What we tended to like or loathe on video in 1990 weren't the big theatrical films those hit the stores as familiar faces. Instead, it was the little-known treats and made-for-video specialty items that got a chance to bloom on the home screen, while the direct-to-tape dogs were always good for a few cheap laughs.
1. Elvis: The Great Performances (1990)
The finest antidotes to the bloated Presley myth are these two videos showcasing Elvis doing what he did best: singing. The tapes mix performances that have entered our collective unconscious (the Ed Sullivan shows in 1956, the '68 comeback special), innocent kitsch from the Hollywood years, and rare off-stage moments, for a career overview that said as much about the price of fame as about Elvis Aaron himself. Required viewing.
2. Tremors (1990)
The home video success of Ron Underwood's tongue-in-cheek throwback to '50s creature-features caught some people by surprise, but it just means a movie can find an audience if it's well made and entertaining. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward lead a desert town into battle against killer worsens that are big, nasty and hungry.
3. Carnival of Souls (1962)
The dead come back to haunt church organist Candace Hilligoss, and this eerie no-budget chiller came back from the grave to become one of the years most satisfying video revivals. The banal dreamscapes (it was shot in b&w around Lawrence, Kan.) remain surreally potent almost 30 years later.
Overlooked in theaters, this tale of a repressed young Argentinian (Colin Firth) who realizes his mysterious new hunk roommate (Hart Bochner) may be a hit man for the ruling dictatorship is creepy to the max. It's a clammy, precise surprisingly deep psychological miniature from Martin Donovan, a director who bears watching in the future.
5. Vampire's Kiss (1989)
Poisonous reviews greeted the theatrical release of this jet-black comedy a sure sign that it was onto something. Nicolas Cage is amazing as an obnoxious New York yuppie who, in the throes of a breakdown, decides he's becoming a vampire. The plot goes from the hilarious (Cage buys plastic fangs when real ones fail to materialized) to the disturbing: It's a demented, high-camp remake of Polanski's Repulsion.