The ’90s tend to be considered the worst decade of horror, but it’s more accurately a transitional period. The VHS craze winded down and gave way to the rise of DVD. Advances in CGI shifted the approach to special effects, especially in big-budget features in the latter half. Stuck between the massive practical effects-driven ’80s and the emerging extreme horror of the early aughts, the ’90s horror identity is tougher to pin down. It probably didn’t help that the most memorable films run the gamut in style and tone.
But despite its reputation, ’90s horror has no shortage of great offerings.
This week we’re diving a little deeper into the ’90s catalog. You’ve likely already seen what’s considered the decade’s classics countless times already. Titles like Candyman, Scream, Tremors, Event Horizon, Silence of the Lambs, and so many more. So here’s five that you might not have seen before, or five movies that don’t get revisited near as often.
As always, they’re all available to stream this week.
Mirror, Mirror – Prime Video
Released in 1990, this supernatural tale still bears a striking resemblance to ’80s horror in style and attitude. Directed and co-written by Marina Sargenti, the film follows teen goth Megan Gordon (Rainbow Harvest). Megan finds an antique mirror in the new home she’s moved into with her widowed mother (Karen Black) and discovers it’s inhabited by a dark force that grants wishes. Bullied by her new classmates, Megan becomes corrupted by the power the mirror gives her. Like Carrie, Mirror, Mirror gives another peek into the world of high school bullying. This time, though, there are demonic forces at play, and it’s grounded by a budding sweet friendship between Megan and new friend Nikki. Look for “The Munsters” star Yvonne De Carlo to make an appearance.
Lord of Illusions – Pluto TV, Vudu
Private detective Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) is hired by Dorothea Swann (Famke Jannsen) to investigate a death. He’s drawn into a decade long battle between Dorothea’s husband, magician Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor), and vicious cultists. The deceased leader of the cult gets newly resurrected and is out for Swann’s blood. Written and directed by Clive Barker, based on his short story “The Last Illusion,” Lord of Illusions has a lot to offer in terms of visual and makeup effects. Barker’s twist on a noir story goes to some grotesque places, and O’Connor makes you wish Swann was the lead. Considering “The Last Illusion” featured in volume six of Books of Blood, and there’s a new series in the works, revisiting this one seems apropos.
Sleepwalkers – Pluto TV
Directed by Mick Garris and penned by Stephen King, this bonkers take on vampires doesn’t get near enough credit as it should. It’s got a great cast, but most of all, it’s an entertaining creature feature that’s not afraid to go to bizarre lengths to give a twist on the vampire mythos. Alice Krige and Brian Krause star as mother-son incestuous shapeshifters that feed on virgin girls. As the world becomes more modern, finding virgins has been an arduous task that keeps them living a nomadic lifestyle. They move to a new town, and the son, Charles, sets about wooing chaste high school teen Tanya (Madchen Amick). She finds out his true intentions the hard way, but she also discovers these shapeshifters have a significant weakness in cats. That’s right. Cats are the critical weapon in fending off incestuous monsters. Look for cameos by Tobe Hooper, Clive Barker, Joe Dante, John Landis, Stephen King, and Mark Hamill, to round out this entertaining creature feature.
Fire in the Sky – Tubi
There’s a good chance that you’re nodding your head in agreement with this pick if you’ve seen this movie before. Even when the film mostly plays as a sci-fi drama about friends coping with their friend’s sudden disappearance caused by an unidentified flying object. They’re ridiculed and suspected of murder, until that friend reappears days later, in the nude and traumatized. A PG-13 movie focused on the mystery behind the missing man doesn’t sound so scary, so what gives? When the answers finally click in place, the truth is genuinely disturbing. Seeing what happened during the abduction is chilling, and the images sear into your skull permanently.
Cube – Pluto TV, Tubi, Vudu
Vincenzo Natali’s feature debut packed a visceral punch with so little. A small budget sci-fi horror set in a single location, Cube let its characters and storytelling do the heavy lifting. The plot sees a group of strangers wake up in a bizarre, labyrinthine prison of connected cubes, with no memory of how they got there. They quickly realize that the maze is rigged with deadly traps, and they’ll have to work together to survive. It’s not just the unique world building or the gruesome traps that make Cube a highlight of the decade, but the varied personalities. It leads to paranoia and tension that erupts into violence. It’s no surprise that the film launched a franchise, or that Natali would continue to carve out space in mind-bending sci-fi horror.