Early '90s Hollywood was the era of the power lunch, the shoebox-sized cell phone and the juiced-up psychological thriller. And if you happened to be out with Joe Eszterhas, it was all three things at the same time. The man behind Basic Instinct and Sliver perfected a subgenre of erotic thriller in which middle-aged men, often in questionable knitwear, fell victim to their own libidos, but he was only a part of Tinseltown insatiable lust for the 'From Hell' movie. This formula, in which a seemingly benign stranger inveigles his or her way into the family unit/workplace/yacht, may have been as old as time, but this was its moment to shine. Remove all sharp objects in the vicinity and read on...
Fatal Attraction (1987)
The Mistress From Hell – Glenn Close
It's Michael Douglas, the Judy Garland of the 'From Hell' movie, on the receiving end of unlikely female psychosis in a film that introduced the term "Bunny Boiler" into the lexicon. Fatal Attraction has entered the zeitgeist in a way that now seems unlikely for a film that's 90 per cent hair and shoulder pads, but in its day this was a yuppie horror film that made cheating husbands (and rabbits) sleep with one eye open.
Creepiest Action: The Watership Down moment. Clue: it has four paws and used to answer to the name 'Whitey'.
Lesson Learned: That scary-looking person? With the weird glint? Don't have sex with them.
The Colleague From Hell – Demi Moore
Michael Crichton gave us the I.T. Guy From Hell (Jurassic Park) and the Malfunctioning Robot Cowboy From Hell (Westworld) but this novel offered his purest contribution to the subgenre. Crazed female? Check. Sex as a weapon? Check. Michael Douglas in uncomfortable attire? Check and check. The whole thing is as glossy as a corporate brochure and about as gripping. While Moore makes a terrific villainess, especially in the after-hours office seduction, the gender politics are off-the-grid loopy. Because if there's one thing the corporate world is full of it's bullying, dangerous women, right? Erm.
Creepiest Action: Shouting "Get back here and finish what you started!" at a fleeing Douglas, like some kind of sex-crazed dinner lady.
Lesson Learned: Never, ever work past 6pm.
Unlawful Entry (1992)
The Cop From Hell – Ray Liotta
Exactly what you don’t want after a home invasion is a stalker cop getting obsessed with you and constantly showing up on the excuse of checking you’re okay. Ray Liotta’s Officer Pete is, sadly, that guy, whose mental imbalance and persistent destructive attention make the original burglars seem preferable. He doesn’t cope well with official complaints procedures.
Creepiest Action: Framing Kurt Russell as a drug dealer so he can move in on Madeleine Stowe.
Lesson Learned: Beware cops offering illicit ride-alongs.
The Fan (1996)
The Fan From Hell – Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro’s affection for baseball star Wesley Snipes begins with playing hooky from work, escalates to him knocking off Snipes’ career rivals, moves through a disguised home-visit phase, and ends with child kidnapping and unqualified umpiring. "Take Me Out At The Ball Game" might have been an apt alternate title.
Creepiest action: Leaving a slice of baseball star shoulder in Snipe’s fridge.
Lesson learned: Never go to bat against a struggling knife salesman.
Cape Fear (1991)
The Client From Hell – Robert De Niro
Oh look, it’s De Niro again, this time as ex-con Max Cady, who bears a rather elaborate grudge against his former defense attorney Nick Nolte. This is, of course, a remake, with De Niro and Nolte taking the roles formerly inhabited by Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (both make cameo appearances here). But Mitchum never read Spot Goes To The Farm, roared with laughter at Problem Child or bit a chunk out of anyone’s face. That we know of.
Creepiest action: Getting a thumb-job from the 18-year-old Juliette Lewis.
Lesson learned: Always check under your vehicle.
Pacific Heights (1990)
The Tenant From Hell – Michael Keaton
A slasher movie for Location, Location, Location fans - and, in fairness, everyone else - this time it's Michael Keaton gone bonkers in a way that would impress even his Birdman self. He moves into the swishest of San Francisco neighbourhoods and sets about ruining a yuppie couple's (Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith) urban idyll. There's drilling and sawing and hammering and threats and law suits and guns. Think Tim Allen from Home Improvement gone batshit psycho.
Creepiest Action: Releasing cockroaches in his innocent neighbours' abode. Ewww.
Lesson Learned: Always check those references very, very carefully.
The Landlord From Hell – William Baldwin
An "erotic thriller" from back in the days when that seemed like a good idea, Joe Eszterhas' Basic Instinct follow-up is about as sexy as a sweaty palm. There's a distinct 50 Storeys Of Grey vibe to the reveal: handsome landlord (Baldwin) is actually a peeping tom with enough surveillance equipment dotted around his priapic skyscraper to keep the NSA in business. To compound things, fellow tenant Tom Berenger is also totally bonkers. Chuck Katie Hopkins and Jim Davidson in and you've got the worst-ever Celebrity Big Brother.
Creepiest Action: The creepy peeping obviously. Also, the way Baldwin's eyebrows move around his face like furry surveillance cameras.
Lesson Learned: Never go house-hunting with Joe Eszterhas.
Lakeview Terrace (2008)
The Neighbour From Hell – Samuel L. Jackson
Two for one here, since our bad neighbour is also a cop. Samuel L. Jackson’s plodder Abel Turner takes a dim-view of the mixed-race couple who move in next door (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington), and begins a campaign of annoyance revolving around boundary lines, security lights with the wattage of a thousand suns, violent burglary and car-wrecking. There’s a massive wildfire too, but that’s just a happy accident.
Creepiest Action: Sneaking next door, looking for incriminating evidence.
Lesson Learned: Don’t throw your cigarette ends onto your neighbour’s lawn.
The Hitcher (1986)
The Hitchhiker From Hell – Rutger Hauer
C. Thomas Howell’s life takes a turn for the worse when he picks up serial killer Rutger Hauer and then can’t get rid of him: his passenger boasting an almost supernatural ability to be everywhere at once. Unusually for the subgenre, Hauer, it’s implied, is doggedly picking on his victim here because he actually wants to be stopped and sees his possible end in Howell’s surprising fight-back.
Creepiest Action: Somehow smuggling a severed finger into Howell’s chips.
Lesson Learned: If your mother tells you never to do something, listen.
The Crush (1993)
The Teenager From Hell – Alicia Silverstone
Sensibly rebuffing her advances after a brief inappropriate flirtation, Cary Elwes finds a Silverstone scorned is both furious and resourceful, engineering accidents and vandalising precious possessions. There are Lolita vibes aplenty in Silverstone’s film debut, although Vladimir Nabokov shied away from narrative devices as bold as attempted murder by wasp nest.
Creepiest Action: Digging around the trash for a used condom to support a made-up assault allegation.
Lesson Learned: Don’t stay at Clarence Boddicker’s guesthouse if his daughter’s at home.
The Good Son (1993)
The Little Boy From Hell – Macaulay Culkin
Or, We Need To Talk About Culkin. Elijah Wood goes to stay with his aunt and uncle, and finds himself enduring the insidious evil of his cousin Macaulay. We’ve all been there. Culkin’s less-than adorable acts involve trying to drown his sister and throw his mother off a cliff. The author Ian McEwan wrote the original screenplay, but not much of it survived.
Creepiest Action: Trying to smother his sister in her hospital bed.
Lesson Learned: Be aware when you’re on thin ice.
Single White Female (1992)
The Roommate From Hell – Jennifer Jason Leigh
Imitation is the sincerest form of battery in this early '90s potboiler, as Jennifer Jason Leigh gets nasty with a stiletto, a gun and a variety of sharp objects. Leigh takes the Certifiable Lunatic role as Hedra Carlson, newbie roommate to Bridget Fonda's driven software designer, who becomes first clingy, then jealous, then pathological. It was a time when Hollywood execs rarely saw a female character they didn't want to burden with a psychological crisis (in this case, borderline personality disorder and abandonment issues) but rarely did it manifest in them killing people with stilettos.
Creepiest Action: Seducing the boyfriend disguised as the girlfriend. Creepy and confusing.
Lesson Learned: Move into a one-bedroom flat.
The Vagrant (1992)
The Tramp From Hell – Marshall Bell
The second of only two films directed by FX man Chris Walas (he did the creatures for Gremlins and The Fly; the other film he directed was The Fly II), this From Hell is basically played for laughs, with Mel Brooks among the producers. Yuppie Bill Paxton moves into a swish new apartment but has to deal with the residual resentment of Marshall Bell, the bum living in the empty lot next door. The resultant mind-games drive Paxton ever-downwards on the society ladder.
Creepiest Action: Actually off-screen – Bell apparently went really Method and genuinely hounded Paxton while filming.
Lesson Learned: Keep up those donations to Shelter.
Mother's Boys (1994)
The Ex-Wife From Hell – Jamie Lee Curtis
Not an ex-wife who terrorises her former spouse with the prospect of expensive divorce settlements or crippling alimony payments, Jamie Lee Curtis here, even more alarmingly, wants to win her family back. This she attempts by the somewhat dark method of brainwashing her sons into helping her terrorise Dad’s new girlfriend. It ends in nightmare. And a tree.
Creepiest Action: Another aborted hospital-bed smothering.
Lesson Learned: When your partner leaves, change the locks.
Poison Ivy (1992)
The Friend From Hell – Drew Barrymore
A couple of years before her big moment getting hung from a tree in Scream, Drew Barrymore’s comeback was already well underway with this and Guncrazy. Here she’s a sort of cuckoo in the nest of Tom Skerritt: the father of Sara Gilbert, who has befriended Barrymore’s mysterious grunge-Carmilla Ivy. Turns out Ivy has a thing for older men, and is soon worming her way into the wealthy household (especially its bedrooms).
Creepiest Action: Casually mercy-killing an injured dog with a metal bar.
Lesson Learned: Never give your daughter’s best friend a ride.
The Adoptee From Hell – Isabelle Fuhrman
[Massive Spoiler Alert] Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard think they’re doing a noble thing by adopting a parent-less Russian nine-year-old, but come to regret their decision when bully maiming, hammer murders and alarming sexual advances ensue. This is because they have actually adopted a 33-year-old ex-prostitute serial killer with a growth hormone problem. Tsk, Social Services. What are they like?
Creepiest Action: Dressing sexy to seduce Skarsgaard. She’s supposed to be nine!
Lesson Learned: Always thoroughly check the paperwork.
The Stepfather (1987)
The Stepfather From Hell – Terry O'Quinn
A virtuoso opening sequence gives us Terry O’Quinn going about his morning ablutions and donning his respectable work suit and tie apparently as if on a normal morning, before descending the stairs of his house and walking calmly through a bloodbath. Here’s one he made earlier. We then follow his progress as he begins to infiltrate his next fatherless family… and his next. Crime heavyweight Donald E. Westlake wrote the screenplay.
Creepiest Action: An unguarded moment in the basement.
Lesson Learned: Stepmothers don’t have the monopoly on being wicked.
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992)
The Nanny From Hell – Rebecca De Mornay
This vengeful-spinster thriller - Cot Fear? Foetal Attraction? - is a sub-Cronenbergian minefield of Freudian subtext written by Jurassic World's Amanda Silver. A naive couple, the Bartels, beckon a raptor into their midst, accidentally hiring the very woman whose life they've inadvertently ruined to babysit their child. Uh-oh. Should have used Mumsnet.
Creepiest Action: There are many creepy actions from this crazed pramraider but breastfeeding the Bartel's baby is arguably the most sinister.
Lesson Learned: Always request references. Many, many references.
Play Misty For Me (1971)
The Girlfriend From Hell – Jessica Walter
Clint Eastwood's proto-Fatal Attraction thriller features minimal rabbit boiling but maximum stalking and stabby craziness. Caramel-larynxed late-night DJ Dave Garner (Eastwood) finds himself staring at the graveyard shift in every sense when his one-night stand, a listener with a craving for the titular jazz staple, comes looking for seconds and won't take no for an answer. In The Blues Brothers, Carrie Fisher comes for her ex with a bazooka; here it's Arrested Development's Jessica Walter with a knife. It's a lot less funny.
Creepiest Action: Moving in with Garner's oblivious girlfriend. Not cool, Mrs. Bluth. Not cool.
Lesson Learned: Never take requests.
Dead Calm (1989)
The Castaway From Hell – Billy Zane
There are three movie truisms: Never be a cop with a pregnant wife on the verge of retirement, always bet on black, and never, ever board a boat with Billy Zane. There's something about B-Zane and oceangoing vessels that tends to make them a lot less oceangoing than when they started. Here he alternates between sun-broiled loon and cunning psychopath as he terrorises grieving couple Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman in the loneliest corner of the Pacific, leaving another sinking vessel in his wake. Phillip Noyce's economical flick is a superior example of the 'From Hell' movie, with genuine slowburn tension, sudden gear shifts and an unlikely home invasion on the high seas. Heck, even the dog cops it.
Creepiest Action: Playing boyfriend-girlfriend with Kidman's character like a man who hadn't just left her husband to drown.
Lesson Learned: Like a furry-free Mogwai, Billy Zane cannot be mixed with water.
Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)
The Husband From Hell – Patrick Bergin
Hamlet's top dating tip, "Get thee to a nunnery", went double in this slice of early '90s hokum. Here it's poor Julia Roberts discovering that she's accidentally married a mustachioed nutbar, Martin Burney (Patrick Bergin), who's abusive, obsessive and prone to making her life a living hell. Faking her own death and pulling the full Gone Girl, she rebuilds her life many miles away, only for Burney to track her down - presumably using his moustache as radar - and pick up where he left off.
Creepiest Action: Demanding his wife keeps all tins label-front is pretty weird, particularly in the context of what comes next.
Lesson Learned: If in doubt, don't tie the knot. That Hamlet knew what he was talking about.
The Guest (2014)
The Jason Bourne From Hell – Dan Stevens
Showing up at the home of the Peterson family claiming to be the platoon buddy of their KIA soldier son, Dan Stevens begins quietly helping out Mom, Dad and the kids by way of secretive extreme violence. But when his overzealous assistance starts making his adopted clan uncomfortable, and secrets about his past begin to be revealed, it soon becomes more than apparent that he’s more enemy than friend.
Creepiest Action: Committing a particularly shocking murder whilst apologising.
Lesson Learned: If a stranger buys you a cocktail, just drink it and keep quiet.