In horror films, like action films, the plot often takes a back seat. Filmmakers are usually so keen on making their alarms work and keeping the atmosphere scary that the storytelling falls apart. But well-constructed and well-paced narratives can enhance the experience of a horror movie.
Throughout the ’90s – one of the most acclaimed decades for horror films – writers in the genre came up with story concepts as gripping as a bible-inspired serial killer, a strip club – Mexican tease full of vampires and a spaceship possessed by demons.
ten Cap Fear (1991)
Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake Cap Fear dramatically ramped up the violence over the 1962 original, but the referable protagonists, terribly realistic villain, and the tense plot have all remained the same.
Nick Nolte plays the role of a lawyer and family man who ensures that the violent psychopath Max Cady, dramatically played by Robert De Niro, finds himself behind bars. When Cady is released, he begins to hunt down the attorney’s family. This whole premise is hauntingly plausible.
9 Event Horizon (1997)
Paul WS Anderson’s Underrated Gem Event horizon combines the cosmic horror of a movie like Extraterrestrial with the movie ownership scenario like The Exorcist.
He follows a team of astronauts in 2047 who are sent to inspect a missing spaceship and discover that it has opened a door to a hell dimension.
8 Se7en (1995)
that of David Fincher Se7en plays like a horror version of a cop buddy movie. John Doe, the infamous serial killer on the loose, is uniquely characterized – his murders are based on the Bible’s Seven Deadly Sins – but the real heart of the story is the dynamic shared by the detectives who pursue him.
Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are the perfect pair as a veteran lawman on the verge of retirement and a young renegade hotshot eager to solve his first big case.
7 Candyman (1992)
Writer-director Bernard Rose’s adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” changes the themes of classism from the source material to an exploration of racism. The titular ghoul in Candy is the vengeful spirit of a historical victim of racist violence.
More generally, the film deconstructs urban legends and how they spread as a semiotics graduate student follows a trail of ghost stories in the Cabrini-Green social housing development in Chicago.
6 From Dusk to Dawn (1996)
Written by Quentin Tarantino but directed by his friend Robert Rodriguez, From dusk till dawn is an interesting experiment in genre-bending. It starts off as a luscious crime thriller about a pair of gangsters holding a vacationing family hostage on a road trip across the border.
The characters are Elmore Leonard archetypes and the action scenes are full of John Woo-style “gun-fu”. Then the movie surprisingly becomes a blood-soaked vampire flick halfway through when the living dead rise up in a Mexican strip club.
5 Misery (1990)
Adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name, the plot of Misery the impression that he is realizing the author’s worst nightmare. Famous writer Paul Sheldon is brought back to health by sinister superfan Annie Wilkes after a car accident. Misery is a quintessential portrait of the toxic fandom three decades ahead of its time.
With James Caan and an Oscar-winning Kathy Bates perfectly matched in the roles, Paul and Annie’s unsettling relationship makes Misery a fascinating two-handed.
4 Scream (1996)
contrary to The last house on the left and Freddy, the most notable thing about Scream isn’t that the sharp direction of horror legend Wes Craven; this is the storyline of Kevin Williamson, who manages to put not one, but two new twists on the worn-out slasher genre.
It brings a thriller angle to the usual high school murders and also acts as a gender-conscious satire, deconstructing its tropes through characters familiar with horror classics.
3 Lost Highway (1997)
In movies like Eraser and Blue velvet, David Lynch developed his own distinctive take on cinematic horror. Lynch’s style is defined by disturbing imagery and ambient noise, but her Möbius strip tales are equally engaging.
In Lynch’s underrated neo-noir Lost highway, the blackmailed protagonist inexplicably changes places with a mechanic in the middle of the film. There is no other story like this. Lynch builds Lost highway like a psychogenic fugue as opposed to a traditional narrative.
2 Hearing (1999)
There is no indication that Takashi Miike is Hearing is even a half-way horror movie. It starts off as a simple melodrama in which a widower, Aoyama, sets up auditions for a bogus project in hopes of finding new love. He is instantly in love with Asami, who turns out to be much more unbalanced and violent than she initially suggests.
The bitter irony of the horrible love story in Hearing is that Aoyama is only sadistically manipulated by Asami after he manipulates her and all the other women who unwittingly audition for the role of his second wife.
1 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Jonathan Demme’s Macabre Film Adaptation Thesilenceofthelambs was the first horror film to win the Best Picture award and remains the only entry in the genre to receive the Academy’s highest honor. It’s easy to see why: Thesilenceofthelambs is a horrific horror movie, but ultimately it’s a character-driven narrative.
Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins share a compelling dynamic as an FBI recruit on the hunt for a serial killer and an imprisoned serial killer assisting him in the investigation. Demme leaves the audience guessing with one shocking twist after another.
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