10. Lord of Illusions (1995)
Imagine Humphrey Bogart standing against Pazuzu from The Exorcist. You’re going to press play on that movie. The film noir actor is long gone, but Scott Bakula channels his heavy cool in ways most Quantum Leap viewers would be astonished by. P.I. Harry D’Amour is easy to fall for, and you’ll immediately be crying for sequels once he steps into frame, but you’ll have to find those in Clive Barker‘s prose. The dick only got one cinematic shot in the theaters, and it is a doozy.
“I was born to murder the world.” How do you respond to a statement like that? Shock? Revulsion? Rage? Lust? Barker has not made many trips to the director’s chair, but each one of his films is an uncomfortable confrontation with morality. Lord of Illusions presents a maniac in the form of the beer-bellied magician, Nix. He is a monster. He wants to murder the world. He puts it right out there, and he has the means to do it. During the prologue to the film, those that respond to his desire with shock, revulsion, and rage barely succeed in putting the kybosh to his plans. However, the real threat grows from those with heart emoji-eyes. His acolytes wait patiently, plot their strategy, and strike only when confident in the probability of success. Not in killing the world, but in gaining favor with the power-hungry destructor.
Lord of Illusions is scary mostly in ways in which it lets the creepiness of that murderous allure settle. There are a few BOOs and plenty of grotesque behaviors on display that you would expect from the man who birthed Pinhead into our consciousness. The real scares, however, arrive in the dark well after the movie has climaxed as the smiling, eagerly willing faces of Nix’s flock linger in your imagination. (Brad Gullickson)
9. Demon Knight (1995)
In the beginning, the earth was without form and void. Darkness was upon the face of the deep. God said, “Let there be light,” and the beasts were banished to the shadows. Ever since, we’ve been teetering on the precipice, on the verge of falling back into that infinite blackness. Biblical horror is meat and potatoes delicious. Good vs. Evil. The basics and the stuff of a million pop culture entertainments. When HBO’s Tales From the Crypt wanted to break into a theatrical experience, the producers went with a basic, righteous war transforming a hotel (that was once a church) into the final battleground for man’s soul. Ernest Dickerson does The Exorcist by way of Assault on Precinct 13 with an added splash of EC Comics pulp. Populating the violent shenanigans with top-tier character actors like William Sadler, Dick Miller, CCH Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, and Billy Zane at his most diabolically Zaniest. The movie runs at a clip, and it’s silly, and it’s gnarly and gross, and it’s an epic 92 minutes. Everything all us boys and ghouls desire. (Brad Gullickson)
8. Dead Alive (1992)
The history of horror cinema is littered with stories about DIY filmmakers making labors of love with their friends. Some of them even make great little features and become famous afterward as well. Dead Alive is one such movie — a low budget gorefest from Peter Jackson that’s balls to the wall mayhem and nothing like those fantasy movies he made about rings and hobbits. The plot is simple: an overprotective mother gets bitten by a rat-monkey and turns the neighbors into hordes of the walking dead, and then they all crash a party together. What ensues is a bloody fun time with a sweet lawnmower massacre thrown in for kicks. (Kieran Fisher)
7. Army of Darkness (1992)
Ever since I saw the Frank Frazetta-style one-sheet on the back cover of an early ’90s Marvel comic, Army of Darkness has held a special place in my heart. Not just mine, my whole family’s. Watching the film together is an early VHS memory, my parents fast-forwarding through the more intense bits, allowing Bruce Campbell’s dialogue to become household catchphrases that still stick in my head today. The third film in the Evil Dead series has enough sword and sorcery to be considered a fantasy film while not skimping on the blood and guts you come to expect from a horror franchise. But it was also unlike anything else we would see throughout a decade that skewed away from wacky self-referential horror comedies to the slightly-more-serious minded meta-slashers from 1994 on. But as a film that’s equal parts silly, bloody, and funny — with just enough spooky moments to keep audiences pulse pumping — Army of Darkness is a perfect gateway film for budding young horror fans looking to get into the genre. (Jacob Trussell)
6. Misery (1990)
Of the many anxieties that plague writers, the fear of being kidnapped by a maniacal fan deserves to be at least close to the top of the list. In Rob Reiner‘s adaptation of the same-named Stephen King book, James Caan stars as Paul Sheldon, a successful novelist who rose to fame for a series revolving around Victorian romance heroine Misery Chastain. While driving through a blizzard, Paul’s car goes off-road and is rescued by devout fan Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Not at all pleased with the discovery of his latest manuscript, Annie gets her revenge on Paul in the most gleefully unhinged ways possible. Partly thanks to Bates’s god-level performance, Misery is gruesome, at times genuinely frightening, and incredulously funny. (Anna Swanson)