There’s no two ways about it, the 90s were an absolute shit decade for horror. Widely regarded as the worst era for horror by everyone with common sense and functioning eyes, the decade gets a lot of flak for not living up to the phenomenal previous decade and by not having an identity to call its own. The golden era of slashers had finally come to an end, gore driven films were fizzling out and every major franchise was pretty much done by the time the 90s came around.
But that’s not to say there was nothing but trash. While the decade had no one defining trend, it did have a bunch of small sub-genres that helped usher in a new wave of horror. There were realistic police procedures (usually involving a serial killer) and Asian extremism, the resurgence of found footage, and the birth of the self-parody that deconstructed the tropes with ironic humor. Since the gems were few and far between, it’s easy to dismiss the 90s horror output but the gems did exist. This list aims to mine the diamonds from the charcoal to bring you the best the decade had to offer.
This is The 50 Greatest Horror Films of The 1990s.
50. Arachnophobia (1990)
If you have no fear of spiders, then Arachnophobia might seem like a pretty harmless film. But for anybody who is creeped out by spiders, this movie will haunt your dreams. The spiders featured in the film are not only scary to look at, but are also powerful enough to cause a series of deaths. There have been several spider-themed horror and thriller movies over the years, but Arachnophobia remains one of the most disturbing, particularly for those viewers who actually have arachnophobia.
49. Strangeland (1998)
Have you ever wondered what movie helped create the torture porn subgenre? No, you haven’t? Well, if you did, you would probably think it was Saw or Hostel right? You would be wrong. Six years before the first Saw and seven before Hostel came iconic Twisted Sister’s lead singer Dee Snider’s Strangeland. If that’s not enough, Snider even predicted on DVD commentary in 1999 that torture porn would become the next big thing in horror. So, thank Dee Snider for it.
Snider plays a psychopathic killer who uses AOL Instant Messenger to kidnap victims off the internet and mercilessly torture them using a litany of gruesome devices. Throw in an excellent cast that also includes Robert Englund, Linda Cardinelli, and Kevin Gage and you’ve got a way-ahead-of-its-time horror flick that definitely deserves more appreciation.
48. Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Whenever there is going to be a remake of a classic, some will automatically have a bad taste in their mouth for that film before it even hits production. I do not hate remakes, especially in the horror genre. A lot of them have turned out to be solid to classics themselves. For most of us, we probably saw the remake of Night of the Living Dead before we ever heard of the original black and white classic. Director Tom Savini took on the task of updating the film and I gotta say he did a nice job. We got a more badass Barbara, it’s in color and a fantastic performance by Tony Todd. Of course, it doesn’t have the same bite as the original but it definitely holds it’s own and deserves more appreciation for its sleek action and gore.
47. Fire in the Sky (1993)
In 1975, in the white mountains of northeastern Arizona, a man suddenly vanished without a trace. His family, friends, and the local authorities all presumed he was dead until he came back a week later. Visibly shaken, Travis Walton was clearly messed up and refused to talk about what had happened to him but with a little coaxing and a lot of alcohol, he eventually spilled the beans. The story he told would become legendary amongst ufologists and terrifying to everyone else. Travis Walton was abducted by aliens and if the film Fire in the Sky is even 50% accurate to what happened to him, it’s the most horrific alien abduction story ever told.
For a large chunk of its runtime, the film plays like a typical drama. Before he’s abducted, Travis (D.B. Sweeney) works and pals around with his buddies (Robert Patrick, Henry Thomas, and Craig Sheffer) and after he’s abducted, he yells a lot and he cries a lot. Frankly, not a lot happens but around the 90 minutes mark, he finally tells his story and it’s amongst the most harrowing and bone-chilling fifteen minutes in all of cinema. It’s so effective, that it turns what was originally a dull character study, into a slow burn horror. And one of the best at that.
46. Cemetery Man (1994)
Cemetery Man AKA Dellamorte Dellamore follows a beleaguered cemetery caretaker played by Rupert Everett, whose deceased residents just can’t seem to stay dead. With distinctive Italian characteristics, Cemetery Man is a brilliantly stylish and fun watch. There is a surreal blend of comedy that doesn’t really follow a coherent narrative that is a hell of a lot of fun with some steamy sex scenes. Director Michele Soavi’s film feels like it belongs in the 60s or 70s alongside Italian horror greats like Argento and Fulci. It balances a zany zombie comedy and an arthouse dreamlike state in one of the most original horror movies of the 90s.
45. Cronos (1993)
Vampires, like zombies, are perfect fodder for a variety of stories. They can be used as metaphors for addiction, AIDS, or even homosexuality. Cronos, like many that had come before it, is about the fear of death. Vampire stories have existed for centuries because they’re more than just the supernatural powers that are associated with it, like enhanced speed and strength, it’s the allure of becoming immortal at the cost of becoming something inhuman.
For kindly old Jesus (Federico Luppi) at the center of the story, his desire to live forever outweighs the horrible price that comes with it. When a mysterious device designed to provide its owner with eternal life resurfaces after four hundred years, a trail of destruction is left in its path. A tragic tale about a man slowly losing his humanity, the film could be seen as either a metaphor for Alzheimer’s or dementia or simply the inherent fear of death we all suffer from, either way, Cronos taps into heavier themes than most vampire films. But that’s par for the course when it comes to Del Toro.
44. Perfect Blue (1997)
An animated Hitchcockian thriller that deals with the duality that exists between the person and the avatar, Perfect Blue explores what happens when the online persona, the stage persona, and the real-life persona of a pop star become indistinguishable from each other in the mind of a deranged fan and what happens to one of them when he doesn’t like how another one is behaving. It’s about the metaphorical masks we all adopt to adapt to our surroundings. The ones we wear at work or the ones we wear when conversing with friends and family. They’re all different and they all serve a purpose, as is our online masks, and for some of us, the mask of celebrity. Every celebrity is putting on an act. Everything they do while being in the spotlight is a calculated act to get you to buy whatever the hell they’re selling.
There’s no better example of this than pop-stars. It’s no coincidence that every boy band has that specific type of guy that appeals to every girl in America. They’re all specifically picked to fill a niche and then they’re tasked at maintaining that “character” for as long as they’re in the band. It’s all an act. But to some, it’s not. Some have a hard time distinguishing between the person on stage or screen and the character they’re playing. That’s where the stalker comes in. This film is about duality, it’s about personas and it’s about obsession. And it’s terrifyingly accurate.
43. Baby Blood (1990)
There’s been plenty of ‘demonic baby’ movies and even a couple of ‘evil fetuses that turn their mother’s evil to get some blood’ movies but non are as wild as Baby Blood. For one thing, the evil fetus that’s corrupting the main character from inside her womb? She got that not from pregnancy, but from a tiger. The evil little creature shot out from a tiger and buried itself deep inside her vagina. It only gets crazier from there. Imagine if Jean Rollin made Ms. 45 but made it more feminist and instead of killing predatory men with a gun, she went at them like a wild animal, collecting their blood to satiate the hunger of a monster living inside her and you wouldn’t be too far off. It’s not your typical horror film, nor is it your typical revenge film. It’s a unique blend of both that, while not perfect (the pacing is all over the place), offers an experience unlike anything else.
42. The Day of the Beast (1995)
Believing the Antichrist is approaching, a priest teams up with a metal head and an expert of the occult to commit as many sins as possible in order to draw the attention of the beast so that he can kill it. In a day and age where every film gets a remake, it’s amazing to me that we’re not on our second or third by now. The premise is as perfect as it is ingenious.
A holy man must commit as many sins as he can, as quickly as he can, in order to come face to face with Satan. You could eliminate the supernatural from it entirely and just have it be about a psycho who thinks he’s on a mission from God and it still works. The tone could be more grim like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or it could be a straight comedy. My point is, it’s mind-blowing to me that this story hasn’t been used a hundred times by now.
The story is so good, it doesn’t really need anything else. Every element of the film is in service to the plot and while it could get by with nothing more than its perfect set up, it’s its actors that make it amazing. The Day of the Beast is the ultimate one-two punch of a hook that immediately reels you in and a cast that that’ll blow you away. The three leads are all equally amazing but some praise has to be given to the metal head played by Santiago Segura.
He’s the token dumbass that finds himself way over his head but Segura imbues him with courage that’s uncharacteristic within the genre. He’s not the hero but he’s also not running away either. Filled with manic energy, infectious enthusiasm up, and a fighter’s spirit, José María is the best character Jack Black never played. And that’s just one small part of the film. Everything about it is either working on the same level or higher than the best of the genre.
41. Mimic (1997)
Since this was essentially a work for hire gig (instead of him developing the project on his own like he normally does, he was hired by the Weinsteins to direct a monster movie), nothing about this film feels like a Guillermo del Toro film. Even the infamous Director’s Cut doesn’t have any of his signature trademarks. Whether that’s because this was his first American picture and he wanted to prove he could work within the system or because Harvey Weinstein fucked with the production at every turn, nobody knows. Whatever the case may be, it clearly hurt the film. Instead of getting what could’ve been another great Del Toro monster film, we got just a pretty good Del Toro monster film instead.
Since Del Toro operates on a level far removed from others within the genre, the only person you can compare him to is himself. Because while this is bottom tier Del Toro, it’s still top shelf for everyone else. The look and design of the cockroach monsters are fantastic, their mythology or origin story is great, the cast is all bringing their A-game, the cinematography in the sewers is effectively moody and atmospheric and the score is suitably creepy. We may not have gotten a full-fledged monster horror movie from one of the greats but we still ended up getting a solid monster flick, so it all worked out in the end.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite horror movies from the past decade? Maybe they will show up further on the list!