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A Bloody Good Time: Top 10 Horror Films Of 1996

June 23, 2016 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Independence Day: Resurgence comes out this weekend. I’m sort of mixed on whether or not I actually want to see it. Roland Emmerich’s track record since the 1996 original hasn’t been stellar (2012 says hello) and Will Smith didn’t come back, even if almost everyone else did. I don’t think one actor is bigger than a movie, but he was definitely one of the best parts of the original.

So with the sequel coming out, this column should be about aliens, right? Wrong! Not only did we do that already (check out The 8 Ball for that) but I’m almost positive I’ve looked at alien films before. I have been writing this for nine years, after all.

So instead I’m going to go all the way back to the year Independence Day was released, 1996, and count down the best horror films from that year. Sure, it’s a flimsy premise to get to this particular topic, but I don’t care!

1996 is a strange year. There’s almost a straight dividing line between movies that are all-time classics and movies that are pretty bad. Are there are titles that are simply okay? Yes. In fact I’ve included one or two of them here as “the best”. 1996 would otherwise be considered a weak year, but the highs are so high that I don’t. So let’s get into the best this week and next week we’ll focus on the worst.

#10: Bordello of Blood

There’s a lot of people that don’t like this movie. Even those that give Demon Knight a pass tend to hate on this. I can understand why. It’s goofy and dumb and Dennis Miller makes for an odd leading man. However, this is still a fun B-movie and definitely fitting for Tales From the Crypt. Now Ritual, that was an absolutely awful film that shouldn’t have had the brand attached to it.

Why do I enjoy Bordello? Blood, jokes and more blood. It’s a movie that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be anything different. I’d hate it a lot more if it ever took itself seriously, which it never does. It matches the tone of Crypt completely. It’s funny, it’s gory and it’s self-aware. That may not making it a great horror movie, but it’s certainly a fun one.

#9: The Stendhal Syndrome

This is about the time that many people claim that Dario Argento fell into the black hole of quality decline that so many directors seem to. However, he still has a few good movies from this period and even his movies like Sleepless and Do You Like Hitchcock have their moments. The Stendhal Syndrome features Dario’s daughter Asia as a detective hunting down a serial killer. She’s eventually traumatized by the killer after he rapes her.

So she begins to deal with her own psychological issues and after seemingly killing the killer, she takes on horrifying aspects of his personality. It’s a lot deeper and some might say darker than what Argento usually gives us. It may be too nihilistic for some, but occasionally you have to go to dark places to tell a particular story and horror is the best genre to do that in. You’re not supposed to feel comfortable watching a horror movie.

#8: The Ghost and the Darkness

I went back and forth on if this film was even horror, but I decided that if Jaws is, then so is this. Because this is basically Jaws with lions and Michael Douglas in the Quint role. The film involves a couple of man-eating lions in Kenya who are almost like serial killers. They are hunting down the workers of a railroad project one by one and not one is able to stop them. That’s when a revered hunter is brought on board to track them down and kill them.

Maybe saying it’s like Jaws isn’t the right way to describe it, but that’s how it feels to me. Either way, it’s a unique animals attack movie in that the lions are the villain. I certainly would be scared of a lion if I knew it wanted to eat me, but I don’t think they’re the first choice when it comes to this type of movie. Sharks and rabid dogs, sure, but lions are usually in certain parts of the world so they don’t show up often in movies like this. Either way, it features strong performances and menacing animals that prove to be a threat to our heroes, in spite of its occasional unevenness.

#7: Tremors 2: Aftershocks

Does Tremors 2 lack Kevin Bacon? Sure. Does it replace him with an annoying sidekick? Yes, it does. However, it also features the return of Michael Gross and Fred Ward, which is good enough for me. Ward in particular is grumpier than usual, making for some fun interaction with his new sidekick Grady. Grady is really irritating but when we have Ward there to voice our frustration, it helps.

This movie also does something that many horror sequels fail to do. It tries something different. Instead of making it another adventure with the Graboids, it allows them to evolve and present new dangers for our heroes, which keeps the viewer guessing. This is something that the third film would do as well, in order to keep the series fresh. It’s a surprisingly solid follow-up to a movie that probably didn’t need one.

#6: Fear

I went into this expecting another dumb teen movie, but I was very surprised to find that it’s a solid little thriller! It feels like Fatal Attraction only with a crazy Mark Wahlberg and his killer abs. I think the only weak point of the film is Reese Witherspoon, and that’s more of a flaw with the writing than her performance. She has to be the dumbest teenager in film. She falls for some of the corniest lines and actions I’ve ever heard. None of these things would work in real life. Somehow Marky Mark weasels his way into her life by being completely insincere and she buys it.

However, once we get past that sequence, the movie begins getting crazier and crazier leading to a home invasion film at the very end. And the acting is pretty great. Wahlberg kills it, William Peterson is great, even Witherspoon is great once the script does her justice. Plus the bit with the dog really got to me. I really felt for that kid and cheered when he got his revenge later on. He’s definitely going to need some therapy. If you’ve avoided this for the admittedly terrible poster and cliched premise, do yourself a favor and check it out.

#5: The Craft

This is where the films start to get really good. I spoke aobut The Craft earlier this year when I counted down the top ten witchcraft horror films, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. It’s a contemporary witch film that was marketed to the teenage crowd, but manages to overcome whatever shortcomings it has (usually in the script) to deliever an entertaining movie.

Witchcraft films in general aren’t my taste (sorry, just can’t be afraid of magic), so if I like one then there must be something worth watching. I’d like to introduce you to Fairuza Balk. All four of the actresses give decent performances, but Balk is both intense and over-the-top, becoming a wacko villain. Power corrupts and all that. She absolutely makes this movie into something worth watching, instead of something like The Covenant.

#4: The Dentist

Some of the best horror movies work because they’re character studies of deranged people. It’s why I like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or May. You focus on one individual through the movie and whether you sympathize with them or not, you have a better understanding of them when the film is over. In some cases, you may even be repulsed by them. Such is the case with Dr. Alan Feinstone, a dentist with anger issues that is pushed just a little too far by the worst day ever.

Corbin Bernsen makes for a great villain, and it’s a shame this series only got two films. I guess there’s only so much you can do with destroying people’s teeth. There are points in this movie where you’ll feel sorry for Feinstone and others where you want to see him caught (hint: it’s about the time he threatens a teenager for no good reason). However, there’s never a point when you want to stop watching him. Bernsen is very good at his job. The only time you might want to look away is during the dental attack sequences, which were realisitic enough to give anyone second thoughts about their next appointment.

#3: The Frighteners

Has it really been twenty years since Peter Jackson stopped doing horror films and we lost him to Middle Earth forever? He had a lot of impressive movies during his early years, which finally caught the eye of Hollywood and led to a big budget horror comedy with an all-star cast. Michael J. Fox leads the cast in what I believe is absolutely his most underrated role. He always comes off as a nice guy thanks to his work in movies like Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, but here he gets to play a little against type as the slightly scummy Frank Bannister.

Frank runs a racket using ghosts that haunt houses so he can “exorcise them” for money. Unfortunately he crosses paths with a ghost that’s killing people and he’s the only one who can stop it. Fox is amazing here, and yet the show is almost completely stolen from him once Jeffrey Combs enters the picture. I’m not entirely sure why Combs hasn’t had more work with Jackson because the two are a perfect match for each other. He is hilarious in nearly every scene he’s in, even if he’s not really doing anything. This is a great horror comedy that never gets old. See it immediately if you haven’t already.

#2: From Dusk Till Dawn

And now I get to once again talk about two films that I’ve talked about multiple times. There’s a good chance I repeat myself. From Dusk Till Dawn is an action/horror/comedy hybrid from Robert Rodriguez that features George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as two criminals on the run. They make it to a bar near the border of Mexico to meet their contact (taking a family hostage along the way) and discover that it’s full of vampires. And don’t tell me that you don’t believe in vampires, because I don’t believe in vampires. But I believe in my own two eyes, and what they see are vampires! That would work better with curse words, I know.

It’s really hard to make vampire moves fun to watch. They’re still doing it, but when a monster has been around as long as the vampire, it’s hard to have new takes on it. This does it with snappy dialogue, great special effects and a strong cast that also includes Salma Hayek, Harvey Keitel and Tom f’n Savini as Sex Machine. I would tell you to go out and see this movie, but if you’re reading this column you already have. If you’re like me, you’ve seen it more times than you care to say out loud.

#1: Scream

Surprise! If you didn’t guess this as soon as you read the title, then you might need to brush up on your horror movies. Scream is not only the best horror movie of 1996, it might be the best horror movie of the 90s. It’s certainly the most important. It revitalized a genre, cemented Wes Craven’s place as a horror master and so on. It’s a movie that’s almost become bigger than what it is solely for the effect it had on movies when it came out. You can not like Scream but you can’t deny its importance to the genre.

Of course, it helps that it still holds up as a clever and thrilling slasher film to this day. The script still works, the performances are still great and there are still enough “gotcha” moments to make sure this film retains its place as one of the best. As far as slashers go, we could probably use another Scream because all that’s in Hollywood these days are ghost movies, and 9/10 of those are terrible.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

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