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Bruce Markusen Takes a 30-Year Look Back at 5 Horror Films from 1992



Bruce Markusen Takes a 30-Year Look Back at 5 Horror Films from 1992

At first blush, 1992 might not seem like a particularly noteworthy year in the history of horror. Some of the decade’s most important horror films came out earlier in the 1990s, like Silence of the Lambs in 1991, or later on, like Scream in 1996 and The Sixth Sense in 1998. With regard to 1992, there isn’t a lot in the way of absolute classics and there isn’t a lot of depth either; it’s not a year where we can point to a dozen or so films and classify them all as very good.

But for me, there is something significant about 1992. It was a year when I became revitalized by the genre of horror, to the point where I more regularly made visits to the theater to watch some of the new films making their debuts. The 1992 roster includes two films that I would classify as throwback classics, because of the way that they used supernatural monsters instead of human killers. And there is one other film that is particularly underrated, almost forgotten in a sense, despite a remarkable psychological performance from its lead actress.

All things considered, 1992 was a very decent year for horror. In looking back some 30 years ago, five films stand out as must-see attractions. They’re all very different from one another, but all executed in a slick and convincing way, with a couple of comedic efforts thrown into the mix.

5. Army of Darkness:

In a technical sense, this 1992 production is part of the franchise of Evil Dead movies, but in reality, it bears little resemblance to those frightening films, particularly the original from 1981. Army of Darkness is far more comedy than horror, a film that gives Bruce Campbell every chance to show off his brand of humor, which he does with a wonderful combination of bewilderment and sarcasm.

Campbell returns as Ash Williams, the wisecracking hardware store clerk who is suddenly thrust back in time to the 1300s. Almost immediately, he finds himself in trouble: at the bottom of a deep, water-filled pit, fending off some kind of a demon-witch who would like to consume him for lunch. Ash, his trademark Oldsmobile, and his chainsaw-for-an-arm become the subject of fear and animosity among the ancient villagers. But they eventually come to rely upon his skills to lead them in their fight against the army of “Deadites,” living skeletons who are equipped with swords, knives, catapults, and other weapons of destruction.

The battle scenes in Army of Darkness represent a culmination of a fast-moving film that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a rollercoaster ride of fantasy entertainment. If there’s a downside to the movie, it’s the special effects, which are a mixed bag of effectiveness. While the costuming and the makeup are quite good, as is the scene in which “Evil Ash” grows out of Ash’s shoulder, the effect of the warrior skeletons moving along the ground is rather dated.

Ultimately, though, that doesn’t matter within the context of a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Placing the emphasis on physical comedy and action, the film is fun from start to finish. As the star of the movie, Campbell seems to be enjoying himself immensely, and that encourages us to feel the same way.

Army of Darkness is not high art or classic horror, but it manages to keep us engaged while giving us Campbell at his comic best.

Three stars for Army of Darkness.

Army of Darkness Ash with Chainsaw

4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

I’ve always had a fondness for this version of Dracula, in part because I saw it in the theater, allowing me to enjoy on the large screen the elegance and magnitude of this brilliantly photographed film. It’s one of the few Dracula adaptations that’s been done on a large budget; it’s refreshing to see a film adaptation on The Count that doesn’t have to cut corners or provide us with slipshod special effects. The elaborate costuming and the spectacular scenery all help make this a riveting entry in the Dracula lexicon.

The film begins with a flashback to the days of the brutal Vlad Dracula, allegedly the real life character that motivated Stoker to write about Dracula in the 1890s. We are quickly introduced to Dracula as played by Gary Oldman, who gives us perhaps the creepiest interpretation of the character since the days of Bela Lugosi. It is the performance of Gary Oldman as Dracula that really makes the movie; he plays the vampire with a combination of weirdness, creepiness, and sinister evil, but also with some heart, as evidenced by his intense love of Mina Harker.

Winona Ryder is also good, playing the beautiful Mina in a charming but vulnerable way. Anthony Hopkins gives us a slightly off-kilter Van Helsing; it is not Hopkins at his best, but it is certainly acceptable. And let’s not forget about a memorable effort from Tom Waits, who portrays a very strange Renfield that would have made Dwight Frye proud.

That’s not to say that the 1992 Dracula doesn’t have its flaws: Keanu Reeves is badly miscast as Jonathan Harker, and his performance drags the film down at certain points. (Reeves is very good in certain roles, particularly when he plays the everyman kind of hero, but his placement in Victorian England does not work. Nor does his British accent.) There is also too much of an emphasis on the love story involving Dracula and Mina, not when most viewers want to see Dracula at his most bloodthirsty, doing his best to inflict pain on his enemies.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not exactly what the great writer had in mind when he sat down to write the book, especially given the love scenes that expound on the relationship between the vampire and Mina, but it is a fun and fascinating take on The Count. The scenery, the colors, and the special effects all make for an atmospheric movie with an epic feel.

There have been many versions of Dracula on film, but the 1992 effort from Coppola is my favorite.

Four stars for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula Smile

3. Candyman:

As with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I saw Candyman in the theater while on a date. The date was OK, but the film was better. It’s also the rare movie that scared the daylights out of me, in a way that I had not felt since watching Night of the Living Dead for the first time.

Directed by Bernard Rose, Candyman represents a blending of two famous urban legends. One involves “Bloody Mary,” a ghost that will appear if you say her name five times in a row while looking into a mirror. The other is “The Hook,” a monstrous figure who has a sharp metal hook for a hand and uses it to terrorize couples in parked cars. These two stories are combined almost seamlessly, making for one of the most compelling horror films of the 1990s.

In many ways, Tony Todd as the title character makes the film. With his intimidating build, remarkably deep voice, and uneasy calmness, Todd forms Candyman into one of the most frightening modern day monsters. Todd considers this his best film and his best role. I would agree; only one actor should play Candyman, and it’s Tony Todd.

Virginia Madsen is also exceptional as the protagonist, Helen, a graduate student whose research into the Cabrini-Green murders leads to her unwittingly unleashing Candyman on the Chicago landscape. Interestingly, the second choice to play Helen was a young Sandra Bullock, who would have been offered the part if Madsen had turned it down.

Candyman features a number of memorable scenes, but none more so than when Helen is taken into psychiatric care. As she visits with her doctor in his office, she decides to summon Candyman as a way of proving that she is not mentally ill. Candyman indeed makes an appearance, right on cue, but in a way that Helen and the psychiatrist would not have preferred. The scene still sends shivers to my spine to this day.

There’s also an authenticity to Candyman. A good part of the film is filmed at the rather infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago. The housing projects, which were poorly maintained and riddled with crime and drug abuse, no longer exist, with the last high-rise apartment having been torn down in 2011.

Candyman is easily one of the top 25 horror films of all time. Not only is it frightening and creepy (thanks to the setting of Cabrini-Green), but it is a well-told story with a message, and features good special effects and great performances.

Four stars for Candyman.

Candyman 1992 Tony Face Shot

2. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle:

Directed by Curtis Hanson, this movie is more thriller than horror, but there is enough in the way of scares and general tension to allow this psychological twister to qualify for our list.

Rebecca De Mornay plays Peyton, the widow of a doctor who has committed suicide. She places the blame for his death on a young woman named Claire, played by Annabella Sciorra, who filed a complaint of sexual assault against the doctor. Changing her name and identity, Peyton pretends to be a nanny, puts on the charm, and schemes to take care of Claire’s newborn child. But Peyton is secretly plotting her revenge, which will come in the form of stealing the baby from Claire and her husband.

De Mornay is fantastic in the lead role; few actresses have ever played a two-sided character like Peyton any better than her. Given her work in this film, it still stuns me to this day that De Mornay has never become a bigger star. (And her more recent work in Mother’s Day only confirms De Mornay’s ability to handle horror.)

Ernie Hudson is equally good as a family handyman who is mentally challenged, but also brave enough to take on the evil Peyton. It’s a role that could have been overplayed, and easily could have become offensive to some, but Hudson straddles the line and makes it authentic.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is an overachieving film full of tension and suspense.

Three and a half stars for this underrated gem featuring the talents of De Mornay and Hudson.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle 1992

1. Innocent Blood:

Of the five films featured here, this is probably the least known, but it is a creative effort that mixes vampires with the mafia while also blending horror with comedy. At times, the humor overwhelms the horror, but not enough to damage the film. The comic aspect of Innocent Blood also explains the presence of Don Rickles in his first and only horror film, and the campiest performance of Robert Loggia since his turn as Frank Lopez in Scarface.

Little known French actress Anne Parillaud stars as Marie, a beautiful vampire with a thirst to kill—but only those who are evil or criminal. As she murders an infamous mob boss named Sal Macelli, she is interrupted in mid-attack and fails to dispose of the body properly. That leads to all sorts of problems—specifically the creation of a new mob family consisting of vampires.

Macelli is played with great gusto (and humor) by Loggia, who is at first confused by his transformation after the initial vampire attack. In explaining his newfound powers, Loggia delivers one of the most memorable lines of the film. “I can hear an angel fart,” Loggia’s Macelli says with great pride.

Loggia’s performance and Rickles’ appearance are two of the highlights of Innocent Blood. The film does have some problems, too, but they are not so egregious as to overtake the film. Parillaud’s French accent is so heavy that it is sometimes difficult to understand what she is saying. And a young Anthony LaPaglia, who has become a better actor over time, is somewhat miscast in the role of protagonist and love interest to Parillaud’s vampire.

Innocent Blood is not a classic, but it is a film that is fun and dares to be a little different, while giving us Loggia in the kind of over-the-top role that made him so likeable.

Three stars for Innocent Blood.

Innocent Blood 1992

Beyond this fabulous five of films, a few other notable entries from 1992 deserve mentions. They include Raising Cain (a Hitchcockian film from Brian De Palma), Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (a decent sequel in the long-running franchise), the goofy Dr. Giggles (featuring the campiness of the late and talented Larry Drake), and the trashy but amusing Poison Ivy.

1992 might not have been a banner year for horror, but it was still formidable. The aforementioned group of films, with Candyman and Bram Stoker’s Dracula leading the way, make it worth a revisit.

Consider picking up Bruce’s new book Hosted Horror on Television, which is currently available through the McfarlandBooks website.



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