A Definitive Ranking Of ’90s Teen Horror Films You Need To Watch This Spooky Season
The 1990s was a golden era for iconic teen horror.
Hollywood was not exactly overwhelmed by amazing movies in the 1990s — but there was some seriously iconic teen horror.
I’m the first to admit I’ve watched some pretty trashy horror movies. And I don’t mean the sort of cult cinema that has been reassessed or exploitation films smuggled into countries where they were banned, but straight down the line mainstream horror aimed directly at a teen audience with little expectations. I was that audience.
All I needed were some familiar (cute) faces from TV — like Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt from Party of Five, Sarah Michelle Gellar from Buffy, Courtney Cox from Friends or Joshua Jackson and Michelle Williams from Dawson’s Creek — and the promise of some jump scares and I was all in.
While I stumbled across some gems in my hunt for scares, usually with the guidance of my parents or my local video store favourite, I was actually pretty happy with new releases most often set in schools full of beautiful people who were also, frequently, a bit dim.
There was something so fun about watching these movies with a group, being scared together and then laughing at the silliness of it all. I watched some film slightly too young when friends with older siblings meant having access to things we couldn’t otherwise get our hands on. I was hooked by the adrenaline rush from the scares, navigating the red herrings and yelling at the characters on screen. (I still continue to be a delight to watch movies with.)
To be fair, my taste wasn’t completely terrible. I was quite taken by Interview with the Vampire (1994), utterly terrified by Candyman (1992) and unable to even finish Silence of the Lambs (1991) on my first viewing. Later, I discovered films from the era I had missed, which were likely not stocked by my local video shop, like The Ring, Whispering Corridors, Thesis, The Stendhal Syndrome, Audition and Braindead.
But I still have a soft spot for the ‘90s films that were my entry point into the genre, which led me to develop what is, arguably, an obsession with horror films.
So here are ten must-watch teen horror films from the nineties.
I loved Scream before I even realised how clever it was, with the humour of its meta-commentary lost on someone who had only just crash-landed into horror tropes. And it holds up.
Sidney Prescott was a fantastic Final Girl , and I definitely took notice of “The Rules” of horror. There are a whole lot of fun things to watch out for: Wes Craven dressed as Freddy Kruger, Henry Winkler fixing his hair like the Fonz and constant references to other films from the canon that I had little knowledge of (yet) — it was kind of a checklist for an intro to horror.
The Craft (1996)
Witches were so very cool — candles, crystals and games of light as a feather, stiff as a board featured in many sleepovers.
But this film is really more about friendship than witchcraft, about finding your place in the world and deciding who you want to be. Like many horror movies, it taps into the horror of puberty but gives the girls the power to change the world they live in, an entrancing idea to teen viewers who probably felt they had very little control over their lives.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
This is the sort of slasher that gives the genre a bad rep.
Watched by many (most?) for its attractive up-and-coming cast — the recognisable faces of Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar were paired with Freddy Prinze Junior and Ryan Phillippe, each vying for the title of Most Attractive Couple (which, incidentally, went to Gellar and Prince Junior when they got together in real life).
The screenplay was written by Kevin Williamson, who also wrote Scream but is probably best known for creating Dawson’s Creek. Unfortunately, IKWYDLS has none of its fun or wit. Starting with the title (even the acronym is wieldy), the film is somehow both overdone and underwhelming. It would’ve been seriously improved if prom queen Helen surprised us all as the Final Girl after Julie had her meltdown in the most iconic scene of the film.
Try not to love this movie. I laughed so much when I first saw it, which was only really because J-Lo was in it.
It does so much wrong, including the 40-foot animatronic snake, but makes up for it with things like throwing Ice Cube into the river to fight it. It’s no Jaws or even Piranha (which Spielberg named the best rip-off of his film), but it’s still a very good time. Watch with anyone who refuses to watch “horror” movies even though it is October and basically mandated (they will probably be the same person who only tolerates one Christmas movie: Die Hard.)
The Faculty (1998)
A group of teen stereotypes — the stoner, the jock, the nerd, the overachiever, etc. — band together save the day when the adults are overtaken by aliens.
This film really played into that feeling that teachers were creatures whose sole purpose was to torture us. As director Robert Rodriguez’s follow-up to From Dusk Till Dawn, this is a good-looking film which gets a bit silly but, again, the super hot cast went a long way to making it a success. This is definitely sci-fi lite but was a great encouragement to seek out other films it drew from, like The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
I have a lot of affection for this film. This is very much based on the tremendous death scene of Samuel L. Jackson, which truly surprised me.
Plus, LL Cool J (and his parrot) are there to face off against a shark. And not just regular sharks, but super smart genetically modified creatures that have learned to hunt in a pack, swim backwards (not a thing) and also how to get the better of their human captors. The premise is…not sound. But it was bloody terrifying to watch after being completely freaked out by Jaws 2: sharks are already scary, why would you MAKE THEM SMARTER?
Halloween H20 (1998)
This was my first introduction to Michael Myers, the somehow immortal giant man obsessed with killing his sister and basically anyone in his vicinity.
Like the upcoming reboot, the film resets the timeline, forgetting Halloween 4 and 5 even happened. While it’s not the strongest entry in the franchise, it gets points for trying to revive the ‘80s slasher with a predictable plot and pretty cast. The paring of Michelle Williams and Josh Hartnett (Michael’s nephew and therefore target) was how I convinced someone to watch this with me.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The rumours that this was real footage of missing teens, which made their way even to my Australian suburb, were a brilliant marketing strategy.
It’s hard to imagine anyone would believe this now, but at the time, it seemed legit to plenty of people. I mean, everything on the internet is legit, right? How else would this wonky, blurry hand-held footage that induced actual motion sickness be released in a cinema? The Blair Witch Project is probably the most important film in this list as far as canon, prompting an influx of found footage films. Ranging from the good ([REC]) to the terribly dull (Paranormal Activity), it has a lot to answer for.
Urban Legend (1998)
Like Scream plays with horror tropes, Urban Legend lines up almost every whispered tale you could think of and plays them out.
It is, honestly, kind of Scream-lite but it has its moments, in part because it is so damn flagrant about every single thing that happens. It makes fun of the tropes it executes but not necessarily in a humorous way. I probably saw this three times yet nothing at all sticks in my memory.
Scream 2 (1998)
There is a scene in Scream 2 where two film students debate whether a sequel can ever be better than the original, the sort of blatant meta text the first film was known for.
This movie does a decent job of maintaining the fun of Scream, though it is more of a whodunit than gorefest. But a fun one. Also, Gale Weathers is excellent and entirely under-appreciated as a Final Girl.
Kate Robertson writes on art and film and is not that kind of doctor.