40 Best 90s Horror Films: Part 1 (#40-#21)

Last year, I kicked off Margetis Movie Reviews with The 50 Best 80s Horror Films, a five part article and countdown of the finest horror films from the best decade of horror. This year, I’m tackling a somewhat less golden era of horror cinema, one that gave us some major league crap but still managed to yield a few bizarre hits including the first and only horror Best Picture winner, The Silence of the Lambs.

The 90s offered a bunch of diminishing returns in the genre, especially with the way 80s slasher franchises wrapped up. Friday the 13th was sold off to New Line Cinema where it produced the single worst entry of the franchise, Jason Goes to Hell. Halloween was sold off to Dimension Films (owned by Bob and Harvey Weinstein), where they completely fucked things up with Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers and then managed to somewhat redeem themselves with Halloween H20. Freddy Krueger also slashed his way into cinemas with his franchise’s worst entry, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, while surprisngly redeeming himself with the uber-meta Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a fascinating look at why and how franchise horror movies are made and the impact they have on the artists involved. It also paved the way for Scream, arguably the single most significant horror film of the 1990s. Irredeemably awful franchises like Leprechaun and I Know What You Did Last Summer also sprouted up, while 90s franchise horror entries like Child’s Play 3 and Alien 3 still stand as the worst of their respective series.

While the 90s was the death of the movie monster slasher as we knew him, it opened the doors for a lot of the more visually creative and intellectual horror we see today through A24 and Neon and occasionally Blumhouse. Horror pictures like Se7en, Candyman and Perfect Blue. The Blair Witch Project ironically gave birth to one the laziest and most creatively bankrupt horror subgenres, the found footage horror film,. The irony here is that The Blair Witch Project is one of the most inventive horror films ever made. We also saw a bunch of great overseas horror like Ringu, Cronos and Audition, which was another intelligent, effective and original horror film that also paved the way for another one of the laziest and most creatively bankrupt horror sub genres, the torture porn movie.

Here’s a list of the 40 Best Horror Films of this decade, horror’s most uneven decade. Let’s start with #40 through #21….

40. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

1990 / USA / dir. Joe Dante / 106 minutes

cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert J. Prosky, Christopher Lee, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Haviland Morris, Hulk Hogan, Julia Sweeney, Leonard Maltin

I’ve never seen a horror series pull the ripcord on what the original set up quite like this. Sure, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 presented a super goofy version of it’s terrifying yet extremely minimalistic original, but it still maintained a sizeable portion of the brutality, menace and grit. Gremlins 2 on the other hand, is absolutely nothing like it’s predecessor. There’s no Spielbergian sweetness to be found anywhere between these hyper-active, murderous, hedonistic, sexually fluid and painfully self-aware gremlins, that for some reason possess a lifetime’s knowledge of human pop culture references, despite being only a few days old. It’s also mind-numbingly stupid and a complete waste of time, and yet, I really enjoy watching it. It’s certainly not for everybody and even the most reserved viewer will cringe so hard they’ll literally yell back at the screen, but it’s such a fascinating window into what major studios were thinking in the early 90s. I’d dare say Gremlins 2 is invaluable. (Streaming on HBOMax)

39. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

1998 / USA / dir. Steve Miner / 86 minutes

cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J, Adam Arkin, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Janet Leigh, Jodi Lynn Keefe, Adam Hann-Byrd, Matt Winston, Chris Durand

A sequel that has absolutely divided fans of the franchise down the middle, but I’m here to say that I really dig Steve Miner‘s Halloween H20. It isn’t scary at all, and the atmosphere is almost non-existent. Halloween H20 is lit and shot like a Dawson’s Creek episode, but for the first time since Halloween II, there’s an actual coherent and satisfying story surrounding Michael’s reign of terror. I love what they do to the character of Laurie Strode here and I believe this is Jamie Lee Curtis‘ strongest performance within the franchise. Overcoming her demon and mowing down Michael with an axe is an incredibly satisfying climax and really should have been the end to the franchise. Unfortunately, they brought her back four years later, only to unceremoniously kill her in Halloween: Resurrection (far and away the worst of the franchise) and then back again in the 2018 for a trilogy of sequels that negated everything that happened after the original. And look I’m no LL Cool J fan, but I have to admit that I really enjoy him both here and in Deep Blue Sea. Good casting decision, a real crowd pleaser! (Streaming on AMC+)

38. Ringu

1998 / Japan / dir. Hideo Nakata / 96 minutes

cast: Nanako Matsushima, Mika Nakatani, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yuko Takeuchi, Rie Ino’o

The second most terrifying movie experience I had as a child was seeing a sneak preview of Gore Verbinski‘s The Ring with my mom when I was twelve. She was SCREAMING at the top of her lungs during this movie, which made me even more scared and theater goers rightfully pissed. People thought we were fucking nuts, but we didn’t care because we both so scared by the movie. A couple of months later, my mom bought me a DVD copy of the Japanese original and while we weren’t as frightened as we were at that sneak preview of the remake, we were thoroughly creeped out. Ringu is not lacking in unsettling imagery and its lower budget actually adds to the creepiness. I think the remake is overall a better put together and more visually arresting film experience, but don’t discount, Ringu. The spooks sneak up on you. (Streaming on Shudder and Tubi)

P.S.: The most terrifying movie experience I had as a child was being afraid of the dark, crying and pissing my pants in a screening of Ferngully: The Last Rainforest when I was three.

37. Nightbreed

1990 / USA / dir. Clive Barker / 102 minutes ; 122 minutes (Director’s Cut)

cast: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charles Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross, Doug Bradley, Catherine Chevalier, Malcolm Smith, Bob Sessions, Simon Bamford

Fascinating and surprisingly touching “monsters are actually the good guys” fantasy horror film from Clive Barker, the British mad man that brought us Hellraiser and Candyman. Midian is a secret city of horror monsters that just want to live in peace. Some dude (Craig Sheffer) begins having really intense dreams of this magical community, so he lets his psychiatrist (director David Cronenberg – chilling). Problem is his psychiatrist is an power-hungry mass murdering sociopath who wants to exploit Midian and the “monsters” within to be even more evil. Nightbreed kind of feels more interesting to talk about than it is to watch. It has suffers from some major pacing issues but I think it has enough creative energy to power viewers through the end. (Streaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu, Tubi and PlutoDirector’s Cut streaming on Shudder)

36. Stephen King’s It

1990 / USA / dir. Tommy Lee Wallace / 192 minutes

cast: Tim Curry, Harry Anderson, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Richard Thomas, Tim Reid, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Olivia Hussey, Seth Green, Jonathan Brandis, Adam Fairazl, Ben Heller, Marlon Taylor, Brandon Crane, Emily Perkins

Deeply flawed adaptation of a deeply flawed and absolutely massive Stephen King novel. I love the bare bones story of this – seven plucky kids band together to overcome the sadistic, child-killing boogeyman (Tim Curry – absolutely brilliant) of their small New England town, who can shape-shift into their biggest fears but also a clown. The novel gets bogged down with details and seemingly has no idea where to go during its third act, which introduces this supernatural good guy turtle that helps the gang fight the evil clown. Fortunately, this TV version replaces that ending with a less goofy but still goofy ending. But I’d be lying if I said this three hour plus TV movie doesn’t fly by. It’s frequently stupid but never boring. (Streaming on Hulu)

35. From Dusk till Dawn

1996 / USA / dir. Robert Rodriguez / 108 minutes

cast: George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Fred Williamsom, Tom Savini, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, John Saxon, John Hawkes, Kelly Preston, Michael Parks

Significantly less than the sum of its parts, this Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration is still a thrilling, funny and quite imaginative take on the vampire genre. Basically it’s a classic Tarantino set up, two criminal brothers (George Clooney, Tarantino) are trying to evade the law to Mexico, gunning down cops and civilians all nonchalantly along the way, and taking a few hostages. They kidnap a Christian family, headed by a preacher who has lost his faith (Harvey Keitel), and go to a rendezvous point set up by Cheech Marin. The rendezvous point is a bar in Mexico called The Titty Twister, where sex with a prostitute is as cheap as a well whiskey, the drinks are always flowing and the bar is completely run by vampires who murder the shit out of you at the end of the night. Can George Clooney, Tarantino and a Christian household hold their own against these bloodsuckers? At least for 108 minutes, they can. (Streaming on AMC+ and Pluto TV)

34. The Craft

1996 / USA / dir. Andrew Fleming / 101 minutes

cast: Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer, Assumpta Serna, Helen Shaver

You go, girls! One of my sister’s favorite movies growing up was The Craft, a devastatingly 90s, female-driven, coming-of-age high school witch movie. It’s actually more about coping with being an outcast though, but these girls just happen to do it with witchcraft. Robin Tunney is new kid in town and having a hard time fitting in. She eventually finds her clique of outcasts consisting of a girl from an abusive mobile home life (Fairuza Balk), a burn victim (Neve Campbell) and a black student (Rachel True) who is the continuous victim of pretty much the entire school’s racism. Together, these four teen witches fuck over the haters with their kooky spells, but the power ends up going to some of their heads, and they end up turning on each other. This is a fun, rewarding trip down nostalgia boulevard, epsecially for those of you readers currently in mid to late 30s. ($3.99 rental on Amazon Prime)

33. Event Horizon

1997 / UK / USA / dir. Paul W.S. Anderson / 96 minutes

cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Jason Issacs, Noah Huntley, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy

The best film Mortal Kombat helmer Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with the Magnolia guy) has ever made. Not that it’s really much of a contest with Alien vs Predator, the Resident Evil movies, Death Race, Pompeii and obviously, the 1995 Mortal Kombat being his other features. That being said this is a not great but surprisingly captivating, compact little space chiller about a space ship tracking a black hole that leads to hell. Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan, Jason Issacs and the rest of the crew are all pretty solid and Sam Neill is delightfully bonkers. (Streaming on HBOMax)

32. The Faculty

1998 / USA / dir. Robert Rodriguez / 104 minutes

cast: Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Shawn Hatosy, Usher Raymond, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek, Laura Harris, Robert Patrick, Piper Laurie, Christopher McDonald, Bebe Neuwirth, Jon Stewart, Daniel von Bargen, Jon Abrahams, Summer Phoenix

Probably the best of the late 90s/early 00s post-Scream teen horror films, The Faculty follows a handful of fairly developed teenage characters who begin to suspect their teachers are actually alien monsters. Turns out they’re right, making them band together and fight off these teacher monsters before they become teacher monsters themselves! Basically it’s John Carpenter‘s The Thing in high school, along with being derivative of a couple of other horror films. It’s not super original but it does what mimics fairly well. It never drags and it has uncommonly convincing performances for the genre at this time. Honestly, it’s worth seeing just for the cast. (Streaming on SHOWTIME)

31. The Addiction

1995 / USA / dir. Abel Ferrara / 82 minutes

cast: Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Paul Calderon, Fredro Starr, Kathryn Erbe

An art film that uses vampires as a metaphor for heroin addiction, from one of the most depressing filmmakers to ever live, Abel Ferrara. It’s a Ferrara film which means it takes place in New York and the New York it takes place in is FILTHY. Not as quesy as Bad Lieutenant but certainly grimier than King of New York, The Addiction follows Lili Taylor as a philosophy grad student who becomes a vampire after a sexual encounter with Annabella Sciorra. She begins developing all these vampiric symptoms which are more or less the symptoms of addiction/withdrawl, and basically the movie is her figuring out how to either conquer or live with it. Christopher Walken shows up for ten minutes in the middle and steals the show as an older, more learned vampire that supposedly conquered his addiction to human blood. (Watch it on YouTube here)

30. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

1994 / USA / dir. Wes Craven / 112 minutes

cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Miko Hughes, Wes Craven, David Newsom, Tracy Middendorf, John Saxon, Robert Shaye, Lin Shaye, W. Earl Brown, Tuesday Knight, Jsu Garcia, Matt Winston

Basically the prototype for Scream, Wes Craven‘s super meta New Nightmare is about what would happen if Freddy Krueger was willed into existence IRL. The movie follows Heather Langenkamp as herself, she’s married to some special effects guy and has a young, impressionable child. Wes Craven and producer Robert Shaye (both playing themselves), try to convince her to do another Nightmare sequel and while she’s mulling it over, the script starts dictating what happens IRL. IRL Freddy (Robert Englund) emerges, darker and sans any sense of humor, and Heather must take him down for real this time. This movie has a lot of good ideas but the only thing holding me back from truly loving it is that it doesn’t go far enough. We need a Freddy Krueger vs. the real Robert Englund fight scene, we need a grittier representation of Craven himself, we need to explore Shaye and Craven‘s original grievances with each other over the character and movie becoming a franchise. Overall it needed more of a Scream attitude, but I can’t complain too much abut what we got. It is vastly superior to every sequel except Dream Warriors. (Streaming on HBOMax)

29. Bride of Chucky

1998 / USA / dir. Ronny Yu / 89 minutes

cast: Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, John Ritter, Katherine Heigl, Nick Stabile, Alexis Arquette, Gordon Michael Woolvett, Kathy Najimy

You’re right, Bride of Chucky was the electric paddle that revived a series everyone wanted to bury and forget about. Of course, it wasn’t the most brilliant idea a horror movie has ever had, basically, it was just a homage to the classic and arguably superior than the original Bride of Frankenstein. However, that playful classic Universal movie monster madness is present in every scene. Every scene not involving Katherine Heigl, that is. That’s why ultimately I love Bride of Chucky, because it’s still creepy and violent and nasty, without ever taking itself too seriously. It never quite crosses the line into absolute absurdism like its successor, but it’s a welcome wink at the audience that we’re in for something fun and playful. ($3.99 rental on Amazon Prime)

28. Stir of Echoes

1999 / USA / dir. David Koepp / 100 minutes

cast: Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Dunn, Jennifer Morrison, Zachary David Cope

A Blue Collar Shining/Sixth Sense rip-off, about a Kevin Bacon dad who lets himself be hypnotized by his assertive sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas) at a tailgate party and as a consequence, begins hearing and seeing ghosts. He’s not alone though, his creepy son is talking to this ghost who lives in their house. Who is the ghost? Detective Kevin Bacon gets time off his construction gig to figure that out. There’s a couple of good scares here and the overall mystery is pretty decent. Kevin Bacon is as solid as to be expected and the movie never drags. (Streaming on AMC+ and Pluto TV)

27. In the Mouth of Madness

1994 / USA / dir. John Carpenter / 95 minutes

cast: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen, Kevin Zegers

Speaking of Sam Neill being delightfully bonkers, he’s cuckoo banana shit pudding in John Carpenter‘s last good film, In the Mouth of Madness. The movie follows Neill as an insurance investigator trying to locate a stunning popular, Stephen King-inspired horror novelist (Jurgen Pronchnow). He tracks him to the fictional New Hampshire town from his novels, that somehow has become real and bizarre shit begins to happen. ($2.99 rental on Amazon Prime)

26. Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) Directed by Neil Jordan Shown: Kirsten Dunst, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise

1994 / USA / dir. Neil Jordan / 122 minutes

cast: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea, Christian Slater, Thandiwe Newton

‘Not gay enough’ is a common critique I’ve heard about Crying Game helmer Neil Jordan‘s adaptation of Anne Rice‘s popular vampire novel. I agree, because the movie is already really gay, well past the territory of subtext, so it’s disappointing it doesn’t just go all in and have Brad and Tom fuck. What they ended up doing makes sense for the time, unfortunately. Especially with two giant and allegedly straight action stars that needed to cater to the general homophobia of mainstream moviegoing audiences at that time. You know, in order to ensure they still had a career playing toxic, vengeance-driven males firing rocket launchers at public buses in $160 million movies. Still, Jordan‘s vampire epic is a very pretty film with great visuals, lovely costumes and art direction, and solid performances throughout. A 12-year-old Kirsten Dunst really steals the show here, giving us an Oscar-calibre turn as a child facing the existential dilemma of never growing old. ($3.99 rental on Amazon Prime)

25. The People Under the Stairs

1991 / USA / dir. Wes Craven / 102 minutes

cast: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J. Langer, Ving Rhames, Bill Cobbs, Kelly Jo Minter, Sean Whalen

Probably the most underrated movie of Wes Craven‘s long and somewhat varied career, The People Under the Stairs is a horror comedy where the bad guys are landlords and the heroes are poor people. Basically a home invasion movie in reverse, where the bad guys are the people already inside the house, The People Under the Stairs follows a kid nick named Fool (a solid Brandon Adams) who is manipulated into breaking into this house by neighborhood scumbag/criminal Leroy (Ving Rhames), but they don’t find the riches they’re looking for. They find the couple that lives in this house, patterned after Ronald and Nancy Reagan but cranked up to an ELEVEN by Twin Peaks actors Everitt McGill and Wendy Robie, are keeping and torturing these zombie slaves and abusing their daughter. What starts as a simple house robbery ends up being an elaborate rescue mission in a house full of booby traps. Brandon Adams has some for real Macaulay Culkin energy in this. (Streaming on Pluto TV)

24. The Frighteners

1996 / United States / New Zealand / dir. Peter Jackson / 110 minutes

cast: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone, Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey, Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe, R. Lee Ermey

Divisive but I always find it quite funny, The Frighteners is Peter Jackson at his goofiest and I’d argue most fun other than Braindead. Michael J. Fox is wonderful as a skeezy paranormal investigator. He can actually see and communicate with ghosts, in fact he’s employed them to harass people so he has business. One day he encounters a curious lady (Trini Alvarado) and her loud asshole husband (Peter Dobson). The two experience a real haunting which turns out to be an executed serial killer (Jake Busey) back from the grave to finish his killing. What ensues is a ridiculous, ham-fisted, often tasteless, but never not engaging horror comedic farce with solid beats and solid performances across the board. Re-Animator actor Jeffrey Combs steals the show as one of the movie’s villains, a neurotic FBI agent terrified of women raising their voice. ($3.99 rental on Amazon Prime)

23. Jacob’s Ladder

1990 / USA / dir. Adrian Lyne / 113 minutes

cast: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello, Jason Alexander, Ving Rhames, Matt Craven, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Eriq La Salle, S. Epatha Merkerson, Lewis Black, Macaulay Culkin

The main complaint against its movie is that the twist is super obvious, but I’m really not sure it’s that much of a twist…anyway, without giving anything way, this is the story of a Vietnam war vet suffering from PTSD sometime in the early 1970s. Before being drafted, he was a teacher, but after the war he opted to become a postman because he never wanted to think about anything ever again. Jacob’s Ladder is filled with some of the downright scariest visuals put onto film in the 1990s, horror movies have been ripping off ever since. The thing where the guy shakes his head so fast it’s blurry – that’s from Jacob’s Ladder. There’s also a wonderful sequence lit entirely by strobe lights, where a woman turns into a lizard creature on the dance floor of a party to James Brown‘s My Thang. It’s a terrifying movie, but also a thought provoking and really sad one, with a fantastic central performance by Tim Robbins. ($3.99 rental on Amazon)

22. Cronos

1993 / Mexico / dir. Guillermo Del Toro / 93 minutes

cast: Federico Luppi, Ron Perelman, Claudio Brook, Tamara Shanath, Margarita Isabel, Daniel Gimenez Cacho

Guillermo del Toro‘s debut feature might be lacking the filmmaker’s signature polish and cohesiveness, but it’s absolutely not lacking in ideas. This is one of more cerebral vampire films on the list, that’s also about little metal antique simple machine from the B.C. days, that hooks into your body and makes you a vampire. Sort of like the box from Hellraiser, but instead of summoning demons to have sex with you and kill you, it gives you eternal life and an unquenchable thirst for human blood. Federico Luppi is fantastic as the old antique shop owner who stumbles upon the machine, and American character actor Ron Perelman randomly shows up because I think Del Toro was a Beauty and the Beast fan. (Streaming on HBOMAX)

21. The Exorcist III: Legion

1990 / USA / dir. William Peter Blatty / 110 minutes

cast: George C. Scott, Jason Miller, Brad Dourif, Ed Flanders, Scott Wilson, Nicol Williamson, Samuel L. Jackson, Fabio, Larry King

George C. Scott delivers a gorgeously insane performance as a very loud detective trying to solve a series of copycat murders based on murders committed by a serial killer, who was possessed by the demon that possessed Linda Blair fifteen years ago. Wow, that’s a lot. Beyond the racially-motivated child murders, weird things begin to happen to Detective George C. Scott all leading to a super supernatural climax. I should also mention George C. Scott plays the Lee J. Cobb detective role from the 1973 original. People shit on this movie all the time, but it’s honestly one of the best horror franchise sequels I can think of, it’s scary and atmospheric, it’s funny, it’s never boring, it’s appropriately dark, all the performances work and you’ll be yell-quoting George C. Scott for an entire weekend. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

See you next week for #20-#1!

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