The 10 best sci-fi horror films of the ’90s that still last today
The 1990s was a shockingly good decade for science fiction horror films. This was the age of tremors, species, and a number of Alien and Predator sequels. It was a time when science became seriously scary on the big screen, and movie fans devoured it with ferocious devotion.
However, some of the best and most disturbing science fiction horror films of the era were initially overlooked or underestimated and then enjoyed a second life through VHS rentals and nightly TV shows. The good news is that thanks to the deluge of streaming services available, it’s a lot easier to familiarize yourself with these underrated classics – starting with these 10.
10 Cube (1997)
The genius of Cube lies in its simplicity. Six strangers with different backgrounds wake up and find themselves in a seemingly endless labyrinth of cubes. You quickly discover that some of the cubes are equipped with deadly traps that must be traversed to find a way out.
Vincenzo Natali’s debut belies its low-fi origins and delivers an intelligent science fiction horror story that combines unforgettable set pieces with a consistently intriguing premise. Exciting, fast-paced and full of surprises, it has already been reissued in Japan. It is surely only a matter of time before Hollywood follows suit.
9 Arachnophobia (1990)
Steven Spielberg’s production partner Frank Marshall turned to directing with this underrated homage to the classic creature traits of Hollywood’s bygone days. Arachnophobia delivers surprisingly effective PG fear, along with some real laughs, with a plot centered around a sleepy California town where locals fall over like flies thanks to a sudden influx of highly venomous spiders.
Jeff Daniels plays Dr. Ross Jennings, an avowed spider hater new to town who has to face his fears and, with a little help from local exterminator Delbert McClintock (John Goodman), prevent an ecological catastrophe. It’s exciting and offers real moments of horror.
8th Delicatessen (1991)
Ten years before he turned to comedies with Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet was better known for this equally inspired science-fiction-comedy-horror hybrid. At the heart of the deli is an apartment building in post-apocalyptic France where homeowner and local butcher Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) has set up a disturbing sideline, turning newcomers into food for the building’s strange residents.
Clapet’s plan, however, stalled when his young daughter (Marie-Laure Dougnac) falls in love with his newest throwaway recruit, Louison (Dominique Pinon). Dark, funny and often scary, Delicatessen is French cinema at its finest.
7th Hardware (1990)
British filmmaker Richard Stanley put himself on the map with this inspired sci-fi / monster thriller and landed the gig where he played the ill-fated adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau staged. Ingenious and visually resourceful, Hardware plays a young Dylan McDermott as Moses ‘Hard Mo’ Baxter, a former soldier who became a scavenger in post-apocalyptic America.
Eager to impress his artist Jill (Stacey Travis), Hard Mo thinks he hit the jackpot after coming across some robot spares that he believes could be used in one piece. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that he has resurrected a deadly android that can put itself back together. Violent chaos ensues.
6th Body Parts (1991)
Before Lawnmower Man, Jeff Fahey made the best turn of his career in this B-movie sci-fi shocker from The Hitcher writer Eric Red. Fahey plays Bill, a criminal psychologist who wakes up after a car accident and finds that he has lost his arm and that a stranger has had a transplant in its place.
Soon, however, the arm begins to behave as if it had a life of its own in a series of creepy set pieces that heighten the tension. Bill eventually discovers that his new link previously belonged to a very bad man. Worse, he’s not the only one to have had a transplant.
5 The Relic (1997)
The Relic could be the best monster movie of the decade, combining nifty genre thrills with some surprisingly effective horrors. The focus of the events is the Chicago Field Museum, where an alien creature is at large and people are picked up under increasingly gruesome circumstances.
It’s up to a homicide investigator (Tom Sizemore) and an anthropologist (Penelope Anne Miller) to track down the lizard-like intruder before the number of bodies increases even further. Funny, fast-paced, and suitably tense, The Relic flopped on release but has found an audience in the years since and is well worth your time.
4th Body Melt (1993)
Taking the torch from Peter Jackson’s antipodal cult favorite Braindead, Body Melt is a truly amazing piece of body horror movies that really has to be seen to be believed. Combining gross, sticky special effects with biting satire, it focuses on the residents of an ordinary Australian suburb and the mad scientist who decides to use them as a guinea pig for a new vitamin pill – a pill with some pretty alarming side effects.
Criminally underrated, Quentin Tarantino is a big fan and rates Body Melt as one of the best horror films of its kind since Re-Animator. Kudos indeed.
3 Facial Expression (1997)
Guillermo del Toro hit his teeth in Hollywood with this predictive sci-fi horror thriller set in a near-future version of New York where cockroaches threaten the lives of children across the city.
When a research team led by an evolutionary biologist (Mira Sorvino) developed a kind of “Judas” beetle that could imitate and exterminate diseased insects, the catastrophe seemed to have been averted. But the beetles keep evolving and find new prey to imitate: us. Smart, creepy and suitably atmospheric, Mimic is sure to make you squirm in your place.
2 Body Eater (1993)
Filmmaker Abel Ferrara’s work is a constant source of fascination, and that’s no different with this terrifying adaptation of Jack Finney’s timeless 1955 novel of the same name. Terry Kinney plays Steve Malone, an Environmental Protection Agency inspector who was sent to a remote military base with his young family, including teenage daughter Marti (Gabrielle Anwar).
Things take a turn for the sinister when an increasingly paranoid Marti realizes that grassroots people are acting strange and that a plant-like organism is in place. Well thought-out pace and interrupted by impressive moments of horror, Body Snatchers stays with you long after the credits.
1 Event Horizon (1997)
This list would not be complete without Event Horizon. It’s crazy to remember how underrated Paul WS Anderson’s science fiction horror gem was when it was released. A box office bomb initially hated by critics, but one that has grown in importance over the years. Event Horizon is a dizzying mix of space tension and terrifying graphics brought to life by a brilliant cast and director of the highest caliber.
Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne play as members of a crew sent to explore a spaceship that has resurfaced years after its disappearance. But something eerie is waiting on board.
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