1999 - An odd mishmash of horror to end the 90s
1999 was a strange year, and I find it's reflected in the selections of movies that came out as the 90s ended. The onslaught of Scream-like films kind of ends here with The Rage: Carrie 2 & the horror-comedy Idle Hands. (Neither is going to make this list). What you had instead was an uptick in horror for more adult audiences: movies that tackled more adult themes, and used suspense or tension to draw in the audience. You also see the rise in CGI as a device for enhancing horror movies, although most of what came out in this time period still need a lot of work. I've limited the list to 15, not all are personal favorites but I believe they are important to the direction of horror as we move towards the 21st Century.
In the end, I'm not sure many would consider my top 2 movies actual horror. Yet, we can go back and see where other movies made lists that never considered horror so whatever. One of my favorite movies of 1999(no matter the genre) was Sleepy Hollow.
I've been a Tim Burton fan since his days at Disney ...
And I am a huge fan of Johnny Depp, and the unique roles he selected throughout the 80s & 90s. Add in Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman with the backdrop of Sleepy Hollow and I was so excited to see this movie. It was the last film I watched with my buddy Chris before he moved from the DFW area, and I'm happy it delivered on its promise. You can stream it on AMC+.
Blurb - Ichabod Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the decapitations of three people, with the culprit being the legendary apparition, The Headless Horseman.
Coming off Deep Rising, Stephen Sommers's next project was a remake of the classic Universal film, The Mummy. Now I'm a sucker for a good mummy movie, and I was super excited to see this one. Again, I don't see this as a horror movie but more of an action-adventure movie with some light "horror" elements; something Rachel Weisz echoes in interviews about the movie.
This movie also does a good job of incorporating CGI and showing the audience things to look forward to in future movies. You can stream it on HBOMax.
Blurb - At an archaeological dig in the ancient city of Hamunaptra, an American serving in the French Foreign Legion accidentally awakens a mummy who begins to wreak havoc as he searches for the reincarnation of his long-lost love.
The Blair Witch Project is in the Guinness Book of World Records for "Top Budget: Box Office Ratio" (for a mainstream feature film). The film cost $60,000 to make and made back $248 million. This is the best true horror movie of the year in my mind. It also began the subgenre of found-footage horror, which has some incredible hits and misses (we'll see many of them in the next couple of posts).
I know a lot of people who saw this movie at home don't find it to be scary or even a very good movie since they've most likely seen other found-footage movies before seeing this one. But if you were one of the lucky ones who saw it in a crowded theater, then you were a part of a phenomenon that simply can't be recreated at home.
I saw this with 3 friends, family really, in a packed theater on opening night. You could feel the tension building throughout the theater, and there was no doubt every person was invested and locked in as the film continued. When the ending played, the theater erupted with all the bottled-up fear and tension as people rushed from the theater; each group completely immersed in their retelling of what just happened.
Now while I say you can't recreate that rush of excitement, I still think it's a very well done movie, and should be enjoyed at home. You'll have to rent/buy this one though.
Blurb - Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.
Next up is another favorite of mine, Lake Placid. It's not really scary, and when it comes down to it, you might think it's just another Jaws rip-off. Except it has something many horror movies lack, great characters & dialogue. I've already admitted to my love of Williamson's Dawson's Creek, but I'm not sure if I've included how much I love Tarantino - both men known for writing incredible dialogue. Another writer during the 90s known for that is David Kelley.
Armed with an incredible script, the studio landed horror director Steve Miner (House, Warlock, Halloween: H2o) who is experienced mixing comedy with horror. The cast is lights out, with a great balance of comedic and dramatic actors who make the script pop. If you love Betty White, you can catch one of her more blue roles as a dirty-mouthed old lady. It's on HULU.
Blurb - Three people attempt to stop a gigantic crocodile, who is terrorizing residents in Black Lake, Maine.
After a row of action-adventure films, Renny Harlin(Nightmare on Elm Street 4) heads back to his horror roots and combines the 2 genres with Deep Blue Sea. This movie has a solid cast, and a fun over-the-top story as super-intelligent sharks run wild. It's rent or buy right now, but it pops up on Netflix from time-to-time.
Fun side note - this movie came out a little bit after Blair Witch. As I was walking by the Blair Witch theater, a guy was trying to convince his kid (I'm thinking he was around 8 or so) to go back into the theater because he really wanted to see the movie. The kid was not buying anything the dude was selling.
Blurb - Searching for a cure to Alzheimer's disease, a group of scientists on an isolated research facility become the prey, as a trio of intelligent sharks fight back.
Ravenous got off to a rocky start as director Milcho Manchevski was canned after 2 weeks, but Robert Carlyle reached out to Antonia Bird who stepped in and helped provide us with an entertaining and scary look into man's hunger run amuck. This is my kind of movie, especially during the time it came out. It's got that independent film feel to it, but the cast is outstanding. I think if it had a better advertising campaign, it would have been a much bigger hit right out of the gate, but it does enjoy a cult-like following now. It's another rent/buy to stream.
Blurb - In a remote military outpost in the 19th century, Captain John Boyd and his regiment embark on a rescue mission which takes a dark turn when they are ambushed by a sadistic cannibal.
If we were only using box-office success as the deciding factor then The Sixth Sense would be #1. I never thought of this as a horror film even though the previews kind of paint it in that vein. While it's a great movie, I never have the urge to revisit it. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the time but hopefully, you don't know the ending because that's a fun reveal.
Which makes me wonder if this movie would have been such a huge success in this day and age? The internet was around but nowhere near as prominent as it is now. People were just told not to share the ending so others could enjoy the ending for themselves and for the most part that's what happened. I can't remember anyone spilling the beans on TV or in entertainment magazines. I feel like today, some jack-hole would have told the ending a few weeks before the movie was even released. Something going on with the 1999 movies as this one is a rent/buy as well.
Blurb - A frightened, withdrawn Philadelphia boy who communicates with spirits seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.
I'm a huge Vincent Price fan and love the original version of House on Haunted Hill. That said, I think this is a very well done remake. The cast is fun, the setting is scary, and the few changes help add to the vibe that Dark Castle Entertainment was going for in their first movie. I do think the CGI work is a bit spotty at the end, but as I said in the beginning, this was the time when many studios were just dipping their toes into the technology.
Another rent/buy to watch. Oh, and another great performance by Jeffrey Combs(Frighteners, Re-Animator).
Blurb - An amusement park mogul offers a group of diverse people $1,000,000 to spend the night in a haunted house with a horrifying past.
So The Haunting isn't a remake of the 1963 classic film, but a movie based on the source material by Shirley Jackson. This is a movie that shows us that story is important, and even a big cast can't overcome a bad script. This movie was all about the special effects, and in the end, that is what ruins the movie. Steven Spielberg was so upset with the final product he requested his name be removed and there was no mention of him in the credits. If you want to see a train wreck go to HULU or Paramount+.
Blurb - A study in fear escalates into a heart-stopping nightmare for a professor and three subjects trapped in a mysterious mansion.
So, I'm not a fan of the torture porn subgenre of horror, and I'm pretty sure this is the movie that drove the wave of movies that dominated the genre in the early-to-mid 2000s. Loved by fans of the genre, and despised by its critics, Audition is considered by many to be one the best horror films ever. I don't think it's as bad as the stuff from the late 70s - like I Spit on Your Grave, but it's quite unsettling. Stream it on Amc+, tubi, and screambox.
Blurb - A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.
David Cronenberg returns to the horror genre with his first original screenplay since Videodrome. eXistenZ is a mishmash of science fiction and horror and showcases Cronenberg's skills at combining the 2. It's another rent/buy to stream.
Blurb - A game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged.
Based on Richard Matheson's story of the same name, Stir of Echoes is the 2nd film directed by long-time screenwriter David Koepp(Toy Soldiers, Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible). You can stream it on tubi, VUDUfree, and IMDB with Prime.
Blurb - After being hypnotized by his sister-in-law, a man begins seeing haunting visions of a girl's ghost and a mystery begins to unfold around him.
Stephen King continues to have his hand in the genre with this made-for-television mini-series Storm of the Century. Many, including King himself, think this is the best of his TV projects. I'm not sure where you can find it to stream.
Blurb - A dangerous blizzard hits an isolated town and brings along a mysterious stranger intent on terrorizing people for his own desires.
The director of the Relic keeps the horror vibe going with End of Days. Originally written with Tom Cruise in mind, the title role ended up going to Arnold Schwarzenegger's. It was his first film since the God-awful Batman & Robin. He had heart issues and no one would insure him. The first few weeks of shooting he had to convince the studio and insurance bigwigs he was up to the strain of filming a movie with action elements. Gabriel Byrne plays the devil in the movie, which is of note only because of the other role he had in 1999. Another movie that is rent/buy to stream.
Blurb - At the end of the century, Satan visits New York in search of a bride. It's up to an ex-cop who now runs an elite security outfit to stop him.
I haven't seen Stigmata since it came out in theaters, but I remember being disappointed. Gabriel Byrne plays a priest in this movie, so we get to see his take on both sides of the Catholic faith. I might check it out again and see if it's better than I remember. You can check it out on HBOMax.
Blurb - When a young woman becomes afflicted by stigmata, a priest is sent to investigate her case, which may have severe ramifications for his faith and for the Catholic Church itself.