As we truck along with our year-by-year breakdown, we present to you the 15 Best Horror Films Of 1999. This is the year that gave us one of the highest grossing horror movies of all time, one of the genre’s greatest twist endings ever… and Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting the devil one on one. Let’s get started…
15. House On Haunted Hill
Director: William Malone
Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter
In this remake of William Castle’s campy 1958 classic, an eccentric millionaire named Steven Price invites a diverse group of people to a reputedly haunted mansion that was formerly the site of an insane asylum. Steven offers his guests $1,000,000 each if they can spend the entire night at the old house without fleeing in terror. It sounds simple enough, but when those stories about ghosts haunting the mansion turn out to be true, the guests may no longer opt to stick around.
This is not a great film by any means, but it sure is an entertaining one. Released after both The Sixth Sense and Stir Of Echoes had wowed horror audiences (two films we’ll be getting to in a moment), House On Haunted Hill had an uphill battle in the ghost/haunting department. Audiences had already seen two really good ghost movies earlier in the summer, so how would this film set itself apart? By being purely and simply fun, that’s how. If there is one thing the film is never, that is dull. The script is equally as full of eye-rolling groaner moments as it is clever quips and set-ups. Indeed, the frantic pace and constant jokes, action, scares or visual wonders never cease, it quite literally pounds your senses.
14. The Nameless
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Stars: Emma Vilarasau, Karra Elejalde, Tristán Ulloa, Brendan Price
When Jaume Balagueró’s first feature length Los Sin Nombre (aka The Nameless) was released in Spain in 1999, the hope for the then almost extint Spanish horror genre started being restored. Balagueró and other directors of his generation – like Paco Plaza (Rec, El Segundo Nombre) – reopened the door for Spanish audiences to take pride on national fantastic productions as previous generations had done (e.g. Ibañez Serrador’s series Historias para no dormir which provoked many a sleepless night in the ’60s and ’70s).
Based on Brit horror writer Ramsey Campbell’s 1981 novel, Los Sin Nombre focuses on grieving mother Claudia, whose six-year-old daughter Angela was abducted and brutally murdered. When her body was found, it was badly mutilated and difficult to identify. So five years later, when Claudia receives a phone call from a girl claiming to be her daughter, she is keen to believe her child is still alive. The caller claims she is being held by a mysterious cult and begs to be rescued. Claudia recruits the detective who originally worked on Angela’s disappearance, Massera, and a reporter, Quiroga and tracks down her child – but also finds indescribable evil.
13. Terror Firmer
Director: Lloyd Kaufman
Stars: Will Keenan, Alyce LaTourelle, Trent Haaga, Debbie Rochon
Arguably, the best part of any Troma release is never the movie itself, but the special features that accompany it. Often, the act of filming a low-budget Troma film is much more absorbing than what eventually winds up in the finished product. Perhaps the best idea for a Troma movie would be to make a movie about making a Troma movie, and that’s exactly what Terror Firmer brings to the table.
The plot? Larry Benjamin (played by Troma’s head honcho Lloyd Kaufman) is the director of a fictional Troma movie. He’s trying to pull his oddball cast and crew together to finish the film but it proves to be a difficult task, because 1) he’s blind; 2) his cast and crew are sex-crazed idiots; and 3) there’s a serial killer on the loose. Very loosely adapted from a book about filmmaking by Kaufman himself (with help from Mr. Guardians Of The Galaxy James Gunn), Terror Firmer is everything you’d expect from a Troma movie and more. Goofy humor, gory violence, plenty of nudity and a complete disregard for political correctness.
12. Lake Placid
Director: Steve Miner
Stars: Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Betty White
Ah yes, Lake Placid, that classic movie about stupid people getting slaughtered by a giant crocodile. Written by David E. Kelley and directed by Steve Miner (who Friday The 13th fans know well), this creature-based carnival expertly emphasizes genre tropes without growing stale while sprinkling in enough humor along the way to keep things light and accessible. Though not particularly groundbreaking in terms of plot or content, this film has a personality all its own, and builds suspense in a way that is both fun and refreshing. Plus, it also has a certain Golden Girls star swearing like a trucker and berating law enforcement, which is a treat in itself.
Set in the fictional town of Black Lake, Maine, Lake Placid revolves around paleontologist Kelly Scott, who is flown out east to investigate a mysterious tooth and a series of odd, seemingly accidental deaths. Following a number of strange occurrences and accounts, she is soon joined by Sheriff Hank Keough and fish & game officer Jack Welis. And with the help of eccentric millionaire Hector Cyr, the unlikely outfit set out to determine just what lies beneath the glassy surface of the titular tourist destination. As we’ve already covered… it’s a huge freaking crocodile!
11. Idle Hands
Director: Rodman Flender
Stars: Devon Sawa, Seth Green, Jessica Alba, Vivica A. Fox
Gory, fast-paced, and enthusiastically stupid, Idle Hands tells the story of a lazy stoner, Anton, whose hands become possessed. Under the influence of his malevolent appendages, Anton murders his best friends, kills his parents, flings his cat out the window, and still finds time to get high on a regular basis. Director Rodman Flender began his career working for Roger Corman, and one of the things he seems to have picked up from Corman is the idea that horror-comedies should be fun: not post-modern, not snarky, not glumly effective, but gory and fun in a midnight-movie sort of way.
The spiritual descendant of Bucket Of Blood, Little Shop Of Horrors, and the Evil Dead trilogy, Idle Hands is both a gentle spoof of and a loving homage to the demonic-possession genre. Loaded with smart sight gags and endearing secondary characters, it effectively mixes slapstick splatter and deadpan satire. Not everything works, and a few of the subplots seem unnecessary, but overall, Idle Hands’ gleeful, sweet-natured sadism proves to be pretty damned irresistible.
10. End Of Days
Director: Peter Hyams
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak
On the eve of the new Millennium, alcoholic former New York cop Jericho Cane finds himself at the centre of an ancient conflict between good and evil involving a young woman whom he must protect from The Devil himself, who has come to Earth to use the woman to birth the Antichrist and bring about the apocalypse.
End Of Days is an extrapolation of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen for the macho action-movie international fanbase. What stands out most in End Of Days is that beyond the ridiculous premise, the film adopts a surprisingly somber tone. Our protagonist is depressed and near suicide as the film starts, and then sucked into a battle with the devil himself, leaving no opportunity for irony or satire. By avoiding self-awareness the film demands to be treated seriously, and generally overcomes its own silliness with large doses of uncompromising violence. And credit to all involved for conjuring up and then sticking with a particularly bittersweet ending.
Director: Rupert Wainwright
Stars: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long
A priest from the Vatican is sent to Sao Paulo, Brazil to investigate the appearance of the face of the Virgin Mary on the side of a building. While there he hears of a statue of the Virgin Mary bleeding tears in a small town outside of the city. Meanwhile, a young woman in the U.S. begins to show signs of stigmata, the wounds of Christ. The priest from the Vatican links up with her and cares for her as she is increasingly afflicted by the stigmata. Her ranting and raving finally begins to make sense to the priest who starts to question what his religion has stood for the last 1900 years.
From a filmmaking standpoint, this film is terrific. Rupert Wainwright does a marvelous job from start to finish. The photography is fantastic. The use of the camera perspectives, scene set up and various techniques including slow motion, double exposures, rapid fire jump cuts and reverse slow motion are all fabulous (though sometimes used to excess) and added power and impact to create some very scary footage. Comparisons between this and The Exorcist are misplaced. They really have nothing in common other than the fact that the main character is possessed. With that said, Stigmata is surprisingly serious and intelligent food for thought about faith and supernatural phenomena.
8. Ringu 2
Director: Hideo Nakata
Stars: Miki Nakatani, Hitomi Satô, Kyoko Fukada, Kenjirô Ishimaru
The heroes from the original Ringu, Reiko and Okazaki have vanished off the face of the globe. It’s up to Mai and the law to find them. At the same time, the little brat from the first film is now acting all ESP-spooky while mumbo-jumbo driven scientists try to decipher the power behind that undead dame that haunts videotapes. Talk about a busy evening!
All the best things of the original film are intensified here – the rarefied thriller world, shorn of color, music, expression; the chilling, barely populated dream environments; the roots in family traumas and loss, e.g. the kid who loses his divorced parents, the shy heroine who has lost her lover; the real horror in the barely glimpsed traces flashed on the surface sheen, especially Mai’s reflection briefly revealing Sadako’s mother near the end. In his documentary Sans Soleil, Chris Marker suggested that Japan was the ultimate post-modern society because it had conflated history into a continuous temporal present. Ringu 2 takes a genre which depends on the past infiltrating the present to create a never-ending, hellish present – a temporal ring – that is truly frightening.
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe
Set in the near-future, eXistenZ depicts a society in which game designers are worshiped as superstars and players can organically enter inside the games. At the center of the story is Allegra Geller whose latest games system eXistenZ taps so deeply into its users fears and desires that it blurs the boundaries between reality and escapism. When fanatics attempt to assassinate Allegra, she is forced to flee. Her sole ally is Ted Pikul, a novice security guard who is sworn to protect her. Persuading Ted into playing the game, Allegra draws them both into a phantasmagoric world where existence ends and eXistenZ begins.
It seems fair to say that a lot of these older “virtual reality” movies don’t really age well. That sort of thing is so much more advanced than we’d have thought possible even back in 1999 so, although it may have been groundbreaking at the time(?), that side of things isn’t as impressive when watching this for the first time in [insert current year here]. Still, experienced gamers should find much to savor through the films unique assessments on the nature of reality. David Cronenberg is a laughing existentialist here, a philosopher who sees the comedy in disorientation. And boy, it’s a disturbing, disorienting sensation indeed – puzzles within puzzles, games within games – that continues right up to the last shot.
6. Sleepy Hollow
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Walken
Washington Irving’s tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman gets a few new twists in Tim Burton’s big-screen adaptation. In this version, Ichabod is a New York City detective whose unorthodox techniques and penchant for gadgets make him unpopular with his colleagues. He is sent to the remote town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of bizarre murders, in which a number of people have been found dead in the woods, with their heads cut off. Local legend has it that a Hessian ghost rides through the woods on horseback, lopping off the heads of the unsuspecting and unbelieving. Ichabod refuses to believe in this legend, convinced that there must be a logical explanation for the murders.
As the investigation trots on societal-taboo lines are crossed, heads start to roll left and right and the story is reinvented completely. If you are expecting the traditional story to be portrayed without variation over the course of this film you may be caught off guard. Sleepy Hollow is an imaginative retelling of a classic tale that runs like murder-mystery dinner theater wrapped around a classic ghost story. The Headless Horseman character is given new life as an unstoppable killing machine in this rendition, although he may not be the real villain you expect in the end. Overall, this is one of the better retellings of a classic horror story.
Director: Antonia Bird
Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies
During the Spanish-American War, a soldier driven to extremes by hardship grapples with cannibalistic urges in himself while confronting a vicious serial killer who is blissfully living the anthropophagite lifestyle. Ravenous is a brilliant mix of cannibalism, gruesome gore, sly black humor and quasi-philosophy. The film also sets itself apart by offering an imaginative story-line with numerous twists and incredible characterizations.
The only thing better than watching this with someone for the first time, is watching it with someone who thinks they know where the story is going to go. Ravenous is a horror film that feels as if it would be perfect for both horror and non-horror fans. The horrific elements are all in place, but the tired tropes that dominate most horror movies are not at all present. There are no jump-scares to be found here. In fact, there are no real scares of any sort – the horror is more psychological, mixed with the occasional gore and grossness that, while graphic, is never done to the point of excessiveness. Ravenous is a film beyond duplication. There is a brilliance at work here that lifts it above the star-studded pack into a dimension all its own.
4. Stir Of Echoes
Director: Antonia Bird
Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies
A man is hypnotized at a party by his sister-in law. He soon has visions and dreams of a ghost of a girl. Trying to avoid this, nearly pushes him to brink of insanity as the ghost wants something from him – to find out how she died. The only way he can get his life back is finding out the truth behind her death. The more he digs, the more he lets her in, the shocking truth behind her death puts his whole family in danger.
Stir Of Echoes is loosely based on the novel A Stir Of Echoes by Richard Matheson. Subsequently, the film is filled with nods to horror and Matheson himself. The babysitter is seen reading the Matheson book The Shrinking Man. Pay attention and you might find something else. The opening scenes of the movie are engaging and will grab your attention quickly. All in all, this is a sleeper hit that you’ll want to see. Fans of Matheson might be a little annoyed with certain liberties the film takes, but in the end it all works.
3. The Blair Witch Project
Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind. Calling The Blair Witch Project a phenomenon is flirting with understatement. From the moment of its premiere at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival (where it screened as a midnight movie), Blair Witch was a full-steam word-of-mouth express, with people who’d just seen it grabbing those who hadn’t yet by their parkas and shaking them violently, insisting that they absolutely must.
An innovative online marketing campaign – launched when the internet was still a relatively new toy for the general public – followed, creating even more frantic wanna-see by making it appear as if the film were non-fiction. Found-footage horror, which had previously barely existed as a genre, became so popular that it’s still going strong 15-plus years later; there are movies in multiplexes right now that only exist because of The Blair Witch Project. Not bad for a film shot for $35,000 on a camera bought at Walmart (and subsequently returned for a refund).
Director: Takashi Miike
Stars: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki
This disturbing Japanese chiller follows Aoyama, a widower who decides to start dating again. Aided by a film-producer friend, Aoyama uses auditions for a fake production to function as a dating service. When Aoyama becomes intrigued by the withdrawn, gorgeous Asami, they begin a relationship. However, he begins to realize that Asami isn’t as reserved as she appears to be, leading to gradually increased tension and a harrowing climax.
SPOILER ALERT: After going on a few dates, Asami drugs and tortures Aoyama in one of the most uncomfortable and cringe-worthy scenes to ever be put on film. After brutally poking and prodding him with elongated needles for what feels like an eternity, she then proceeds to stick a few right into his eyes. Then, as a sickening smirk begins to creep across her face, she cuts off his feet with a wire saw. It’s this scene alone that has made Audition a cult favorite among genre fans. Whether reading Audition as a portrait of coming to terms with grief, a feminist revenge tale, or a graphic exploration of romantic attachment and idealism, it remains a terrifying film. Though, it’s not recommend viewing if watching dismemberments doesn’t bring sadistic glee to your life.
1. The Sixth Sense
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams
This was writer-director M. Night Shy-mala-ma-ding-dong’s first big-budget, and still best, movie. Pretty much everyone knows the film’s secret by now, but it remains endlessly watchable: the haunting score, the beautifully understated performances, the eerie cinematography. This movie still gives everyone the creeps. Of course, on the negative side, it introduced the world to one of the most annoying and overused catchphrases of the decade: “I see dead people.”
Indeed, we pretty much all had the same reaction the first time we saw The Sixth Sense, which was thankfully before anyone could spoil the story’s true colors. To give the few of you who’ve yet to see Shyamalan’s pre-suckage classic of Twilight Zone-quality elegance and suspense the same chance at untainted enjoyment, we’ll not elaborate any further on what’s really driving the picture. Just prepare to utter “Oh, sh*t!” and want to re-watch the film to test its narrative tightness. (FYI: It holds up surprisingly well.)
Let us know your favorite horror movie of the year in the comments below.