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13 Early '90s Horror Movies To Marathon This Week

Party like it’s 1991.

Posted on October 26, 2020, at 3:55 p.m. ET

Let’s not sugarcoat it — this Halloween is going to suck. No parties. Limited trick or treating. Too many dudes dressed as Dr. Fauci. It makes one long to return to a time when COVID-19 didn’t exist and the only masks needed were made of plastic.

That’s exactly what I do in my upcoming thriller, Survive the Night, which takes place in 1991 and features a movie-obsessed college student who inadvertently hits the road with a man who might be a serial killer. When writing the book, I wore a lot of flannel, listened to a bunch of Nirvana, and watched a ton of movies from the George H.W. Bush years. It was a nice escape from a news cycle that’s been as unrelenting as Jason Voorhees.

This Halloween, I suggest doing the same and spending the day like it’s 1991. Lock your doors, dim the lights, and gorge yourself on candy and these horror flicks that would have been ready to rent from your local video store. Some are great, some are so-bad-they’re-good, and one is a stone-cold masterpiece. Quality aside, all are guaranteed to take your mind off the flaming bag of poo that is 2020. (And be sure to stick around after the credits for an exclusive first look at the cover of Survive the Night, which will be driving into bookstores this summer.)


Cutting Class (1988)

April Films / Gower Street Pictures

Want to see Brad Pitt in his first major film role? Of course you do, even though the movie is a high school slasher so bad it’s often billed as a black comedy. Still, it’s fun to see Pitt play a guy worried his girlfriend is going to leave him for a fellow classmate. To quote another, better high school movie: “As if.” Watch the trailer.

Where to stream: Showtime

The ’Burbs (1989)

Universal Pictures

This one’s an intentional black comedy, starring Tom Hanks as a man grown bored after too much time at home. (Sound familiar?) To preoccupy himself, he observes his neighbors — and starts to suspect one of them is a family of mass murderers. Co-starring a wild-eyed Bruce Dern and the late, great Carrie Fisher. Watch the trailer.

Where to stream: Starz, VUDU

Misery (1990)

Columbia Pictures

Kathy Bates became a household name — and won an Oscar — for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes, the world’s most deranged reader. Although the sight of her wielding a sledgehammer and a self-righteous smile has spawned a thousand parodies, this movie’s no joke. The tension builds to an insane degree as James Caan’s captive writer Paul Sheldon plots his escape, step by hobbled step. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: AMC, Philo, most rental services

Tremors (1990)

Universal Pictures

A rollicking B-movie that aspires to be nothing more. Come for Kevin Bacon leading a band of plucky desert dwellers in the fight against giant dirt monsters; stay for a gun-toting Reba McEntire playing a survivalist — and having an obvious blast while doing it. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: AMC, Philo, most rental services

Arachnophobia (1990)

Buena Vista Pictures

Another B-movie, fit for the whole family — if your family likes watching venomous spiders terrorize a small town. Jeff Daniels plays a doctor whose patients are mysteriously dropping dead. Turns out, it’s the work of a deadly spider from Venezuela — and that Daniels’ kindly doc is terrified of spiders. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: IMDb TV, most rental services

The Exorcist III (1990)

20th Century Fox

George C. Scott glowers his way through this surprisingly potent follow-up to The Exorcist. Wisely ignoring the second film in the series (the truly awful The Exorcist II: The Heretic) this tale of a serial killer on the loose in Georgetown drips with menace. It earns bonus points for giving us one of the greatest jump scares in movie history. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: Prime video, Peacock, Shudder, Vudu

Def By Temptation (1990)

Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment

Recently finding new life among horror fans, this low-budget tale of a preacher’s son fighting a beautiful succubus in the big city is an example of the ways Black cinema was exploring various genres at the start of the decade. It’s the kind of movie that used to crowd video store shelves — short on quality, long on earnestness, and offering experience to those who would make a bigger splash later. In this case, it’s Samuel L. Jackson, in a small role as the main character’s father. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: BET+, most rental services

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Paramount Pictures

A good old-fashioned anthology film featuring three stories told within the framing device of a boy trying to distract a Martha Stewart-like housewife from cooking him. (Yes, really.) Adding to the weirdness is that said housewife is drolly played by Debbie Harry of Blondie fame. Inspired by the TV show that was a late-night staple of '80s kids, the movie is more tongue-in-cheek than outright scary. It’s notable now for being the film debut of Julianne Moore. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: PlutoTV, most rental services

Troll 2 (1990)

MGM

Here’s your chance to find out what happens when an Italian film crew that doesn’t speak English and American actors who don’t speak Italian team up to make a zero-budget movie about vegetarian goblins that turn people into mutant plants so they can eat them. The result is a film so bad it’s widely considered to be one of the worst things ever made. There’s even a documentary about it, appropriately titled Best Worst Movie. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: Cinemax, most rental services

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Orion Pictures

An undisputed masterpiece. Much has already been written about Jonathan Demme’s Oscar juggernaut, from Jodie Foster’s fiercely determined Clarice Starling to Anthony Hopkins’ face-chomping turn as Hannibal Lecter. There’s no need to say anything more than this: If you haven’t seen it, do so ASAP. If you have, watch it again and marvel at how the movie deals with societal violence, sexism, and class in ways that are as resonant today as they were 30 years ago. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: Netflix, Showtime, PlutoTV, most rental services

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Universal Pictures

A lurid little thriller that became a surprise box office success, thanks to its racially diverse cast, some genuine scares, and biting social commentary. Today, it’s an interesting look at the state of original horror after a decade of slashers, rip-offs, and sequels, and a snapshot of director Wes Craven’s career post-Freddy and pre-Scream. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: AMC, Philo, most rental services

Popcorn (1991)

Studio Three Film Corporation

Speaking of Scream, this exercise in self-referential horror arrived five years before Ghostface altered the cinematic landscape. A slasher flick that doubles as a loving ode to horror movies of old, it’s entertaining in the same way community theater is entertaining: Not very good, but everyone’s heart is in the right place. Watch the trailer.

Not available on streaming services

Cape Fear (1991)

Universal Pictures

Some say Martin Scorsese was slumming when he remade this 1962 thriller about an ex-con out for revenge on his former lawyer. I say, “Who cares?” It’s still a violent, over-the-top cinematic bonanza, with a tattooed Robert De Niro leading the charge. He stalks Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange! He tries to seduce teenage Juliette Lewis! He does revenge pull-ups in prison and travels miles hidden under cars and speaks in tongues! It’s completely bonkers, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Watch the trailer.

Where to watch: Netflix, most rental services


Dutton

SURVIVE THE NIGHT is the fifth thriller from Riley Sager, the pseudonym of an author who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Riley's first novel, Final Girls, was a national and international bestseller that has been published in more than two dozen countries, and won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel. Sager's novels The Last Time I Lied, Lock Every Door, and Home Before Dark were New York Times bestsellers.

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