10. Tremors (1990)
Director: Ron Underwood
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Reba McEntire
Unfortunately for the quaint desert town of Perfection, Nevada their name is a total misnomer in this cult classic horror, thanks to the presence of the prehistoric underground worms – later named “Graboids” – who pay a visit to terrorize the fifteen residents of the town. The irony of the entire film is the fact that these creatures live underground and travel by burrowing around this town, which used to be reliant on mining. Devoid of eyes, the creatures hunt and travel by way of sound, picking up on vibrations underground in order to track down their prey.
Tremors is actually two movies in one. On its own terms, it’s an enjoyable modern sci-fi horror-thriller, with good pacing and a sense of humor; but it’s also a loving tribute to such 1950s low-budget desert-based sci-fi films like Them, It Came From Outer Space, Tarantula, and The Monolith Monsters. All in all, this is what a movie of its ilk is supposed to be like, and it’s terrific.
9. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis
Without a doubt one of the craziest genre movies ever made, From Dusk Till Dawn starts as a seemingly routine crime flick before degenerating into an all-night bar brawl between a rag-tag band of human survivors and a pack of bloodthirsty Mexican vampires. As you could guess from the title, the narrative of the movie does in fact stretch from dusk until dawn shockingly enough. Just from the first scene we gather that the Gecko brothers, Seth and Richard, have a penchant for letting things spiral out of control given that a brief stop to pick up a map ends up with two dead bodies and a burnt down liquor store. The siblings efforts to escape the FBI and Texas Rangers have left a trail of destruction in their wake, but things really get out of hand when they stop at the Titty Twister bar with the Fuller family as hostages.
Their anything-goes precursor to 2007’s Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s first attempt to marry their wonderfully excessive sensibilities makes for an exciting double bill. Indeed, From Dusk Till Dawn is essentially a double-feature in itself; the first half a tale of two felons on the run, the second an OTT B-movie featuring severed heads, gallons of blood and vampire strippers. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Squeezing every last drop out of the $20m budget, Rodriguez directs with his usual stylistic verve while Tarantino’s script provides all the quotability you would expect.
8. Funny Games (1997)
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.
7. Audition (1999)
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.
6. Misery (1990)
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen
In Rob Reiner’s film adaptation of the Stephen King story, Annie Wilkes is a loner, a former maternity nurse and an obsessed fan of the popular writer Paul Sheldon. At the beginning of the flick, she “rescues” him from a car wreck and forces him to bring his most famous character back from the dead – with the threat of increasingly painful forms of bodily mutilation if he refuses.
For pure, teeth-gritted, fist-clenched intensity, it doesn’t get more perfect than Misery. It’s impossible to relax at any point in this film, and once things hit the proverbial fan, the tension meter goes through the roof. It’s like the opposite of a home-invasion flick, because the protagonist is trapped inside someone else’s house. Nearly the entire film takes place inside said house, and that’s what makes it so claustrophobic and unpleasant. And the less we talk about “hobbling” the better, okay?
5. The Sixth Sense (1999)
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.)
4. Braindead (1992)
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin
Before Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogy, New Zealand’s Peter Jackson was a horror and splatter movie titan, giving us the low-budget gross-out-fest Bad Taste, the extremely tasteless Meet The Feebles, the demented and deranged Heavenly Creatures, and Braindead (aka Dead Alive) – one of the most over-the-top zombie movies of all time.
When 25-year-old virgin Lionel falls for the lovely Paquita, he provokes his domineering mother’s jealousy. Soon after, a toxic nip from a Sumatran rat-monkey at the local zoo transforms Lionel’s mother – through several putrescent stages – into a hideous, pustulant monster with a craving for human flesh. The finale, in which Lionel reduces a horde of flesh-eaters to a mulch of blood, flesh and offal with the aid of a running lawnmower, is probably the goriest scene ever. Still, Braindead is a very funny, clever, and upbeat movie. It has rapid takes and quick witticisms with comic gore and slapstick action galore. A genre gem for sure.
3. Scream (1996)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich
As you can clearly see from our own personal coverage, the horror genre was floundering during the early ’90s: all the major franchises had pretty much run out of steam by this point, and a fresh, smart perspective was sorely needed. Enter Wes Craven, who following his successful Nightmare On Elm Street meta-fantasy New Nightmare, created a new horror franchise (alongside screenwriter Kevin Williamson) that took to task the tired genre tropes everyone was thoroughly tired of watching.
So what, exactly, made this slasher so different? It’s simple: Scream caused a schism in the horror genre, its legacy being the creation of a distinct period of post-Scream horror movies. Unlike most smash hits, however, Scream didn’t just inspire a fleeting rash of imitations; it created a ripple effect in both filmmakers and the film industry as a whole. Craven’s seminal film about a slasher in Woodsboro who has a bone to pick with the friends and family of a young lass named Sidney Prescott, couldn’t help but comment on the rules of the horror genre – only to turn around and turn the knife on each cast member. The method was simple: Have your characters expressly lay out the horror movie commandments, have them break said commandments, and then punish them for doing so. This pattern follows the franchise all the way throughout, but the original will always be the most potent, as well as the most fun.
2. Ringu (1998)
Director: Hideo Nakata
Stars: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Yûko Takeuchi, Hitomi Satô
In the time since its release, it’s easy to recall how Hideo Nakata’s Ringu turned Japanese urban legends and ghastly folklore into a cottage industry not only for his home country, but for the Western hemisphere as well. Once Hollywood caught wind of the wildly successful supernatural chiller (which still reigns as the highest grossing horror film in Japanese history), the course was set, as a gaggle of vengeful spirits would haunt multiplexes and video stores for the first few years of the new millennium.
There’s a certain irony to how that virtually endless parade of knockoffs diluted the effect – after all, most of them were taking their cue from a film centered on the potency of a cursed videotape whose bizarre, searing images result in a viewer’s death within a week. However, revisiting Ringu after all these years provides a strong reminder as to why this film managed to cast the mold: it’s a perfect mix of mystery, campfire storytelling, and dread atmosphere. The film has a minimalist intensity that can stop the heart with a simple flash-cut or a well-timed fillip in the musical score. Not since A Nightmare On Elm Street or Hellraiser has a horror film featured a more effective hook, and few have delivered it with more effectiveness.
1. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn
A horror movie winning the Academy Award for Best Picture? That seems like an impossibility, yet The Silence Of The Lambs – the story of a rookie FBI agent teaming up with an urbane cannibal killer to catch an even worse serial killer – managed to sweep all five of the main Oscar categories (including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay) back when it was first released. An anomaly? Sure, but it was also a matter of undeniable quality — The Silence Of The Lambs is a gruesome, no-punches-pulled masterpiece of suspense.
Comedian Hannibal Buress likes to point out that the name Hannibal was once synonymous with the Carthaginian leader, one of the greatest military minds in world history. But since The Silence Of The Lambs, the name has been usurped by a psychiatric cannibal. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is behind bars for the majority of TSOTL, but his presence is persistently ominous, instantly deconstructing our hero Clarice Starling within mere moments of meeting her. And of course when he gets free from his maximum security incarceration, he goes on a rampage of perverse violence which ultimately results in him wearing a dude’s face.
Let us know your favorite horror movie of the decade in the comment section below.