Horror films in 1990 brought us killer spiders, an underrated Exorcist sequel, and a moment that will make you never want to hear the word “hobbling” again. 1991 brings us Martin Scorsese dipping his toe in the genre, an underrated slasher movie that seems to think that it was made in the early ’80s, and a horror movie that beat genre prejudice and actually won a crap load of Oscars.
As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1991.
15. Nekromantik 2
Director: Jörg Buttgereit
Stars: Monika M., Mark Reeder, Lena Braun, Astrid Ewers
From director Jörg Buttgereit comes Nekromantik 2, the gore horror sequel to his 1987 classick Nekromantik. In it, Monika is a beautiful necrophiliac who lives alone in Berlin. By day she works as a nurse. By night she prowls through cemeteries while searching for fresh corpses.
When she reads about the suicide of Rob (from the original film) she finds his grave to dig up his body and brings it home. Mark lives across town and makes his living dubbing sex films. After meeting Monika, romance blossoms and they fall in love. But all is not well in Monika’s world. Her relationship with Mark begins to falter and she has to make a final choice between loving the living or the dead. As the movie goes along, we watch as she tries to decide between the two men. And when all is said and done it looks to come down to just which of the two is better in bed. Our porn dubber might be an all around swell dude, but can he handle the “stiff” competition from Rob? Yeah, this is basically one of the most romantic films you’re ever going to see.
14. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
Director: Rachel Talalay
Stars: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Shon Greenblatt, Lezlie Deane
In part six of the Nightmare On Elm Street series, our favorite dream-stalker Freddy Krueger has finally killed all the children of his hometown, and seeks to escape its confines to hunt fresh prey. To this end, he recruits the aid of his (previously unmentioned) daughter. That’s right, Freddy has a daughter, apparently. Suddenly Freddy’s Dead turns into a tale about bad parenting.
If you look at nearly any list ranking the Elm Street films you will almost always find this entry listed as the worst. However, this just isn’t the case. It’s actually a lot of fun. It’s no longer trying to balance the line between comedy and horror and instead goes for pure entertainment. We have Freddy playing a NES, we have Johnny Depp making a cameo in a “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” commercial and the montage over the end credits is just kick-ass. If you can simply look at this film as a tribute to the franchise then you could find yourself enjoying it quite immensely.
13. Child’s Play 3
Director: Jack Bender
Stars: Brad Dourif, Justin Whalin, Perrey Reeves, Jeremy Sylvers
Every horror series has a black sheep. For many fans, Child’s Play 3 is the embarrassment of the Chucky saga. But why? So many reviews of this film express exacerbation, even confusion, over the sudden shift eight years into the future. What’s so hard to understand? We had already had two movies with Chucky chasing a little kid. It was time to move the story along, hence our hero Andy Barclay is now a teenager at a military academy. This change of scenery was the breath of fresh air the series needed, as it opens up all kinds of new options to the murderous doll, which he fully exploits (paintball guns loaded with real ammo, anyone?).
Let’s just put it out there. Child’s Play 3 has a smooth storyline, a touch of suspense and a truly memorable, original climax at a carnival (though it doesn’t quite surpass the doll factory finale of the previous film). Chucky’s foul mouth begins to be a liability rather than an asset, but we can cut him some slack – he’s certainly never looked better (or more practical). As far as we’re concerned, this was the last of the true “Child’s Play” films. Once this one was done, the series became a shameful, hokey parody of itself. This entry is by no means perfect and it’s certainly not up to the caliber of Child’s Play 2. Yet it’s not the piece of trash so many would have us believe. Do with this tepid praise what you will.
12. Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge
Director: David DeCoteau
Stars: Guy Rolfe, Richard Lynch, Ian Abercrombie, Sarah Douglas
It’s Berlin, 1941. We meet Andre Toulon, who has a gift with puppets. When members of the Third Reich learn that the anti-Nazi Toulon seems to be able to animate his puppets without strings, Dr. Hess and Major Kraus are ordered to bring him in by General Mueller. Toulon’s beloved wife Elsa is killed, and Toulon goes on the run with his magically powered puppets… and seeks revenge against the Third Reich which ruined his life.
As we’ve already established on this list, most of the time, it seems like the third film in a particular horror series is much weaker than the previous installments. The series loses its momentum, or maybe gets too distracted by back-story. In the case of Puppet Master, though, this is exactly what the series needed, and the third film actually ends up being a bit better than both of its predecessors. It has a very good storyline, competent acting and the puppets look more realistic than ever. This is certainly a must watch for anyone into the Puppet Master series, or simply fans of old-school killer doll movies.
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Stars: Angus Scrimm, Anders Hove, Irina Movila, Michelle McBride
1991, Romania. Michelle, Mara and Lillian wind up in the middle of a power struggle between good vamp Stefan, who takes a liking to Michelle, and bad vamp Radu. Who will wind up with the Bloodstone and control of ancient Castle Vladislas? Who will live and who will die? Who will get bitten and turn into a vampire? So many questions, so little time.
If we had to distill it down, there’s one main reason to watch this movie, and his name is RADU! He’s a physical homage to Nosferatu and he has the best lines in the movie, all spoken in the raspy voice of a man who smokes ten packs of cigarettes a day. The cemetery festival scene is one of the best moments in the film, as Radu slowly approaches the camera and reveals his grinning, slobbering face for the world to see. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself cheering him on as he collects victims and taunts his perfect brother. Indeed, this is a highly recommend film for dedicated vampire enthusiasts. It’s original, it’s fun, and Radu is one of the best vampires we’ve seen in a long time – much more fun than the stiff, tragic, whining undead brats that endlessly grace the horror screens these days. Radu enjoys his sadism and never apologizes. He’s what a vampire should be.
10. Sometimes They Come Back (1991)
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Stars: Tim Matheson, Brooke Adams, Robert Rusler, Chris Demetral
Based on the Stephen King short story of the same name, Sometimes They Come Back follows a hapless high-school teacher who is haunted by the ghosts of the three teenage punks who killed his brother. Originally optioned as a segment of the 1985 feature film Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, producer Dino De Laurentiis developed it into a separate feature instead.
Sometimes They Come Back is a great bit of horror story telling. It’s tense, dark, and yet has that satisfying, albeit cheesy, happy ending. The plot is engaging, and the performances – particularly by the gang members – are very impressive. While there are some glaring plot holes and some questions that are not answered, it doesn’t detract from being a chillingly entertaining tale about past indisgressions in small town America.
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Edith Meeks, Larry Maxwell, Susan Norman, John Leguizamo
During the early 1990s, right after the AIDS crisis that plagued the ’80s, a particular group of films burst into the consciousness of American cinema. From Paris Is Burning (Jennie Livingstone, 1990) to Swoon (Tom Kalin, 1992), from The Living End (Gregg Araki, 1992) to My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991), these films were alluring, stylish, and risqué. More importantly, they featured LGBT characters at the centre of the narratives, heralding the start of what B. Ruby Rich termed the New Queer Cinema.
Todd Haynes’ Poison can be seen as one of the trailblazers of this queer movement, and consists of three individual stories – Horror, Hero, and Homo – intercut with one another. Horror chronicles the story of a scientist, Doctor Graves, who isolates and drinks the elixir of human sexuality, in turn transforming into a murderous leper. Hero shows a journalistic attempt to find out whether seven-year-old Richie actually shot his father and then flew away in the sky. Homo follows the sado-masochistic and violent sexual relationship between two male prisoners. Overall, Poison is a stylish study of human deviance at its dirtiest. A mysterious, funny, sensuous, and scary triptych; each film works beautifully on its own, and even better in relation to the others.
8. Body Parts
Director: Eric Red
Stars: Jeff Fahey, Brad Dourif, Lindsay Duncan, Kim Delaney
Bill Chrushank is a criminal psychologist who loses his arm and nearly his life in a grisly car accident. A daring medical operation follows in which a donor’s arm is successfully grafted onto Bill’s body. But after the operation, the arm starts to take on a violent life of its own, striking out against Bill’s wife and children. Consumed by fears about his dangerous behavior, Bill is driven to learn the donor’s identity – a horrifying discovery that delivers him into a world of unimaginable terror.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Body Parts received the silent treatment at the box-office upon its theatrical release. You see, back then, real life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was kidnapping and eating folks. The last thing filmgoers wanted to see was a movie named “Body Parts”. Over time, the picture has gained somewhat of a cult status on home video and for good reason… it’s pretty awesome. It’s an unapologetically ludicrous horror effort that often skirts the very edges of camp without going entirely over. It’s just entertaining.
7. The Devil’s Daughter
Director: Michele Soavi
Stars: Kelly Curtis, Herbert Lom, Mariangela Giordano, Carla Cassola
Following a 1970s-set prologue, The Devil’s Daughter (aka The Sect) takes place in present-day Frankfurt, Germany. Miriam Kreisl is a young schoolteacher who narrowly misses running down with her car an old man named Moebius. Reluctantly, she takes in the mysterious old fellow. What she doesn’t know is that their meeting is no accident. Moebius is the elder of a Satanic sect and she has been chosen to give birth to the son of Satan.
Similar to director Michele Soavi’s earlier movie The Church, The Devil’s Daughter was also produced and co-written by Dario Argento. Soavi was something of a protégé of the great man. This one shows the influence pretty clearly once again. It has stylish direction and inventive cinematography. It also benefits from a first-rate score from Pino Donaggio. So its overall look and feel is on point. Soavi really comes into his element with the dream sequence and cult ceremony scenes. The dream sequence in particular is a bravura display of cinematic technique. It’s surreal, weird and very memorable. It’s the highlight of the movie for sure. On the whole, The Devil’s Daughter is masterful horror filmmaking. Don’t miss it.
6. Highway To Hell
Director: Ate de Jong
Stars: Chad Lowe, Kristy Swanson, Patrick Bergin, Adam Storke
Rachel and Charlie are young lovers who take a desert back road on their way to Vegas, where they plan to marry before the night is out. On the way they stop for gas, where the old attendant begs them to turn back, but when they refuse, he warns them not to fall asleep between two Joshua trees further up the road. Of course, they fall asleep and a demonic police officer appears, kidnaps Rachel and takes her to Hell. Charlie returns to the gas station immediately where the attendant informs him he only has 24 hours to enter Hell and get her back or else they’ll be trapped there for eternity. Armed with a special car and a gun, he travels the highway into Hell and proceeds to get his woman back, while running into various hurdles on the way.
Highway To Hell is a fun hour-and-a-half ride of strange characters, silly gags, car chases, and interesting locations. The flick kicks into gear pretty quick and keeps at that pace until the credits roll. You can pretty much see what the filmmakers were striving for here, which was an all out, original, and weird comedy/horror film with tons of action. They succeeded.
Directors: Mark Herrier, Alan Ormsby
Stars: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare
Once New Line Cinema killed off Freddy, it pretty much put the nail in the coffin of all the horror characters of that particular generation. The great ’80s horror boom party was over, though some filmmakers and studios were still trying to generate life in an otherwords dying genre. One such film was Popcorn. The film tried to introduce a new horror villain into the genre’s canon. Would it succeed or would this Popcorn simply be as stale as all the other slasher-wannabes?
A group of college students decide to raise money by hosting a horror marathon at an abandoned theater mere weeks before it’s to be demolished. During their preparations they find an old film reel containing the final, incomplete work of an avant-garde filmmaker who went crazy and slaughtered his family live on stage during the premiere. The night of the event, the students become prey to a killer that seems eerily similar to the psycho filmmaker who allegedly died the night of his final performance. The setup is fantastic. The horror marathon itself feels like something William Castle would’ve dreamed up; three schlocky B sci-fi and horror flicks complete with in house gimmicks. It’s not only a blast to watch the film within a film segments, but the killer incorporates the on screen happenings with his strategic kills. When a giant mosquito prop is sent down a wire above the audience during the climax of the black and white sci-fi feature about a radioactive giant mosquito, the killer utilizes the sharp proboscis of the prop as a weapon. But more than that, he uses the chaos of the rowdy attendees as a perfect distraction. The kills only get more inventive from there. Overall, this movie is great.
4. The Pit And The Pendulum
Director: Stuart Gordon
Stars: Lance Henriksen, Rona De Ricci, Frances Bay, Jonathan Fuller
The Pit And The Pendulum is a loose adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name. Poe’s story was a simple one, tracing one man’s tortuous ordeal with The Inquisition and his date with the titular pit and pendulum. Like a lot of Poe’s stories it delves into the deepening internal madness of his main character, meaning it is open to interpretation where film adaptations are concerned. This Stuart Gordon-helmed version expands the story and develops elements surrounding The Inquisition, adds characters and a lot more blood-letting. The film follows a young innocent, God-fearing couple who fall foul of the brutal Grand Inquisitor Torquemada. The couple find themselves at the mercy of The Inquisition as Torquemada battles with his own attraction to his beautiful young captive.
Outside of his Lovecraft-based efforts such as Re-Animator and From Beyond, this has to rank as one of the best things that Stuart Gordon has done. The film open with an inspired scene that effectively illustrates the sheer lunacy of the Inquisition, with the posthumous flogging of a crumbling corpse. There’s also a wonderfully OTT scene that is hard not to enjoy, no matter how daft it is: Esmerelda, a real witch, swallows gunpowder on the way to the stake, exploding when she is set alight, her bones impaling those in the crowd. This is schlock of a very fine vintage.
3. The People Under The Stairs
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Brandon Quintin Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J. Langer
In the late Wes Craven’s filmography, The People Under The Stairs often gets lost among the likes of the slasher glory of Nightmare On Elm Street, the game changing meta Scream, and exploitation classics like The Hills Have Eyes, among many others. Which is a damn shame. Though it certainly has its admirers, especially among the hardcore horror fans out there, this seems to be a largely undervalued title on his CV. It definitely falls into a category all its own, moving deftly from horror to comedy to social allegory, all wrapped in a wonderfully lunatic package.
The story follows Fool, a youngster who gets convinced to break into the creepiest house on the block — the one the kids avoid and the adults whisper about. Turns out, the reputation is well earned, as it belongs to two slumlords who have been evicting people and letting their tenants live in squalor, but there’s so much more going on. There are gimp suits, deformed creatures living under the stairs and in the walls, and the couple’s young, psychologically wounded daughter Alice, who becomes Fool’s ally as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on in that house – and escape.
2. Cape Fear
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis
“Every man has to go through hell to reach paradise” – Martin Scorsese’s brutal cinematic retelling of John MacDonald’s grim tale The Executioners manages to intensify the impact of J. Lee Thompson’s initial 1962 approach to the story. On a general level, the film is just far more unforgiving and sadistic; in part due to Scorsese’s intense approach to film, and in part due to the fact that film limitations were significantly more liberal in 1991. Any way you slice it, Scorsese’s take is the edgier of the two, and in some areas that serves as a massive benefit, while in a few others it’s a bit detrimental (just a bit).
In the film, we meet psychopathic rapist Max Cady who, having been released from prison after serving a fourteen year sentence, decides to track down the defense lawyer who deliberately fudged the trial and exact his revenge. It’s a taut tale, stripped to the bare bones and more economical than much of Scorsese’s other work. It’s also, as a whole, sad to say, inferior to the original, although considering how great that was, this is no major criticism. Comparisons aside, Scorsese’s Cape Fear remains an extremely solid genre effort with sterling performances all round.
1. The Silence Of The Lambs
Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn
A horror movie winning the Academy Award for Best Picture? That seems like an impossibility, yet The Silence Of The Lambs – the story of a rookie FBI agent teaming up with an urbane cannibal killer to catch an even worse serial killer – managed to sweep all five of the main Oscar categories (including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay) back when it was first released. An anomaly? Sure, but it was also a matter of undeniable quality — The Silence Of The Lambs is a gruesome, no-punches-pulled masterpiece of suspense.
Comedian Hannibal Buress likes to point out that the name Hannibal was once synonymous with the Carthaginian leader, one of the greatest military minds in world history. But since The Silence Of The Lambs, the name has been usurped by a psychiatric cannibal. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is behind bars for the majority of TSOTL, but his presence is persistently ominous, instantly deconstructing our hero Clarice Starling within mere moments of meeting her. And of course when he gets free from his maximum security incarceration, he goes on a rampage of perverse violence which ultimately results in him wearing a dude’s face.
What was your favorite horror movie of the year? Let us know in the comments below.