10 great 90s horror movies (that aren’t Scream)

Here are a few hidden gems of horror from the 1990s, from a hallucinogenic trip gone wrong to an ancient bloodsucking beetle.

by Douglas Greenwood
17 June 2021, 2:18pm

Movie stills from Audition (1999) and Cemetery Man (1994)

The 90s were, depending on who you talk to, a golden era or a flop moment for horror movies. America’s popcorn-friendly slasher projects were all anyone talked about: Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Candyman all had their big box office moments, going on to become beloved cult classics. But for the more cerebral stuff, it was widely seen as a dud decade. The psycho-horror and giallo (Italian crime thriller) boom (think stuff like Possession and Suspiria) had made the 70s and 80s standout decades for horror, with the B-movie and low-budget filmmakers using their imagination to make masterpieces.

So, was the comparatively less exciting 90s a total write-off? Well, not exactly. These 10 macabre and sometimes funny scary movies are ones that didn’t get much shine when they were first released, but definitely deserve a revisit. 

1. Naked Lunch (1991)

A box office bomb when it hit cinemas in 1991, David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ messed up sci-fi Naked Lunch has become a cult classic. It tells the story of a bug exterminator who, during a hallucinogenic trip, accidentally kills his wife with a concoction crafted from centipedes and soon follows orders from his typewriter, as the world around him shifts and melts. Sound trippy? You’d be correct.

2. Audition (1999)

It takes a really audacious project to be described as both a misogynistic nightmare and a feminist masterpiece, and yet those are two labels oft applied to Takashi Miike’s Audition. The premise is this: a lonely widower seeks to remarry, and holds auditions to find a replacement. He is enamoured by one woman: Asami Yamazaki. Little does the man know this woman may be more difficult to handle than he first expected. Prompting mass walkouts and even emergency room appointments at its premiere screenings, this is not for the faint of heart. 

3. Cronos (1993)

Before he became an Oscar winner, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro was making brutal horror fairy tales that didn’t get the accolades of his later work. Cronos is one of them. In it, an antique dealer stumbles upon a 400-year-old bloodsucking scarab (that’s a beetle basically), that has granted him youth and the promise of eternal life. His new path in life is threatened by the arrival of a boy, the son of the scarab’s original owner, who wants it back. Violence and chaos ensues. 

4. Cemetery Man (1994)

Like we said, the 1970s and 1980s were the peak horror era for Italy. The film widely credited as the last in that successful stretch is Cemetery Man, or Dellamorte Dellamore as it was known in Italy. Starring Rupert Everett, this tongue-in-cheek movie tells the tale of the caretaker of a small town Italian cemetery whose search for love is inconveniently interrupted by a mass waking of the dead. Knowingly crass and thoroughly entertaining, this story about love versus death is an Italian horror classic.  

5. Ring (1998)

Okay, we know what you’re thinking -- arguably the most referenced modern horror film of all winding up on an alternative list -- but hear us out! This movie single-handedly catapulted K-horror into the international sphere, spawned an actually alright English remake classic from Gore Verbinski, and -- most importantly -- got the spoof treatment in Scary Movie 3. But you may find yourself returning to the Naomi Watts-starring English language version before the one that started it all. Do yourself a favour and watch it again ASAP.

6. Cure (1997)

Kiroshi Kurosawa’s 1997 crime horror was recently listed by Bong Joon-Ho as one of the movies that had a formative impact on his career. Cure, part of a wave of Japanese horror that turned everyone’s attention to the country, has a mind-bending concept. In it, a police detective is trying to investigate a series of murders committed with one common method: an X carved into the victims’ necks. What’s more, the murderer is always found nearby, admitting to the attack, but with no idea as to how they’ve done it. What follows is a torturous search for a mysterious and elusive higher power.

7. Whispering Corridors (1998)

In 1998, censorship rules in South Korea were relaxed, leading to a boom in audacious, challenging movie-making. One of the first films on that wave was Whispering Corridors, a film about an all girls’ school haunted by the ghost of a former pupil. Rumours were circling of her presence for sometime, but it’s not until a teacher mysteriously dies by suicide that the rumours are considered as possible truth. This movie spawned several sequels throughout the 21st century, the most recent arriving in Korean cinemas this month. 

8. The Death King (1990)

This is not so much a horror movie as it is a bleak, harrowing meditation on death and loneliness. One of the very few German language horror films that was made in the 1990s, The Death King is an episodic exploration of fictional depictions of suicide, and should be approached with caution. That being said, cult director Jorg Buttgereit does look carefully at this dismal subject matter, and is widely credited as being the best and most affecting film of his career. 

9. The Devil’s Daughter (1991)

Dario Argento co-wrote and produced this 1991 Italo-horror, also known as The Sect, about a schoolteacher living in Frankfurt who, after discovering some strange happenings in the basement of her building, winds up embroiled in a plot devised by a devil-worshipping cult to give birth to the antichrist. Hence the movie’s title. It was also directed by Michele Soavi, who made Cemetery Man.

10. The Addiction (1995)

Abel Ferrara, the American director behind everything from 70s pornos to controversial movies about police corruption, made a comparatively low-key movie in 1995. The Addiction is a vampire film but with a twist: a philosophy student in New York City is bitten by a woman and transformed into a blood-sucker. But her addiction to blood spirals, and her attempts to keep it under control falter. The movie is an allegory for drug dependency spun into something spookier, and has earned the title -- according to one critic -- of “the most pretentious B-movie ever”.

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