Four flix from horror kings of the 90s

John Carpenter, Peter Jackson, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Williamson. It was a nostalgic trip back to the 90s for me when I revisited these four flicks in my collection. So which ones are my faves?

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994)

 

John Carpenter’s light was starting to dim in the 90s. The second half was really bad, but the first part was okay with Body Bags segments, the Village of the Damned remake, and In the Mouth of Madness.

 

I can appreciate why people like this one, but personally, I’ve never been a huge fan beyond some super creepy visuals. It’s one of those Lovecraft-esque messes comprised of nightmares, dreams within dreams, horrific visions, things that are there then aren’t there, etc. You are simply bombarded by “stuff” instead of a concrete plot.

Okay, there’s a plot. Sam Neill is an insurance investigator that Charlton Heston (blech) puts on the case of a famous horror author who is causing quite a controversial stir. Neill is partnered with the female vampire from the original Fright Night 2, and together they travel to a fictional town from the author’s books because…people who read them somehow become part of a living version of the stories.

Cool plot, but then there’s that whole Lovecraft angle—an onslaught of monsters and surreal situations. I’m a huge fan of particular moments—my favorites being the old man on the bike on a dark road, a spider crawl scene, and grotesque children—but I have little patience for movies that never let us know when we’re actually in reality and not just in someone’s head.

Eventually Neill is dragged into some sort of hellish dimension and chased by freaky monsters, so to me this feels like Carpenter trying to reinvent himself…by totally mimicking Stuart Gordon’s style.

THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

If you read my blog regularly, you know I twitch trying to watch long movies, and I’ve never been a huge fan of The Frighteners, yet…I own the two plus hour director’s cut.

Before becoming a huge Hollywood director, Peter Jackson made a “trilogy” of horror movies. Bad Taste was his low budget, stupid shlockfest, Dead Alive was his more polished shlock/gorefest, and The Frighteners was his sleek, mainstream horror comedy.

Dead Alive is my favorite Peter Jackson film.

Despite having a great cast and some super cartoonish CGI fun, The Frighteners is, in typical Peter Jackson horror fashion, a nonstop roller coaster ride of sloppiness. It’s Ghostbusters on speed. Confession: I was never a fan of Ghostbusters. Another confession: I’m a huge fan of the all-female remake.

The Frighteners has Michael J. Fox, Dee Wallace, Jeffrey Combs, Peter Dobson, and Jake Busey. Fox is a ghostbuster who uses his goofy ghost friends to scam people into calling him for his services after the ghosts scare them.

Dee Wallace is a woman held captive in her mother’s house ever since she fell in love with serial killer Jake Busey when she was 15. Peter Dobson is the husband of a doctor put on Dee’s case. Jeffrey Combs is a weird FBI agent set on exposing Fox as a fraud.

A good chunk of the film is about a Fox trying to protect the doctor from a grim reaper hellbent on getting her. The second part of the film is about Jake Busey’s ghost coming back to terrorize Dee’s home.

The nonstop frantic action feels to me like being on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney. It’s mostly just a series of ghostly scenes strung together to keep you entertained until you get to the end of the ride…which is a cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” during the closing credits in this case.

THE FACULTY (1998)

The Faculty is one of my favorite films from the post-Scream/pretty WB actors splashed across the poster art era. Directed by Robert Rodriguez with a script so obviously tweaked by Kevin Williamson (it’s very meta), this is an homage to many of the sci-fi horror body takeover flix from the 60s through the 80s. I’d say it most closely resembles Invaders From Mars.

What’s amazing about the film is that it manages to keep all the action revolving around the high school. In a fantastic first scene, the takeover begins with…the faculty, of course.

The cast of teachers includes the likes of Jon Stewart, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek, Piper Laurie, Bebe Neuwirth, and Robert Patrick.

We meet our group of teens with name card freeze-frames while a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” plays. And this cast is just as great as the teachers, with clear clique types as outlined in The Breakfast Club: Elijah Wood (Anthony Michael Hall), Jordana Brewster (Molly Ringwald), Clea DuVall (Ally Sheedy), Josh Hartnett (Judd Nelson), and Shawn Hatosy (Emilio Estevez). Even young Usher makes a minor appearance but, you know, there were no black people in The Breakfast Club. Also keep an eye out for a brief scene with Danny Masterson just before he hit it big on That ‘70s Show.

This is classic body snatching fun, with loads of great tentacle creepers, action, suspense, scares, a “who can you trust?” scene right out of The Thing, and a kick ass final boss.

TEACHING MRS. TINGLE (1999)

It confounds me that other than the love for Scream, Kevin Williamson movies seem to get a lot of hate. He practically defined youth culture films of the late 90s the way John Hughes did in the 80s, with the added bonus of doing it through some super fun horror and thrillers.

Just as I’ve heard about Cursed, supposedly there’s a version of this movie’s script or different cut of the film or something that makes it much better. And once again I consider the actual released version of the film perfect as is.

Starring Katie Holmes, 7th Heaven hottie Barry Watson, and Marisa Coughlin, who should have been a much bigger star, Teaching Mrs. Tingle also has a great adult cast.

Lesley Ann Warren plays Katie’s mom, and just like The Faculty, the school staff is a who’s who, including Vivica A. Fox, Michael McKean, Molly Ringwald, and Jeffrey Tambor. And most importantly there’s Helen Mirren, who is amazing as the over-the-top villainous Mrs. Tingle.

Poor Katie just wants to be valedictorian so she can get out of her small town, but when Mrs. Tingle finds a way to totally ruin her chances, Katie and her two friends plan to stop her. They make Mrs. Tingle a prisoner in her own home, tying her to her bed until they can figure out what to do about her.

Things go horribly wrong and escalate, with the trio just digging themselves a deeper hole while devious Mrs. Tingle messes with their minds and turns them against one another.

It’s pure campy teen thriller fun, Barry Watson gets an unexpected gay kiss, and Marisa Coughlin does an unforgettable Linda Blair impression.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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