I have heard people say, time and again, that the 1990s are like a lost decade for horror. And they aren’t entirely wrong. The slasher boom was completely over by 1990 and studios really did not want to invest in scary movies at that time. They were seen as too big of a gamble. For that reason, we didn’t get a lot of theatrical horror pictures during that decade and a lot of the straight-to-video releases were leaving quite a bit to be desired. But, with that said, to write the ‘90s off as a lost decade is to discount some of the most important horror films of all time. After all, the ‘90s was the decade in which horror maestro Wes Craven literally and figuratively reinvented the genre. So, we are taking a look at 13 movies that prove the ‘90s was not a dead decade for horror!
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This loving, over-the-top sendup of the monster movies of the 1950s is a total blast and it actually feels very much like it could have come out in the early ‘80s. It has that look and feel and it follows the slasher formula that was so common in films from the slasher boom. But in spite of taking inspiration from previous decades, it stands on its own as a smart and enjoyable film with a great cast. It even has a couple of fun twists along the way. Popcorn is one of many examples of why the ‘90s was not such a dead decade for horror.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
This film has so much going for it but, like a lot of John Carpenter’s work, it didn’t really find its audience until years after its release. That is truly unfortunate because In the Mouth of Madness is a genius picture with a large dose of self-awareness. What’s truly impressive is that it took a meta approach to the genre several years before Wes Craven’s Scream put self referential horror on the map. The film earned less than $10 Million dollars during its theatrical bow but that has a lot more to do with the lack of audience enthusiasm for horror in the ‘90s than it does with the quality of the film.
Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen both turn in powerful performances in a horror film that is about as performance driven as they come. And Bernard Rose proves himself a master of modern horror at the helm of one of what turned out to be one of the greatest slasher films of all time, let alone one of the best slasher pictures of the 1990s. In addition to direction, Rose also adapted the screenplay from a Clive Barker short story and managed to do so without losing any of the magic of the source material. If anything, he improved upon it by bringing the tale stateside and adding a hefty does of social commentary.
Event Horizon (1997)
I consider Event Horizon to be one of the greatest outer space horror films of all time. It is reminiscent of classics like Alien without being derivative. It takes the core concept of a haunted house picture set in space and makes its own mark on the genre. Many of my fellow film critics might disagree but, for my money, Event Horizon is one of the most utterly terrifying and inventive blends of sci-fi and horror to hit the big screen in the ‘90s.
Dead Alive (1992)
Dead Alive is as important to the zombie sub-genre as Scream is to the slasher genre. While it may not be as well known outside the genre film community, it still wowed critics and delighted fans in much the same manner. Dead Alive breathed new life into the zombie film and helped to put filmmaker Peter Jackson on the map. It’s just too bad that it really didn’t find its audience until home video.
New Nightmare (1994)
I love Wes Craven’s New Nightmare almost as much as I love the original A Nightmare on Elm Street film. It is innovative in much the same way as the first installment in the series and it showcased Craven’s keen ability to deconstruct the slasher genre a full two years before he famously did so in Scream. While New Nightmare didn’t do big box office numbers for New Line, it is nonetheless a very important and influential horror film that may have just been a bit ahead of its time.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
Although this 1992 vampire film may not be entirely representative of Joss Whedon’s vision, that in no way downgrades its importance. The moderate theatrical success of this ‘90s horror film and its subsequent home video following paved the way for the iconic and groundbreaking television series of the same name. The film featured a great cast of up-and-comers and is also noteworthy for showcasing a strong and capable female heroine at a time when that wasn’t always the norm.
Stir of Echoes (1999)
It’s anybody’s guess why Stir of Echoes didn’t make a bigger splash at the box office but that is in no way representative of the quality of the film. Stir of Echoes is an important feature that had the unfortunate fate of being released almost immediately after The Sixth Sense. But in spite of less than impressive box office yields, Stir of Echoes is a brilliant film with a great cast and a surprising twist. And more than fifteen years later it holds up just as well as, if not better than The Sixth Sense.
John Carpenter’s Vampires is a solid entry in the director’s massively impressive filmic arsenal. And, moreover, it’s a well-made adaptation of the novel on which it is based. Carpenter treats fans to a gory look at the lives of a group of vampire hunters in yet another outing that didn’t really find its audience until years after its initial release. The film is finally developing a loyal fan base and with good reason. Vampires is an often overlooked ‘90s classic that stands the test of time.
Halloween: H20 (1998)
The Halloween franchise has had a tenuous relationship with sequels. The first installment is the holy grail of slasher films and the second is a fine follow up effort that gave fans a chance to reunite with the infamous Michael Myers and ultimate final girl Laurie Strode. The third is only now really getting the recognition it deserves but after that is where things became hit or miss at best. All that changed with Halloween: H20. This was a smart, savvy, post-Scream slasher film that saw the much buzzed about return of Jamie Lee Curtis. While it didn’t please all fans of the franchise, it proved that slasher sequels could still pack multiplexes and it deserves much credit for that. Moreover, it provided closure for fans of the franchise (I’d prefer to forget about Halloween: Resurrection and just pretend the original series ended here).
The Faculty (1998)
This 1998 teen-focused horror/sci-fi hybrid deserves a great deal more credit than it deserves. It features a great ensemble cast that launched a lot of careers; it melds genres without losing sight of its identity; and it pays tribute to the B-rated monster movies of years past. What’s more, it still holds up amazingly well after more than 15 years. The Faculty is a noteworthy installment in the monster movie sub-genre and well worth a second look if you haven’t seen it in a while.
From Dusk till Dawn (1996)
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have always been trailblazers and From Dusk till Dawn is no exception. The pair collaborated on this genre-bending vampire/heist flick and its influence can still be seen today. Not only has it been adapted for the small screen, it also introduced a whole new generation of moviegoers to vampire cinema. It proved that the sub-genre was still viable and while it didn’t make a killing theatrically, it more than made its budget back. And its cult following on home video allowed for the release of several direct-to-video sequels.
There isn’t a lot that I can say about Scream that hasn’t already been said. It is the quintessential ‘90s slasher film and it changed the face of the horror genre for the better. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson breathed new life into the subgenre with this flick and its influence can be seen in countless horror films since its 1996 release. Horror was hit-and-miss in the mid ‘90s and Scream put it back on track. If any film proves that the ‘90s were not a dead decade for horror, it’s Scream.