The Best 90s Zombie Movies
The decade of the 80s was so powerful and productive for the zombie horror that when the 90s arrived, the undead genre was already exhausted and practically in a vegetative state. The audiences began to look for another type of fiction and the zombie was practically exiled to Japanese video games.
The small revival of the slasher and the massification of the DVD format would boost a resurgence of the sub-genre at the end of the decade, but the true gems of this new rebirth wouldn't arrive until the new millennium.
However, a few renegades did tell undead stories in this difficult period.
Here, we present the best 90s zombie movies to watch. Their importance in history, their cinematic quality and their ability to better encapsulate the decade were some of the criteria considered for their inclusion in this list.
12) The Boneyard (1991)
When the VHS rental The Boneyard was released, it came with two boxes; one of them promoted it the movie as horror, the other as a comedy.
And it all makes sense. During its first few minutes, the story shows an interesting supernatural mystery. Deborah Rose and Ed Nelson even offer performances that, considering the genre, surprise a lot because of their high quality.
An hour later, we have a crazy setup with some children zombies/Asian devils and a mutated Will Vinton-like giant poodle dog that dies when confusing a stick of dynamite with a bone.
It's gloriously absurd, unexpected and fun as hell.
11) Frankenhooker (1990)
If there was an unsung hero who kept exploitation alive during the late 80s and early 90s, that was Frank Henenlotter, who opened the decade with his most strategically misogynistic and hilarious movie: Frankenhooker.
In Frankenhooker, a crazy medical dropout decides to revive his accidentally maimed fiancee (played by then penthouse model Patty Mullen) using "the best parts" of a group of prostitutes addicted to crack. It's as decadent as it sounds. It is also immorally funny.
The contrast between conservatism and debauchery and the latent hypocrisy that unites them is the narrative premise of this marvel. Not bad for a splatstick full of exploding hookers.
10) Pet Sematary Two (1992)
There's no doubt that the work of Mary Lambert in the first installment of Stephen King's classic adaptation was wonderful. Zelda, Fred Gwynne, and Church the cat will forever be emblematic horror icons.
This sequel, created three years later, came with some setbacks. Stephen King was out as a screenwriter. The most important and creative ideas of Mary Lambert were blocked by Paramount Pictures.
But even with one-dimensional characters and some half cliched ideas, Pet Sematary Two has too many iconic moments recorded in our imagination. It definitely was more form than substance this time, but it didn't matter.
In addition, this is definitely a product of the '90s. It includes Edward Furlong practically emulating his John Connor role from Terminator 2 (sans the hacking abilities) and a fantastic Clancy Brown as the unpredictable and threatening main villain.
9) My Boyfriend’s Back (1993)
Bob Balaban is best known for his role as an actor (It's Phoebe's dad from Friends, everyone!) but as an author, his work is just getting revisited.
Balaban was the director of several episodes of weird little '90s TV gems such as Eerie Indiana and Amazing Stories, and that is deeply felt in My Boyfriend's Back, a high-school rom-com with a lot of deadpan humor about a geeky boy who comes back from death, obsessed with his prom date.
It also includes some fantastic performances by Edward Herrmann and Mary Beth Hurt. And watching Matthew Fox as the popular jock and Philip Seymour Hoffman as his psycho bully sidekick is definitely a treat.
8) Cemetery Man (1994)
This Michele Soavi horror film is on a unique border. He has the Giallo influence of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci (both mentors of Soavi for years) together with the irreverence and comedy of his own time.
From parody to artistic ambition, idiotic humor and existentialism, Cemetery Man is undoubtedly tonally odd. And yet, everything looks incredibly controlled.
The main reason for its success is its main character. Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is an undertaker at times enigmatic, masochistic, stoic and with a unique vision about sexuality and love. And the fact that it works speaks wonders about Everett's underestimated talent.
7) Bio Zombie (1998)
From the mind of Wilson Yip (you know, the guy behind Flash Point and the Ip Man series) comes this Hong Kong zombie comedy movie, full of truly genuine laughs and memorable characters.
Set in a classic Hong Kong Mall, the film pays homage to Dawn of the Dead, Braindead and Mallrats, never ceasing to show a unique personality, thanks in large part to the clever and dynamic direction of Yip.
And, of course, it's evident at all times that this is the product of the '90s. Dutch angles, MTV cold green-blue space cinematography and scenes full of past totems like pirated VCDs, Motorola StarTACS, James Cameron's Titanic and polygonal zombie videogames.
6) Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)
The third entry of a decadent saga was destined to be an absolute failure. But perhaps thanks to the absolute freedom that the lack of expectations provides, Brian Yuzna (the producer of Re-Animator) made a nice film which even competes with the original in terms of technical quality.
For part 3, Yuzna completely abandoned humor and concentrated on a tragic Shakespearean love story with wonderful elements of body horror and mad sci-fi.
It's also a fantastic nutshell of the early 90s grunge culture. Piercings, body modifications, flannel shirts, and the fantasy of enjoying rainy Seattle while forming a rock band is the backdrop of this insane story. All that, and a nice quality in the gore department.
5) Nightbreed (1990)
The brilliant David Cronenberg in the main antagonist role of a psychiatrist/masked serial killer? Check! A wonderful score created by the legendary Danny Elfman? Check! An extensive gallery of memorable characters designed and directed by the great Clive Barker? Check! Check!
Nightbreed is an incredible festival of special effects, make-up, and explosions. This is the story of a hidden and renegade civilization of modern creatures, demons, and undead, one more insane and grotesque than the other.
And in the third act, there's basically an all-out-battle between rednecks, cops and these Baphomet night creatures.
It's an absolute wonder that deserves all the cult status it has.
4) Army Of Darkness (1992)
The third installment of the legendary Ash Williams saga abandoned the intimate artisan craft of the splatstick to open the scope for epic medieval battles between Middle Ages knights and stop-motion skeletons, deadites and flying harpies.
The sacrifice for the "greater good" is evident: Army Of Darkness isn't as frightening as The Evil Dead or as fun as Evil Dead 2. But what's gained is wonderful: Sam Raimi makes his magic and manages to introduce an Amblin-like adventure vibe to the saga.
In addition, Army Of Darkness offers us the best Ash Williams. Bruce Campbell takes his over-the-top interpretation to the most self-aware and cocky realms possible.
3) Night of the Living Dead (1990)
In many ways, this almost impossible task of remaking a George Romero's classic was forged in the fight between director Tom Savini and eccentric producer Menahem Golan. Savini wanted to distance himself from Romero and do something more visceral. While Golan wanted, paradoxically, considering his wacky filmography, to tone down the violence.
And although there may be a little bit too much of scenes featuring nailing boards, the result is an interesting and symbolic torch passing.
Savini's movie is not as transgressive as the original, but it deserves a place of honor only by the way it beautifully reinvented the character of Patricia Tallman. Patricia was now a brand new badass heroine for modern times.
What is the best 1990s zombie movie?
2) Wild Zero (1999)
Directly from Japan, Wild Zero came to prevail as the most punk and progressive zombie movie ever made. Since then, nobody has overcome the wonderful transgression of director Tetsuro Takeuchi and writer Satoshi Takagi.
This a physical comedy full of zombies, aliens, and exploding heads, at a time when Asian horror was perhaps at its most serious and hardcore point. And its core is a unique and engaging love story between a man and a trans woman.
Not everything is "woke culture" here. At the end of the day, Wild Zero works perfectly thanks to its frenzy choreography, its electric guitars/katanas, its spitfire microphones, and its whole biker-pompadour-post-punk iconography.
1) Braindead (1992)
In a historical moment when zombies were completely despised and condemned to oblivion by both audiences and critics, a young New Zealand director firmly accepted the challenge to make an undead film. His name? Peter Jackson, who a decade later would continue to demonstrate his badass confidence by shooting three Lord of the Rings movies at once.
Braindead is obviously inspired in Sam Raimi's splatstick, but from its first minute, it's evident we are watching a unique piece. Absurd, over the top, hilarious, full of grotesque and disgusting makeup and gallons of fake blood, this film is an unforgettable fever dream.
And, in addition, the story is an awesome, balls-to-the-walls analogy about the Oedipus complex.
We hope you enjoyed our best zombie movies of the 90s and found something to put on your to watch list.
© 2019 Sam Shepards