Last week, we ran a list of the 10 Most Underrated Horror Movies of the 1980s. This week, we’re focusing on the 1990s with another list of often-missed and underappreciated genre gems. While only a few of these films can be found on Blu-ray, they can all be found on DVD (or can be streamed) for a reasonable price. If you’re a movie collector looking to bulk up your horror library, these films should be considered essential!
MAN BITES DOG (1992, Directed by Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel)
Over seven years before THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, in an era when terms like “found footage” and “mockumentary” had yet to be coined and popularized, Belgian filmmakers Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel released MAN BITES DOG. It centers on a documentary movie crew following a serial killer, and explores issues of objectivity and culpability in nonfiction filmmaking. It seems fairly obvious that MAN BITES DOG was a major influential on Scott Glosserman’s BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (2006), and many also consider the film a precursor to the New French Extremity movement of the 2000s.
MAN BITES DOG is available to stream on Amazon or purchase on DVD, but there’s no Blu-ray at this time.
MARY REILLY (1996, Directed by Stephen Frears)
MARY REILLY, based on the novel by Valerie Martin, is a re-imagining of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE from the point of view of a female servant. Julia Roberts plays the titular Mary, and John Malkovich plays both Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. It can definitely be viewed as a metaphor for violent relationships, wherein a woman is torn between her love for and fear of the same man. Stephen Frears ratchets up the Gothic sensibilities in this familiar tale, which adds layers of femininity without abandoning any of the original story’s sense of dread.
MARY REILLY can be streamed on Amazon or purchased on DVD (alone and as part of a compilation that also includes AGNES OF GOD, THE MESSENGER, and PACT OF SILENCE); a Blu-ray does not exist.
DEAD AGAIN (1991, Directed by Kenneth Branagh)
DEAD AGAIN isn’t super-scary, but it has a retro look (through flashbacks) that harkens back to horror movies of the 1960s. If Alfred Hitchcock had ventured into truly supernatural territory during his career, he might have made something resembling this film. It’s a murder mystery involving a cast of characters who may have known (and killed) each other in past lives. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars, alongside then-girlfriend Emma Thompson; the film also features a rare, non-comedic cameo from Robin Williams as Doctor Cozy Carlisle.
DEAD AGAIN is available to stream on Amazon or can be purchased on DVD, but has yet to be released on Blu-ray.
SHALLOW GRAVE (1994, Directed by Danny Boyle)
Before he became a household name among horror fans following the release of his seminal and highly-influential virus-horror 28 DAYS LATER in 2002, Danny Boyle released SHALLOW GRAVE in 1994. It starts off as an irreverent buddy-comedy about three mean roommates, before descending into a no-holds-barred crime thriller, complete with madness, sexual manipulations, and dismemberment. The film also launched the film career of Ewan McGregor.
SHALLOW GRAVE is available to stream on Netflix; a theatrical version is available on DVD, and also as part of the Criterion Collection on both DVD and Blu-ray. If you’re not familiar with this stomach-churning creeper, you owe it to yourself to seek it out.
FREEWAY (1996, Directed by Matthew Bright)
While dark fairytales geared towards teens and adults have been steadily gaining popularity over the years, Matthew Bright’s re-imagining of LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD is gritty, subversive, and incredibly perverted; this is not some PG-13 affair you can enjoy with your kids! The cast is full of recognizable names, including Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke Shields, Amanda Plummer, and the late Brittany Murphy. Fans of movies like HARD CANDY, TEETH and YOU’RE NEXT (where would-be-predators choose the wrong victim) will definitely enjoy it.
FREEWAY is available to stream on Amazon and to purchase on DVD, but there isn’t a Blu-ray yet… and avoid the less-than-stunning sequel FREEWAY 2: CONFESSIONS OF A TRICKBABY.
LOST HIGHWAY (1997, Directed by David Lynch)
One of David Lynch’s most perplexing projects is also one of his most compelling. Between the influential director’s brutal films of the 1980s and his most recent works focusing on Southern California and the Entertainment Industry, LOST HIGHWAY remains singularly engrossing thanks to its ensemble cast, metaphysical horror, and nightmare logic. As opposed to some of Lynch’s films that seem nearly undecipherable, the mystery at the center of LOST HIGHWAY isn’t impossible to crack; repeat viewings will essentially turn viewers into cinematic detectives piecing the puzzle together. Leads Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette excel, as do Robert Loggia as gangster Mr. Eddie/Dick Laurent, and Robert Blake as the Mystery Man (one of the most unique and chilling manifestations of the Devil in modern cinema). It’s also got an amazing soundtrack, produced by Trent Reznor with songs from Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, and David Bowie.
LOST HIGHWAY is available on DVD and on Blu-ray, but only as part of a region-free David Lynch Box Set along with ERASERHEAD, DUNE, BLUE VELVET, WILD AT HEART, and TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME.
DEATH BECOMES HER (1992, Directed by Robert Zemeckis)
DEATH BECOMES HER is rarely included on lists of Best Horror Comedies, but it absolutely deserves a spot and more recognition than it ever got. While light on both gore and chills, it’s nonetheless a unique body horror and a forgotten example of the zombie subgenre. It’s also a biting satire aimed at the anti-aging industry and an exploration of society’s unrealistic expectations in regards to feminine beauty. While never shaking the gallows humor at its foundation, DEATH BECOMES HER ends on a truly horrific note — one that becomes more disturbing the more you think about it.
You can stream DEATH BECOMES HER on Amazon, find an inexpensive copy on DVD, and even an out-of-print LaserDisc if that’s your thing. Luckily, DEATH BECOMES HER also has a beautiful Collectors’ Edition Blu-ray from the good folks at Scream Factory that’s to die for!
KALIFORNIA (1993, Directed by Dominic Sena)
Less than a year before Juliette Lewis embarked on a cross-country massacre with Woody Harrelson in Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS, she took a road-trip with a different psycho — this one played by Brad Pitt — in Dominic Dena’s KALIFORNIA. But whereas NATURAL BORN KILLERS is sleek and stylized (almost like a 2-hour music video), KALIFORNIA is straightforward, almost humorless, and scary as hell! KALIFORNIA upends the evil hitchhiker trope in horror, and Lewis’s Adele Corners is at the core of the film’s suspense as she fluctuates between reluctant accessory to murder and an unlikely savior.
KALIFORNIA is available on both DVD and Blu-ray, but the latter will set you back over $30.
DARK CITY (1998, Directed by Alex Proyas)
DARK CITY has managed to amass a huge cult following, but it was all but ignored at the time of its release. The film is a unique combination of neo-noir and sci-fi with definite horror sensibilities, including a race of “Others” who bear a strong resemblance to Clive Barker’s Cenobites. The film takes place in a city cloaked in a perpetual night, where the scenery and even the populations change at the whims of the omniscient Others; themes of madness and an endless rat-race are explored at length. DARK CITY also seeks to answer nature-vs-nurture theories in regards to human behavior.
DARK CITY is one of the few films on this list with a Blu-ray, which is also a Director’s Cut; it’s a must-have for any respectable horror collector. It can also be found on DVD by itself and as part of a “Post-Apocalypse” compilation along with I AM LEGEND, LOGAN’S RUN, and THE OMEGA MAN.
EXISTENZ (1999, Directed by David Cronenberg)
As with VIDEODROME in the 1980s, David Cronenberg’s EXISTENZ (stylized as eXistenZ) was way ahead of its time in the 1990s. The film is prophetic, imagining a future where virtual reality gaming threatens to distort reality beyond recognition; it’s a dream-within-a-dream scenario — a nightmare you can’t wake up from. The tale follows a pair of gamers thrust into a bizarre mystery, set in a town that looks and feels like THE NAKED LUNCH’s Interzone. As with most of Cronenberg’s films, there is a heavy dose of body horror, as humans merge with the technologies they’re obsessed with. The film is bolstered by incredible performances from leads Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
EXISTENZ can be found on DVD and on Blu-ray as part of a compilation that includes B MONKEY and MALEVOLENT.