If you were looking for traditional, read: slasher/zombie/monster, horror flicks in 1991 you were left wanting. Not that they weren’t released, they were. A bunch of ’em. But, of those released the only one really worth mentioning is The People Under the Stairs. Written and directed by Wes Craven, PUtS isn’t exactly a great movie and far from his best. What it does well however, is capture real life horror with that signature Craven mysticism. (not that there is anything magic in the movie, just that it has that sort of vibe…) The real world implications are terrifying and make for one heck of a roller coaster of emotions. Definitely recommended.
The scariest movies to come out in 1991 were Silence of the Lambs and Cape Fear. The Silence of the Lambs is one of those movies that doesn’t necessarily seem like a horror flick at first glance, more of a thriller. But when you peel back the layers, what you get is an intensely personal look at the minds of these characters and how the events of their lives have shaped them. It’s a different kind of terror experienced by Jodie Foster here than say any of the teenagers in a Friday the 13th, yet it is terror all the same. Anthony Hopkins’ career defining turn as Hannibal Lecter is one of the most fully realized monsters ever put on screen. The scariest thing about this movie might just be the sense of calm felt by the bad guys. There is no showy dramatic moment where they yell or scream or do any of the jump scare type things so many movie monsters do. Rather, it is a quiet sense of purpose that is so damned unnerving. An absolutely brilliant film and a must see.
And then there is Cape Fear. Equally as unsettling as Silence of the Lambs, Cape Fear is one of the most effective horror films of all time, for the right audience of course. If you saw Cape Fear as a younger version of yourself, perhaps one without kids whereas now you’ve got a bunch of ankle biters tearing your house to pieces, watch this again. As a parent, this movie is about as scary as anything I can imagine. The terror inflicted by Max Cady, played to a haunting degree by Robert DeNiro, on the Bowden family is the stuff of literal nightmares. And the cause of Cady’s rage, the moral compass of the father (Sam Bowden) in an earlier, failed defense against charges of rape, begs the question; how far are you willing to go for what you know is right? Similar to Lecter, the sense of purpose from Cady is about as scary as any monster imaginable. While hard to call Cape Fear a favorite, it is a phenomenal film and one worthy of your attention.