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A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Nineties

It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.

Hey, dudes! It’s time for our 90’s article. It’s sooo going to suck…….. NOT! Radical dudes Andrew, Liam, MikeOwen and Paul are back to, like, give us a run-down of their totally awesome favourite horror movies of the bitchin’ 1990’s, man! Super sweet. If you have a problem with that, well I guess you better talk to the hand ’cause the face ain’t listenin’!

The nineties is the decade that took a leaf out of the previous 10 years’ book and decided to adopt the motto: if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again with endless, repetitive, increasingly lame, decreasingly budgeted slashers. But it wasn’t all bad; there are at least five great films released and nothing Michael Haneke has to say about them will make us change our minds!

Towards the beginning of the decade, there was a commercial boom in the genre. The success of Joe Dante’s horror-comedy Gremlins meant a sequel went into production. Disney rode the wave with Arachnophobia released in the same year. Meanwhile, Tim Curry in Stephen King’s IT would become responsible for more cases of coulrophobia than John Wayne Gacy. Of course, The Silence of the Lambs was also a huge success; one of only three films to ever win five Oscars (sorry, it’s impossible to mention Jonathan Demme’s film without including that little bit of trivia at the end).

Despite the moderate success of a few cult movies like Cube, Cemetary Man and Event Horizon in the middle of the decade (and the success of one particular game-changer that we’ll come onto later), it wasn’t until later on in the 90s that horror films collectively upped their calibre. Part of this is down to the international market – and I don’t mean Peter Jackson! Despite the likes of Argento and Fulci in the 70’s and 80’s, world cinema had never truly penetrated the relatively mainstream horror conscious. However, J-horror (as it affectionately became known towards the end of the decade) did with such titles as Ringu (actually released primarily on VHS back then, would you believe), Ju-on (aka The Grudge) and Takeshi Mike’s Audition – not to mention one or two others, ahem. They forced the US market to change tact leading into the new millennium. Well, that and to remake as many of them as possible into the English language. Audiences woke up to what could be achieved and demanded more. But we’ll come onto that next week. Let’s start our reviews in chronological order, as always, and go back at the beginning of the decade with…


Candyman (1992)

candymanThey will say that I have shed innocent blood. What’s blood for, if not for shedding?

The 90’s was a strange decade for horror; trying to get away from the slash and dice of the 80’s, horror film makers looked for a more intelligent premise to their films, rather than some mad man running round cutting everyone to pieces. That said, one of my favourite films from this period is Candyman, a film with a resounding 80’s slasher feel to it, though with a much more adult tone, there are no teenagers getting sliced and diced in this film.

An urban legend shrouding the Cabrini-Green housing development in fear. Candyman is a supernatural killer summoned if you say his name five times into the mirror. He takes the lives of his victims by slicing them open with a hook, which has replaced his hand taken when he was murdered. Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is researching the legend and bringing the killer back to life, when she says his name… five times. Candyman (Tony Todd) returns to continue his reign of terror and predicts Helen will continue his legend once he is dead.
Bernard Rose directs his own screenplay from the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, with Barker attached as a Producer on the film. There is a constant feel of despair and dread as Rose delivers a screenplay which is dark and sinister. With some wonderful cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond adding a visual bleakness to the story, as he gives the housing estate a real nightmare feel. Candyman really does has some impressive production values. Phillip Glass provides a great score, while the gore effects and the scene with the “real” bees are all excellent.

Add to that an impressive cast as well; Virginia Madsen is superb, with solid support from Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons and Vanessa Williams. Yet it is Tony Todd with his truly frightening and brilliant portrayal of the Candyman which must put him up there with the likes of Freddy, Jason or Pinhead as one of our greatest horror icons. With Todd’s performance and the films great production values it makes this one of the finest horror films of the 90’s; definitely one of my favourites.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


Body Snatchers (1993)

body snatchersWe’ll give ’em hell, Malone! We’ll show ’em what the human race is really made of!

Ah the 90’s. I thought this would be really tricky and so it was. A smorgasbord of mediocrity, spewed out across the decade. My DVD shelf confirming my fear as the few horror tiles I did buy, skulking and cowering in the shadows, fearing a trip to a boot fair. I was going to choose The Faculty, but that’s basically just Body Snatchers — wait… Body Snatchers…!

1956 version, that was great, loved it as a kid, 1978 was good too (but it’s really slow and Sutherland doing the scary scream only arrives at the end), 1993 and Abel Ferrara serves up a glossier, faster, louder and smarter version. You’ll remember it for Gabrielle Anwar falling asleep in the bath but that’s not why we’re here. Meg Tilly, she’s creepy. I mean really creepy. In all the versions of this story, her performance is the most unsettling. “Where you gonna go? Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide? Nowhere…….cause there’s no one like you left!”

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Scream (1996)

screamNow you’ve gotta die. Those are the rules!

“The 90’s sucked!” – Randy “The Ram” Robinson
And they really did. A flurry of b-movie guff and untold cash-in sequels diluted the waters so well populated back in the 80’s. Great horror movies were so few and far between that finding my favourite was less of a choice and more of a “there is only one answer” kind of decision.

Luckily, I don’t have to waste words on Scream‘s story and plot. It’s a satirised, high school slasher flick. Simple as that. A killer with a fondness for horror trivia decides that his time is better spent killing teenagers than, I don’t know, being the movie guy on a pub quiz team or taking his knowledge and hoping for a good subject on Pointless.

What makes Scream stand out, instead of its story, is its brains. Wrapped up in this generic looking slasher is a tremendously clever film. With Wes Craven at the helm, we got a movie that doesn’t shy away from satirising the genre that made its director famous. Written by rookie scribe Kevin Williamson, who expertly assembled a script with Naked Gun levels of self-awareness minus the silliness. Together they made a film who’s every scene is not only packed full of the genre’s tropes, but actively points them out to the audience.

Scream is a masterclass in horror from one of the best in the business. In the space of 111 minutes, Craven manages to introduce another icon to the horror movie Rogues Gallery in the form of Ghostface; he deconstructs, explains and then proceeds to break every horror movie rule that he helped create; and he revitalised the slasher film. All while wearing a Freddy Kruger jumper and without insulting the audience’s intelligence.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Cure (1997)

cureThis Japanese psychological thriller is one of the most engrossing and deeply chilling films of the entire genre.
A string of murders all share the same strange traits, a distinctive mark left on the body and the murderer is still nearby but unable explain their actions.

The story follows Detective Takabe as he tries to understand why these crimes are happening and just how a young drifter named Mamiya is connected to them. Police know that he has something to do with it but nobody is able to remember speaking to him. Neither medical nor psychological specialists are able to get through to him. He never raises his voice, he never displays any violent tendencies, he simply repeats a stock reply to each question posed.

A masterpiece of mystery and suspense, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and adapted from his novel, it builds a deeply unsettling tension layer by layer, revealing a little more detail with each crime. For every detail revealed another two puzzles are created and the mystery deepens. This is most certainly not for those who like things tied up in a neat little package but, for those who enjoy being left to do some thinking of their own, this confusing gem comes with the highest possible recommendation.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Blair Witch Project (1999)

blair witchI am so sorry. What is that? I’m scared to close my eyes, I’m scared to open them! We’re gonna die out here!

Come now. You didn’t think we’d do an entire article dedicated to 1990’s horror films and not mention the scariest movie of the decade, did you?

The most obvious place to start with here is how minuscule a budget this film was made for compared to how much marketing it received. I first came across The Blair Witch Project quite by accident. Staying up a bit late one school night, I was watching Sky One on Telewest with my mum when this documentary about the three missing members of some other documentary came on. For one brief night, until I spoke to the other kids at school the next day and found it was all just marketing for a movie, this naive 13 year old was honestly willing to accept that perhaps there was the possibility that such a thing as ghosts could potentially exist… maybe.

Even when my playground chatter was dashed by my mates, I still fell hook line and sinker for the marketing ploy. Despite knowing it was all fake, despite then watching it on a pirated VHS, despite all of that, I don’t think a film has scared me more than this found-footage horror. You could argue it was the birth of the modern sub-genre. Going back to 1960 with Peeping Tom, or Cannibal Holocaust in the 80’s, or even Man Bites Dog in the same decade, The Blair Witch Project is the film most often associated with these indie shaky-camcorder, low-quality, bunch of idiots wandering around in the dark bumping into stuff and scaring the crap out of each other type films.

I used to think that perhaps it was a case of nostalgia behind why I still love this movie so much. However, I revisited it a couple of years ago (two years ago exactly tomorrow, as it happens) when introducing it to my youngest brother. It scared the living daylights out of him; the ending even still creeps me out! Even with every third film being found-footage these days, perhaps diluting the terror it can induce (if not the influence), it still holds as much weight today as it did 15 years ago. And I’ll never, ever, ever open a handkerchief left outside my tent when I go camping again. Ever.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Thanks for reading! We’ll be back on Friday (Halloween!) with our final entry in this spin-off series as we dissect the noughties.

The Nut Job

No.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

the nut job 2I have been given crap for my review of Tinker Bell & The Pirate Fairy because I dared to compare it to other, far superior animated movies on the market; your Lego Movies, your Mr. Peabody & Shermans, your Frozens, even your How To Train Your Dragons.  I got stick for commenting in detail on the animation quality.  I got stick for attempting to evaluate the film despite not being part of the target audience.  (I also got stick for not having familiarised myself with the series beforehand which is a fair complaint that I will admit is unprofessional of me.)  I have even been accused of being the kind of guy who nitpicks at supposedly perfectly good films for no other reason than I like to and that I am the kind of guy who has forgotten why I go to the cinema: to have fun.

I don’t feel shamed by any of this.  Really, I don’t.  I don’t feel any remorse whatsoever for that review and I don’t feel any remorse for my continuing love and harsh criticism of animated films.  Do you want to know why?  It is not because I am a fun-hating killjoy with a giant stick shoved right up where the sun don’t shine.  No, it is because I love animation.  I adore animation.  I always have and, goddammit, I always will.  The medium is one filled with boundless, near-limitless storytelling potential.  A chance to create and display images of astounding beauty that would be impossible or near-impossible to replicate in live-action.  The possibility to take the viewer on a trip to brand-new worlds, the likes of which one has never seen before.  A chance to make the kind of films and tell the kind of stories that would never get funded in live-action, wouldn’t have the same experience as in live-action, and to create a timelessness that telling the story in live-action might lack.  Pixar (circa 1995 – 2010, minus 2006) were kings at crafting lived-in worlds, Disney can pump out strong, memorable characters in their sleep, DreamWorks at their best know perfectly how to balance comedy and strong character work, Persepolis (although not a kids’ film) is one of the most beautiful and emotionally affecting films that I have ever seen and could only be told in the way that it was via animation.

So, no.  I will not apologise for the way I review animated films.  I will not be forced to apologise for holding animated features a higher standard.  Because I know that this medium can do better.  I know for a fact that it is better and deserves better than the crap that is constantly pumped out cynically for a quick buck.  I know that shovelware is going to crop up for all mediums and that live-action cinema, in all of its forms, has just as much, if not more, crap than the animated landscape ever will have.  And guess what?  I’ll call those out for being terrible, too.  But animation means a whole lot to me and to be accused of being a fun-killer for not giving a pass to every cheap mediocre-or-worse slop that is plopped down in cinemas for the sole purpose of sucking parents’ wallets clean because, “Hey, the cinema’s cheaper than a babysitter,” infuriates me.  I hate because I love, I hold animation to a higher standard because it can do better and I don’t just give slop aimed at the youngest and stupidest of children a pass because, guess what, they deserve better.  And they can get better; turn on the TV to quite literally any cartoon channel nowadays and they will get better for free!  There is no excuse and I will never apologise for the way I go about reviewing these films.

I bring this up because The Nut Job is literally a walking example of everything that is wrong with animated kids’ films.  This is a film designed by a committee for the sole purpose of making money.  There is no heart, there are no characters, there are fart noises and Gangam Style music cues in lieu of jokes, the animation is mediocre at best and terrible at worst, the voice acting is boring and uncommitted, the art design and layout and storyboarding is all lifeless and uninteresting.  No effort has been put in, not in conception, not in execution.  The one interesting thing it has is the fact that it kind of wants to be a heist movie, but it bungles proceedings so thoroughly, and seems so uninterested in actually being a heist movie, that all it does is leave me wishing that somebody would make an actually good animated heist movie.

Think of something that happens in a bad kids’ movie and it turns up here.  A cast of characters who have one single trait, go through pretty much no arcs, and who exist almost solely for jokes yet the film still wants you to care about anyway?  Lame puns based on a word that is supposedly inherently funny but really isn’t yet the film stops to call attention to it before moving on?  Sequences set to chart-ready pop songs, including one where the film stops dead for a good minute because it was popular when the film went into production?  Disconnected story threads where the human villains get nearly as much screen-time as the animals that we’re supposed to care about, and who keep getting shoved back into the main plot despite their overall irrelevance to it?  A section near the end where it looks like our hero has died, and the film acts like he has, but then it turns out he’s actually OK and you were crying for no reason (which is a trope/beat I am officially banning all movies of all kinds from using in the future)?  A lead female protagonist who is supposedly tough and capable on her own yet whose only function is to be constantly rescued by our lead male protagonist?  An “Obligatory Dance Party Ending Over The Credits”?  Yes, they are all present and correct and done with so little effort or interest it’s insulting.

The jokes, meanwhile… oh, lord, the jokes.  The Nut Job has all kinds of bad jokes.  We got fart jokes, jokes based on characters very noticeably and clumsily dropping the word “nut” into a sentence, jokes based around characters dancing to Gangam Style, obvious blind jokes, jokes that just involve characters shouting lines of dialogue at one another, jokes that just involve characters screaming lines of dialogue at one another, jokes designed around the fact that one of the characters has a bird who looks exactly like one of the Angry Birds birds, and jokes based around how irritatingly stupid the whole cast is (a stupid cast is fine in a comedy, obviously, but you need actual jokes because otherwise you’ve just got annoyingly stupid characters).  Each joke is pulled off with a total lack of skill, effort, construction and timing (said fart jokes genuinely just involves fart sound effects playing on a near-constant loop on the soundtrack at one point as everyone takes turns to say how disgusting farting is).  There is one, precisely one, that got a positive reaction out of me and that involved two speeding vans passing a donut shop, upon which point every cop inside collectively have their heads rise up like an old broken-down animatronic on a fairground ride.  Everything else landed with a thud at best, or a sigh of derision at worst.

Animation is all over the shop.  At the best of times, it’s half as good as Monsters Inc. from 2001.  Character models lack detail but they are passable enough, scampering is clearly hiding a limited budget but at least fits considering the fact that we’re talking about squirrels and rats and the like, and there’s a bit in the finale involving water that doesn’t look horrible.  Otherwise, this is hideous.  Lighting is dreadful, sequences set at night barely look any different from sequences set in the day except that the sky is now purple.  Everything lacks detail, something that’s especially prominent whenever the famed and desired nuts get a close-up and just end up looking plastic.  Character movements that don’t involve scampering are too restrained and unconvincing, especially whenever cartoon physics take over (there are multiple jokes that should end with one or more characters dead which, incidentally, saps any tension the later sequences should have).  Facial expressions frequently border on completely lifeless and mostly just settle for plain boredom, the lone female human genuinely looks like a Barbie doll and it is creepy as all hell.  And character designs are uninspired with some characters (namely that bird and any and all humans) looking like they don’t even belong in the same film as the rest.

Also, during the aforementioned end credits dance party, an animated version of Psy comes out to dance to Gangam Style and I am not kidding or exaggerating or anything of the sort when I tell you that it is genuinely the cheapest and lowest resolution animation that I have seen in a feature-length animated film released in cinemas in…  in…  You know, I honestly can’t recall ever seeing an uglier and lower-quality piece of a theatrically-released animated feature-film.  It is quite literally unbelievable just how horrible the end credits look.

Also of note is just how despicably unlikable the lead character is.  Surly (voiced by a Will Arnett who clearly does not care enough to keep up the Russian accent I think his character is supposed to have) is a thoroughly unpleasant lead who is mean to everybody, selfish, and isn’t even witty or entertaining to make up for that fact.  He’s just a jerk, a complete and total jerk.  And he remains that way for a good 80% of the film’s runtime despite needing to become a more selfless and heroic guy at the end.  So, at the 80% mark, around about the time the film’s big lifeless final chase scene starts, he suddenly becomes a paragon of virtue.  As expected, it didn’t take to me, and it especially didn’t take seeing as every other character in the film is a complete tool that nobody in their right mind would step up and defend or a really annoying one-joke blank slate (step right up, the groundhogs) that is impossible to care about.

Look, folks, I am tired.  I am tired of animated films that are not trying harder.  Before The Nut Job, a trailer for Jorge R Guitérrez’s upcoming debut feature-length animated film The Book Of Life was shown.  In that one two minute trailer, I saw more imagination, invention, heart, character, love, visual splendour and overall effort than the entirety of The Nut Job.  There was also a trailer for Laika’s third animated feature The Boxtrolls and that too displayed more imagination, invention, heart, character, love, visual splendour and overall effort in two minutes than all 86 of The Nut Job.  I am tired of people not aiming for those levels, I am tired of people not trying.  They don’t even have to be that good, just as long as everyone involved is clearly trying.  So I am done giving crappy animated films a pass.  In a year that has seen The Lego Movie, in a year that has seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman and in a year that has seen How To Train Your Dragon 2, there is no excuse for Escape From Planet Earth, there is no excuse for Tarzan, there is no excuse for The House Of Magic and there is no excuse for the cynical, soulless pile of complete tripe known as The Nut Job.

You want to distract your kids with cartoons for two hours?  Turn on Cartoon Network, turn on Nicktoons, turn on Disney; turn on any TV channel that shows cartoons because there are brand new kids’ shows on the air right now who are of far higher quality than this crap and which will cost you pretty much nothing.  Just do not take them to this because not only is there better, and not only do your kids deserve better, animation as a whole deserves better.  Do not reward them for churning sh*t like this out.

Callum Petch wants to run til we meet in the night.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!