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, Mike, Owen 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…
“They 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)
“We’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)
“Now 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)
This 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)
“I 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.