1990 to Now, A Perspective on Horror Films by the Decade: Part II of V

I don’t know why, but November was a popular month for horror in 1990. The three films named in this survey released that year resided in the month of November. Tim Curry as “Pennywise the Clown” would scare a generation of youngsters in the TV miniseries based on Stephen King’s 1986 best-selling novel IT. To make a TV-14 offering of a book as graphic and twisted as IT is a victory (in my opinion) for director and co-writer Tommy Lee Wallace.

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King would have another novel converted into a film for release, this time on the big screen, in Misery. James Caan showed us just how helpless he could be in his portrayal of author Paul Sheldon, while Kathy Bates delivered a chilling performance as an obsessed fan of his, Annie Wilkes. The role gained Bates an Academy Award for Best Actress. Misery stays with you long after you see it.

To round out the films on the list from 1990, knee-high terror Chucky, voiced by Brad Dourif, came back for a second round of on-screen battling with his nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) in Child’s Play 2. Chucky earns his place in horror history, but only because a possessed killer doll is a worthy fear for any young mind.

In 1991, The Silence of the Lambs – which some would argue isn’t a horror film – came away with five Academy Awards. The Silence of the Lambs seemed to break the streak of films in the genre from the 1980s that utilized the role of the female characters as simple objects, there to expose their breasts and be hacked up in gory fashion. Instead, Jodie Foster plays heroine of the story Clarice Starling, an FBI agent prying into the mind of the intelligently evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) as she readies for one final showdown with a terrifying villain. This film is a masterpiece, and only the third film in Academy history to receive the “Big 5” Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jodie Foster), Best Director (Jonathan Demme) and Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (Ted Tally). It’s also important to note how frightening Ted Levine is as…NO SPOILERS! Watch this film if you haven’t already.

In 1992, Tony Todd’s legendary role in Candyman would bring race and social injustice to the viewer in a menacing yet sympathetic performance. Director Bernard Rose brought to life this Clive Barker tale as an urban legend set in the Cabrini-Green section of Chicago, featuring a strong female lead in Virginia Madsen. If you saw this movie as a youngster, there was most definitely a fear of saying “Bloody Mary” in a mirror three times…or saying “Candyman” five.

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The Academy Award winning streak would also continue in the genre for ’92 with the Francis Ford Coppola directed film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This version featured many top actors like Gary Oldman as Dracula, Winona Ryder as Mina, Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker and Anthony Hopkins (back again!) as Van Helsing. But it was the costume, effects and makeup department that would shine at The Oscar’s.

Two films were named as “Favorites” from 1993: The Dark Half and Puppet Master 4. I didn’t much care for the George A. Romero directed version of The Dark Half, as the Stephen King novel it was based on scared me…the movie not so much. But our favorite evil puppets returned, and strangely they weren’t the evil ones in the direct-to-video fourth chapter of the Puppet Master series.

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In 1994, Wes Craven decided Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) had become a bit too comical, and made a final installment for the character in New Nightmare, hoping some folks would forget the sequels his 1984 classic spawned. The “Real Life” Freddy film wasn’t so bad, after all.

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1995 was absent in this survey. Probably for the best.

In 1996, Wes Craven would sit once again in the director’s chair and bring blockbuster status to the genre with Scream. This film poked fun at slasher movies, with a guessing game leading to a final act where the killer was revealed. Cell phones weren’t “smart” yet, nor were they a part of the consumer market for teenagers. But they played a big role in this cleverly-crafted tale. Scream was one of the top-performing films in this survey, and led the 90s with 8 total votes. The film was penned by Kevin Williamson, who’d write four more horror flicks before the turn of the century. It is THE horror movie for fans of the genre.

Unfortunately, Paramount Pictures rushed 1997’s Event Horizon to the finish line to avoid competing with Jim Cameron’s Titanic at the box office that year. This was a futile move on Paramount’s part, as the Paul W.S. Anderson space thriller was unable to make back half of its $60 million-dollar budget. Time has been generous to the film, as it has gained a following in the era of streaming.

Cube, 1997’s Best Canadian First Feature Film winner at the Toronto Film Festival, is a film that gained a cult following over time. I have only viewed this film once, more than a decade ago. From what I can remember, a group navigates a series of cubes looking to obviously escape, but booby traps are aplenty. There is another Cube viewing soon in my future.

That brings us to 1998, where the teenage market was the target audience for the 90s horror powerhouse distributor Dimension Films. Kids under 17 snuck in to theaters to watch their favorite teen heartthrobs either save the day, or die. Some of that would come into play in Halloween: H20, with a newly-minted Josh Hartnett and young Michelle Williams (Dawson’s Creek). But audiences 18-and-over were more focused on the next chapter; Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as Laurie Strode to face off against a 40-something Michael Myers. For fans of Halloween 1 and 2, H20 successfully ignored the Halloween 4-6 storyline.

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John Carpenter, who was in a filmmaking slump by ‘98, also brought his version of Vampires to the big screen. But this wasn’t the tale of Van Helsing, Mina, Jon and The Count. This was about a group of vampire hunters led by the foul-mouthed Jack Crow (James Woods) and The Vatican’s mission to prevent vampires from walking during the day. It was delightfully violent, and based on John Steakley’s 1990 novel Vampire$.

Oh 1999. The year before the new millennium. The 90s sure went out with a bang, didn’t they? Three films were named from this year alone. A “Favorite” named was the horror/comedy Idle Hands, starring 90s hunk Devon Sawa and released in the spring of ‘99.

But…it was the one-two punch of The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense that would achieve massive commercial and critical success in the summer of ’99.

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The Blair Witch Project – while not credited as the first found-footage film – launched a sub-genre that would play an important role in horror films for the new millennium. The stars aligned for independent filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez at Sundance, where Artisan Entertainment reportedly purchased distribution rights following the film’s screening to the tune of $1.1-million dollars. With critics responding positively, and a lukewarm reaction from moviegoers, the film is most famous for the creative marketing campaign that brought in more than $240-million dollars at the box office on a $60,000 budget. Like many films before and after it, The Blair Witch Project is scary because of what the viewer isn’t seeing, relying on good ol’ suspense to provide the scares.

The Sixth Sense was the breakout success that gave non-horror audiences a high-expectation for future offerings from Philadelphia-based filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan. It was well acted, slow burning and scary, and featured the first trademarked Shyamalan twist. The Sixth Sense is one of those films they say you can only watch once. But if the last time you saw it was 1999 in theaters, or perhaps on home video soon after, now is the time to grab some popcorn and watch it again with the lights out.

Survey Results for the 1990s –

Favorite Best Total Tally
Scream (1996) – 4 The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – 5 1. Scream (1996) – 8
Candyman (1992) – 1 Scream (1996) – 4 2. Silence of the Lambs (1991) – 6
Child’s Play 2 (1990) – 1 The Sixth Sense (1999) – 4 T3. Candyman (1992) – 4
Halloween H20 (1998) – 1 Candyman (1992) – 3 T3. The Sixth Sense (1999) – 4
Idle Hands (1999) – 1 The Blair Witch Project (1999) – 2 4. The Blair Witch Project (1999) – 3
IT (1990) – 1 Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – 1 T5. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – 1
John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) – 1 Cube (1997) – 1 T5. Child’s Play 2 (1990) – 1
Puppet Master 4 (1993) – 1 Event Horizon (1997) – 1 T5. Cube (1997) – 1
The Blair Witch Project (1999) – 1 Misery (1990) – 1 T5. Event Horizon (1997) – 1
The Dark Half (1993) – 1 Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) – 1 T5. Halloween H20 (1998) – 1
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – 1 T5. Idle Hands (1999) – 1
T5. IT (1990) – 1
T5. John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) – 1
T5. Misery (1990) – 1
T5. Puppet Master 4 (1993) – 1
T5. The Dark Half (1993) – 1
T5. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) – 1
Total Survey Votes for 1990-1999 Horror Movies- 37 Individual Movies Named from 1990-1999- 17

Did your favorite 90s horror flick make it? Let me know in the comments below!

Y2K is approaching now. Are you ready for films from 2000-2009?

EC

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