A fascinating thing happened to me earlier this year. Ready to start off the 2020 horror season with a bang, my wife and I decided to check out Underwater. To plan our evening around our dog’s bathroom breaks and 120 minutes of round trip travel (thank you South Dakota), I needed to check the movie’s run-time. Why is that fascinating? Well, coming off a year in which we saw 148 minutes of Midsommar and a whopping 169 minutes of It: Chapter Two, a wave of relief splashed across my weary mind. A 95 minute run-time!
In an age of epics at the theatre, Underwater breezed across the screen, serving as a pleasant reminder that not every good story requires 11.7% of your day. It’s Leap Fear Month here at Nightmare on Film Street, and it’s time to celebrate these “shorter spookies”! I am pleased to present you with a collection of top-notch horror films with run times under 90 minutes! Full disclosure, this list was shockingly hard to make. Turns out there are a ton of “brief boo’s” out there deserving a place on this list. Without further ado, let’s get into the best of these hasty haunts!
10. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) – 86 mins
It really is a crime that Andre Ovredal’s tale of mortuary malevolence didn’t receive a wide release. The Autopsy of Jane Doe tells the story of a mystery corpse gone rogue, terrorizing coroners Tommy (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) in their small town mortuary. Intensely creepy and claustrophobic, the film moves along from scare to scare without dragging it’s feet at all. Ovredal does a fantastic job combining tension and gore, creating a terror that’s just as psychological as it is visual. Major props are in order for actress Olwen Kelly, who had to lay perfectly still for her entire role as Jane Doe despite the constant poking and prodding from the faux autopsy. Lastly, a heads up – you’ll never hear a bell ring the same again.
9. The Last Exorcism (2010) – 87 mins
If I’m being honest, I feel the whole exorcism thing in horror movies has run into tiresome territory. The same can be said about found footage flicks. This movie is both, which makes The Last Exorcism‘s place on this list really impressive. After losing his faith in religion, a reverend and an accompanying film crew set out to disprove exorcisms, to great success. That is, until they fail, big time. The movie separates itself from the run-of-the-mill demon feature with an unrelenting drip of creepiness and unease, from start to finish. But the real clincher is a truly terrifying third act, a place where many horror movies crumble. I can vividly remember catching this in theatres and feeling extremely unsettled on the drive home. That, my fiends, is effective horror.
8. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) – 89 mins
Love horror and need a good laugh, but are on a tight schedule? This movie is for you. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil follows two redneck friends taking a vacation to the backwoods, only to be victimized by some very ignorant college kids who mistake them for killer hillbillies. Actors Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk give hilarious performances as the lovable, misunderstood rednecks, and writer/director Eli Craig manages to spoof all of the horror tropes and cliches we love about the genre. This isn’t your typical slapstick gag comedy, though. Craig clearly loves horror and essentially crafts a comedic love letter in it’s honor, complete with laughs, scares, and even a little heart.
7. Zombieland (2009) – 88 mins
A film near and dear to me, Zombieland was the movie of choice on the night I would muster the courage to ask the girl out who would later go on to become my wife. Fortunately fate didn’t forever tie me to a crummy movie, as Zombieland is one hell of a good time. Featuring an all-star cast of Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Jessie Eisenberg, the story follows a group of misfits who find each other in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies. Full to the brim with fast-paced action and comedy, the real credit to the film’s success belongs to the chemistry between the aforementioned cast. That, and some killer cinematography. It’s not just the funniness that lands Zombieland on this list, though. The burning world overrun by zombies isn’t lost upon the laughs, and the gore rivals any Living Dead film. As the cherry on top, it also gave us the wonderful line, “time to nut up or shut up.”
6. The Collector (2009) – 88 mins
The Collector makes other home invasion movies look like Saturday morning cartoons. I’m really not exaggerating. From film making partners Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, the film follows a burglar who enters a house where he’s already been beaten to the punch. Only instead of a fellow robber, it’s a sadistic serial killer dubbed “the Collector” due to his affliction for keeping one member of a household as a prize while murdering everyone else. Melton, who also directed the feature, brings a style of film making that I can best describe as a classy Rob Zombie – absolutely vicious and dark, but without the trashy, vulgar quality that finds its way into every Zombie flick. Terrifying and at times even hard to watch, The Collector is not a horror film you’ll soon forget.
5. The Neighbor (2016) – 87 mins
Yet another feature from Dunstan and Melton, The Neighbor is a film that deserves more recognition than it has. The story centers around John and Troy, two neighbors in a dying Mississippi town. Troy exhibits strange, upsetting habits, and when John‘s girlfriend vanishes, he suspects Troy and sneaks onto his property, where all hell breaks loose. What I love about this movie is you’ll feel like you figured out what’s going on not far into it, and you will be wrong. A testament to people society left behind turning to desperate measures, you’ll end The Neighbor having no idea how to feel. Mix in Dunstan’s aforementioned style of film making and one absolutely haunting performance by none other than comedian Bill Engvall, the result is a Friday-night flick worth your time.
4. Dead Silence (2007) – 89 mins
As a reader of the Goosebumps series like any good fiend-in-the-making, Night of the Living Dummy brought me to this movie. I’m sure glad it did. The second film from the duo of horror masterminds Leigh Whannell and James Wan, Dead Silence is one seriously spooky tale. After his fiance is brutally murdered, a man follows the clues to her killer back to his hometown. There, the legend of a monstrous ventriloquist and her collection of dolls proves to be more than just a campfire story. Wan’s horror chops are on full display here, producing some major creeps and stunning imagery. Don’t let the internet tell you otherwise, if you are into that Insidious style of horror, you’ll love this one just the same.
3. House of 1000 Corpses (2003) – 89 mins
If you have read my previous work here at NOFS, you’ve heard me sing the praises of House of 1000 Corpses before. I’m going to do it again! Rob Zombie’s directorial debut remains one of, if not, the best film he’s ever done. There’s so much bat-shit crazy packed into a brisk 89 minutes that when you’re done, you won’t really be sure what you just saw. The plot is fairly basic, following a group of friends who stumble upon the Firefly family farm to each face their demented demises. Fortunately, a complex story isn’t needed here. The film is a haunted house on speed, and Zombie wraps it all in his grimy visual aesthetic to perfection. Pour yourself a bowl of Agatha Crispies and enjoy the ride.
2. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) – 86 mins
I’m making the call – Jason Lives is hands down the best Friday the 13th entry in the series. It may not be your personal favorite or guilty pleasure, but director Tom McLoughlin crafted the most complete version of Jason to hit the big screen to date. In Part VI, not convinced he’s truly dead, Tommy Jarvis accidentally revives Jason, who’s ready to slaughter a new batch of counselors at the renamed Camp Forest Green. There’s action, humor, horror, and perhaps the rarest characteristic in any Friday the 13th film – a compelling story with compelling characters. It should be noted that this film introduced us to the version of Jason most of us now associate with the slasher – an undead, supernatural force that can literally fold you in half (here’s to you poor Sheriff Garris).
1. Child’s Play (1988) – 87 mins
If you grew up in the 90’s, I guarantee you’ve had a nightmare about Chucky. Turns out, he wasn’t always the slapstick killer doll we know him to be. Don Mancini’s original story is a horror classic that should be discussed in the same conversations as big names like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. After transferring his soul into a children’s doll, serial killer Charles Lee Ray befriends a young boy in an attempt to regain his human form. Sure, there’s some humor, but Child’s Play really is a horrific tale with some incredible special effects/animatronic work.
Actor Brad Dourif’s voice work is legendary in the world of horror and is worth the price to rent alone. And, if you want more of Chucky but your time is scarce, good news! Each of the first four films clock in at 90 minutes or less! I would recommend you see each one of them, but prepare to wake up in a cold sweat regardless of your age. I mean, he is your friend to the end. Heidi ho!
What other fleeting fear flicks would you put on this list? Is it time I threw away the thesaurus? Let us know some of your favorite scares under 90 minutes on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages! Thanks for reading!