"I'll tell you somethin', I hate the fuckin' 90sÖfuckiní 90s sucked.Ē
When Mickey Rourke uttered the above quote as Randy ďThe RamĒ Robinson in The Wrestler, he was specifically referring to the music of the decade in question. However, it also seems to be a sentiment shared by many of my fellow genre enthusiasts about the eraís horror output as well. Though I was born in the early 80s, Iíd have to say my formative years in horror were the early 90s, back when mom and pop video stores still ruled the day (or at least the weekends). While the decade initially bid farewell to the staples of the previous decade, it filled that vacuum with a rich palette of Stephen King and undead splatter-fests before everything came full-circle with the return of icons and a brief slasher resurgence. The 90s arenít likely to be remembered for an abundance of classic horror films, but they should be given their due for delivering a lot of very good and entertaining films that elicit their own breed of nostalgia. With all due respect to ďThe Ram,Ē I bring you a look at each yearís best horror films as definitive proof that the 90s in fact did not suck.
Though Stephen King had been in the horror game for 2 decades by the time the 90s dawned, this made-for-TV fight-fest cemented his legacy for me personally. Just a year earlier, I had been terrified by Pet Sematary, and the promise of a new film from the same diabolical mind was both horrifying and tantalizing. Playing out over two nights, It was an epic experience that introduced one of the more under-appreciated icons in Pennywise. Iíve never had an irrational fear of clowns, but Tim Curryís sinister portrayal made me at least a bit wary of them as a child. I can still recall visiting a mini-golf course at our yearly vacation destination that featured a giant clown out front and my dad teasing me that it was Pennywise. Probably not the best parenting skills, but this was the same guy who showed me Pet Sematary in the first place. A few years later, heíd also watch The Stand, which I also couldnít resist, further proving that no one is as bone-chilling as King when heís at his finest. Twenty years later, It stands as one of the better adaptations of Kingís work, as it captures his trademark sense of twisted nostalgia and the destruction of youthful innocence.
It didnít take long for the 90s to dispense with the previous decadeís two biggest icons; however, it also didnít take long to introduce the world to a new one, either. Though Hannibal Lecter had earlier been portrayed by Brian Cox in Manhunter, Anthony Hopkinsís turn as the psychopathic cannibal was an entirely different beast. Though he only appears for a little more than 15 minutes on-screen, the character has left an indelible mark on the genre. Hopkinsís wry and sinister Lecter is both charming and revolting, and is one of the genreís more interesting and complex madmen. It also helps that the film around him is very good, as Silence of the Lambs stands as one of the most suspenseful films in horror. With other solid performances from Jodie Foster and Ted Levine (as the equally demented Buffalo Bill), itís just a well-made film all the way around.
When both Freddy and Jason got their 90s send-offs, they werenít gone for too long, as both icons managed to return multiple times after their respective demises. Army of Darkness isnít the least bit valedictory, but it does represent the last time weíve seen Ash on celluloid. If the fanboy-pipedream that is Evil Dead 4 never happens, one couldnít really ask for a better send-off than Sam Raimiís fantasy-tinged and comedic undead romp. While it exhibits a stark departure from its horror roots, Army of Darkness features Ash at his finest. Spewing off one-liners and getting all the babes, Ash goes medieval on the Deadites, complete with a boomstick and the car in tow. Bruce Campbell plays up the ďman out of timeĒ aspect brilliantly, and the series trademark splat-stick humor is here in full force. Not only is this one the best horror film of 1992, but it might be the best of the decade, period. "Hail to the king, baby!"
Itís always fun to look back and see how the horror genre provided a start to so many Hollywood A-Listers. Itís easy to find the young and familiar faces of stars in front of the camera; however, thereís been plenty of talent behind the camera that got started with horror. Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro have been two of the hottest names in Hollywood for the past decade, but before they were attached to huge projects like Lord of the Rings and Hellboy, they were just horror nerds like the rest of us. Though Jacksonís seminal splatterfest, Dead Alive, just missed the cut in Ď92 due to heavy competition, Del Toroís directorial debut fares much better in a less crowded year. Make no mistake, however: Cronos earns its spot on the list. Every generation has its unique take on the vampire mythos, and this one represents the 90s quite well. It feels like a prelude to Del Toroís later work, as it contains fantastical imagery, a unique juxtaposition of innocence and horror, and a sense of magical realism. At its heart, Cronos is actually a touching story about love and immortality; itís not as romantic as it sounds because, as horror often shows us, sometimes dead is better.
One of the more unsung offerings of the 90s, Michele Soaviís tale of a young man enraptured by both love and death also happens to be one of the decadeís best. Itís the rare horror film that manages to be both disgusting, hilarious, and poignant all at once. The filmís lyrical storytelling and bizarre visuals make for one of the most unique experiences of this or any other decade. Rupert Everettís Francesco is a sympathetic character out of the Ash mode in that anything crazy that can happen, will happen to him; however, the root of his ills all comes back to a pretty universal theme: unrequited love and regret. Ultimately, the film has us questioning the nature of existence itself and leaves us pondering just what it means to be alive. The subject matter also feels appropriate because the film feels like Italyís swan song; a pioneering force for the preceding 3 decades, Italian horror experienced a dearth of quality films in the 90s. It still hasnít returned to its former glory, and Cemetery Man stands as the exclamation point on one hell of a run.
If my love for splattery, popcorn-driven romps wasnít already apparent enough, this choice should make it abundantly clear. For whatever reason, this Tales from the Crypt feature never gets much praise for being one of the most purely entertaining horror films out there. It features a great cast thatís highlighted by the always awesome Billy Zane, who plays a badass demon hell bent on recovering an ancient artifact thatíll unleash hell on earth. This one takes a more action-oriented approach as it splatters blood and gore all over the screen, and boobies are in abundance as well! This tongue-in-cheek affair also packs in plenty of laughs to create something thatís downright fun, a quality that seems to be undervalued at times. It also helps that the film is bookended by segments featuring the Cryptkeeper because the old Tales from the Crypt television series sure gets the nostalgia blood flowing. "Fasten your drool cups, and ready your vomit bags! We're going to the movies! Frights, camera, action!"
Without a doubt the most obvious choice for the list, Scream will be forever be the representative of 90s horror. Looking to the genreís immediate past (the 80s slasher cycle), it also charted the course for the immediate future. The film lead to a pretty brief return to form for slashers, albeit charged with a hint of 90s irreverence and production values. However, forget for a moment Screamís importance to the genre and remember the fact that it was just a damn good slice of horror pie. Featuring references to everything from The Bad Seed to Terror Train, it might be the genreís ultimate love letter to fans. With A-list talent all over the production, itís no surprise that the film is one of the best-crafted films of its type. The Ghostface visage is already iconic, as are the narrativeís wild twists and turns. It not only lampoons slashers a bit, but also stands as one of the best, and not just because itís always winking and nodding towards its audience. No, itís simpler than that: itís funny, suspenseful, and features a cast of great characters. Sometimes, thatís all you need alongside tons of corn syrup (you know, "the same stuff they used for pigís blood in Carrie").
When horror fans say that he 90s flat out sucked, maybe they just have 1997 stuck in their minds. It was an admittedly weak year with some meager offerings; in fact, I was having trouble finding a compelling film to fit the bill here. Sure, Scream 2 was a nice follow-up and I Know What You Did Last Summer stands as a good example of the type of film Scream spawned in its wake, but both would feel a bit out of place. Thankfully, my Canadian counterpart Brett H. reminded me about The Ugly, an underappreciated gem out of New Zealand. Itís a psychological thriller that delves deep into the mind of Simon Cartwright, a serial killer who is attempting to prove his sanity to a psychiatrist. We get a glimpse into Simonís brutal, blood-stained past, and itís an unflinching, violent journey that breaks down the walls between sanity and insanity. This is probably the most obscure film on the list, but donít let that fool you--itís a taut, suspenseful thriller that deserves a lot more recognition than itís received.
In Ď98, most horror hype centered around the return of a big-time horror icon: Michael Myers. Though heíd returned just 3 years earlier, this time he was coming back with Jamie Lee Curtis in tow. Such a combination seems like a sure-fire lock for the best of Ď98, but The Shape was upstaged later in the year by a more diminutive icon: Chucky. Everyoneís favorite Good Guy had left us on somewhat shaky terms 7 years earlier, but his glorious return to form alongside his titular Bride confirmed his iconic status. Trailing only the original film in terms of quality, Bride is the perfect example of pop-icon horror, as Chucky is at his best. With slick visuals and a witty script, this is another 90s film thatís simply too fun to ignore. Freddy and Jason were nowhere to be found at this point, but Chucky stepped into those big shoes rather admirably.
Probably the most infamous film of the decade, The Blair Witch Project has been subject to a lot of criticism by horror fans. Massively hyped at the time of its release, itís possible the film might have been a victim of everyoneís expectations. As a 16-year-old at the time of release, even I wasnít sure what to make of it; however, time has been kind to this piece of guerilla filmmaking that does a whole lot with very little. The woods are naturally creepy, and the documentary approach literally drops you right into the middle of them. Itís arguable that this is the most timeless film of the 90s, as it uses the most basic of approaches as it exploits the most universal of fears: the dark and the unknown. Anyone thatís ever come in contact with a local legend can relate to the tale of the Blair Witch, and the film plays out like a campfire tale captured on celluloid. The 90s provided a cornucopia of diverse horror, and The Blair Witch Project might have been a hard final course to digest at the time, but it goes down like fine wine these days.
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