As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1994. This is the year that gave us the revival of Freddy Krueger, some vampire drama, and the last great John Carpenter movie. Let’s get started…
15. That Little Monster
Director: Paul Bunnell
Stars: Melissa Baum, Reggie Bannister, Andi Wenning, Forrest J. Ackerman
That Little Monster pays homage to the great horror films of the 1930s, opening with a dead-on spoof of the prologue to Frankenstein, in which an eminent professor warns the audience that the film is not for the faint of heart. When attractive foreign student Jamie accepts a job babysitting a strange infant, she has no idea she’s signing on for a night of terror. Soon, she’s caught up in the dark secrets of a house come to life.
Unusual use of camera angles and movement of the camera itself catches one off guard. Remarkable to note is the babysitter’s first entrance into the nursery. This is one of the creepiest uses of the camera you’re likely to see. The camera seems to become The Blob – so to speak- and take on a life of it’s own. An amazing piece of work. Although a short film, it delivers more than enough mystery, suspense and thrill to satisfy any fan of the genre. If you are a lover of shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery or Monsters, this film is for you!
14. Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter
Director: Jeff Burr
Stars: Gordon Currie, Chandra West, Ian Ogilvy, Guy Rolfe
You can’t have a successful horror film series without at least one entry boldly (and falsely) claiming it’s the final one. The sixth Nightmare On Elm Street film, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, was succeeded by three more films starring the finger-gloved freak. Even better, Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter – the fourth film in the series – was actually far from the final chapter, with Jason appearing in eight subsequent movies. So too, then, was the case with Full Moon Pictures’ cult series Puppet Master which claimed this, the fifth film in as many years, was to be the last.
Shot at the same time as Puppet Master 4 and released a year later, Puppet Master 5: NOT The Final Chapter continues right where its predecessor left off. Which, you’ll no doubt remember, was a ridiculous battle at the Bodega Bay inn in which artificial intelligence researcher Rick Myers helped the animated puppets of former Nazi target Andre Toulon defeat the Totems, evil puppets sent to Earth by a demon from another dimension. Now the puppets battle their most powerful enemy yet as they protect their new master from the demon God that created the Secret of Life.
13. The Puppet Masters
Director: Stuart Orme
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Eric Thal, Julie Warner, Keith David
Strange aliens land in the Midwest, taking over people’s minds in order to spread their dominion. Sam and Andrew Nivens, aided by Mary Sefton, are part of a government agency who must stop the aliens before the beings get to them…
Before there was The Body Snatchers (Jack Finney’s novel was put out in 1955), there was Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 book The Puppet Masters. Being that Body Snatchers got its movie adaptation put out first in 1956 (with three separate reinterpretations to follow), it got all the love in terms of the “alien controls/mimics humans” subgenre. And although Heinlein’s novel was echoed in Bruno Vesota’s The Brain Eaters, an Outer Limits episode in 1964 and in a Star Trek episode in 1967 called Operation: Annihilate it took till 1994 for it to get a proper film adaptation. The critics didn’t dig Stuart Orme’s take on the novel at the time and the box office returns were quite low. But re-visiting it again today; one has to admit, it made for an enjoyable and undemanding horror watch! The special effects are convincing, and the cinematography and editing are streamlined and tight. Far from being definitive, this version of the tale is nonetheless sufficiently satisfying and worth a look.
Director: John Flynn
Stars: Edward Furlong, T. Ryder Smith, Amy Hargreaves, Frank Langella
A lonely teenage horror movie fan discovers a mysterious computer game that uses hypnosis to custom-tailor the game into the most terrifying experience imaginable. When he emerges from the hypnotic trance he is horrified to find evidence that the brutal murder depicted in the game actually happened – and he’s the killer.
Brainscan is a fun little early ’90s time capsule. It has a computer game premise. It has shameless advertising for Aerosmith’s 1993 album Get a Grip. It has a soundtrack featuring the likes of White Zombie, Butthole Surfers, Mudhoney and Primus. And watching it today will make any person who grew up during this time feel all warm and nostalgic inside. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but the film is a million times better than it has any right to be. On the surface, the film seems a bit like a mash-up of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome – as written by R.L. Stine (the ’90s Stephen King for kiddies). But director John Flynn actually managed to emerge with an atmospheric, surprisingly immersive work of cinema. We should also probably give a shout-out to the film’s baddie, The Trickster – an odd combination of Freddy Krueger, Mick Jagger and Beetlejuice.
11. Phantasm III: Lord Of The Dead
Director: Don Coscarelli
Stars: Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury
The Tall Man, that imposing menace from Morningside Mortuary, is back and once again haunting the thoughts of the now-adult Mike and his friend, ex-Ice Cream vendor Reggie. The two continue their hunt for the mysterious figure and in his path of destruction encounter a variety of dangerous situations, friends and enemies. They also must contend with the resurrected dead plus a growing number of the infamous and deadly silver spheres which aid the Tall Man as he sets his sights on indoctrinating Mike and finishing the fight begun so many years ago.
If you’ve gotten two films into the Phantasm franchise and the all-over nature of the narrative leaves you fully satisfied, then don’t stop after two. Phantasm never really gets away from the insanity. It just becomes slightly more controlled and (generally) refined as the movies progress. Lord Of The Dead, the third in the lineup, introduces a couple of great characters, boasts a few nutty action sequences and affords Reggie some lady love and a respectable amount of time in the beautiful 1971 Plymouth Barracuda. Production value still appears solid but limited, stretched to wondrous lengths by director Don Coscarelli who probably gets more out of his cinematic buck than any other genre filmmaker out there. So, to sum that all up for you, Phantasm III: Lord Of The Dead is every bit as flawed but spirited as its two predecessors.
10. Night Of The Demons 2
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Stars: Cristi Harris, Darin Heames, Robert Jayne, Amelia Kinkade
Angela, the universe’s most unpleasant party crasher, returns! Angela’s sister, Mouse, is taken by her bullying Catholic school classmates to a party at Angela’s favorite haunt, and before long, everybody’s being turned into demons and only a butt-kicking nun, who wields her ruler like a mighty sword of steel, can save the day.
Quite possibly the best thing to look forward to with Night Of The Demons 2 is the aforementioned nun, Sister Gloria. At first she is portrayed as your typical strict prioress with a yardstick (there’s a funny little scene where she’s practicing fencing with it), but then out of nowhere she turns into all kinds of awesome when she finds out that she gets to fight demons. She even has a hilarious “getting ready” montage where she puts on her habit and laces up her shoes. This woman is ready to kick ass for the Lord! And does she ever, with her holy water guns and swinging her crucifix around like a… whatever weapon you swing around your head. Sister Gloria has some great moments in the finale and makes the whole last third of movie all the more enjoyable. The rest of the movie is pretty great, too.
9. Death Machine
Director: Stephen Norrington
Stars: Brad Dourif, Ely Pouget, William Hootkins, John Sharian
Chaank Industries is experimenting with the ultimate fighting machine which is part human/part machine. So far, the Hardman project has been unreliable and has killed a number of innocent people. The genius behind this project is Jack Dante who lives in a world of models, toys and magazines. When he is fired by the powers who be for killing a few corporate officers, he unleashes the ultimate killing machine called the “Warbeast” against those who have wronged him.
The best scene in this movie comes when Dante unleashes his robotic beast for the first time. He programs it to take out another big shot at Chaank by the name of Scott Ridley. This scene is incredible. You have this average man in Ridley being chased by a robot T-rex programmed to kill him and stop at nothing to do so. We get a lot of close-ups of Ridley’s face as he runs for his life as well as some first-person shots to put us in his shoes. It almost feels like you’re in a video game as he runs through this labyrinth that is Chaank Industries trying to escape. He cuts down different hallways and into different rooms trying to lose the T-rex but it’s no luck. The T-rex will not be deterred. It’s an incredibly intense and exciting scene. The rest of the movie is pretty great, too.
Director: Ole Bornedal
Stars: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sofie Gråbøl, Kim Bodnia, Lotte Andersen
A young law student, Martin, has taken a job as a night watchman at the city morgue, as the old watchman retires from his position. The morgue fills Martin with unease, and both his imagination and his friends play disturbing jokes on him. Tangible problems arise when a serial killer gets too close to Martin and his girlfriend. And you know, tangible problems that take place at the creepy morgue doesn’t make life easier…
All three story threads (Martin’s job at the morgue, Martin’s personal relationships, the serial killer’s course), converge in a surprisingly taut and satisfying third act that is bloody without being exploitive, and terrifying without resorting to jump scares and cheap shots. The identity of the killer, while not a terribly big surprise, is revealed with class and an appropriate amount of understatement. And while the girlfriend is predictably put into peril, it’s not in the way that you would expect – it happens without compromising her dignity and strength. The set design by Søren Kragh Sørensen and the lighting schemes by cinematographer Dan Laustsen (including an incredibly effective, and subtle, buzzing fluorescent right outside of the morgue cooler), give Nightwatch (aka Nattevagten) an almost unbearable tension. It is, technically speaking, a triumph.
7. Serial Mom
Director: John Waters
Stars: Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard
Beverly Sutphin, on the surface, appears to be a happy housewife living in suburbia with her family. The truth, however, is that she has uncontrollable homicidal impulses that rise to the surface whenever anybody does something she doesn’t approve of. We’re not talking about serious offenses either; we’re talking about things like chewing gum or somebody not wanting to date her daughter. It’s absolutely hilarious watching Beverly descend deeper and deeper into madness as the story progresses.
Indeed, Beverly’s killings begin to snowball and eventually she is arrested and her trial becomes a national sensation with the media dubbing her “serial mom.” And although a statement says that the events of the film are true, it is in fact complete fiction. The film even ends with a close-up of Beverly’s iniquitous smile and a caption stating that Beverly “refused to cooperate” with the making of the film. It’s hysterical.
6. New Nightmare
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Miko Hughes, John Saxon
Frederick Charles Krueger, infamous dream-stalker and the bastard son of 100 maniacs, began as a genuinely frightening character in Wes Craven’s original Nightmare On Elm Street. As the NOES movies went on, however, Freddy lost his edge and went on to look more like a bad stand up comedian with horrible one liners. The character seemed dead in the water with the sixth film of the series, but the great Wes Craven brought him back from his rut and made him someone to fear again. This of course helps prove the theory that a truly great NOES movie cannot be made without Craven’s involvement (he also co-wrote NOES 3: The Dream Warriors).
When you really look at it, New Nightmare was way ahead of its time. Two years before Wes Craven gave the horror genre a facelift with Scream the director released this gem of a movie. As far as the film’s plot goes, in a nutshell: Freddy Krueger is a fictional movie villain who invades the real world and haunts the cast and crew responsible for his films. Very meta, quite genius.
Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan
Worn down and out of luck, aging publisher Will Randall is at the end of his rope when a younger co-worker snatches both his job and wife out from under his nose. But after being bitten by a wolf, Will suddenly finds himself energized, more competitive than ever, and possessed with amazingly heightened senses. Meanwhile, the beautiful daughter of his shrewd boss begins to fall for him – without realizing that the man she’s begun to love is gradually turning into the creature by which he was bitten.
Wolf is an effective attempt to place a werewolf story in an incongruous setting, with the closely observed details of that setting used to make the story seem more believable. The first hour of Wolf is pretty razor-sharp: Director Mike Nichols delights in the blacks and yellows of a bedroom lit by the harvest moon, and the cinematography is damn-near breathtaking; writer Jim Harrison focuses as much on the back-and-forth of workplace politicking as on the back-and-forth between man and wolf, and the parallels he draws are amazing; to boot, a sparkling Ennio Morricone score doesn’t hurt. The metaphorical rise of the wolf is handled with a subtle sophistication, apparent only when you consider how hammy and over-the-top the entire thing could have been.
4. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Stars: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter, Aidan Quinn
This version of the classic horror tale closely follows Mary Shelley’s book. The story begins in the Arctic Sea as the feverish Baron Victor von Frankenstein is rescued by a passing ship. He tells the skeptical captain the ghastly story of how he created a living monster out of exhumed corpses.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is extremely faithful to its source material. It does shorten some of the events of the novel, such as the trial of Justine Moritz, a servant of the Frankenstein family whom the Creature frames for a murder, and the death of Henry Clerval, Frankenstein’s best friend. It also adds a significant event near the end of the film. Nevertheless, this is the first movie version that actually recounts the same story that Mary Shelley originally wrote in 1818, including the framing device of Captain Walton’s expedition to the North Pole. Walton provides us with a character that finally offers the Creature some sympathy; unlike most of humanity, he treats the Creature as a person, not a monster. He also takes the tragic lessons of the story to heart, learning that sometimes actions can have terrible consequences. This framing device respects Mary Shelley’s structure, and adds dimensions to the story that previous versions have lacked.
3. Interview With The Vampire
Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Christian Slater, Kirsten Dunst
It hasn’t even been a year since a plantation owner named Louis lost his wife in childbirth. Both his wife and the infant died, and now he has lost his will to live. A vampire named Lestat takes a liking to Louis and offers him the chance to become a creature of the night: a vampire. Louis accepts, and Lestat drains Louis’ mortal blood and then replaces it with his own, turning Louis into a vampire. Louis must learn from Lestat the ways of the vampire.
We’ve heard Interview With The Vampire called many things by many people in the past including “Vampire Soap Opera” (wasn’t that Dark Shadows? hmmmmm) and “The Homoerotic Vampire Movie” (snickers… maybe a bit). Our favorite one, however, is “The Harlequin Romance Novel version of a vampire movie”. That one is just priceless. But we call it something else. We call it wonderful. It’s about seduction, and either you succumb to its inky entrapments or you resist. When its mojo is working, you’ll be happy to be had. Interview With The Vampire promises a constantly surprising vampire story, and it keeps that promise.
2. In The Mouth Of Madness
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen, David Warner
In The Mouth Of Madness earns the distinction of being the final John Carpenter movie that actually attempts to tackle a broad “big idea”. It’s his “point of no return” picture; acting as a divider between the acidic, headier work that peppered his best years and the minimalist craft showcases that came after.
What if religious texts like the Bible gained all of their power from the herd who read and believed in them? And what if a populist horror novelist was able to tap into this hive-mind consciousness, to the point that his reality becomes interchangeable with our own tangible existence? That’s bold, crazy stuff to pack into a ninety-minute, low-budget horror picture. Granted, all of this is handled with the subtlety of a jackhammer (a newscaster actually announces the film’s themes over the airways early on). However, Carpenter was never an artist known for delicacy; instead staking his claim as a first class rebel stylist.
1. Cemetery Man
Director: Michele Soavi
Stars: Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi, Mickey Knox
Francesco Dellamorte and his lovable half-wit assistant Gnaghi, are caretakers of a creepy cemetery in a small town in Italy. It turns out that their job sucks extra hard, because in this particular cemetery, the dead have a habit of rising from their graves, fully intent on killing anyone that they can get their hands on. Of course it falls to Dellamorte and Gnaghi to kill those who rise from their graves (aptly dubbed, Returners), and protect the living. It’s a job that has heavily bearing tolls on the man’s psyche, which doesn’t help the fact that Francesco’s also looking for romance in all the wrong places.
Dark, funny, violent, absurdist, and just plain different, Cemetery Man is a film of many descriptions, but not enough audience. It’s not to the taste of everyone – it fails the basic test for stupid zombie fun by failing to be stupid enough – but there are those who will find it fits them all too well (like Martin Scorsese, who called it one of the best films of the ’90s). It’s a movie about death, and a movie about love. It’s a movie about the dead who live and the living who are spiritually dead. It’s not an easy film, but great films rarely are.
Let us know your favorite movie of the year in the comments below.