While we here at Jarvis City are not as critical of the ’90s horror scene as most, even we have to admit that 1997 wasn’t the most fertile period. Freddy and Jason had been banished to (development) hell, Myers was in limbo following Donald Pleasance’s death, Chucky hadn’t quite reinvented himself just yet, and the brief post-Scream boom hadn’t quite kicked in. However, horror doesn’t revolve around old-school slasher icons and there are still a few cinematic gems that popped up throughout the year.
With that, as we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1997.
15. Campfire Tales
Directors: Matt Cooper, Martin Kunert, David Semel
Stars: Jay R. Ferguson, Christine Taylor, Christopher Masterson, Ron Livingston
A group of teens, stranded in the woods after a car accident, entertain themselves by telling classic horror stories. What follows is a series of eerie tales that include monsters, psychopaths, and ghosts, and that remind you that things aren’t always what they seem.
Campfire Tales is basically a slightly more mature version of an episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark?. It’s a horror film that you show to your non-horror friends when they don’t want to watch something that’s “too scary.” And yet there are boobs, and blood, and some actually very creepy imagery. So, it gets a pass. There are also hot stars in some of their earlier roles, and they no doubt help pull off this movie that could have been so weak and forgettable. Campfire Tales is actually really good for what it is and one that at least deserves some mention for what it gets right.
14. Dance With The Devil
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Stars: Rosie Perez, Javier Bardem, Harley Cross, Aimee Graham
Right after the success of his masterpiece, the dark comedy El Día De La Bestia (aka The Day Of The Beast), Spanish director Alex De la Iglesia took a stab at Hollywood with this wild ride of marvelous insanity and bizarre entertainment. Sadly, the resulting movie was severely cut in the U.S. and the U.K. and didn’t have the expected results as many labeled it as another Tarantino-style swindle. While at first sight Perdita Durango (aka Dance With The Devil) indeed looks like a rip-off of the movies by the Tarantino-Rodriguez tandem, this really black comedy is more a witty satire than a serious action/horror flick.
The film tells the story of Perdita Durango, a young criminal who one night meets Romeo Dolorosa, a crazed priest of an extreme form of Santeria who makes a life doing jobs for the mob. They fall in love and Perdita comes along in Romeo’s latest job: the traffic of human fetuses for the cosmetic industry. On their trip, they kidnap two American teenagers for Romeo’s human sacrifices. However, things go wrong as a DEA agent follows them closely and the kidnapped teens try to escape. Like some kind of twisted cross between Natural Born Killers and Desperado, this film never lets up from start to finish. It’s definitely a contemporary cult classic chock full of violence, sex, drugs, dark humor, voodoo, and… hey we don’t want to give it all away, just see it!
13. The Ugly
Director: Scott Reynolds
Stars: Paolo Rotondo, Paul Glover, Chris Graham, Rebecca Hobbs
Simon is a confessed serial killer who spent the last five years in a mental hospital because of his state. Dr. Karen Shoemaker wants to get through to him and starts visiting him in the hospital, and his previous life comes to us in flashbacks. Hold on to your sanity… it’s going to get ugly.
The Ugly is one hell of an engrossing and chilling journey inside a serial killer’s haunted mind. We not only get to walk through the killer’s tragic and violent past memories but we also have to deal with the chilling supernatural touches that the film relentlessly slaps our way. This movie is deeply disturbing. It’s not fun or funny. It’s calculating, dark, surreal, and disjointed. Think the Hannibal Lecter/Clarice tete-a-tete in Silence Of The Lambs but on a heavy dose of ’70s high quality acid and you’ll capiche what we’re dealing with here.
Director: Luis Llosa
Stars: Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson
A National Geographic film crew in the Amazon, shortly into their journey down the river, come upon grimacing poacher Paul Serone, who, based on his constant sneering, shifty glances, and the menacing music that plays to introduce him, is up to no good. It’s soon revealed that Serone isn’t interested in directing the crew to a hospital when a poisonous wasp stings one of them, or scavenging for fuel when they drift past a wrecked boat. His goal is to capture a monstrous anaconda alive – easily the largest one in existence. It’s a dangerous task, and the inexperienced filmmakers aren’t keen on aiding in his cause – so they’re taken as prisoners.
Don’t be fooled by the $40 million budget and the starry cast, because Anaconda is a SyFy movie by any other name, full of hilarious histrionics and an even funnier monster. In a movie with no shortage of show-stopping moments, the pick of the bunch has to be the death of Serone, in which he’s vomited up by the titular creature and manages to literally wink at the audience. It might just be one of thee greatest moments in cinema history.
Director: Robert Kurtzman
Stars: Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Robert Englund, Chris Lemmon
In Disney’s Aladdin, a genie is the catalyst for a wealth of comedic and pop culture-tinged mayhem – and the same is true for 1997’s Wishmaster. However, the pop culture references in Wishmaster are such that only horror fanboys and fangirls will appreciate. And the mayhem – while still comedic in tone – is more of the “a guy’s skeleton rips its way out of his body” variety.
The premise of Wishmaster goes like this: If you wake a genie he will grant you three wishes. Upon granting the third wish, all of his fancy genie buddies get to enter our world and take over. That’s the position a bland appraiser named Alex lands in when she breathes on and rubs the wrong gemstone. The movie was directed by Robert Kurtzman, one-third of the amazing KNB Effects house, so you know even before you get started that at least the effects are going to be awesome. And indeed the opening scene in ancient Persia where the genie mutilates various people is freaking amazing. And again, as we’ve already touched on, how could any horror fan not love watching a guy’s skin ripping off and his skeleton coming out and to attack people?
10. Snow White: A Tale Of Terror
Director: Michael Cohn
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Sam Neill, Gil Bellows, Monica Keena
Based somewhat more authentically on the Grimm Brothers’ story of a young woman who is unliked by her stepmother, Snow White: A Tale Of Terror includes the talking mirror, a poisoned apple, and some ruffian gold (not diamond) miners (and they aren’t dwarfs or cute). It takes place at the time of the Crusades, and depicts the attitudes of the wealthy and the peasant classes toward one another.
Make no mistake, this is not your typical family fare. We have hints of incest, cannibalism, rape, shrines to dead babies that later come back to life, and so on. Horror fans who also love more straightforward fantasy will love it. Anyone with a more “sensitive” constitution should probably avoid the film, or at least make sure that they don’t begin watching with preconceptions of a live action version of Disney’s film.
Director: Ole Bornedal
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Patricia Arquette, Nick Nolte, Josh Brolin
A law student takes a job as the night-watchman in a morgue, thinking that he will have much time to study, with his biggest problem being his paranoia in this scary setting. Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the loose and the student ends up getting mixed up with one of the murders, becoming a suspect.
Like The Vanishing (1988 and 1993), Nightwatch is an English-language version of a foreign-made film with the original director hired to remake his own movie. Ole Bornedal was the writer-director of 1994’s Nattevagten, which had no U.S. release immediately on the heels of its success in Denmark. For the second time around, Bornedal directed, but Steven Soderbergh wrote a new script based on Bornedal’s original film. Nattevagten was Bornedal’s directorial debut, and reviews praised the film for the claustrophobic atmospherics and suspense generated from the very first establishing scene. For the 1998 English-language remake, the artistic elements of the original gave way to name actors, slicker production values, and the more conventional grindhouse genre approach, opening with a brutal prostitute murder in a pre-credit sequence. Do yourself a favor – watch this one.
8. The Relic
Director: Peter Hyams
Stars: Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore
A researcher at Chicago’s Natural History Museum returns from South America with some crates containing his findings. When the crates arrive at the museum without the owner there appears to be very little inside. However, police discover gruesome murders on the cargo ship that brought the crates to the US and then another murder in the museum itself. Investigating the murders is Lt. Vincent D’Agosta who enlists the help of Dr. Margo Green at the museum – she has taken an interest in the contents of her colleague’s crates. Unknown to both there is a large creature roaming the museum which is gearing itself up for a benefit reception which the city’s mayor is to attend.
The Relic is an atmospheric, sinister, dark horror movie that will scare the hell out of you (or, at least entertain you sufficiently). There’s lots of gory decapitations and the creature effects from Stan Winston studios are beautifully done. It is definitely worth the time of anyone who likes a good, old-fashioned monster movie.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Alexander Goodwin, Giancarlo Giannini
A disease carried by common cockroaches is killing Manhattan children. In an effort to stop the epidemic an entomologist, Susan Tyler, creates a mutant breed of insect that secretes a fluid to kill the roaches. This mutant breed was engineered to die after one generation, but three years later Susan finds out that the species has survived and evolved into a large, gruesome monster that can mimic human form.
For Guillermo del Toro’s second feature film, the biggest asset is the production design. Mimic has a delicious horror atmosphere that you could cut with a knife. Of course it’s easy to achieve cringe-worthy moments when the screen is filled with bugs and characters are crawling down (and in some cases living in) dingy subway tunnels, but almost every shot in the film has a similar effect. Gloom, decay and disturbing, unidentifiable biological masses are the visual themes. The creature designs are fantastic, with the “mimicking” design being the most impressive. Of course, the plot is somewhat predictable, and the “don’t tamper with nature” subtext is as conspicuous here as it was in a movie like Frankenstein, but predictability isn’t a flaw here, and Frankenstein was a masterpiece. Mimic has an absorbing story, with likable characters and suspense to spare.
6. I Know What You Did Last Summer
Director: Jim Gillespie
Stars: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.
Four teens share an ominous pact one fateful July 4th evening. After accidentally colliding with a mysterious stranger crossing a barren, secluded portion of highway, they dispose of the body rather than face their responsibilities and report the tragic incident. Now on the anniversary of wicked indiscretion a mysterious force has returned with redemption in mind and terrifying taunts of I Know What You Did Last Summer…
Today, telling somebody “I know what you did last summer”, and meaning it as a threat just wouldn’t fly. Everybody knows what you did last summer – it’s all over Facebook and Twitter, there are probably a thousand selfies on Instagram of you holding a cocktail the colors of a sunset, and a Vine video you took from a plane window. Back in the GeoCities land of 1997 though, things were different; it was almost possible to keep things private. Almost.
5. Scream 2
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber
Do you like scary movies? Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson decided most people probably did. With 1996’s Scream they breathed life into a flagging genre by creating a new knife-wielding icon who, crucially, was aware of all the horror movie villains who’d gone before.
The second film follows Sidney Prescott as, after enduring the horrors of the first film, she moves away to go to college. With most of her friends dead, she intends to make a clean break and restart her life. But she’s haunted by her past, seeing ghosts – or Ghostfaces – everywhere she looks, and unfortunately, it turns out she’s not just imagining it. Like you’d expect from any self-respecting slasher sequel, the body counter is higher in Scream 2, and the kills are gorier. Where Scream was riffing on the slasher genre, Scream 2 is riffing on the slasher sequel, and having loads of fun with it.
4. Event Horizon
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Richard T. Jones
To put it delicately, it’s probably safe to say that director Paul W.S. Anderson has released some iffy films over the years – from Death Race, Pompeii and pretty much every Resident Evil movie. But before all those films, way back in 1997, he directed Event Horizon, which is arguably his best movie to date.
The story takes place in the year 2047 as a group of astronauts are sent to investigate and salvage a long lost starship. The ship disappeared mysteriously seven years before on its maiden voyage and with its return comes even more mystery as a rescue crew discovers the real truth behind its disappearance and something even more terrifying. Eschewing the predictable plotting and happy endings of similar big-budget productions, Event Horizon emerges as a truly twisted, nightmarish shocker. The film’s screenwriter, Paul Eisner, pitched his idea to Paramount Pictures as “The Shining in space.” A more accurate pitch would’ve been “Hellraiser in space.”
3. The Night Flier
Director: Mark Pavia
Stars: Miguel Ferrer, Julie Entwisle, Dan Monahan, Michael H. Moss
Based on Stephen King’s 1988 novella of the same name, The Night Flier follows a sleazy reporter who chases a killer who may, or may not, be a vampire; given that it’s Stephen King we’re talking about, the ultimate twist won’t surprise you.
This might seem like a bold statement, but The Night Flier is arguably one of the 15-20 best vampire films out there. Certainly when it comes to the 1990s, very few films trump it (From Dusk Till Dawn, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Blade, Dracula and Cronos are its only real competition), and subsequent decades haven’t produced too many stronger subgenre works, either. It’s an awesome and underrated movie that all vamp fans should see at least once.
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Stars: Nicole de Boer, Maurice Dean Wint, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller
Just under a decade before a man and his tricycle-loving puppet friend took over the game, a little movie called Cube was the standard-bearer for locking strangers together in an area lousy with traps. The premise goes like this: Six complete strangers of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in an endless maze containing deadly traps (traps including acid sprayers, sound-activated spikes and screens of razor wire).The usual rounds of “What are we doing here?” questions follow, the answers revealing the very specific role each member of the party has to play in order to make it out alive.
Cube is one of those rare films that make you itch uncomfortably on the inside. With its enigmatic and simple premise, this works best as a series of nerve-stretching suspense sequences as the characters try to get past the killing traps. Fun fact: An episode of the original Twilight Zone, Five Characters In Search Of An Exit (December 22, 1961), was reportedly a big inspiration for this movie.
1. Funny Games
Director: Michael Haneke
Stars: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering
Funny Games is a non-stop assault on the senses that takes and takes emotionally, and with no reciprocation. From the moment the two antagonists appear on screen – an eerily polite and well-dressed pair of marauding sociopaths – until the moment the credits are over Funny Games twists at a well-earned knot of tension and never lets up. It leaves you feeling as a good horror should: drained and deeply affected.
In the film, a family of three is taken hostage in their summer home by two young men, who bet them they will be dead by 9 the next morning. The two captors toy with the family, and use a game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe to find out which of the family will die first. We won’t spoil it for you, but we’ll just say that there isn’t anything remotely funny about these games at all. With Funny Games, director Michael Haneke is undoubtedly indicting the concept of dramatized violence. As an audience, a torture-porn movie (for lack of a better term) such as this usually gives us the role of passive antagonists. We are incorporeal voyeurs and as a result we leave the film with that morbidly satisfied feeling that only horrific imagery can evoke. Funny Games gives us tangibility, where we may not want it. It acknowledges our presence across the fourth wall several times throughout in order to make us feel more participant than observer. It is much harder to glean satisfaction from the imagery when we feel personally included in what made it horrific.
Let us know your favorite horror movie of the year in the comment section below.