Early 90's Horror Retrospective!

With the 80’s slasher boom pretty much dying late in the decade it seemed a lot of directors were popping out with such zany out of this world films. From Lovecraftian tales like “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond” to silly throwbacks like “Killer Klowns from Outer space”, “Terrorvision”, and “The Video Dead”, these styles would carry us right into the 90’s. It would not last long, however, the slasher boom would pick back up by the success of “Scream”. The films that sat in between the slasher films of the 80’s and slasher films of the 90’s were a strange mixture; it seemed horror was evolving into some sort of bat shit crazy monster we had never seen before.
Although the monster was slain before it could be brought to light we did get a glimpse of what it may have looked like. This monster was made up of completely ridiculous films with insane plots, wild sequels that strayed far from their predecessors in substance, over the top gore-fests, wild homage and parody, or disturbing foreign films. My job here is to look into some of these over looked, underappreciated, or possibly forgotten horror tales that now seem to be getting more recognition. First we will talk about some of the films with the most ridiculous plots.

The 70’s held a certain type of film known as grindhouse. Lately a huge resurgence of these types of films has been hitting the market. The basic idea of these films was to show and do things a Hollywood film would not. With the lack in budget, they had to catch the audience’s attention with ample amounts of nudity, sex, or even a wild story line or plot point. Many people forget that this is not the only decade where this happens. Admittedly, this seemed to happen throughout the rest of the history of film, but the early 90’s had the idea right. First and foremost is the director Frank Henenlotter who had worked in the 80’s on such classics as “Basket Case” and “Brain Damage”. This idea was not new to him. His 1990 film, “Frankenhooker”, had one strange plot and an even stranger delivery. He mixed the Frankenstein story with New York sleaze, making a super reanimated hooker. The film had a huge dark comedy side to it and a lot of typical Henenlotter moments, including small gooey creatures, seedy characters, and dirty locations. Johns finally had something to love and fear. Another just plain ridiculous plot is the British import “I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle”. The title alone tells the plot. A man mistakenly purchases a motorcycle that has seemed to be carrying the presence of an evil vampire. This film includes a talking turd, a stupid rowdy biker gang, and one badass looking bike. The last silly plot I want to talk about is that of “Ice Cream Man”. The antagonist portrayed by Clint Howard, who as a child witnesses a murder of his hero, the local ice cream man. This traumatizes him so badly he becomes a silly killer who incorporates a level of deliciousness into his killings. This film could also be considered somewhat of a parody or homage which moves us into our next group of films.

As long as people have been making art or entertainment, there have been those parodying or paying homage for either money or admiration; sometimes a mixture of both. In the 80’s several films hit the market that spoke to the 50’s classics such as “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”, “Slithis”, “Blue Monkey”, “Blood Beach”, and “Invaders from Mars”. It did not stop there of course and the 90’s, though a bit late to catch on to the SC/FI throwback phase, had a few of them anyways. “Ticks” was one of these films incorporating the simple plot of human meddling creating something awful in the environment and changing it forever, first seen in the likes of classic Films “Godzilla” and then later in America with “Them”. Giant, oversized, blood thirsty ticks terrorize a group of odd ball mixed campers. These films took the aspects and fun of the 50’s while incorporating the effects of the day and satiated the audience’s blood lust with gore. These films appealed to two different generations at the same time. The throwback “Mosquito” followed a similar method to its madness and became a very enjoyable piece. The science fiction horror genre was not the only niche sought out. The slasher genre was still around though not quite as typical as what the audience was used to. With the film “Popcorn” we would see homages to the 50’s in the style of an 80’s. Humor from the time is also incorporated added another layer. “Popcorn” involved a group of film lovers trying to get an old movie theater back open by having a huge opening night and using William Castle-esque gags. Unfortunately for them, one of the students is not who he appears to be and begins to whack the students off with some of the props as well among other things lying around. “Popcorn” would be the vehicle for some other films later on but for a while it stood alone and pretty much still does in ways. It still comes across as an original piece in a world of remakes and sequels. Speaking of sequels, the 90’s also had its share.

The sequels of the time were so late in the series it seemed all bets were off when it came to keeping the integrity of the first film. The 5th sequel in the Nightmare franchise, “Freddy’s Dead”, made this apparent. By part 4, if people were not seeing Kruger as your typical Rodney Dangerfield then they were after 6 hit theaters. Although not as horrible as made out to be, this type of Freddy would help him become an icon. He would pop up as an advertiser for nearly everything from pop to Doritos and even be part of a game show. The sequel to “Child’s Play”, “Child’s Play 3” changed location, putting our villainous doll on an army camp to create mischief. This film would get a mixed reaction, splitting fans. Chucky and Freddy were not the only horror mascots to make an appearance. We also had “Leatherface”, aka “TCM 3”, which decided to steer away from the comical 2nd and get a little more serious while bringing in horror icon, Ken Foree, to tango with the cannibalistic family. Although butchered on its release, the film would find a following on uncut DVD later on. As “Leatherface” tried to bring back its horror roots, “Return of the Living Dead” steered the other way taking a comedy horror and turning it into a nasty, serious, romantic horror story. Brian Yuzna brought us something a little different as well as the last good film of the franchise with “ROTLD 3”. The military was still a factor but the story focused mostly on a pair of lovers where one was infected and spreading the sickness. Across the ocean, Jorg Buttgereit followed a similar idea with the sequel to his masterpiece “Nekromantik”, which is seen as fast paced, surreal, nasty, and necrophilia inspired film. He made his sequel slow with much build up and more straight forward to create something new. “Nekromantik 2” may be argued a less entertaining film but, as far as film making is concerned, a better put together project. Buttgereit also worked on the bizarre serial killer film “Schramm” in 93, but certainly was not the only director churning in films from Germany or anywhere for that matter.

Olaf Ittenbach placed himself in gorehounds’ hearts with his nasty Shot on Video anthology “The Burning Moon” introducing many people to German splatter by ways of torture and slashing. Germany was not the only 90’s splatter kings, The Brit Alex Chandon put his two cents in with the ultra-low budget shorts “Bad Karma” and “Drillbit” narrated by the rebel filmmaker Jim Van Bebber. These films included shape shifting monsters, AIDS, and zombies; pretty much staples from 90’s cinema. Speaking of zombies, how could one forget the New Zealand epic “Dead Alive” aka “Brain Dead” with its super gore and ridiculous over the top comedy. The last couple films from over the pond have certainty had a soft side but not every country chose this approach into hitting the US market. As far as Hong Kong was concerned, sex and violence were one in the same with its ratings. Harsh films like “Untold Story”, which is based, on a true story, and “Red to Kill” would exploit this leaving the audience to watch in grueling surprise as the films climaxes left your heart broken or stomach churned. These would be referred to as CAT 3 titles, Hong Kong’s highest rating. This little niche of films would include many films. Many of these had Anthony Wong in them. If we were to get into smaller genres we could make even another group. As you can tell, the madness never stops.

There are so many different types of horror from the early 90’s ranging the whole gauntlet; this short article was merely to show the tip of the iceberg revealing how many of people’s favorite films may be hidden in a decade considered one of the worst for horror. Many films have gone unnoticed in this article but are not unloved. For instance, great shorts like “My Sweet Satan”,” Roadkill” or feature length films such as “Nightbreed”, “Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth”, and even the wonderful imports “Baby Blood”, “Day of the Beast”, and “Cemetery Man”. There is simply too much for this writer to talk about without losing sleep. I will leave it to the readers to dwell into these little sub genres and further finding and creating genres of your own, because I certainly did not include all of them and there is always a film left forgotten, hiding in a dusty case or a lost webpage.