The Best Years of Horror: 1999

A new century loomed and with it anxieties about where we were headed and where we came from


J. Dollins

In 1999, the world was on edge as the new century awaited. Horror movies were more than up to the challenge, including “The Blair Witch Project,” “Audition,” and “The Sixth Sense.”

While the 1980s were a boomtime for horror movies, the 1990s—with a few exceptions—were a recession. A few bright spots, like Oscar-winning “The Silence of the Lambs” and Wes Craven’s “Scream,” were dimmed by flaccid period piece horrors like “Mary Reilly,” or cheesy efforts at franchising like “The Dentist” or “Leprechaun.”

But the end of the world was nigh, and with that reality, horror movies found new life.

Historically, as a new century looms on the horizon, people find themselves terrified about what the new era may hold for them. There is often a rise in religious activity, and a renewed interest in the supernatural.

1999 was that year. Technological fears abounded. The Internet was a new frontier that was both a source of wonder and dread. And a phenomenon called “Y2K” had people staring intently at their clocks on New Year’s Eve 2000 waiting for a global shutdown.

The movies were up to delivering the artistic response, taking advantage of modern technology to promote and terrify. Here are three of the most essential.


The Blair Witch Project (1999, dir. Daniel Myrick; Eduardo Sánchez)

“The Blair Witch Project” (1999) (Courtesy Haxan Films)

Looking back on this originator of the “found footage” subgenre, it’s easy to wonder what all the craziness surrounding it was about. Admittedly, what we see onscreen isn’t much. Three documentary filmmakers take off into the local woods in search of the story about the mythological “Blair Witch.” The camera literally spends most of the movie’s runtime going back and forth between watching our characters walk around aimlessly in the woods discovering strange artifacts and extreme close-ups of their terrified faces.

But the craziness surrounding this movie wasn’t misguided. “The Blair Witch Project” was the first movie of the Internet era to fully embrace the potential of the world wide web. Combined with the film’s found footage aesthetic, the use of websites, videos, and clever ads made a generation of moviegoers believe what they were watching was authentic and real.

Of course, none of it was, but that hasn’t minimized the film’s greatness. In fact, knowing that this film sucked in its audience with a cheaply made movie about the power of myth to take over our imaginations only makes it more remarkable.

“The Blair Witch Project” is currently streaming on HBO Max and Hulu.


Audition (1999, dir. Takashi Miike)

Audition (1999) (Courtesy Basara Pictures)

The J-Horror movement took hold in America in 1998 with “Ringu” (“The Ring”) and a slew of creepy supernatural horror films like “Ju-On” (“The Grudge”) and “Dark Water.” However, the best of the bunch came from the mind of one of Japan’s most prolific and provocative filmmakers, Takashi Miike: “Audition.”

Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a filmmaker grieving over the death of his wife. Lonely, and encouraged by his son to seek new companionship, Shigeharu contrives with a friend to create an audition for a fake movie that is really an audition for a new wife. It is during an audition that Shigeharu is captivated by Asami (Eihi Shiina), a stunning, charming young woman who seems to be perfect for him.

But Asami is not what she seems—it is a horror movie after all—and as Miike pulls back the curtain on the workings of Asami’s mind, he unveils some of the most exquisite horror filmmaking of the past thirty years. Everything climaxes with a scene so shocking, so terrifying that if you’ve seen it, you can still here Asami’s voice echoing in your nightmares.

“Audition” is currently streaming on Kanopy.


The Sixth Sense (1999, dir. M. Night Shyamalan)

“The Sixth Sense” (1999) (Courtesy Miramax Pictures)

You would be hard pressed to find many people who have not seen M. Night Shymalan’s debut film, “The Sixth Sense,” or at least know about it or its inspired twist ending. It was the second highest grossing film of 1999, raking in nearly $300 million at the box office, just behind “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” The film went on to be nominated for multiple awards, and more importantly, has become part of our pop culture fabric.

All that aside, it was the perfect movie for 1999, a year of transition for Americans and people around the world. It is a movie that’s really about the fear of confronting our pasts in order to move forward. The beautiful last minute twist is made stronger by the fact that we as a society were essentially in the same place as Bruce Willis’ character, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, trying to understand our place in the world.

In it, Cole Sear (played by Haley Joel Osment in one of the finest performances ever committed to a movie by a child actor), is a boy haunted by visions of dead people. He encounters Dr. Crowe, who is haunted by his own memories of a vengeful former patient, and the two begin to support one another as Cole tries to learn the secrets of the dead people seeking him out. The movie is a gentle thriller with a melancholy tone, and it never fails to provoke reflections on the lives we are leading and where they are headed.

“The Sixth Sense” is currently streaming on Hulu.