Top 10 Horror Films of the 1990s

I’m not going to even pretend to any sort of impartiality with these. I didn’t weigh importance to the genre, impact on popular culture or even quality of film. These are a purely biased compilation (in reverse order) of the 1990’s horror films I personally liked the most. Or like the most at this exact moment, anyway. Your list may differ substantially – check out the more in-depth list Kane and Sailor put together last year – and I hope it does! Let me know your top 10 (or top 5 or even just your favorite 90’s horror flick) in the comments! You’re wrong, but only from my point of view.

#10 Scream (1996)

I know, I know – for a lot of 90’s horror lists Scream sits at or near the top. Its impact cannot be denied and it’s a fantastic horror film. I remember when I first saw it I thought it was great, a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the very types of films it also managed to be a great example of – the classic slasher movie. That opening scene featuring Drew Barrymore is right up there with Psycho as far as pulling the rug out from under the viewer. The most important part of Scream for me is not the self-awareness, the references, the humor or Ghostface – it’s that it works as a horror movie even without that stuff and is still enjoyable even when you know the twists. One of Wes Craven’s best… but I still don’t rewatch it anywhere near as often as the others on this list and I couldn’t tell you why.

#9 Misery (1990)

Last year I tossed Misery into the drama category in my list of five films for Stephen King’s birthday, but today I’m putting it back in the horror pile, and that’s all because of Kathy Bates. The whole film is horrifying, following writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who is trapped with terrifying “number one fan” Annie Wilkes (Bates) following a car crash. The film is full of scenes of excruciating tension and suspense, but there’s this one scene – you know the one – which elevates the movie into the realm of horror. I actually yelled out loud just reading that scene. Watching it play out on the big screen was one of the most satisfyingly horrifying moments I’ve ever had in a theater. The film is great, but Annie Wilkes won Kathy Bates an Oscar that year and I can’t help but wonder if the voters worried she would show up at their door with a sledgehammer if she didn’t get it.

#8 The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I came around on The Blair Witch Project fairly recently, after spending a decade+ dismissing it because of a bad screening. I’m glad I gave it another shot because the film that popularized the found footage horror film (though it didn’t originate it) is still a great example of its sub-genre. Everything that I used to make fun of – bad framing, poor focus, repetitive conversations, shaky camerawork, even that up-the-nose confessional – all of that actually helps create the feeling that this is a real thing. That this could be cobbled together out of footage shot by a group of film students who were barely capable of handling their equipment. It’s raw, it’s realistic and – in the end – it’s horrifying. Everything you want from a found footage horror film.

#7 Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

I just went on about this movie last week – and it means there are two Wes Craven films in the list – but dammit, it absolutely deserves to be here! A proto-Scream, I actually prefer this film to its successor and if I HAD to only choose one, it’d be this one. I think its narrow focus and willingness to really invest in the ‘reality’ of it, with actual actresses, actors, directors and producers playing their parts gives it a frisson of horror that Scream doesn’t give me.

#6 Candyman (1992)

If you haven’t seen it in a while, I think you’ll find you’ve forgotten how good Candyman is. Bernard Rose crafted a film that manages to walk like Clive Barker talks, treading a fine line between exploitative violence and dreamlike horror. While Tony Todd’s performance as the eponymous urban legend is one of my favorite elements of the film, I really do enjoy everything about it. From those first overhead shots of the city of Chicago, to the subtexts of race and class, to scenes shot at Cabrini Greene, to the performances by just about everyone. Add to that an amazing score by Phillip Glass (who was apparently flabbergasted to discover he’d been scoring a *gasp* horror film) and you’ve got horror gold.

#5 Dead Alive aka Brain Dead (1992)

Another 90’s horror film I’ve gone on about recently. Peter Jackson’s splatstick swan song (oh how I wish he’d make another) is one of the funniest and goriest horror films of all time, trying (and at times succeeding) to outdo Evil Dead II in both humor and gore departments. Kung-fu Priests, zombie babies, undead sex and a certain scene with a lawnmower and a room full of zombies are all elements in what’s really a classic romance about two star-crossed lovers. An over-the-top gore and gag (and gagging) fest, Dead Alive tickles the funny-bone while also removing it and using it for something gross, like making custard maybe.

#4 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Another film that tends to top 90’s horror lists. It’s also one that has a special place in my heart, being the first film I went to see with the woman who would become my wife (that’s real romance, folks). I know a lot of people who think of this as a thriller – and yeah, it is – but Hannibal Lecter puts it over the top and into horror territory for me. As tightly written, edited and acted as a film can be the only reason this movie doesn’t go into the top three is that there’s a certain distance, a coldness, to it that prevents me from just enjoying it at any time. I have to be in the right mood to watch The Silence of the Lambs, but boy – when that mood strikes there’s no better film.

#3 Ringu (1998)

My top three 90’s horror films all seem to change places from day to day. Sometimes I’m all about Lovecraftian sci-fi horror, sometimes I’m more in the mood to see Kevin Bacon pole-vaulting over some graboids, and sometimes I just want to see dead, wet girls with long black hair come out of TV sets to fuck some people up. Ringu was a groundbreaking film and introduced me to the delights of Japanese horror. I didn’t watch it when it was initially released – but I’d heard about as an actual urban legend. That there was this video tape, you see, that would kill you if you watched it. Ringu ushered in a new era for Japanese horror and led directly to a horror renaissance for everyone in the early 00’s, when it seemed like dead girls with long black hair were in half the films being released. I go back and forth on whether I like the original more than the remake, but as Gore Verbinski’s film didn’t come out until 2002 this was a no brainer for this list. That it’s number three is just chance – yesterday it was number one.

#2 Tremors (1990)

What’s a top ten horror movie list without a monster movie? I mean a good, old-fashioned, non-human creature feature. I don’t think anyone would have predicted Tremors. I mean, at all. A 1950’s style monster flick starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward? Not on anybody’s list of things they thought they’d see in the theater in 1990 (the year of Home Alone, Edward Scissorhands and Pretty Woman). Though it didn’t light up the box office, Tremors has become a cult classic and for good reason. It features great characters (including Michael Gross and Reba McEntire as survivalists), an awesome monster and manages to be funny as hell and believably scary. Is it a great piece of cinema? Maybe not, but it’s a classic for me, and a yearly rewatch.

#1 Event Horizon (1997)

I almost didn’t put this film at number one, even though it IS one of my top three favorite horror films of the 1990’s, because who in their right mind puts a Paul WS Anderson movie at #1 in their top ten list? (Except, I guess, in lists of Paul WS Anderson movies.) Then it occurred to me that I’ve NEVER been in my right mind, so screw it! I unabashedly love Event Horizon, I love almost everything about it (though the CGI has gotten dodgier over time). I love the sets, the characters, the music, the pacing, the gore… you get the idea. 1997 was actually a decent year for horror films, with Funny Games, Lost Highway and Devil’s Advocate amongst others, but Event Horizon stuck out to me. It did Lovecraftian horror better than any other film, and it didn’t indulge in the meta-horror games I’d come to expect by then. It played the horror straight, and I’ve only grown to enjoy it more since it was first released. I know the film has a 28% score on Rotten Tomatoes and didn’t even make back its budget at the box office, but damn do I love this movie. It’s my favorite horror film of the 1990’s. At least today.

Honorable Mentions

Here are a few films that almost made the top ten – and might have on any other day!

Se7en (1995)
Cemetery Man (1994)
Army of Darkness (1992)
Exorcist III (1990)
Stir of Echoes (1999)
Deep Rising (1998)
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
The Frighteners (1996)
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

So that’s my (extremely biased) top ten list of 90’s horror films. What’s yours?

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.