgotten films of the anthology film trend. Not nearly as cool as Creepshow, but a lot better than… Campfire Tales? Deadtime Stories? Tales From The Hood? Creepshow 2? You betcha!
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Stars: James Lorinz, Joanne Ritchie, Patty Mullen, C.K. Steefel
Poor Jeffrey. He’s been rejected by every med school he’s applied to and his girlfriend Elizabeth has just been decapitated in a freak lawnmower accident. What a sad story. But wait a second! Jeffrey is a bit of a mad scientist too and has the idea of bringing Elizabeth back to life! All he needs are some female body parts for her head to use. Setting out to use the pieces of the best attributes from New York prostitutes Jeffrey sets out to make Frankenhooker!
If you haven’t already surmised, Frankenhooker lives squarely in the realm of the absurd – certainly more comedy than horror. It also serves as a time capsule of Times Square before it got cleaned up. They just don’t make them like this anymore. Also, if you take into consideration the way the movie ends, it makes an interesting statement on the objectification of women and how you need to show respect. It is an interesting message buried in what is ostensibly an exploitation flick. If you have not seen this movie, make sure you put it on your to see list immediately. You won’t be let down.
7. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Christopher Lee
Why some people hate Gremlins 2: The New Batch, will forever be a mystery. Sure, it’s entirely different from its predecessor, but only in good ways. It’s weird, it’s fun, and it even lampoons the original! Taking place in an elaborate, big city skyscraper instead of a small town, returning director Joe Dante’s follow-up finds the titular creatures causing insane amounts of mayhem as they take over the building.
Let’s just recap some of the more memorable moments of this film: We have Hulk Hogan extensively checking a bunch of the gremlins at the movie theater. We have film critic Leonard Maltin, who panned the original, appearing briefly and getting mauled. We have a sexy lady gremlin. And we also have also have a big musical number during which hundreds of gremlins sing along to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” It’s sublime.
6. Child’s Play 2
Director: John Lafia
Stars: Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Christine Elise, Jenny Agutter
In 1988, director Tom Holland was somehow able to turn a kid’s play toy into a nightmarish killer with a snide sense of humor. He also created an icon. But anytime an audience is expected to buy into a killer doll not once, but twice (a whole lot more, as it so happened), the eyebrows must lift a little. You’d think a psycho freckle faced redheaded piece of plastic would lose its appeal after a single movie, but director John Lafia defied the odds and created an entertaining sequel to Child’s Play, appropriately titled, Child’s Play 2.
Child’s Play 2 knows exactly what it is. It knows it’s dealing with a sassy killer doll, and it fully embraces that path. It doesn’t have to hide Chucky’s true nature from us like the first film did in its first few acts (and initial marketing campaign). In fact, it begins at the “Good Guy” factory and seems to ratchet up the more playful elements of the universe from frame one. The film is brighter, more colorful and runs at a brisk pace. The initial kill, a technician being electrocuted during the process of restoring (reanimating) Chucky perfectly sets up the film’s mix of youthful whimsy and adult cynicism. By totally scrapping the murder mystery angle that made the original so wobbly, Child’s Play 2 manages to be a darn sight more fun to watch.
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Anne Bobby, Charles Haid
Clive Barker followed the success of his feature directorial debut, Hellraiser, with this equally surreal effort, based on his novella Cabal. The story involves the plight of Aaron Boone, a young man tormented by visions of monstrous, graveyard-dwelling creatures. Seeking the aid of his clinically cold therapist Dr. Decker in deciphering his nightmares, Boone becomes convinced that his frequent blackouts are linked to a recent spate of mutilation murders in the area. His frantic search for the truth leads him to the subterranean city of Midian, the dwelling place of a mythical race of undead nocturnal monsters known as the “Nightbreed.” But it is only after he is cornered and shot dead by police that Boone’s real journey begins – he finds himself resurrected as one of the Breed.
Clive Barker’s seminal monster movie has always been a bit of a curate’s egg: studio interference and recutting plagued the production, and the finished product wasn’t finished at all, merely… stopped. Thankfully, fairly recent investigations have recovered a large part of the footage hacked from the film, and a Director’s Cut has been available for the last couple of years that goes some significant way towards fixing the problems of the original movie, specifically when it comes to pacing, characterization and the film’s climax. Looking back on it, Nightbreed is not a particularly scary movie. It will not leave you afraid to go into a darkened room. It will make you think about how we define monsters and how we observe others. Viewers who have never seen Nightbreed will enjoy the movie and the opportunity to sympathize with the citizens of Midian. Those who have seen the theatrical release will love the new version.
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Stars: Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Tim Curry
Yes. There. That image. Right up there is the reason many people are plagued by coulrophobia. Pennywise The Dancing Clown, from Stephen King’s terrifying book It. Now we know, technically it’s not a movie, it’s a mini-series, but screw it, for all intents and purposes we’re calling it a movie. The “movie” was originally broadcast on ABC in late 1990. It was a two night event, and we’re willing to bet thousands upon thousands of people lost sleep for far more than two nights. The movie starts off with a little girl singing the itsy bitsy spider in her back yard where her mother has hung the laundry out to dry. This my friends is where we get our very first glimpse of the premium nightmare fuel that is Pennywise.
Our story is told in flashbacks. In a small New England town, a group of children are terrorized in their youth by an evil force. Thirty years later, when they learn of a new series of child murders, they return to see if they can’t stop it once and for all. Adults now, with success in diverse careers, they still must come to terms with their pasts and with the evil that stalks their home town, and their own fears and nightmares.
Director: Ron Underwood
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Reba McEntire
Unfortunately for the quaint desert town of Perfection, Nevada their name is a total misnomer in this cult classic horror, thanks to the presence of the prehistoric underground worms – later named “Graboids” – who pay a visit to terrorize the fifteen residents of the town. The irony of the entire film is the fact that these creatures live underground and travel by burrowing around this town, which used to be reliant on mining. Devoid of eyes, the creatures hunt and travel by way of sound, picking up on vibrations underground in order to track down their prey.
Tremors is actually two movies in one. On its own terms, it’s an enjoyable modern sci-fi horror-thriller, with good pacing and a sense of humor; but it’s also a loving tribute to such 1950s low-budget desert-based sci-fi films like Them, It Came From Outer Space, Tarantula, and The Monolith Monsters. All in all, this is what a movie of its ilk is supposed to be like, and it’s terrific.
2. Jacob’s Ladder
Director: Adrian Lyne
Stars: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello, Pruitt Taylor Vince
New York postal worker Jacob Singer is trying to keep his frayed life from unraveling. His days are increasingly being invaded by flashbacks to his first marriage, his now-dead son, and his tour of duty in Vietnam. Although his new wife tries to help Jacob keep his grip on sanity, the line between reality and delusion is steadily growing more and more uncertain.
This is a very unique movie. Rarely is such an unconventional screenplay given this full-blown, $25 million studio treatment. It is a curiosity – a mutant of a movie in an industry that specializes in clones. One of the great treats of Jacob’s Ladder is its visuals, and no better sequence exemplifies this more than Jacob’s trip to Hell. Being whisked away on a stretcher, the imagery surrounding him becomes more frightening and bizarre. Psychotics, deformed human beings, severed limbs, a man who’s head shakes wildly in an almost surreal fashion (something that has become sort of a cliché since), and the infamous shot of the eyeless doctor holding a syringe filled with unnamed chemicals. Unfairly dismissed during its initial release, this movie really deserves to be better known: the ultimate example of bad-trip mainstream cinema.
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen
In Rob Reiner’s film adaptation of the Stephen King story, Annie Wilkes is a loner, a former maternity nurse and an obsessed fan of the popular writer Paul Sheldon. At the beginning of the flick, she “rescues” him from a car wreck and forces him to bring his most famous character back from the dead – with the threat of increasingly painful forms of bodily mutilation if he refuses.
For pure, teeth-gritted, fist-clenched intensity, it doesn’t get more perfect than Misery. It’s impossible to relax at any point in this film, and once things hit the proverbial fan, the tension meter goes through the roof. It’s like the opposite of a home-invasion flick, because the protagonist is trapped inside someone else’s house. Nearly the entire film takes place inside said house, and that’s what makes it so claustrophobic and unpleasant. And the less we talk about “hobbling” the better, okay?
What was your favorite horror movie of the year? Let us know in the comments below.