For whatever reason, a lot of genre fans tend to reflect on the 1990s as a lackluster decade for horror movies. Considering the countless, bloodsoaked classics of the 1980s, I suppose it was going to be difficult – if not impossible – for the decade ahead to placate a generation of fans weaned on Cannibal Holocaust, The Evil Dead and a deluge of Freddy and Jason flicks.
While there weren’t as many slasher, cannibal and zombie masterpieces in the 1990s, it’s also a bit disingenuous to say the decade was devoid of quality horror offerings. In fact, one could argue the 1990s actually had a greater spate of top-notch horror movies than the ‘80s, only with the cream of the crop spread out across a wider array of subgenres. The ‘80s was a great time to be a horror fan, for sure, but the fact of the matter is that horror films in the 1990s were more diverse, more experimental and arguably more interesting.
Which brings us to this gargantuan list of 1990s horror movies. Now, the point here isn’t to count down the best or most entertaining horror flicks of the decade, but to give moviegoers who may not be as well versed in the decade’s offerings a chance to see how horror movies changed throughout the ‘90s. Some of these movies are unquestionably all-time masterpieces of cinema and some of them are unquestionably all-time masterpieces of crap.
Regardless, in their own unique ways, they capture something noteworthy about 1990s horror tropes and stylings and demonstrate the chronological evolution of the medium. Moreover, these movies are ephemeral encapsulations of the times, a snapshot of the greater 1990s culture, be it the fashion, the music, the lingo or the technology. Not only will watching these movies give you a good idea of what ‘90s horror was all about, it should give you a good idea of what the ‘90s as a whole were all about, too.
So grab your Pop Qwiz popcorn, pour yourself another glass of Josta and fire up the old VHS player, kids … it’s time to get jiggy with some of the best, worst and weirdest horror movies of the 1990s.
30. The Ice Cream Man (1995)
The box art for this straight-to-video offering was unforgettable; how could you NOT be interested in a movie that promised a blood spattered Clint Howard serving human popsicles to unwitting customers? While the film is admittedly pretty dull – the acting, cinematography, pacing and special effects are all below average, even for mid-1990s bottom shelf Blockbuster bait – it nonetheless has its moments.
For one, the “chase” scene in the grocery store is an unintentional masterpiece of suspenseful minimalism, and the climax – which entails both an electrified industrial mixer and the use of the term “ice cream dick” as a pejorative – is inescapably amusing. And the kills, of course, are every bit as wacky as you’d expect – especially the part where one dude somehow gets wafflemakered to death.
29. Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (1993)
You really can’t talk about 1990s horror without bringing up Full Moon Entertainment, and while the house Charles Band and Trancers built will perhaps always be best known for the Puppet Master films, this straight-to-VHS crossover flick probably does the best job summing up what the company was all about. This is pretty much The Avengers of the Full Moon shared universe, combining the antagonists and protagonists of three earlier films – Bad Channels, Dollman and Demonic Toys – into one jam-packed clusterschmazz of a movie.
We’ve got super cops and nurses shrunken down to 11 inches tag-teaming with a normal sized cop to take down a factory filled with demonic hobo blood-possessed action figures, including a foul-mouthed baby doll that’s really dead set on raping a female captive (so yep, it’s just the whimsical, family-friendly entertainment you’d expect from the guys that gave us Subspecies and Castle Freak!) And even if you can’t make sense of anything happening on screen, it’s no big loss – since the thing’s barely an hour long, even if you hate it it’ll be over before you know it.
28. Sleepwalkers (1992)
If Maximum Overdrive showed Stephen King directing movies isn’t as easy as it sounds, this flick taught him scripting movies wasn’t any less difficult. This Mick Garris directed flick is based on an original screenplay penned by Big Steve himself, and to say this thing is a great big mess would be an understatement.
Then again, I guess it’s pretty hard to make anything coherent out of a plot that revolves around incestuous electro-werewolf people who try to suck the souls out of virgins and are deathly allergic to cats. But on the bright side, at least this hyper-guilty-pleasure contains one of the greatest kills in horror history – death by corn on the freaking cob!
27. The Borrower (1991)
After directing one of the most realistic (and grimmest) horror films of the 1980s, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer helmer John McNaughton followed suit with a way out there sci-fi horror hybrid that seems to strive to be everything Henry wasn’t. Essentially, The Borrower is your standard serial killer on the loose yarn, except this time around, the mass murderer is actually an alien lifeform that survives by literally ripping people’s heads off and wearing them like hats.
Not everything the movie throws at us works, but there’s just so much weird stuff going on – hobos eating dead rats, crappy garage bands singing profane songs about how much they hate their parents and cameos from The Garbage Pail Kids are some of the, uh, highlights – that it’s hard to not enjoy the parade of absurdities. And just wait until the titular character crashes through a window rocking a rabid dog’s head atop its neck!
26. Night of the Demons 2 (1994)
The same way the original Night of the Demons from 1988 was a pitch perfect encapsulation of 1980s culture, this straight-to-video sequel might just be the best overall representation of what the 1990s were really like in B-horror form. Everything about this movie just bleeds 1990s ephemera, from the hairdos and grungy clothing to the passe slang (yes, we really did use the phrase “spank your monkey” way back when) to the gravel throated cornball death metal.
Thankfully, beyond being a great aesthetic snapshot of the era, it’s also one of the better bottom-rack VHS offerings from the decade, with great special effects, some tremendous one-liners and acting that’s well above the genre norm. It may not technically be a great horror movie, but it’s certainly way better than it probably had any right to be – and if nothing else, it sure is a treat to ogle Amelia Kinkade before she gets all zombie-looking towards the end of the movie.
25. Perfect Blue (1997)
Well, who’d thunk the best Dario Argento movie of the decade not only wouldn’t be directed by Dario Argento, but wouldn’t even feature flesh and blood actors? Enter Satoshi Kon’s seminal 1997 anime Perfect Blue, which – despite lacking a third dimension – is nonetheless one of the decade’s cleverest, creepiest and most influential psychological thrillers.
The reality-bending murder mystery definitely feels inspired by some of the great giallo films of yore, and frankly, does a better job of modernizing the subgenre than just about any live action movie since Tenebrae. The impact of this one is palpable on a ton of recent-ish Hollywood productions, too, having immensely inspired films like Black Swan and I Know Who Killed Me, among many, many others.
24. Uncle Sam (1997)
William Lustig’s direct-to-video slasher is mostly remembered for its awesome lenticular box art, but the film itself isn’t too shabby either. Basically a reworking of Lustig’s Maniac Cop series, the flick revolves around a U.S. soldier killed by friendly fire who is awakened from his eternal slumber by a bunch of America-hatin’ punk kids who, for some inexplicable reason, decided to torch an American flag over his grave.
From there it’s just a cavalcade of no-budget gore and grue, as the zombified military-man dons a garish Uncle Sam costume (complete with eight-foot stilts!) to do in some draft-dodgers, tax-evaders and dudes trying to sneak a surreptitious peek at disrobing young women.
This was perhaps the last genuine attempt at creating a charismatic franchise horror character a’la Freddy K or the Leprechaun before filmmakers got lazy and started pumping out intentionally bad self-parodies like The Gingerdead Man; ‘tis a pity, too, seeing as how this particular gimmick had way more potential than stuff like The Wishmaster or whatever the hell that thing in Jeepers Creepers is called.
23. Wild Zero (1999)
What better way to cap off our whirlwind recap of the ‘90s than this out-there, genre-fluid 1999 horror-comedy-musical? Part Night of the Living Dead, part Rock n Roll High School and part The Crying Game, Tetsuro Takeuchi’s zombie-spoof represents the perfect bridge from 1990s horror to 2000s horror. It’s self-reflexive and self-mocking and constantly breaks the fourth wall and instead of shying away from its own intrinsic absurdity, it wholly embraces it. It doesn’t take itself too serious and doesn’t set out to scare audiences, but simply entertain them.
It’s a movie that knows it’s a B-movie, and it plays up its campiness without intentionally trying to be stupid or corny or cheap. Yes, it’s a “bad horror movie,” I suppose, but at least it’s a sincerely “bad horror movie” and one that’s amusing as hell at that. And at the end of the day, Wild Zero embodies the biggest transcultural change to the horror genre throughout the decade – effectively, the shifting away from simply being about scares to being about entertaining audiences, regardless of the genre’s ability (or inability) to terrify the jaded, indifferent moviegoing masses.
22. Strangeland (1998)
By and large, most horror movies directed by, written by or starring rock stars suck. Well, count Strangeland as among the few that not only doesn’t blow, but actually remains an extremely influential and underappreciated genre offering to this day. Penned by hair metal icon Dee Snider, the Twisted Sister frontman plays a psychopathic killer who uses AOL Instant Messenger to kidnap victims off the internet and mercilessly torture them using a litany of gruesome devices.
Remember, this came out six years before the first Saw movie and seven years before the first Hostel film – and if that wasn’t enough, Snider even predicts that torture porn was going to become the next big thing in horror on the original DVD commentary track in 1999! Throw in an excellent cast that also includes Robert Englund, Linda Cardinelli and Kevin Gage and you’ve got a way-ahead-of-its-time horror flick that definitely deserves more attention and reverence – if not for its execution, at least for its foresight.
21. Terror Firmer (1999)
You really can’t talk about ‘90s horror without throwing in at least one Troma offering, and I think the last major company production of the 20th century remains their paramount work of the decade. The House Toxie Built did indeed go through a radical shift in the 1990s, with Troma’s films becoming more sociopolitical and way more graphic – and Terror Firmer illustrates it perfectly.
A thinly, thinly veiled parody of Troma itself, the film revolves around the cast and crew of a crappy no-budget horror film getting picked off one-by-one by a hermaphroditic mass murderer, whose killing techniques include ripping off people’s legs and beating them to death with the stumps and stabbing victims to death with a broken bong before deep frying their brains with a dash of cocaine in a skillet.
We’ve got fetuses being ripped out of wombs, morbidly obese men running naked down Times Square, even MORE obese men getting chewed up by escalators and up-close, lingering shots of deformed genitals – so yeah, it’s precisely the kind of family-friendly entertainment you’ve come to expect from Uncle Lloyd and pals!