Twenty years ago, the genre was in a very different place than it is now. There were a lot less horror movies being made. The independent video market was just finding its footing and was mostly comprised of sequels to theatrical projects. Any horror film made by a studio had to be sophisticated, large-budgeted and feature an A-list cast. Horror was not the money-making word it had been in the 1980’s and so new names such as “psychological thriller” and others were coined. Most of the great horror films of the 1990’s were foreign. So the following list is a mix of foreign, independent and big-budget studio horror. My top horror movies of 1994…
10. MUTE WITNESS-
A make-up artist working on a horror movie in Moscow witnesses a brutal murder. Now she has to convince people of what she has seen, in addition to escaping the killers themselves. There are multiple twists and turns as the story unravels and builds to its dramatic conclusion. It’s a very intense little thriller, and it’s incredibly effective.
9. NEEDFUL THINGS-
This adaptation of Stephen King’s black comedy is a bit underrated, and it does go over-the-top, but the performance by Max Von Sydow as Castle Rock’s new antique shop owner/Devil is great. Ed Harris also does great as the sheriff, a role previously played by Michael Rooker and Tom Skeritt. The story is simple enough, you can find anything you want in Needful Things, but it comes with a hefty price. King’s book and its film version are more interested in examining the theme and applying it to the whole town.
8. PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD-
Unlike most franchises, the Phantasm films blend easily from one movie into the next. The series actually makes more sense as it goes along. And Phantasm III was the best of the sequels, reintroducing old faces as well as some great new characters and beginning to set the stakes pretty high for the final showdown (which we will finally be getting in Phantasm: RaVager.) The series has always been low-budget, but writer/director Don Coscarelli has gotten better at hiding that fact throughout his career. This movie actually looks a lot more expensive than it is.
7. THE STAND-
After a man-made virus breaks loose and wipes out 99% of life in America, those who are left are guided by dreams of a kindly old woman in Nebraska and a dark man named Flagg who wanders the country’s back roads to choose their sides in what will become an all-out war for whatever’s left. It may have been an epic miniseries told over four nights, but The Stand is one long story overall and nearly impossible to tell over the length of a standard feature film, not that that will stop anyone from trying. It was the biggest TV production ever at the time it was made, assembling a massive cast of known stars and newcomers alike. It was a hard sell, but it worked.
Wolf is a slow-burn of a movie that wouldn’t have worked without its great cast. Jack Nicholson is perfect, Michelle Pfieffer is sincere, and James Spader oozes creepiness. The story focuses on an editor who is bitten by a wolf after hitting it with his car and slowly begins a long transformation, one of the most gradual of any werewolf movie, until the big showdown at the end between wolfed-out Nicholson and Spader. The acting is great all around as are Rick Baker’s subtler-than-usual effects.
5. MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN-
It actually does stick much closer to the source material than most previous adaptations, right up until the end, at least, so it does earn its title in some respects. Much like Bram Stoker’s Dracula this was a rich and lavish production with an all-star cast. It didn’t work quite as well as that one, but there’s still a whole lot of value here. Branagh’s directing is assured though you can see the studio interference in the movie. Even if the actor is still recognizable under all that makeup, De Niro’s performance is great.
4. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE-
Based on the smash hit novel by Anne Rice, Interview With the Vampire is one of the most mainstream horror movies of the nineties. It is still a horror movie, I think, as the intent is there and the vampires (unlike many that would follow) still do incredibly vicious things. There are great performances all around, particularly from Tom Cruise as Lestat, who was nobody’s first choice for the role. Anne Rice publically stated how wrong he was for the part and then issued an apology after she had seen the finished film.
3. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS-
John Carpenter’s film about bending the rules and blurring the lines between reality and fiction is one of the director’s most underrated. An insurance fraud investigator is tasked with finding the new manuscript for mega-hit horror novelist Sutter Cane, who has mysteriously gone missing. He finds himself in a town from Cane’s novels that is supposed to be fictional and begins seeing some very strange things, eventually questioning what is real and what isn’t.
2. CEMETERY MAN-
Also known as Dellamorte Dellamore, this one’s about a gravekeeper who has to bury everything in the cemetery twice. The people buried here always get up again, always come back. A woman he has fallen in love with is killed by the zombies and so he begins to project her face onto every attractive woman he meets. It’s a weird, inventive, off-beat horror comedy and a great movie all around. In fact, this might be the last great Italian horror movie, before the industry dried up.
1. WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE-
One of the most innovative and underrated horror movies ever, New Nightmare set the stage and laid the groundwork for Scream and other movies to follow. It is masterfully written and a great companion piece to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Every time that I watch the film, there’s something new to point out that had been previously missed. Heather Langenkamp is a great lead, strong and determined and channeling Nancy more and more as the movie goes on. Robert Englund is terrific as always and this was his scariest outing as the character of Freddy. Wes Craven and Bob Shaye both have wonderful cameos.