1- Scream (Wes Craven, 1996)
“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie.” This self-proclaimed meta movie arrived onto the horror scene at a time when it was in urgent need of a boost. As much as we all love our entertaining 1980s horrors, it positioned the genre in a midst of insincerity where there was a general lack of respect and regard for horror being considered actual ‘cinema’, rather than just schlock. And it took the directorial skills of Wes Craven and the imaginative writing of Kevin Williamson to bring horror back to the limelight for good. Scream has since become a classic, with its overarching wit and deconstructing attitude blossoming a tv series and three additional films, as well as a highly anticipated fifth film coming soon.
2- It (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990)
Pennywise the dancing clown may have won over most audiences with the 2017 remake directed by Andy Muschietti, but this devilish clown’s success is loaned by Tim Curry’s portrayal of possibly one of the most sinister characters from the entire 1990s. Legendary author Stephen King penned It in 1986, and although production companies were hesitant to fund a ‘horror’ production the film’s popularity soared across television networks with great success. It is unconventional in the sense that Curry’s erratically terrifying performance conjures an entirely ruthless villain who will no doubt feed off every viewer’s darkest fears, making It a titular horror not to be missed.
3- Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992)
Do not even dare say Candyman’s name five times into a mirror, otherwise you will regret it… Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” is the basis for this urban legend based horror. It is this folklore element that forces Candyman to shine; throughout we are held by both the film’s sinisterly gruesome moments, alongside the mystery surrounding Candyman’s identity. The subject of identity is continuously referred to as we follow Helen (Virginia Madsen), who is caught in a whirlwind as she attempts to solve the mystery of why Candyman spends infinity taunting neighbourhoods and who this monster really is. But it is the true presence that Candyman has which makes it one of the most important horrors of the 1990s. The film aided the visibility of the horror film to mainstream cinema, with it claiming positive reviews and positive critical exception within a short period after its release. Since its release it has spawned into a franchise, with an exciting companion film produced by Jordan Peele being released this year.
4- The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996)
The Craft has rightly conjoined its power to the 1990s teen tenet that saw an influx of horror films aimed towards an adolescent audience. The film craftly investigates the dire consequences of angsty spell casting and the occult, all whilst throwing in an ounce of high school hierarchy for good measure. This film has become a cult classic, with its reputation still being prominent amongst fans today. This is primarily thanks to its denotation, including the underlying themes of marginalisation and a constant juxtaposition between goth witches held against a middle class suburban catholic school.
5- The Blair Witch Project (Eduardo Sánchez & Daniel Myrick, 1999)
It would be nearly impossible to create a list of the best 1990s horror without mentioning The Blair Witch Project. This showstopper has divided opinions ever since its release, with new viewers dismissing its scares and announcing it as mundane. Despite negative opinions the sheer success and speculation regarding this film is undeniable, with its release almost creating mass hysteria with many audiences believing that the film is real lost footage of real murders. How could this have happened? Well, it turns out that an extremely cunning marketing strategy really is worth it. The film’s website released seemingly authentic newsreel footage and missing person reports. Alongside this the directors would claim that this was genuine and that they had released it to spread the word to find the ‘missing actors. The film preceded time and went viral before ‘viral’ strategies became popular.
6- The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
The Silence of the Lambs will forever go down in history as being one of the few horrors to ever reach a prestigious level and receive an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1991. Much of the film’s success is owed to the incredible performances of both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins roles, which saw them tackle a cat and mouse style tease with an inept ease. The film also generated a kickstart in 1990s thrillers taking dark seedy routes to provoke a reaction, with David Fincher’s Seven (1995) being a prime example. Since its release, an attempt at making the film into a full franchise has been tried, although these efforts have mainly fallen flat. However, the true terror of The Silence of the Lambs remains the exact same today.
7- Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
Audition is a unique and complex film that relies upon its dismissal of genre tropes through a non-linear narrative, mainly influenced by surrealist elements. We follow a lonely widow, who in a desperate attempt for love opens an audition for a new companion. With Audition’s disorientating discourse we find ourselves in awkward settings that play out like a romantic comedy, but with an ever-looming presence of dread. The entire film is one drawn out build up to a terrifying climax. And it is within this slow burning tension where our fear is prolonged, and our wits confused. The film can be read as an allegory for the dramatic effects that come with the objectification of women, alongside a character study based upon the consequences of trauma.
8- Misery (Rob Reiner, 1990)
As with many horror lists, Stephen King makes a second appearance with his thrillingly dark hit Misery. The film closely follows King’s original story, with the primary storybeats remaining very similar. Misery takes the premise of a “number one fan” and runs with it. We follow Paul Sheldon (James Caan), a novelist who finds himself stranded in a blizzard, but luckily Annie (Kathy Bates), rescues him and vows to take care of him…forever. What works incredibly well in Misery and allows it to be still so chilling is the belting tension that does not give up throughout the whole film. To only further this is an extremely isolating setting, where any chance of rescue is near impossible, especially when the captor disguises her real guise of an ‘angel of mercy’ so well.
9- Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998)
Japanese horror has always been prevalent with classics emerging from the country since the 1960s & 1970s, with films such as Onibaba (1964) and Hausu (1977) gaining cult recognition. However, the release of Ringu saw a resurgence in Japanese horror, becoming a widely respected subgenre. The film follows a cursed video tape that releases a vengeful ghost (known as an onryō) to kill those unlucky enough to watch the haunted tape. On a deeper level Ringu reflects the structure of traditional Japanese families, with the film reflecting issues regarding the loss of a nuclear household structure as a result of the country’s fading stance within the global economy during the early 1990s.
10- From Dusk till Dawn (Robert Rodriguez, 1996)
From Dusk till Dawn gained immediate success due to the involvement of Quentin Tarantino, however even without the garnishing of Tarantino’s legacy From Dusk till Dawn would remain a significantly paramount film within 1990s horror. The film tiptoes towards the western genre with the primary setting being in the Mexican desert as two crooks attempt to escape a saloon inhabited by vampires. This hybridisation allows for complex antagonists to shine, particularly on a visual level almost reminiscent of exploitation B-movies. Plenty of violence and extravagance is laid on display, yet it is so purposeful and truthfully entertaining that any overblown plot points just add to the excitement, rather than distract from the tone.