The 1990s were a golden period for horror movie fans, with a glut of Stephen King-led efforts and familiar franchise sequels kicking off the decade before something fresh and exciting emerged. Out of nowhere, a very different type of teen horror movie arrived on the scene, one in which the kids spoke, and often looked, a whole lot like adults. Following on from the success of shows like Party of Five and Dawson’s Creek, teens were suddenly depicted as smart and funny in a genre known for its presentation of young folk as young, dumb, and full of…well, you get the picture.
Spearheaded by zeitgeist writers like Kevin Williamson, the slasher movie was reborn alongside a few cool updates on some familiar horror favorites and tropes that are well worth revisiting, nearly 20 years later.
Featuring forgotten faces like Devon Sawa, Brandy, and Alicia Witt, Here are the 16 best ’90s teen horror movies, ranked.
16. Teaching Mrs. Tingle
After a run of successes that included Dawson’s Creek, Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, Kevin Williamson turned his hand to directing with the mildly misfiring Teaching Mrs. Tingle.
Reunited with Creek-dweller Katie Holmes, the film saw the actress star as Leigh Ann, a high school student obsessed with the idea of becoming class Valedictorian. In fact, she’s so obsessed that when her vindictive teacher Mrs Eve Tingle (Helen Mirren) marks her down for one project, she decides to take action.
Enlisting the help of two of her fellow students – who, together, form a complicated love triangle – the trio kidnaps Mrs Tingle and attempt to convince her to change her marks. Psychological warfare and kidnap hijinks ensue in a film that was both a commercial and critical flop, but one that definitely warrants a revisit.
15. The Rage: Carrie 2
As much a remake of the Brian De Palma classic as it is a sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2 essentially took the plot of the original movie and gave it a fresh ’90s spin in the style of movies like She’s All That or 10 Things I Hate About You.
Not that it comes close to either of those movies – The Rage: Carrie 2 is a pretty flawed effort, but still stands as essential viewing for any ’90s teen horror movie aficionados. It centers on an outcast teenage girl, Emily Bergl’s Rachel Lang, who turns the tables on a group of high school jocks who spend their days taunting her. Little do they realize that the target of their torment possesses deadly telekinetic powers.
Okay, so it’s pretty much exactly the same as the original movie, but writer Rafael Moreau, who previously worked on Hackers, throws in some neat touches. Jason London also features in the first of several attempts at resurrecting the Carrie story. This is probably the best of a very bad bunch.
14. Campfire Tales
Campfire Tales is, for all intents and purposes, a big screen adult version of the kids TV anthology classic Are You Afraid Of The Dark? On the Nickelodeon show, a group of kids known as The Midnight Society met around a campfire to tell spooky stories. In Campfire Tales, a group of four teens, including Malcolm in the Middle’s Christopher Masterson, crash their van and decide to settle round a fire and share spooky urban legends to pass the time.
As with Are You Afraid of the Dark? this film sees the gang’s various tales played out before our eyes in a series of short stories that will be familiar to fans of urban legends, save for a few modern twists.
While the stories are spooky enough, there’s as much fun to be had from seeing some familiar faces before fame took hold. Amy Smart, James Marsden, Ron Livingston and Christine Taylor all feature along with Glenn Quinn – the late actor who played Doyle on the first series of Angel.
13. Idle Hands
This enjoyable stoner comedy horror sees Final Destination’s Devon Sawa awake one day to find his right hand has taken on a life of its own. Possessed by some form of evil spirit, the hand attempts to murder pretty much anyone and anything it comes into contact with.
Bloody hijinks ensue in a movie that’s smarter than most probably give it credit for (a film about boys with overactive right hands, anyone?). It’s also got a neat nod to An American Werewolf in London, with Sawa’s character Anton offing best friends Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Hensen) only to see them return as undead advisors while Anton attempts to make sense of his situation.
12. Bride of Chucky
Coming at the height of the teen slasher movie renaissance, the fourth installment in the Child’s Play franchise attempted to get in on the action with this demented effort, which is part teen horror movie, part twisted black comedy.
Having returned to life, in doll form yet again, Chucky sets about turning his ex-girlfriend Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) into a fellow plastic monstrosity before hatching a plan for the pair to transfer their souls to the bodies of next door neighbour teens Jesse and Jade, played by Nick Stabile and a young Katherine Heigl.
Tricking the pair into agreeing to transport the two dolls to a buyer in New Jersey, the world’s weirdest road movie begins, with Chucky and Tiffany offing any number of innocent bystanders in an attempt to gain control of Jesse and Jade’s bodies. The film is notable for one other reason: it features Hollywood’s first doll-on-doll sex scene.
11. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
Scream 2 taught us the rules of horror movie sequels while seemingly playing up to them in tongue-in-cheek fashion. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer takes the more tried and tested route, though, with a follow-up that’s bigger but definitely not better then the original.
Having survived the events of the first movie, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie is now attending college in Boston and trying to forget about the man with the hook for a hand. However, after her friend Karla (Brandy) wins a trip to the Bahamas for four, the same nightmare begins to unfold. Except on a tropical island resort.
Joined by Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer) and Will (Matthew Settle) for the trip, the film soon descends into Friday The 13th style slash and run terror, with a few bloodier and more outlandish deaths than the first film. There are some odd touches along the way too: scheduling issues meant Freddie Prinze Jr., a headlining star of the first film, was sidelined for much of the action, while the less said about Jack Black’s Rastafarian character, the better.
10. Urban Legend
Urban Legend received rotten reviews when it was released back in 1998 but nevertheless cleaned up at the box office, and while it is some way off the standard set by Scream, it’s still an enjoyable and creative horror effort with a great young cast. Jared Leto, Tara Reid, and Joshua Jackson all feature in a film that successfully weaves some familiar urban legends into a plot that centers on Natalie (Alicia Witt) a college student who begins to suspect that a series of grizzly campus murders involving urban legends are connected.
Though lacking the knowing, humorous edge of Scream, Urban Legend still features some memorable set pieces involving axe murderers in the backseat of the car and dogs in the microwave. If anything, it maybe lays the urban legend shtick on a little too thick – Robert Englund even appears as a professor teaching that very subject, which seems like a stretch – but there’s enough here to warrant a watch. Just don’t bother with any of the sequels.
As much a psychological thriller as it is a horror movie, Fear centers around every dad’s worst nightmare in the 1990s: what if your teenage daughter started dating a psychopath, and that psychopath happened to be Mark Wahlberg?!
Boasting an all-star cast that include CSI’s William Petersen as over-protective father Steve Walker, a man immediately skeptical of his daughter Nicole, played by Reece Witherspoon, and her new beau David (Wahlberg).
A suitably daft but wholly enjoyable movie with several memorable moments – at one point, David frames Steve for assault by punching himself over and over again – it also boasts a distinctly grunge-led ’90s soundtrack, while Wahlberg also deserves credit for being able to turn from teen heartthrob to creepy maniac at the drop of a hat.
8. Dead Man’s Curve
This pitch black, twist-filled effort got a little lost in the shuffle towards the end of the decade, not helped by the release of the MTV Films comedy Dead Man On Campus, which mined the same killer setup for laughs. It’s a real shame too, as Dead Man’s Curve features arguably Matthew Lillard’s most demented performance yet, alongside Michael Vartan and The Americans‘ Keri Russell.
The plot focuses on two college students (Lillard and Vartan) and their plan to kill their roommate and make it look like suicide, in order to be given passes in all their studies for the year. But what starts out as a straightforward enough story soon takes enough twists and turns to surprise even M. Night Shyamalan. It’s an unsettling and under-appreciated gem all-around.
7. Scream 2
Scream 2 may be vastly superior to the franchise’s Hollywood-focused third outing, but it’s still some way short of the original when it comes to generating genuine scares.
That’s not to say it isn’t among the most intelligent offerings on this list. In fact, it’s inferiority to the original may be a deliberate nod to the sequel tropes discussed in the movie’s best scene – the film class that takes place early in the movie and sees characters discussing the merits of sequels.
There are also some genuinely terrifying moments – the pre-credits deaths of Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett are impressive — while the film has some genuinely tense sequences as well. The scene in which Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott and best friend Hallie (Elise Neal) escape from the back seat of a stricken police car is excellent, and there are enough knowing nods and clever in-jokes to keep this going. The idea of the events of the first Scream becoming a real movie called Stab is a genuine stroke of genius. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s out of place cameo, however, is maybe not so clever.
6. Halloween H20
In the wake of the success of films like Scream, some of the more established horror franchises attempted to get in on the act with a teen-led update of their own. Halloween H20 is probably the best of the bunch, fusing old and new to great effect.
Essentially discarding the events of all of the later Halloween sequels, H20 picks things up 20 years on from the original, with Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode now living out in California and working as the headmistress of the Hillcrest Academy private boarding school. She has a pretty great life there, along with her son John (Josh Hartnett) and boyfriend Will (Adam Arkin), but she’s still haunted by memories of Michael Myers. So you can imagine how she feels when he suddenly turns up, embarking on another murderous rampage across the campus.
With a cast that includes Michelle Williams as John’s girlfriend, along with LL Cool J and cameos from Janet Leigh and Joseph Gordon Levitt, H20 also boasts a definitive end to Laurie Stode’s Halloween story. Except, the film’s success prompted another modern Michael Myers tale – 2002’s reality TV-themed Halloween Resurrection, which was a stinker.
5. Disturbing Behavior
This modern take on the Stepford Wives drew unfavorable comparisons with Ira Levin’s novel upon release, but is well worth a revisit. Directed by David Nutter, who would go on to win an Emmy for his work on Game of Thrones, Disturbing Behavior is a suitably atmospheric movie full of tension, complete with a few surprising scares along the way.
James Marsden plays Steve, the new kid in town, who uncovers a sinister plot that has seen many of the local teens turned from unruly ne’er-do-wells into upstanding citizens. Along with local outcast Rachel (Katie Holmes), he sets about attempting to find the truth, all while being pursued by his brainwashed classmates.
Written by Scott Rosenberg, who worked on Con Air prior to this movie and has signed on to pen the script for Tom Hardy’s Venom movie, it’s a creepy, intriguing premise that only gets more unsettling as the film progresses.
4. The Faculty
Robert Rodriguez’s hip take on a familiar B-movie classic fully warrants its place high up on this list. It centers on a group of teenagers in a seemingly ordinary high school who begin to suspect that their teachers are, in fact, aliens, and they decide to fight back.
Not only does The Faculty boast an impressive array of familiar names as the teachers themselves – Famke Janssen, Christopher McDonald, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, and Salam Hayek for starters – it’s also got a great selection of rising teen stars. Josh Hartnett takes center stage as the school bad boy turned hero, Zeke Tyler, while Elijah Wood’s geeky Casey Connor also impresses alongside Jordana Brewster’s popular Delilah and class misfit Stokely (Clea DuVall).
The film boasts some killer special effects, memorable deaths, and a great homage to the blood test scene from The Thing, with the gang forced, one by one, to take a special drug they learn will kill any aliens among them.
3. I Know What You Did Last Summer
Part adaptation of the 1973 novel of the same name, while also taking elements from the urban legend known as The Hook, I Know What You Did Last Summer had arguably the best teen cast to grace any horror film in the 1990s.
The plot focused around the quartet of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Ryan Phillippe, who find themselves being stalked by a killer who knows about their involvement in the cover-up of a car accident that results in the death of a man one year earlier.
I Know What You Did Last Summer’s strength lies in the fact that it keeps things simple – there’s nothing knowing about this tale of four guilt-ridden teenagers terrified for their lives. It’s played for scares, and played well too, with each of the four leads putting in terrific performances, with credit going to Phillippe and Gellar in particular.
2. The Craft
A surprise smash hit upon release back in 1996, The Craft has consistently scored highly with fans of ’90s horror movies, and for good reason. It’s a well-paced, well-plotted supernatural horror tale that’s anchored by some inspired performances from Robin Tunney, Skeet Ulrich, and, of course, Fairuza Balk as the film’s go-to psycho.
Tunney plays Sarah, a newcomer at a Catholic prep school who strikes up a friendship with three other outcast girls, who soon set about exploring the dark realm of witchcraft. But what starts out as a series of curses against those who angered them soon turns to murder, with Balk’s Nancy playing the ring-leader in a series of murders that eventually forces Sarah into action.
While the effects may be a little dated, the creepy tone of the film and its memorably unpleasant curses – Christine Taylor plays a racist fellow high schooler who ends up losing her hair – are just as effective decades later. It’s worth watching before the inevitable remake arrives.
When it comes to naming the best teen horror movie of the 1990s, it’s something of a no-brainer to put Wes Craven’s Scream in the top spot, but that doesn’t mean Kevin Williamson’s sharply-written tale — which touches on topics of sex, movie violence and satire — isn’t worthy of its place in horror movie history.
Scream follows Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, a teen living in Woodsboro, California who becomes the target of a mysterious killer who’s been offing high school students in the town. Fusing elements of jet black comedy with a central whodunit mystery concerning the true identity of the Ghostface killer at the center of the story, the film also took pot shots at the slasher genre, seemingly poking fun at the clichés present in familiar franchises like Halloween and Friday the 13th while simultaneously embracing these tropes.
Funny and satirical as it may have been, Scream was also damn scary, with Williamson’s razor-sharp script effectively buoyed by the presence of Craven in the director’s chair. The late horror genius knew how to crank up the tension, when to deliver on the gore, and how to get the best out of a vibrant young cast. It really is a scream.
Do you agree with our list for the best ’90s teen horror movies? Did we miss your favorite fright flick from the decade? Have your say in the comments.
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