30. Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
Director: Ernest R. Dickerson
Stars: Billy Zane, William Sadler, John Kassir, Jada Pinkett Smith
Based on the 1950’s EC Comics series of the same name, HBO’s horror anthology show Tales From The Crypt was a huge hit with genre fans when it premiered in 1989. From a voodoo-dabbling prostitute to a killer Santa Clause, the show offered fans something new and gruesome every week. It only made sense that they would eventually make the move to the big-screen. Their first film was suitably titled Demon Knight. The plot is simple and sweet. A man named Frank Brayker is on the run from the Collector, a demon hell-bent on acquiring a mystical key that he possesses. With nowhere else to go, Brayker holds up in an old bed and breakfast along with a half of dozen other people. Under assault by a horde of demons, they must try to survive the night and keep the key from the Collector’s hands.
This film gets a lot of unnecessary flack thrown its way. However, Demon Knight manages to deliver a fun, solidly-crafted supernatural horror flick that stands as one of the most underrated genre entries of the `90s. It has a great cast, genuinely impressive practical effects and sharply-drawn (though expectedly broad, given the genre) characters. It’s a fast-paced, energetic ride that you shouldn’t be ashamed to love.
29. Event Horizon (1997)
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.”
28. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
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.
27. Ravenous (1999)
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.
26. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
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).
25. Cronos (1993)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel
This surreal variant on the classic vampire tale is the directorial debut of Mexican talent Guillermo del Toro, who garnered international acclaim and many awards. In the film, a mysterious device designed to provide its owner with eternal life resurfaces after four hundred years, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.
As Guillermo del Toro’s first film, Cronos isn’t quite as chock full of the director’s trademark filmmaking techniques as we’ve become used to. But what’s truly impressive is what del Toro does without all his creature effects and makeup wizardry. The Cronos device is the monster, not the person who becomes controlled by it. The film serves as a refreshing take on vampires that paints them in a pitiful light, as slaves to their own lives as opposed to sexualized predators who feed on their victims with satisfaction. Plus, the film contains del Toro’s constant theme of self-sacrifice. If only this movie had come after The Twilight Saga to get people interested in vampires all over again.
24. Stir Of Echoes (1999)
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.
23. Frankenhooker (1990)
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.
22. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
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.
21. Child’s Play 2 (1990)
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.