by Patrick Bromley
New Line Cinema used to be one of the best and most interesting independent studios in the movie business. Originally started and run by Bob Shaye, New Line was known as "the house that Freddy built" because they had their first big success with A Nightmare on Elm Street and was kept afloat by the franchise during the '80s. They were the studio putting out genre movies when hardly anyone else was. They spoke to audiences that were otherwise ignored, be they horror fans, teenagers, black audiences -- you name it. They're also the studio that greenlit three concurrent Lord of the Rings movies from a cult director with no history of box office success and wound up making history in the process, racking up Oscars, changing the face of modern movies -- and eventually somehow going bankrupt. In short, they blew it.
Bolstered by mainstream successes like the Elm Street series and 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, New Line really came into their own in the '90s. They had a full slate of movies, many of which have rightly become classics. They eventually had more giant successes with the Blade and Austin Powers franchises. Here are some of the studio's best films of the '90s that don't quite get enough love. Check them out if you haven't already -- though if you're reading this site regularly, chances are you've seen them all.
Wes Craven) The best Elm Street movie after the original, Wes Craven's post-modern return to the series he created casts Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, New Line president Bob Shaye and more as themselves being haunted by a demon created by the actual making of the films. It's an ingenious premise and explores a lot of the same meta, self-referential stuff that Craven would find much more success with two years later in Scream. This is a movie much more interested in ideas than in visceral scares (though there are a few of those as well), with lots of interesting things to say about our relationship to movies and what we get out of horror. It's easy to understand why this wasn't a huge box office success (it was the lowest-grossing film in the franchise), as it's a movie that's better studied and written about than casually enjoyed. This is one of Craven's best.
John Carpenter) The last great movie from John Carpenter is an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired nightmare about an insurance investigator (Sam Neill) hired to look into Sutter Cane, a horror author whose books appear to be driving people insane. The movie finds Carpenter working in a different kind of subgenre of horror, but one which he slips into with ease. Like New Nightmare, it predates the self-reflexive horror that Scream would popularize just a year later, though it's far less interested in playing those kinds of games. Carpenter works overtime to make the movie as relentlessly scary as possible -- his most oppressive and nightmarish since The Thing in 1982. This was actually written by Mike De Luca, who would become President of Production at New Line during its best years.
Dark City podcast, I questioned whether or not this sci-fi noir is actually underrated, seeing as it has developed such a large and devoted fanbase. Among genre fans, it probably isn't. But to the world at large, Dark City remains an overlooked movie and one that deserves to be rediscovered (though the likelihood of that happening is low, seeing as The Matrix covered a lot of the same ground in a more pop-accessible way). A few troublesome performances aside, the film is a triumph of production design, art direction, special effects and, best of all, a twisty script that earns its surprises. If you still aren't convinced of the movie's greatness, check out Roger Ebert's commentary on the DVD and/or Blu-ray. He'll convince you.