Despite growing up in the 90s as a horror movie fan, most of the horror movies I watched were from the 80s. It would be years till I discovered the brutal rawness of 70s horror or international horror classics. Like many horror fans, Stephen King adaptations and 80s slashers were my inroads to the genre I love.
80s slashers had an early peak, before many slashers fell into self-parody (sometimes knowingly and sometimes not so knowingly). I tended to lose interest if a horror movie has too much comedy or cheese. Once the 90s hits, other than some tentpole films at the beginning and end of the decade, it felt like a dead space for horror. Almost like the genre had run itself into the ground before movies like Scream, The Ring, 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot, Final Destination, and Saw bounced the genre back into the mainstream once again. As a teenager growing up in the 2000s, I felt like there was always a new horror film coming out that my friends and I would snag tickets to. Some of my fondest memories growing up are seeing movies like The Grudge (thank goodness for PG-13!) before escalating to things like Silent Hill and The Strangers. I imagine teenagers in the 80s felt the same way sneaking into the latest Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street film with friends, or crowding around someone’s TV at a sleepover to watch them on VHS.
In any case, my love of horror movies skyrocketed with the release of Scream in 1996. I was also enamoured with the movies that followed: Urban Legends, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Faculty.
It hasn’t been till recently that I realized as a more dedicated fan of the genre, there are plenty of 90s horror movies I really enjoy. So here is a chronological list of my favorite and/or important movies from what I otherwise falsely considered a “dead” decade for horror between the mainstream explosions of horror releases in the 1980s and 2000s.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
This meta, self-referential sequel to an 80s classic inadvertently nailed a lot of the meta horror/comedy of later 90s classics like New Nightmare and Scream. And this Key & Peele sketch nails how wild of a movie it really is in terms of combining 80s and 90s excess:
The Exorcist III (1990)
After the infamously bad sequel to the original The Exorcist, it was thirteen years before a third film was attempted. Between the letdown of the first sequel and the years, it’s no wonder it has taken additional years for this film to find its audience. This boasts a compelling and convoluted story that feels like it is straight from the 70s in the way it refuses to spoon feed the audience. It also features what is largely considered to be one of the best if not the best jump scares of all time, and has some nasty additional tricks up its sleeve that are sure to impress even the most skeptical horror fans.
Five-year-old me was really sleeping on some excellent horror movies between this and the next entry! I just watched Ghostwatch for the first time a couple of years ago, and it is rare that a new horror movie viewing is such an utterly pleasant surprise as this was. It was scary, realistic, and went to some extremely dark places by the end. Had this not been made for TV (the BBC in this case), and evaded home video release due to controversy, I think this would be a much huger hit. It is impossible not to see even strong parallels between this and found footage films like Paranormal Activity and the the more recent faux news segment WNUF Halloween Special.
Candyman comes with its issues of positioning Helen as a white savior, but the hypnotically haunting score, visuals, and Chicagoland setting are utterly iconic and fascinating to analyze decades later. The Black Lives Matter movement, release of the documentary version of Horror Noire, and ceiling-shattering success of Get Out have led to some incredible reevaluations of the film and a much-anticipated spiritual sequel/reboot that should finally be released this year.
Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (1992)
For straight to video “shlock”, this is a great movie.
Body Snatchers (1993)
Another pleasant surprise I only watched for the first time a few years ago. I love the military and environmentalism angles of this particular remake, as well as some of the unexpected twists over who was a pod person. Also, Meg Tilly‘s pod person monologue lives rent free in my mind most days:
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Craven was doing meta before he made it cool with Kevin Williamson three years later. As a forever Nancy Thompson stan, I appreciate Heather Lagenkamp playing herself in this movie so Nancy could once again save the day.
Tales from the Hood (1995)
Although I don’t usually like this level of humor in a horror movie, the social commentary and genuine moments of horror in this ace anthology make it a must see.
It feels impossible to overstate the importance of Scream. It revived the mainstream popularity of the slasher subgenre with a glossy, CW makeover and a self-referential edge.
Science fiction and horror are the ultimate peanut butter and chocolate combo when done correctly, and this low-budget thriller nails that combination. This echos what I loved so much about science fiction/horror hybrids like Alien, The Thing, and The Blob that came before it.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Fresh off the success of Scream, Kevin Williamson penned a more straightforward slasher film based on a Lois Duncan novel that cemented the 90s slasher revival that we all know and love. Plus much like Meg Tilly’s pod person monologue in Body Snatchers, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!” lives rent free in my mind, if only because the Scary Movie parody of the scene also lives rent free in my mind:
Urban Legends (1998)
This less-refined follow up to Scream uses an irresistible hook: a killer who murders people in the vein of popular urban legends. I spent many a summer day and night binge reading every horrific urban legend I could find on Snopes.com, and this movie covered many of the most chilling stories I would read on that site. I always appreciate a killer with a flair for the drama with their kills, and this movie has some of my absolute favorite kills because of it.
Halloween H20 (1998)
I don’t necessarily like how much 90s cheese/humor slipped into this sequel, but I do appreciate Laurie’s journey in the film as well as LL Cool J’s cameo as a silly yet charismatic security guard who is trying to write romance novels in his spare time.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Confession: I appreciate the hell out of this movie and what it did to ignite the found footage subgenre, but I’ve never been a big fan of it personally. I truly wish I was because I’m legitimately jealous of the way people talk about its merits. For me, it is just people arguing in the forest with a scary beginning and ending. But I will give credit to this film theory for making me appreciate an alternative reading of the movie:
House on Haunted Hill (1999)
This first of the campy Dark Castle remakes was the *chef’s kiss* of slumber party group watches. The shaking ghosts and moment the ghosts look directly at a character are still legitimately chilling.