The 1990s were a very special time. We had the Clinton Administration, rolled up jeans, and horror movies. Lots and lots and horror movies. This seems to be the way it's always been. They're cheap to make, the stories don't have to be amazing, and when the plot gets slow, throw in some violence, nudity (or both), and watch the profits roll in. We sure had some great films back then didn't we? Silence of the Lambs, Scream, and Wes Craven's New Nightmare just to name a few. Yet, for as much critical and box office acclaim as these movies garnered, there were many other solid, well deserving horror films that for whatever reason didn't get the love from critics or audiences they should've.
Audiences tastes are subjective. People only have so much time and money with which to see certain films. Yet, there are always those titles that are really good and they literally go unnoticed. Or, maybe they get noticed but that's all they get. They don't get embraced and taken into the imagination of the public the way they should. With a genre that has the rabid fanbase that horror does, it seems inconceivable that this could happen. Yet, it does. Often. Which is precisely why this list was put together of 90s horror movies you need to pay more attention to.
In The Mouth of Madness
When John Trent (Sam Neill) has to investigate the disappearance of horror author Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), he soon finds that he's not investigating the usual insurance case. Apparently, Cane's descriptive, horror filled manuscripts, are a little too real and are actually part of plot to unleash holy hell through his novels. Or something like that. Whatever your favorite John Carpenter film is, if you are a fan of this horror legend it would be hard not to like this film. So why didn't it get more respect when it came out in 1994. Why did it make less than $9 million at the domestic box office? Why hasn't Carpenter made a new film since 2010? There are all sorts of reasons why In The Mouth of Madness was overlooked. Maybe the mid-1990s was a time when a post-modern horror movie wasn't what the public wanted to see? Whatever the case, this film is as solid as any to take up space in the revered director's canon.
Return of the Living Dead 3
Alright, while not the political statement that George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead was (unless you can see Return of the Living Dead 3 as some sort of statement about the military industrial complex), this film from 1993 seems more like an 80s holdover than it does a 90s horror movie. Basically, Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) loves Julie (Melinda Clarke). When she is killed in a motorcycle accident, Curt uses re-animating technology that is spearheaded by his father Colonel Reynolds (Kent McCord) to bring her back to life. This goes better than he could've ever imagined with the only problem being that now his father and some other nefarious entities are after them. Return of the Living Dead 3 is a fun film that doesn't seem like it was taken seriously upon its release. Why this is one can only guess but its a lot of fun, and in these nostalgic times we need movies like this to remind us why the past was so special. Made for $2 million and grossing $54,000, Return of the Living Dead 3 is sadly one of those films was deemed dead on arrival and never got the chance to walk again.
How can a movie narrated by Angus Scrimm and featuring Robert Englund, Kane Hodder and Tony Todd (as well as produced by the legendary Wes Craven) not be loved more? Well, with box office receipts totaling nearly $16 million it's apparently very possible. Given that the movie only cost $5 million to make its pretty apparent that it probably made money somewhere for someone. In fact, it posted third at the box office the weekend it was released in September of 1997. Also, given that there are have been three sequels to this film, it certainly seems like it has a story that people care about seeing again and again. This tale centers around Djinn. Djinn is a wish granter who wants to ruin mankind. When Djinn is released by Alexandra (Tammy Lauren), Djinn's goal is to capture her soul and release many more of his kind on earth. The story of Wishmaster is simple and director Robert Kurtzman's The Rage execution is basically perfect. Maybe the lack of good feelings toward Wishmaster are simply because horror movies weren't as respected then. Comic-Con wasn't such a major event and genre films were the exception and not the rule. It wouldn't be surprising to see this film get a reboot of some sort in the future.
Guillermo Del Toro's debut film Cronos is now looked upon as fairly legendary film. However, when it debuted in 1993 it was scarcely looked at all. This story of an odd mechanism that gives eternal life to whoever uses it, was deftly crafted by the young Del Toro. With a cast featuring Fredrico Luppi and Ron Perlman, this story takes the idea of the fountain of youth and turns it on its ear. With striking visuals and a real vision behind it, how did Cronos get passed over? In fact maybe Cronos suffered because it came out in 1993 and was overshadowed by Reservior Dogs and El Mariachi? This was a watershed moment independent film. It seems that Cronos was respected by those who saw it, but it's honestly become more of a cult film. This actually makes it kind of cooler than if it had been an out and out hit. That said, I'm sure Guillermo Del Toro didn't want it to be a success d'estime when he made it.
A Cat in the Brain
With a title like this you would think it would've fared better in 1990. Especially, given the unique nature of this sort of post-modern take on horror movies. In short, Lucio Fulci plays himself, a director of extremely gory horror films. Due to his association with this material, Fulci has many questions about himself so he sees a psychiatrist. There's only one problem, the psychiatrist is inspired by Fulci's gruesome pictures to the point that he commits devious acts in real life. With a budget believed to be about $100,000, it seems that with Italian box office and home video monies this thing should've turned a profit. The bigger question is why didn't critics wrap their arms around this film a little tighter? With it's self-referential nature (that beat Wes Craven's New Nightmare to the punch by 3 years), perhaps this movie being a foreign film just didn't grab audiences? The problem with that is that true horror fans (who are also critics) know the goods when they see it. How A Cat in the Brain didn't pass muster is anybody's guess.
The Dark Half
Timothy Hutton is pitch perfect in this movie about a man with a true dark side living in his mind. Hutton plays Thad Beaumont. He's a serious novelist who uses the pseudonym George Stark when he's writing quick and easy fiction that sells. Thad has always kept these worlds secret. This soon becomes impossible because Thad is blackmailed by someone who knows the truth. When Thad distances himself from his pseudonym, he soon realizes that it's not that easy to get rid of one of his creations. Aiding Hutton in this darkly constructed piece of horror-noir, is Michael Rooker and Amy Madigan. This is truly a gem from legendary horror maestro George A. Romero. His deft hand is all over this macabre tale yet it's never heavy handed. So how in the world are we talking about this film from 1993 on a list of movies that weren't appreciated in their time? Honestly, that might have more to do with the vagaries of the film marketplace. Perhaps Timothy Hutton wasn't who audiences wanted to see in this role? Maybe Romero's legions of fans wanted more Night of the Living Dead and less cerebral works from the master. Whatever the reason this movie should've made more than the $10 million it did.
You gotta love a space story that involves black holes, it's set in the future, and it stars the indelible Laurence Fishburne. Set in 2047, the Event Horizon is a spaceship that disappeared and has now returned 7 years after its first voyage. As the crew investigates this newly discovered ship, they soon learn that it's disappearing for 7 years is no accident. It isn't just that there's something lurking on the ship, it's that the ship itself is its own death chamber. Directed Paul W.S. Anderson, Event Horizon is a sci-fi tale done right. And would you expect anything less from the director of the Resident Evil films and Alien vs. Predator. Event Horizon is dark, surreal, and the kind of big budget, popcorn film that studios probably wouldn't touch today because of its lack of bankability. With a budget of $60 million this film brought in just shy of $27 million in the US. Why didn't the sci-fi folks come out? Well, it might have had something do with people not being interested in this sort of science fiction tale. I know it seems odd but perhaps they wanted films like Armageddon and Deep Impact (which would bring in loads of loot one year later), than a moody, philosophical tale, like the one Event Horizon gives us.
Okay, it's hard to say that this movie wasn't appreciated when it had 2 amount of sequels. However, this 1998, slasher tale of teens being pursued by a killer on a college campus, that just happens to tie back to a similar urban legend, is actually a pretty well made film. With a cast that includes Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, and Robert Englund (who plays a professor and purveyor of such creepy tales), this film is both inventive, scary, fun, and increasingly interesting. With its multiple storylines, interesting kills, and overall solid direction from Jamie Blanks (Valentine), this movie actually got a solid vote of confidence from the fans to the tune of $72 million dollars. On a budget of $14 million in the late 1990s, that's pretty darn respectable. It seems critics had harsher feelings with its Rotten Tomatoes score being a paltry 21% on the Tomatometer. Urban Legend fared better (but not by much) with an audience score of 37%.
The People Under the Stairs
This mostly unsung film from Master of Horror Wes Craven really didn't hit with the critics. In fact given that its box office was $31 million (on a budget of $6 million), it could be argued that The People Under the Stairs got all the love it needed where it matters most: the box office. Still, there's something about this film that audiences seem distant from. Inspired by a news story in which burglars broke into a home and discovered some kids locked up by their parents, this film follows a similar motif. A young boy attempts to break into a home with the help of his sister's boyfriend. They manage to get inside but when it comes time to leave they can't. Things take a turn when the young boy realizes that there's some very lethal people inhabiting this dwelling. Seen as a somewhat important film because of the statements it made about classism, The People Under the Stairs is actually horror doing what it does best, shedding light on the social ills of the world. Still, despite all of it's merits the critics and audience reviews rarely have this film rated very highly. This is a shame because given the state of the world today, the statements made in The People Under the Stairs are very necessary.
The Exorcist III
George C. Scott inherits the role of Lt. Kinderman that was done so well by the great Lee J. Cobb in The Exorcist from 1973. The Exorcist III is part horror, part police procedural as Kinderman investigates a series of murders that recall a killer that died 15 years prior. With most of the action taking place in an eerily crafted psychiatric ward, The Exorcist III gives us solid acting from a cast that includes Scott, Jason Miller, Brad Dourif, and Ed Flanders among others. The Exorcist III also gives us a bittersweet ending that tips its hat to the original film. With a budget of $11 million dollars and a gross of $39 million, The Exorcist III, compared to how Exorcist II: The Heretic was received, would have to be considered something of a success. Later, given the odd production of the fourth film in the series (in which maverick director Paul Schrader was replaced by Renny Harlin who shot a whole other movie AFTER Schrader had completed his movie), The Exorcist III suddenly looks a lot better. Critics didn't hate this film but they also didn't love it either. Honestly, the issue with The Exorcist III isn't one of quality, direction, or plot. Rather it's how do you follow a giant film like The Exorcist? It seems like a fools errand with every film coming after it paling in comparison. Still, The Exorcist III is as solid as any other film (if not more so) in The Exorcist canon.