Last week I posed the question: What if they gave Oscars for Horror Movies? With this thought in mind, I went “back in time” to 1980 and recounted the decade’s Oscar nominees and winners . These were not presented as my opinion, but as an alternate retelling of cinematic history. So if you didn’t like one of last week’s winners or your favorite Horror film didn’t get a nomination, don’t blame me—blame The Academy! I’m just presenting the facts, like a Documentary.
As explained in Part I, The Academy first awarded the Best Horror Movie Oscar back in 1980. This award’s creation was a direct response to the release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. This film was clearly a masterpiece, but since members of the Academy were afraid to nominate it for Best Picture, the Best Horror Movie category was invented as a compromise.
Slip with me (once again) into an alternate reality where Horror is considered a vast, stand-alone genre…
Nominees: The Exorcist III, Flatliners, Jacob’s Ladder, Misery, and Nightbreed
Aftermath: None of us knew it at the time, but 1990 was probably the decade’s best year for Horror films. If I were presenting a list of the Best Horror Films of the 90’s, four (if not all 5) of these films could have made the list. But this isn’t a “Best of” list, rather it’s a summary of Best Horror Oscar winners in the 90’s. Misery was the best story, Jacob’s Ladder was the scariest, Nightbreed was the most imaginative, and even The Exorcist III was considered vastly unrelated. Nonetheless, The Academy was won-over by an amazing ensemble cast of then-young actors: Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, and Oliver Platt (oh yeah, and William Baldwin too).
Nominees: The People Under the Stairs, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Omen IV: The Awakening, and Child’s Play 3
Winner: The People Under the Stairs
Aftermath: After a killer year, 1991 was an extremely lackluster time for Horror movies. How else can we explain the inclusion of The Omen IV and Child’s Play 3 on the list of nominees? This isn’t to suggest that the winner, The People Under the Stairs isn’t an amazing, award-worthy creation. In fact, it probably would have won even with stronger competition. Some members thought the Oscar should go to Freddy’s Dead as a salute to this villain’s swan-song. But since Jason came back from his Final Chapter, no one wanted to risk being tricked twice.
Nominees: Alien 3, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Candyman, and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Aftermath: Clive Barker has already proven himself as a multiple Oscar winner, but 1992 marked the first time two of his films were nominated in the same year. When the Oscar went to Candyman, it was another historic event: This was the first Best Horror Movie to feature an African American villain. Rumor is that Bram Stoker’s Dracula would have been a shoo in were it not for an abysmal performance by Keanu Reeves.
Nominees: Army of Darkness, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice, The Dark Half, and Leprechaun
Winner: Army of Darkness
Aftermath: You know it was a super shitty year for Horror movies if Leprechaun made the list of nominees. Army of Darkness was a ray of light in an otherwise dreary season.
Nominees: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Needful Things, and Wolf
Winner: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Aftermath: By now it should be painfully obvious that the early-mid 90’s were a very dark time in the history of Horror cinema. Films had gone from shocking and inventive to sleek and formulaic. Horror fans weren’t happy and the Academy again discussed discontinuing the Best Horror Film category all together (again!). While no one doubted that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the best film of the bunch, intelligent Horror fans cried foul over the fact that this film deviated significantly from Mary Shelley’s classic. One critic proclaimed, “They should have called it ‘Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein’. This story is more mutilated than the monster!”
Nominees: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers, Lord of Illusions, The Prophecy, Se7en, and Species
Aftermath: Thankfully, the Horror genre began a process of revitalization starting in 1995. Of course it went to Se7en. Duh!
Nominees: The Craft, Fear, From Dusk Till Dawn, Hellraiser: Bloodline, and Scream
Aftermath: In 1996, the question wasn’t so much “Which films deserve to be nominated?” More like: “Which films are going to lose to Scream?” Scream was a game-changer in the Horror genre, pointing out “the rules” while breaking them simultaneously. Scream’s self conscious presentation made it almost immune to criticism. Most importantly, Scream was an intelligent Horror movie. This film’s effect on Horror history cannot be understated.
Nominees: Alien Resurrection, Devil’s Advocate, Event Horizon, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Mimic
Winner: Event Horizon
Aftermath: 1997 was a great year for Horror Sci-Fi, with 3 of the 5 nominees fitting this subgenre. Mimic got a lot of attention for its talented director, a relative unknown named Guillermo del Toro. In the end, it was Event Horizon’s epic theme and unflinching gore that made them the clear front-runner.
Nominees: Apt Pupil, Bride of Chucky, The Faculty, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, and Urban Legend
Winner: The Faculty
Aftermath: Dang, just when things were on the upswing we get another shitty crop of Best Horror Film Nominees. The Faculty was the only film that showed anything related to original creativity. Sure, Apt Pupil was more mature and intellectual—but it was also a snorefest.
Nominees: The Astronaut’s Wife, The Blair Witch Project, Ravenous, Sleepy Hollow, and Stir of Echoes
Aftermath: Even though Ravenous won the gold, 1999 was the Year of the Witch—the Blair Witch that is. While it may have lost to a more traditional narrative, the effect The Blair Witch Project had on the future of Horror (and all cinema in fact) cannot be understated. While not the first “found footage” Horror film, The Blair Witch struck a nerve and found a place of prominence in our cultural psyche. Blair Witch also made the dream of movie making feel more accessible to the average Joe or Jane, and thousands of film students created low or zero budget movies in the decade that followed. While it may have lost the Oscar to the extraordinary film Ravenous, The Blair Witch Project would prove to have more staying power than just about any other film this decade.
While the 90’s were, overall, a terrible period in the history of Horror Cinema, the next decade would see innovations and surprises that no one could have expected. I will go far as to say that the year 2000 ushered in a golden age for Horror fans. So plentiful are the films that emerged that next week’s installment will have an additional statistic: Serious Contenders. See you next week for the final installment of If They Gave Oscars for Horror Movies, Part III: 2000-2009.
Other randomness: I will be screening the prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing this weekend with much anticipation and trepidation. It’s not that I’m scared of the horrors I may behold on screen, I’m worried that this prequel might destroy The Thing’s awesome legacy. Prequels are almost as tricky to successfully execute as remakes.
Finally, if you live in Northern California and you’re looking for a great time this Halloween, you can’t go wrong at Dr. Evil’s House of Horrors. I was there a couple weeks ago and I’ll be headed back next weekend (the 21st and 22nd). Check out their website (www.doctorevilshouseofhorrors.com), read my review here on Blood and Guts , and give me a shout out if you end up going!
Just a couple more weeks until Halloween my Sweeties! Saucy Josh loves you!