20. New Nightmare (1994)
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.
19. Cube (1997)
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.
18. Arachnophobia (1990)
Director: Frank Marshall
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Julian Sands, John Goodman, Harley Jane Kozak
The fear of spiders ranks as one of the most popular phobias out there. It seems it would be one of the most unavoidable fears people would have to deal with on a daily basis. Let’s face it, if you had to you could avoid flying, you could refuse to go up into that tall building and you could always buy a bright night light for when it gets dark. Snakes can’t be that big of a problem in major metropolitan areas. You could relax a bit knowing they’d have a tough time getting up to your third floor apartment. Even if they did manage to slither across the highway they’d have to take the elevator. Hopefully they’re suffering from claustrophobia. But spiders – how are you going to avoid them? They’re everywhere!
Arachnophobia follows a breed of killer spiders on the loose. It’s pretty straightforward, and it’s great. What we have is basically a slasher film with spiders doing the work for the masked serial killer, and director Frank Marshall twists that formula around for a diverse audience. It never indulges in ultimate gross-out effects and carefully chooses both its victims and its means of depicting their dispatch.
17. In The Mouth Of Madness (1994)
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.
16. Cape Fear (1991)
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.
15. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Director: Adrian Lyne
Stars: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello, Pruitt Taylor Vince
New York postal worker Jacob Singer is trying to keep his frayed life from unraveling. His days are increasingly being invaded by flashbacks to his first marriage, his now-dead son, and his tour of duty in Vietnam. Although his new wife tries to help Jacob keep his grip on sanity, the line between reality and delusion is steadily growing more and more uncertain.
This is a very unique movie. Rarely is such an unconventional screenplay given this full-blown, $25 million studio treatment. It is a curiosity – a mutant of a movie in an industry that specializes in clones. One of the great treats of Jacob’s Ladder is its visuals, and no better sequence exemplifies this more than Jacob’s trip to Hell. Being whisked away on a stretcher, the imagery surrounding him becomes more frightening and bizarre. Psychotics, deformed human beings, severed limbs, a man who’s head shakes wildly in an almost surreal fashion (something that has become sort of a cliché since), and the infamous shot of the eyeless doctor holding a syringe filled with unnamed chemicals. Unfairly dismissed during its initial release, this movie really deserves to be better known: the ultimate example of bad-trip mainstream cinema.
14. Cemetery Man (1994)
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.
13. Blade (1998)
Director: Stephen Norrington
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright
Based on a Marvel Comics character with roots in Hammer horror movies and ‘70s Blacksploitation cinema, Blade was released to the world and caught everyone completely by surprise. Director Stephen Norrington and writer David S. Goyer took the elements of the comic and crafted a taut, thrilling tale centered on a half human/half vampire stalker of the undead.
Fans were treated to a horror/action hybrid that would lay the groundwork for the soon-to-explode popularity of superhero pictures. Though, with that being said, it’s hard to imagine a film this risky being made today (even though Deadpool has recently made R-rated heroes cool again). But with the overlooked original and its equally impressive follow-up, the first two features in this comic book franchise make for a great one-two punch of uniquely engaging superhero flicks.
12. Candyman (1992)
Director: Bernard Rose
Stars: Tony Todd, Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Vanessa Williams
Aside from the sadistic classic Hellraiser, writer-director Bernard Rose’s Candyman is the rare film that brilliantly captures the alternating hideousness and beauty of author Clive Barker’s storytelling; in this case, the source material is Barker’s short story The Forbidden. The plot follows a graduate student completing a thesis on urban legends who encounters the legend of “Candyman,” an artist and son of a slave who had his hand severed and was then murdered.
This film works on so many levels. It not only delivers a sophisticated, engaging story but it also gave the horror world a tragic new boogeyman to fear. It’s the rarest type of horror film: One that is a genuinely great movie all-around. Here we get tense and scary scenes, well-written characters and story, in addition to healthy doses of the red stuff. What more could you ask for in a horror movie? Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman… nah, we’d better not.
11. Army Of Darkness (1992)
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie
Army Of Darkness, of course, is the third film in writer-director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise. In the film, after battling an ancient evil he unleashed from the Necronomicon (aka Book of the Dead), Ash is sucked back to 1300 A.D. He is “greeted” by Lord Arthur and his men and taken to their castle to be tossed in the Pit. The Pit isn’t a spa for guests, but a dank hole filled with Deadites. Ash rises up and takes charge, proving himself to be the prophesied Chosen One as proclaimed by Arthur’s Wiseman. The Wiseman wishes Ash to quest for the Necronomicon which will deliver them from evil, but Ash only wants the book so they can return him to his own time and his job at S-Mart. One little book, three simple words; how could anything possibly go wrong?
In short, Army Of Darkness is the polar opposite of Evil Dead. Where the first one was scary, the second one was funny/scary, this one is just plain funny. It’s a wonderful cap off to a near perfect series, and truly one of a kind.