Our countdown of the best horror movies of the 1990s continues with Numbers 15 to Six. Like all lists, there’s obviously a certain amount of subjectivity. That is, some of the movies included on these rankings, to some extent, reflect personal preference as opposed to purely objective consideration. Part II of our rankings includes some different takes on vampires, giant sand worms, haunted spaceships, and urban legends. There’s plenty of talent here including Guillermo del Toro, Robert Rodriguez, Wes Craven, David Fincher, and Takashi Miike.
15 – From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996)
If you stumbled into From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996 without any advance knowledge, you would have experienced quite the surprise. What starts out as a crime-heist thriller starring the guy from E.R. and the guy who made Pulp Fiction turns into a batshit insane movie about a bar on the Mexican border inhabited by vampires. And it’s every bit as fun as it sounds. Robert Rodriguez (The Faculty) directs from a screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Kurtzman. Throw in Tom Savini, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek, and Fred Williamson and you’ve got a wild, gore-filled B-movie cult classic. Maybe it wasn’t the star-making vehicle for George Clooney as intended, but it’s one of the most fun horror movies of the 90s.
14 – Tremors (1990)
You’ve got to hand it to Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th, Hollow Man, Stir of Echoes), no matter how many prestige movies he found himself in, he never abandoned the horror genre. Though it didn’t make much noise at the box office, Tremors quickly found an audience on home video. A throwback to 1950s monster movies, director Ron Underwood (City Slickers) crafts a blend of horror and comedy that’s fun and charming. All of the cast are topnotch and likable – you care about who lives and who dies. But Bacon and Fred Ward’s handymen buddies are the ‘heart and soul’ of Tremors – and it’s impressive that a movie about giant sandworms has heart. Moreover, there’s enough love for the movie that it has lived on via a series of sequels starring Michael Gross’ survivalist ‘Burt Gummer’.
13 – Army of Darkness (1992)
Spanning over 40 years, the Evil Dead movies are defined by a high level of consistency – there’s no bad movie among the series. Rather it’s a preference in regards to tone that will likely influence personal rankings. From Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn to Army of Darkness, Raimi increasingly injected slapstick humor into the movies. Whether Army of Darkness ranks higher or lower on your personal list will depend on whether you prefer straight horror to a mix of horror and comedy. Aside from its themes and imagery, there’s actually not much in the way of horror in Army of Darkness. Instead, Raimi’s in full on absurdist humor – but this is where Bruce Campbell fully shines and Ash becomes a genuine horror icon. This third entry to the series is pure B-movie fun and it’s utterly quotable. Regardless of whether it’s you favourite Evil Dead movie, Army of Darkness is one 90s horror movie fans keep coming back to.
12 – Event Horizon (1997)
At the time of its release, Event Horizon was a commercial and critical failure. Why it originally fared so poorly is a bit of a mystery. Though its ‘haunted house in space’ premise sounds derivative, Event Horizon is a genuinely scary movie boasting a stellar cast and special effects. Writer Philip Eisner’s concept is intriguing enough to set it apart from Alien and other outer space horror movies. And Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator) shows more restraint even if the sci-fi/horror hybrid has some fairly disturbing moments. The ‘missing’ video log sequence shows just enough to be unsettling without wallowing too much in excessive gore. Despite its initial failure, Event Horizon is rightfully considered a hidden gem today.
11 – Scream 2 (1997)
If you look at a lists ranking the Scream franchise movies, Wes Craven’s first follow-up, Scream 2, often places pretty low on the list. And that’s a shame because it’s a damn good sequel that – unlike most sequels – has a purpose. Even some of the good Scream movies have struggled to find a meta-theme to inhabit. In contrast, Scream 2 directly tackles the problems with sequels – and absolutely nails it. Arguably, the opening scene is the best prologue in the franchise aside from the original. No one saw Randy’s death coming. And Craven includes a handful of tight, suspenseful moments that put audiences on the edge of their seats. Maybe the killers’ reveal disappoints a bit. Nevertheless, Scream 2 is among the best horror sequels made – and one of the best horror movies of the 1990s.
10 – Se7en (1996)
Though it’s more of a neo-noir crime thriller, Se7en easily ranks as one of the most disturbing movies of the 1990s. After the failure of Alien 3, director David Fincher moved from ‘monsters in space’ to a mix of crime procedural and psychological horror. The best horror movies, regardless of age, remain powerful and shocking. Neither The Exorcist nor The Texas Chainsaw Massacre have softened over time. Likewise, Se7en has lost none of its ability to provoke. On one hand, Fincher’s visual aesthetics would inform a decade of horror movies that followed. Yet Se7en demonstrates a much better grasp at how to handle its violent subject matter. Visceral and disturbing, Fincher never over-indulges with graphic violence. And the movie’s thematic treatment of its content elevates it above anything ‘Torture Porn‘ produced.
9 – Candyman (1992)
Just when the slasher looked like it was on life support, Candyman re-imagined what we thought the subgenre could be. In the early 90s, the few slasher movies still releasing into theaters, like Dr Giggles, embraced the cheesy excesses of the subgenre. Comparatively, Candyman was a genuinely disturbing, visceral horror movie. Based on Clive Barker’s short story, writer and director Bernard Rose combined slasher sensibilities with more ‘serious’ horror aesthetics and commentary on race and social class. In addition to Phillip Glass’ haunting score, Candyman gave horror fans an iconic villain and Tony Todd’s memorable performance. Two underwhelming sequels proceeded an excellent remake.
8 – Dead Alive (1992)
Today, Peter Jackson is known for the massive blockbuster Lord of the Rings movies. Once upon a time, however, Jackson was a splatter schlockmeister behind bizarre horror-comedy flicks like Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles. Though it wasn’t successful, another early Jackson horror-comedy, Braindead (or Dead-Alive) has since earned a huge cult following and critical acceptance. Jackson’s story of a dutiful son, his new girlfriend, and domineering mother turned into a zombie by a monkey-rat hybrid is pure sick horror-comedy gold. The movie showcases an onslaught of practical gore effects. Anyone with a darker sense of humour will likely love Braindead.
7 – Cronos (1993)
Our Number Seven-ranked horror movie of the 1990s is the second one from acclaimed Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro. If you think you’ve seen every take on vampires, you’d be well advised to check out del Toro’s Cronos. Not surprisingly, del Toro’s take on vampire mythology is wholly unique and rich. Everything about Cronos is exception from its atmosphere to its visuals to the storytelling and rich themes. This is classic fairy-tale storytelling wrapped in a horror narrative. What’s most hard to believe about Cronos is that it’s del Toro’s first feature-length movie and basically and independently-made movie as well. Quite justifiably, critics consider it to be among the best horror movies of all time.
6 – Audition (1999)
From the polarizing Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike (One Missed Call, Ichi the Killer), Audition closed out what was one of the best years for the horror genre in recent memory. Many critics rank Audition among the best horror movies of all time. Based on a novel of the same name, Audition tells the story of a widower who ‘auditions’ a new wife through a fake casting call courtesy of a film producer friend. He’s immediately smitten with the quiet Asami – who also happens to live an empty apartment with just a body-sized sack. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well as Asami turns out to be rather odd. Though Audition is often a quietly unsettling thriller, Miike punctuates the tension with truly shocking – and often revolting – scenes including a finale that may be among the most disturbing ever filmed.