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

The 2000s

By: Eddie Caiazzo

Why didn’t the year 2000 have any movies named in this survey? Unfortunately, the Y2K hysteria was scarier than any horror movies released that year.

We’ll leap right over the first year in the decade straight into 2001, where some asbestos removal guys get to work on the Danvers State Mental Hospital in Massachusetts in Session 9. This psychological thriller features a pre-CSI: Miami David Caruso delivering one of the most epic “F*** You” lines in history.

Danvers has a dark past, so being closed 15 years is perfect timing for Caruso and a bunch of other guys to head in and start cleaning it out. What’s the worst that could happen?

With only one film named in the first two years of the decade, 2002 carried SIX films mentioned in this survey.

One survey respondent spoke from personal experience when naming Swimfan as a “Best” selection. This is a female stalker story with some modern technology (for 2002) thrown in. This survey’s first Creature Feature mention, Dog Soldiers, features British soldiers on a routine military exercise in the Scottish Highlands where they are attacked by giant bipedal werewolves. This movie has some high marks on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s hard to pinpoint the beginning of the zombie apocalypse phenomenon that currently dominates pop culture. But if you ask me, 28 Days Later is where it all started. This Fox Searchlight picture from the U.K. is directed by Danny Boyle, and follows Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up from a coma 28 days after a highly contagious infection is rapidly causing societal collapse. Roaming the empty streets of London, a violent journey awaits Jim as he’s forced to interact with good, bad and downright rotten people on the march toward the conclusion. Not to mention the zombies.

M. Night Shyamalan made his return with Signs in ’02 after successfully tackling ghosts in The Sixth Sense and comic books in Unbreakable. In Signs, the aliens arrive to take over the world, but at M. Night’s pace. Philly’s hometown hero did a pretty good job with his “aliens” tale with strong lead performances from Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Unfortunately, the poor ending breaks up a really good story, and the last 15 minutes of the film would shape how the rest of the decade would go for Night.

That brings us to the two final films from ’02: Ju-on: The Grudge and The Ring.

Ju-on: The Grudge is a Japanese horror film written and directed by Takashi Shimizu that surprisingly pulls off the haunted house theme effectively. Not only is there a creepy kid…but a creepy, twitchy woman that navigates the screen for some memorable scares. If you can do films with subtitles (which every horror fan should), Ju-On: The Grudge is a required gem of Japanese horror cinema.

I was a bit surprised The Ring didn’t get more love in this survey, gaining only two mentions total. It was the first commercially successful U.S. remake of a Japanese horror film that was seen by so many because of the PG-13 rating. The Gore Verbinski directed film takes place in the Pacific Northwest (one of my favorite settings for horror films) and follows a journalist, played by Naomi Watts, who investigates a VHS tape that kills the watcher seven days after viewing. This is a film that genuinely scared me when I saw it in theaters. Many kids at that time, including me, thought twice about answering the phone when it rang.

Finally, we move on to 2003, where the female participants in this survey really took a liking to metal rocker turned filmmaker, Rob Zombie. He pops up quite a bit from here on out.

House of 1000 Corpses was Zombie’s introduction to mainstream horror that took nearly three years to see a much-anticipated theater release. If not mistaken, I remember seeing a trailer online somewhere during the dial-up days of 2000 or 2001. It was a gory exploitation film that introduced demented clown Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Otis (Bill Moseley). Otis has the most disturbing scene in this film, stealing a trick from the Hannibal Lecter playbook. It’s best to watch Rob Zombie films chronologically by release date, and House of 1000 Corpses is a great introduction.

Thanks to Lionsgate, High Tension was picked up for U.S. distribution following its screening at the Toronto Film Festival in 2003. Then 24-year-old co-writer and director Alexandre Aja’s gruesome film was pruned a bit before hitting screens across America, as it would’ve carried an NC-17 rating in its foreign form. Cecile de France plays a tough, gritty and violent main character in Marie. The twist ending is predictable, but doesn’t ruin any of the overall experience.

There were three selections from 2004, two of which included zombies.

The first was the Zack Snyder directed Dawn of the Dead, released in March of ’04. This film was fondly received by audiences, and with good reason. The cast, effects and story were all solid pieces of a near-perfect re-imagining of George A. Romero’s lauded ’79 original tale. There is no doubt in my mind the writers of the TV version of The Walking Dead looked to ‘04’s Dawn of the Dead for inspiration.

Dawn had its light moments, but Shaun actually made us laugh. Shaun of the Dead made its way to the U.S. box office in late September, just in time for the Halloween season. It introduced U.S. audiences to the British comedy team Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Before Sam and Dean, there was “The Winchester” for a pint! This horror/comedy could easily be used to teach a Sociology class.

Finally, we arrive at one of the best thrillers of the last 30 years: Saw. Though the studios tried their best to destroy it (or just make a ton of money) with lousy sequels, there are few experiences like the first time viewing the first film. Hollywood horror was given a gift when Saw screenwriters James Wan and Leigh Whannell had their script shot down in their native Australia. Instead of a hack ‘n slash serial killer cop chase, Saw’s villain Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) “plays a game” with his victims, offering them a way out of their current situation. It’s not easy to escape, but it can be done. The twist ending took many viewers by surprise, rounding out the films named from 2004 on a high note of suspense.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get through the decade without mentioning Paris Hilton. She, along with other ’00 crushes Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray and Jared Padalecki star in 2005’s House of Wax. In the early years of the remakes, this one strayed from the 1953 source material and offered some fun twists and kills. And, Robert Ri’chard from Nickelodeon’s Cousin Skeeter is all grown up in this film.

Although many critics still dub The Devil’s Rejects as a “cult” film, nearly $20-million in box office returns on a $7-million budget proves otherwise. Rejects was Rob Zombie’s sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, and is loved by horror and non-horror fans alike. Captain Spaulding, Otis and Baby Firefly returned in July of 2005, this time as antiheroes being hunted by Sheriff John Quincey Wydell, who was wonderfully portrayed by William Forsythe.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose – while marketed as a horror film – was a 2005 legal drama with some moments of fright, a strong cast and a spiritual message. Jennifer Carpenter was terrific as Emily Rose, making the scary moments really count.

A group of six female thrill-seekers heading into a cave together sounds sexy, right? I can assure you, there is nothing sexy about the experiences these ladies have in The Descent. The Dog Soldiers writer/director Neil Marshall sat in the director’s chair for The Descent, and sent an all-female cast into the Appalachian Mountains for a chance at fun and reconciliation among some of the characters. While this film is gory, featuring hungry zombie-like creatures underground called “Crawlers”; it’s the developing story surrounding main characters Sarah (Shauna McDonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and their moments on-screen that make this film one of the best of the ‘00s.

The Descent was released in the U.K. in 2005, premiered at Sundance in January 2006, and released commercially in the U.S. in August the same year, making it the only ’06 entry in the survey.

Hitting theaters in May of 2007, 28 Weeks Later is…well, 28 weeks after the events of 28 Days Later. It was a solid sequel with positive reviews from critics and fans.

Wanting to get in on the zombie action of the ‘00s, Robert Rodriguez launched his half of the Grindhouse feature in 2007’s Planet Terror. Packed with tons of A and B List celebrities like Rose McGowan, Bruce Willis and Fergie, this Quentin Tarantino produced flick is typical, featuring boobs, blood and yes…rape. Kudos to Rodriguez, though, for directing, producing and writing both the screenplay and music for Planet Terror.

By 2006, companies like Platinum Dunes (Michael Bay’s horror label) were making a killing (pun intended) on remakes. This prompted The Weinstein Company to approach Rob Zombie about rebooting the Halloween franchise for a 2007 release.

Zombie’s Halloween dropped in August of ’07, with a polarizing response from critics and fans. Malcolm McDowell was called to don the tan jacket as Dr. Sam Loomis, with 6’8 Tyler Mane wearing the Michael Myers mask. Zombie gave fans a Michael Myers origin story, and — not surprisingly — made the Myers family white trash. Scout Taylor-Compton plays an uncharacteristic Laurie Strode, with horror veteran Brad Dourif playing Sheriff Brackett, and series veteran Danielle Harris as his daughter Annie. Being a huge Mikey fan that worships at the altar of Carpenter, I thought this film was worse than Halloween 5 upon seeing it in theaters. I had no idea it could get any worse than that, until I saw Zombie’s Halloween II two years later.

Big Ed, John Carpenter and I in 2014

The final ’07 film from this survey was [REC]. It is one flick held in high regard in the horror community that I unfortunately have not yet had the pleasure of seeing. This Spanish release in the found-footage style is co-written and directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza. While it could be considered a zombie flick, I’ve been told it has more depth and is uniquely original.

Australian indie Lake Mungo was ahead of its time, filmed as a mockumentary covering a family’s grief experienced after the death of their daughter. I don’t want to spoil any of this for the reader, but hopefully my brevity here will entice you to view this film; it’s a good one. I’m mentioning it now because there were no other offerings in this survey from ’08, even though Mungo’s March ’09 showing at South by Southwest (SXSW) was its coming-out-party, with an After Dark HorrorFest selection in 2010.

Closing the ‘00s is one of the top performers in this survey (five votes total) and the sole film named from 2009. It is of course, Paranormal Activity. Made for a reported total of $15,000, Paranormal Activity successfully re-introduced U.S. horror fans to the found-footage style. It was slow, effective and scary.

Katie and Micah, a twenty-something couple, move into a new home in California and discover some strange occurrences taking place inside. Micah begins documenting what’s happening with a camcorder, especially recording their bedroom while the couple sleeps.

It was written, directed, shot and edited two years prior in ’07 by Oren Peli…who would also produce the version with a different ending seen in 2009, along with producer Jason Blum. Blum needs no introduction if you’re reading this article. His company Blumhouse Productions’ success in this genre began in ‘09 with Paranormal Activity. It was a launching pad for a lucrative (>$880 million) series, and an industry-leading generation of genre films.

Favorite Best Total Tally
28 Days Later (2002) – 2 Paranormal Activity (2009) – 3 1. Paranormal Activity (2009) – 5
House of 1000 Corpses (2003) – 2 28 Days Later (2002) – 1 T2. 28 Days Later (2002) – 3
Paranormal Activity (2009) – 2 28 Weeks Later (2007) – 1 T2. House of 1000 Corpses (2003) – 3
Saw (2004) – 2 Dawn of the Dead (2004) – 1 T2. Saw (2004) – 3
The Ring (2002) – 2 Dog Soldiers (2002) – 1 T3. 28 Weeks Later (2007) – 2
28 Weeks Later (2007) – 1 Halloween (2007) – 1 T3. Dog Soldiers (2002) – 2
High Tension (2003) – 1 T3. Signs (2002) – 2
Dog Soldiers (2002) – 1 House of 1000 Corpses (2003) – 1 T3. The Devil’s Rejects (2005) – 2
Saw (2004) – 1 T4. The Ring (2002) – 2
House of Wax (2005) – 1 Signs (2002) – 1 T4. Dawn of the Dead (2004) – 1
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) – 1 Swim Fan (2002) – 1 T4. Halloween (2007) – 1
Lake Mungo (2008, 2010) – 1 The Descent (2005, 2006) – 1 T4. High Tension (2003) – 1
Planet Terror (2007) – 1 The Devil’s Rejects (2005) – 1 T4. House of Wax (2005) – 1
[REC] (2007) – 1 T4. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) – 1
Session 9 (2001) – 1 T4. Lake Mungo (2008, 2010) – 1
Shaun of the Dead (2004) – 1 T4. Planet Terror (2007) – 1
Signs (2002) – 1 T4. [REC] (2007) – 1
T4. Session 9 (2001) – 1
The Devil’s Rejects (2005) – 1 T4. Shaun of the Dead (2004) – 1
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) – 1 T4. Swimfan (2002) – 1
T4. The Descent (2005, 2006) – 1
T4. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) – 1
Total Survey Votes for 2000-2009 Horror Movies – 37 Individual Movies Named from 2000-2009 – 22

Satisfied with the survey results so far? Did your favorite horror film make the cut? If you missed parts one and two of this five-part article, catch up here:

Part I – The Survey

Part II – The 1990s

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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

1990 to Now: A Perspective on Horror Films by the Decade, Part 1

1There are so many reasons to be a fan of horror movies right now.  Hollywood has already to date released nine films on the big-screen that carry the official genre-filtering title when trying to purchase tickets online.  John Squires of Bloody Disgusting reported back on February 6 that five out of the top 10 highest-grossing films of 2017 at that point carried the horror label.  Currently, eight of the top 30 grossing films at the box office in the first quarter of the year are a certain brand of horror according to Box Office Mojo.

There had to be a reason so many horror films were being released in 2017, in a genre once poo-pooed by the Hollywood elite.  And there are still so many to come!

There is a thought I was not willing to share with my peers until I did a little research on my own, surveying friends and family about their top choices when it comes to what scares them on the screen.  Some respondents were more mainstream bigger-budget horror movie fans, while others were catalog-digging genre diehards that never let a straight-to-video release slip past them.  I personally fall somewhere between the two.

Satisfied with the results from the viewers, I started approaching the actors, directors, producers and writers that bring horror films to life.  Even some critics had their say.  They were promised anonymity on their selections.

I am making the claim that this decade (2010-present) is better than the two decades before it when it comes to the quality of horror films released.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the survey questions asked, as well as the results.

Question 1: What is your FAVORITE horror movie released 1990-present?  I was asking what that specific person’s favorite horror movie was, plain and simple.

Answer: Out of 41 films named, the most selected was Sinister (2012), with five votes.

Question 2: What is THE BEST horror movie released 1990-present?  Digging a bit deeper was the point of this follow-up question; I was seeing if some could distinguish from their personal taste, and possibly name a film of higher quality than what was selected as their favorite.  They could name the same film for “Best” if they preferred.

Answer: Out of 32 films named, the most selected as “Best” were Sinister (2012) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), each with five votes in this category.

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These were difficult questions for the 66 people that answered.  Roughly half of the responses came from the Philadelphia area.  But the other half came from the U.K., Canada, Los Angeles, New York, Jersey, Kentucky, Oklahoma.  You get the idea.  Ages ranged from 16-60.

Make no mistake, I am in love with horror films from the 1990s and the early 2000s.  I grew up on them.  Each decade has something different to offer, and plenty of high-quality scares to go ‘round.  Gen Xers will say you can’t mess with the early 90s and three Academy-Award-winning years at the beginning of the decade.  Gen Y (millennials) might think Rob Zombie and the whole zombie pop-culture is where it’s at.

This five-part article will superficially describe the films named in the survey.  Some descriptions and details will be fuller than others, but that’s only because some films were obviously more significant and impactful for the genre.  Except for the survey answers themselves, the information I am delivering in this piece is from my perspective, and up for debate.  I’m doing this for “the love of the game.”  I highly encourage you to engage in conversation in the comments below!

Part II will focus on movies mentioned from the 1990s.  Part III will focus on the 2000s (2000-2009).  Part IV will be films from 2010 to present time.  Part V will be all the data compiled so readers can see how their “Favorite” and “Best” films fared…or if they were mentioned at all.

Let’s go back through nearly three decades of horror, shall we?

EC