10. Child’s Play 2 (1990)
For my money, this is Chucky at his cultural zenith. While the first film was more of a suspense-driven murder mystery and the ensuing sequels were more dark comedies, the second Chucky flick strikes the perfect balance between real scares and real laughs, with the sadistic Good Guy doll coming off as both menacing and charismatic.
This one has a tremendous pace and is expertly scripted, complete with one of the most captivating conclusions in slasher film history; not only is the climactic chase through the doll factory the franchise’s high water mark, it’s one of the most memorable sequences you’ll see in any ‘90s horror flick.
9. Dead Alive (1992)
While Heavenly Creatures is probably the better movie objectively, Peter Jackson’s preceding zombie opus is the flick that really put his name on the map. Marketed as the bloodiest film ever made, the splatstick masterpiece definitely delivers the gory goods, complete with a lawnmower massacre finale that may NEVER be topped in terms of on-screen bloodshed.
With zombified babies being liquified in blenders, the undead bodies of profanity-spouting priests trying to bone similarly rigor-mortis-stricken nurses and a grand finale that involves our hero trying to flee from a towering monster with a birth canal the size of a house, there’s something in Dead Alive to offend – and entertain – just about everybody. And to think – the guy that made this movie was just 12 years away from winning a Best Director Oscar!
8. The People Under The Stairs (1991)
This might just be Wes Craven’s most underrated movie. Constructed as a metaphor for the Reagan administration (no, for real), The People Under The Stairs revolves around a young child navigating his way through his landlord’s labyrinthine house of horrors. Killer dogs, pasty-faced zombies with their tongues cut off, shotgun-toting S&M leather freaks – yep, this is definitely one pad you don’t want to crash in!
A very socially conscious movie, there’s a lot of rich subtext in the film about classism and race relations; first and foremost, though, it’s an extremely effective (and extremely creepy) haunted house thrill ride – and quite possibly the absolute best “domicile of the doomed” flick of the entire decade.
7. Apt Pupil (1998)
Bryan Singer’s late ‘90s psychological thriller isn’t just the most underrated Stephen King adaptation of the decade – it very well could be the absolute best as well. From start to finish, this is just a monumentally bleak movie, with virtually every character lugging around some sort of insidious secret.
Lead actors Brad Renfro, Ian McKellan and David Schwimmer all turn in stellar performances and play off one another very well, and the horror elements – while downplayed compared to its contemporaries – are nonetheless tense, unnerving and deeply disturbing. With a plot dealing with Nazi war crimes, sexual sadomasochism and pedophilia, it goes without saying Apt Pupil isn’t for all tastes; alas, if you’ve got a penchant for more thoughtful, cerebral horror movies, you’re not going to find too many movies from the timeframe as rich as this criminally unsung genre gem.
6. Poison (1991)
Todd Haynes’ genre-fluid anthology flick is certainly one of the more intriguing experimental horror works of the ‘90s. While only the second vignette – appropriately enough, a 1950s creature-feature pastiche simply titled “Horror” – smacks of traditional genre fare, all three stories in Poison nonetheless unfold in a very eerie and unsettling manner.
While mock newscasts about flying children who kill their fathers and jailxploitation homages about budding prison ground romances may not be typical horror subjects, Haynes definitely depicts his mini-movies with an unmistakable “horror” air and attitude. Hardcore blood and guts fans may not find much appetizing about Poison, but genre fans with more erudite tastes should definitely give it a try.
5. The Untold Story (1992)
There were a ton of great hardcore Hong Kong horror movies pumped out in the 1990s, but few were as legitimately compelling as director Herman Yau’s take on the infamous Eight Immortals restaurant massacre. While the movie does take extreme liberties with the 1985 mass murder that inspired it, it’s nonetheless a deeply unnerving and captivating thriller, sprinkled with some curt (but effective) humor and outstanding performances all around.
There’s a very good reason why many genre purists have compared Anthony Wong’s portrayal of the film’s serial killer to Anthony Hopkins’ performance in The Silence of The Lambs, as it truly is one of the best (and creepiest) acting jobs you’ll ever see. And if that wasn’t enough, rest assured the gore effects in this one are phenomenal – and about as stomach-churning as they get.
4. Man Bites Dog (1992)
It took three directors to produce this coal-black Belgian horror-comedy and surprisingly, it doesn’t feel like a muddled mess of a movie at all. Seven years before The Blair Witch Project, this pioneering found footage/faux documentary flick gave us one of cinema’s most inspired serial killers ever – a constantly philosophizing, hyper-xenophobic and misogynistic psychopath played by comedian Benoit Poelvoorde.
Shot in stark black and white, the camera follows Ben around as he discusses the finer points of mass murdering the elderly, suffocating small children to death with pillows and gang-raping home invasion victims. There’s no way a film this grim and nihilistic should seemingly work as a comedy, but – amazingly – it actually is pretty damn funny. You know, pending you have a penchant for extremely morbid humor, anyway.
3. Audition (1999)
Takashi Miike is easily one of the most productive and stylistically diverse directors of our time – after all, this is the guy who gave us Ichi the Killer, The Happiness of the Katakuris and Visitor Q in the SAME year. While Miike has tried has hand at horror numerous times, perhaps none of his genre dalliances have been as effective or as memorable as Audition, a film notorious for both its sudden tonal shifts and immensely unsettling grand finale.
While the film starts off as a rather by-the-books drama about a widower, it doesn’t take long for the film to take on a more sinister tone. Miike definitely knows how to let the tension mount, building a thoroughly unpleasant – yet undeniably captivating – pressure cooker of a movie that explodes with some of the most unnerving violence ever depicted in cinema. While its torture porn imitators may have upped the ante in terms of blood and ickiness, the intensity of Audition’s third act remains unparalleled – and perhaps may never be topped.
2. The Silence of The Lambs (1991)
Well, what more can be said about this movie? Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning psychological thriller represents one of the few times hoity toity cinema snobs and hardcore horror hounds lauded the same material, and since it’s the only slasher film in history to ever win Best Picture honors, you don’t need me to tell you it’s a truly transcendent genre flick.
Everybody’s got their favorite aspect of the movie – some dig Anthony Hopkins’ chilling performance as Hannibal the Cannibal, while others just love Buffalo Bill’s unique interpretive dance moves – but despite becoming such a huge part of 1990s pop culture, The Silence of the Lambs amazingly never lost its ability to scare the living crap out of audiences. Despite being a nearly 30-year-old movie, it still feels fresh and nerve-wracking – which is something you definitely can’t say about too many of its cinema contemporaries.
1. The Exorcist III: Legion (1990)
William Peter Blatty’s outstanding film, believe it or not, was largely ignored and written off as just another unnecessary sequel when it was first released. Thankfully, the movie has garnered much more appreciation over the last quarter century, with some fans considering it not only on par with the original film, but some considering it an even better (and more terrifying) film than The Exorcist!
From start to finish, this is an immensely unnerving film, filled to the brim with truly horrifying moments. The nurse scene, the old lady on the ceiling, all of that tomfoolery with the giant scissors – there’s definitely plenty of nightmare fodder to go around. Throw in the phenomenal acting from George C. Scott and Brad Dourif, and you definitely have all the makings of one of the best horror films of any decade.