So far we’ve counted down from Number 25 to Number 6 of the best horror movies of the 1990s. Undoubtedly, some favourite movies didn’t make the list, while there’s certain to be debates about the placement of those movies listed. Now, in Part III of Flannel and Horror, we’re counting down the five best genre movies of the 90s. These aren’t just horror movies that scared audiences out of theaters when they were initially released. Our Top Five best horror movies of the 90s include titles whose impact extends beyond box office receipts. Defining moments, classic villains, re-inventions of familiar tropes, and genre-shifting approaches – these five movies were all game-changers in one way or another.
5 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)
First, The Blair Witch Project remains a polarizing movie. There are a lot of horror fans who didn’t appreciate the shaky cam storytelling or natural performances. You won’t find much middle ground here. And maybe it’s not really the first found-footage horror movie – Cannibal Holocaust probably holds that distinction. Regardless The Blair Witch Project was a groundbreaking movie that introduced the format to mainstream audiences and kickstarted the subgenre. In addition, writer and directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez gave us an early look at what ‘viral marketing’ would look like before social media was really a thing. Oh, and it also happens to be an unnerving horror movie that knows that some of the scariest images come from our own imaginations.
4 – Ringu (1998)
Given its quality and cultural impact, the high placement of the Japanese ghost story Ringu shouldn’t be surprising. Maybe Hideo Nakata’s supernatural thriller about a cursed VHS cassette that kills anyone who watches it within seven days feels dated. Yet that’s a superficial reading of a movie more generally preoccupied with more general social anxieties over technology. Simply looking at the movie itself as a viewing experience, Ringu remains a genuinely frightening horror movie that uniquely twists what we know about ghost stories. The movie’s villain, Sadako, would become the defining image of the Japanese ‘ghost girl’ trope. Arguably, Ringu kickstarted the resurgence of Japanese horror, or J-horror, and likely influenced the horror remake craze of the early 2000s.
3 – Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Yes, The Silence of the Lambs was an absolute phenomenon when it was released in 1991. It is one of only three movies to sweep Oscars in all five major categories. And the Jonathan Demme-directed psychological horror movie was a box office sensation. Yes, Michael Mann’s Manhunter came first. But this was the movie that turned Hannibal Lecter into one of film’s greatest villains. Simply put, The Silence of the Lambs influenced countless thriller over the decase. As such, the lower placement on this list isn’t a comment on its overall quality. But on its face, The Silence of the Lambs is a stylish police procedural updated with a serial killer as the updated villain. Unlike some of the other movies on this list, Demme’s masterpiece didn’t so much re-invent anything as it just updated the police procedural with style and suspense to spare.
2 – Scream (1996)
It’s really hard to understate the impact Scream had on horror upon its release. Around the time of its release, the genre was unquestionably in a downturn. If the 1970s was a golden era of transgressive experimentation and the 1980s rode the box office wave of slashers, the 1990s was a bit rudderless. Good horror movies stood out in part because studios didn’t seem too committed to taking chances on fresh ideas. Though director Wes Craven had previously experimented with meta-horror in the underrated New Nightmare, he perfected it with Scream thanks in no small part to Kevin Williamson’s clever screenplay. And just as a movie, Scream stands the test of time as a funny, scary, and inventive reinvention of the slasher.
1- The Sixth Sense (1999)
Like The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense doesn’t necessarily re-invent the horror genre. On its face, this is just an update on the classic ghost movie. But calling The Sixth Sense ‘just a ghost movie’ misses the point. At the time of its release, The Sixth Sense was a box office juggernaut. It’s also the movie that introduced the world to M Night Shyamalan (Knock at the Cabin, Old, The Visit) and earned him the reputation as the horror movie director obsessed with twists. But before Shyamalan perhaps became too fixated on swerving audiences, he scored one of the best twist endings ever committed to the screen. And the twist here withstands multiple viewings. Aside from its famous mind-bending finale, The Sixth Sense is a moody, genuinely scary, and engrossing thriller. Nothing compares to seeing this one for the first time.
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