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by Matt Berry

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The Night-Man Cometh (& maketh one good movie! And only one!)

The Night-Man Cometh (& maketh one good movie! And only one!)
In honor of my 1st Halloween as a MatchFlick columnist, it seemed fitting to my my unsolicited opinion of the grunge decade's finest scary movie offerings. Now I will admit 2 things up front: I am not the kind of horror aficionado who references flicks like RINGU, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, or anything from, say, the CLIVE BARKER catalog. My knowledge of these films is pretty main stream, and I have no FEAR (Ha! You see what I did there?) of speaking from a populace perspective. And that brings me to my second up-front point: the 90's was kind of a GRIM decade for the genre. However, despite a lack of wealth in the world of spook fests, I do believe that what was good in 90's HORROR was SCARY good! (See that? Did it again!)

So, without further ado, here are my picks for...


Okay, so I will be the first person in line to tell you that M. NIGHT SYAMALAN is a terrible, terrible (& did I say terrible?) filmmaker. And a pretty lousy writer to boot. BUT...his late-90's big budget breakout has enough moments of shudder inducing creepiness to warrant inclusion on the list. Famous for its rug-pulling "GOTCHA!" of a final act, the movie actually offers a fairly successful tone poem of impending dread for the 2 hours leading up to that eventual cinematic sucker punch.

For one & onetime only, the Night-Man brings a slow burn of a ghost story to the screen with a measure and a skill that has so far eluded him for the rest of his career. And even though without the twist, it would not have added up to much of a movie (the story itself, like his subsequent UNBREAKABLE, is essentially an origin tale...and a rather saccharine one at that), the scare factor (in the individual sequences that push the dramatic tension to continually rise & fall throughout the movie's run time) is there. And for a first time viewer, THE SIXTH SENSE is still one HELL of a good watch on Halloween Night.

I never really know if these kinds of thrillers qualify as true horror movies. There are no monsters in them, no supernatural elements, nobody slithering in through a drainpipe to eat your liver (although there IS liver eating, I guess), but they make me just as tense as any good creature feature & send genuine shivers down my spine. And for my money, Killer Thrillers don't get any better than this trio of films.

MISERY is simply perfection and the best
I'm scared just seeing the poster for Audition!

I'm scared just seeing the poster for Audition!
STEPHEN KING adaptation committed to the camera since THE SHINING. LAMBS is pure terror from start to finish and has the distinction of boasting TWO truly frightening villains among its rouges gallery of skulking characters. And Scorsese's reboot of CAPE FEAR transforms a great old film noir into something as scary as anything John Carpenter ever cranked out. These 3 movies represent 3 top tier directors at their best indulging in all the typical horror movie tropes and doing one MONSTER of a job!

Part of the reason the 90's lacks a lot of TRUE horror is that the genre went meta in that famously self-evaluating decade. And TREMORS was one of the first movies to throw as many winks at the audience as it did "jump-out-of-your-seat" moments. A stylized revisit of the kinds of movies that thrilled Baby Boomers at Saturday afternoon matinees in the 50's, TREMORS indulges one of 90's filmmakers' favorite pass times: goosing the viewer with twists on the expected outcome and an injection of dark humor in its scares. Other writers and directors would eventually take a more bombastic (and downright chatty) approach to this tactic, but TREMORS presents its self-aware nudging within the reality of the movie's landscape, managing to keep the tension ratcheted high even as the movie plants its SLITHERY tongue firmly in its own cheek.

Another genre bending piece of meta-CANDY by two men who routinely like to trick AND treat their audiences (ROBERT RODRIGUEZ & QUENTIN TARANTINO), DUSK offers a particularly Gen-X take on the vampire movie. Essentially a morality tale that sees the tyrannies of evil men unraveling in a spectacular comeuppance, the movie manages to find a firm foot in the horror genre even as its other foot remains planted in the twisted tales of crime that its creators are better known for. And it has some of the best one-liners this side of THE EVIL DEAD! "Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them! I don't care how fucking crazy they are!" Also...is there anything in any movie from any decade that's as scary as Tarantino's acting? Nah, didn't think so.

Admittedly not WES CRAVEN'S best work (that was both back in the 80's & yet to come) and a movie that is terribly dated...I still have a soft spot for THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS. There is genuine nightmarish terror to me in the notion of being trapped in someone else's maze of madness, and this tale of
A movie that deserves its own Rocky Horror Picture Show type screenings

A movie that deserves its own Rocky Horror Picture Show type screenings
trespassers turned into prey spirals delightfully from that initial conceit into something brazenly bizarre and over the top (as the layers of insanity are peeled further and further away from the movie's central antagonists and their whacky, BATTY family of freaks). STAIRS is not good but somehow subsists solely on moldy little morsels of atmosphere and base fears being tossed down by Craven like stale breadcrumbs to those titular boys beneath the floorboards.


SE7EN: I actually hate the movie SE7EN. I think it's badly written, horribly acted and FRIGHTFULLY executed in almost every way. But it still induces the heebie jeebies in me after it's been on a while playing somewhere in the dark recesses of my house, exposing me to its decaying, deteriorating world.

LOST HIGHWAY: possibly David Lynch's worst foray into waking nightmares...but still, its typical Lynchian blend of creep and sleaze create those moments where you shout at the screen "OMG! I've HAD that nightmare!"

BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA: I am, as far as I know, the only living film essayist who actually likes Coppola's take on the original vampire prince. I'm not saying it's a perfect movie or even the best vampire movie...but it weirds me out with its trippy visuals, its attention to gothic detail, and its KILLER, HAUNTING score. ...And Keanu Reeve's accent is pretty goddamned scary in its own right.

Uh, yeah. This one's scary. Watch it all alone on Halloween night. See for yourself.

I am actually so squicked out by AUDITION, that I don't even really want to say any more about it. But yeah. It'll scare you. (I don't care how tough you are.)

A great crime thriller and a HELL of a good possession movie, this coulda-been-a-classic got bogged down by studio interference but still boasts enough BONE RATTLING scares to rank it at #4. Great performances, a brilliantly dark production design (before such things were in vogue at the movies), and possibly the very first instance of the now standard Creepy Thing Crawling Across The Ceiling trick also contribute to making this movie a must-see for anyone scoping a little DEVILISH fun on Halloween Night.

More funny than actually scary, ARMY OF DARKNESS is a HORRIFICALLY grand time. Better watched with a gaggle of popcorn gobbling movie
I still have nightmares about the Black Hills Woods

I still have nightmares about the Black Hills Woods
geeks who will quote along with SAM RAIMI'S inimitable dialogue and hoot and holler as BRUCE CAMPBELL'S ASH battles his way through the entire mythology of THE MIDDLE AGES, ARMY OF DARKNESS is the kind of horror movie that has fun as it unfolds and spreads a contagious joy among its fan base. And ultimately, whether it finds its way into your heart through humor or horror, scary movies are supposed to be about having fun. (For us, of course, not the characters.)

SCREAM may be the best constructed, best written, best all-around horror movie of the last 20 years, maybe longer. The fact that it isn't the #1 film on my list is kind of a HORROR in and of itself (there happens to be one movie that particularly creeps me out more than SCREAM). Drawing on a rich history of not only teen slasher movies, but also Hitchcock, tabloid news television, and a vein of ironic humor, WES CRAVEN and KEVIN WILLIAMSON gave the 90's one of its greatest pop culture moments. And as phenomenal as that moment was, what allows SCREAM to hold up today and still stand in a class above the rest is the fact that it's a damn good mystery with a truly scary finale and lots of ingeniously fun startles along the way.

I've written about the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (and SCREAM) on MatchFlick before, so I'll attempt to say something here that I haven't said already. Seeing BWP in the theater for the first time remains one of my favorite movie-going experiences. Regardless of the hype that propelled the film to huge box office and much press, I love BLAIR WITCH for one simple reason. It scared the shit out of me! And I'm not an easy scare.

The movie does not provide many "GOTCHA!" Moments (though the few it does are stellar!), but it trades more in a kind of slow burn scare that starts way off somewhere in the Black Hills Forest, creeping closer and closer over the course of the film until it finally surrounds and suffocates the lead characters in a palpable dread, crumbling sanity, and a sense of inevitable doom. But my most loved of horror movies (HALLOWEEN, DAWN OF THE DEAD, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) all have in common that they kept me scared, on the edge of my seat, and halfway under the covers from start to finish when I first saw them. And every single moment of BWP had me in its grip.

In fact, I continue to have occasional nightmares to this day that take place in those stark yet dense woods just up the road from Burkittsville. And THAT'S good Horror!

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Nov 13, 2012 9:02 AM
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Army of darkness is great...its one of the few horror comedies that I like..... Also from dusk till dawn was another good pick!

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They Called Them The Rebel Kind
Every other Tuesday

The 90ís was one of the great decades in American Cinema, and I intend to explore it one film, genre, or director at a time.

Other Columns
Other columns by Matt Berry:

The Top 10 Most Influential Films of the 90's

Lookin'California:the Top 5 Cult Movies of the 90s

The Darkness Reaching Out For the Darkness

Let's Get Ramblin': the words of Tarantino (VOL 2)

Let's Get Ramblin': the words of Quentin Tarantino

All Columns

Matt Berry
Matt Berry is a copy writer, music journalist & occasional author of Weird Tales-inspired short fiction from Illinois who loves talking and writing about movies and music almost as much as he loves the music and the movies themselves. And the more coffee, pie, and cigarettes consumed during those discussions, the better!

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Matt Berry by clicking here.

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