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Whether it was through video stores, TV or newspaper ads, or cable TV channels that reveled in only the creepiest of horror delights, the ‘90s were an iconic era for horror movies and the kids who loved them. Sometimes, the movies that hid behind the terrifying trailers or creepy cover art were actually scary as hell, while others didn’t pan out as well as we’d hoped.
It didn’t matter, because one way or another, the horror flicks of the 1990s had a hold on the children growing up in that era. And in particular, there’s 11 movies from that decade that introduced or reinforced a generation of boogeymen primed to haunt this breed of child up until the present day.
So get under the blankets or behind the sofa, open your laptop, and prepare to journey through the pantheon of ‘90s horror movies and villains that terrorized our childhood! And be warned, you may want to keep the lights on while reading… because you really shouldn’t be reading in the dark anyway.
It’s not bad enough that spiders have always inspired a special sort of fear amongst most human beings on the planet. Nope, legendary producer Frank Marshall had to make his directorial debut with Arachnophobia: a movie that took the already scary Tarantula, and made it into a super-spider bred to kill with one bite.
Thankfully, Jeff Daniels and John Goodman were on hand to save the day, as the dynamic duo of a big city doctor and an exterminator extraordinaire were able to take out the army of killer spiders with their specific set of skills. But that hasn’t stopped us from at the very least flinching when we see an eight legged creature, or Hollywood from trying to make that magic happen again for a new audience.
Child’s Play 2 (1990)
While Brad Dourif’s iconic horror villain/killer doll Chucky had debuted two years earlier in 1988’s Child’s Play, the kids of the ‘90s would probably be more acquainted with his misdeeds thanks to the 1990 sequel Child’s Play 2, as it was a staple of cable channels like USA Network that would run on any given weekend.
Not to mention, Chucky’s method of execution in the finale of Child’s Play 2 was even creepier than that of his first film’s conclusion. This time, instead of merely being burnt alive and blown apart, the toy from Hell was half melted, and then blown apart. Nothing like making Chucky look like the most vicious Garbage Pail Kid ever created before exploding him into all sorts of plastic pieces.
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Most of the horror movies on this list are the sort that parents of ‘90s kids would have had no problem letting their kids sneak a peek at with their best friends or trusted relatives. But even with the most permissive parents, there was always something verboten about taking a look at The Silence of The Lambs, and it was probably because of Anthony Hopkins’ iconic Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Dr. Lecter wasn’t your typical boogeyman, as he was a more grounded and realistic evil; parents probably didn’t want to explain cannibalism to their children. That would have been the least of their problems when parsing out director Jonathan Demme’s classic adaptation of Thomas Harris’ best-selling novel, as the kills in this movie are so chilling, they hold their value with even the most mature of audiences.
There’s a reason that the Candyman mythos is being revived for a modern audience, as its timeless brand of horror and social commentary made it a cult classic when it was released back in 1992. Of course, it also helps that Tony Todd’s portrayal of the titular supernatural presence was equally unsettling and compelling. Who knew that a deep soothing voice could override the presence of killer bees and a hooked hand?
While Todd would go on to firm up his title as one of the leading horror icons of the decade through sequels and further genre work, his portrayal of a tortured spirit in this film version of Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” is still a pretty powerful claim to fame. So much so that it wound up securing Tony Todd’s participation in the modern reboot. Looks like it’s time to be afraid of mirrors again.
Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992)
Much like Chucky and Freddy Kruger, Hellraiser’s Pinhead was another landmark presence that crossed over into the ‘90s horror scene with a huge reputation on his shoulders. Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth was a pretty big deal for its time too, as Doug Bradley’s torturous baddie finally got a backstory, and we saw Pinhead in his previously human form in this trilogy capping event.
While the series would continue into direct-to-video Hell, and even Bradley himself would leave the series behind, Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth felt like a huge leap from its modest beginnings. Also, Pinhead’s very visage itself has always been a selling point to this franchise’s horror legacy; so even if you hadn’t seen the movie as a child, looking upon the face of Pinhead was enough to engrain this one on any ‘90s kids’ brain.
As a ‘90s kid, it was hard not to be incredibly terrified of the movie that 1993’s Leprechaun was making itself out to be. With no clear look at the monster himself in the trailers, and a vague enough idea of his horrific appearance haunting every newspaper ad, movie poster, and VHS case for the film, what we didn’t see was really what made us terrified of this diminutive terror.
Watching the actual movie was a different story, as Warwick Davis’ memorable horror creeper was already a master of puns and wisecracks in his first time out. So that monster that Leprechaun horrified us with in its marketing wasn’t as bad as we thought when it came to the actual reality. Though that didn’t stop us from watching with grinning glee through several sequels, as Davis was having so much fun with the character, it was infectious.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Freddy Kruger was old hat by time the ‘90s rolled around. Robert Englund’s legendary criminal turned spectral being had already gone through the eventual process that every horror heavy winds their way through, with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare fully turning Freddy into a walking punchline.
This left the ‘90s as the perfect time for series creator Wes Craven to return to the series with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a tale that would start a new trend in horror: the meta-sequel. With Freddy looking to cross over into our world, and with a more terrifying look than ever, the jokes were done and the terror was back. Everybody loves a winner, and Kruger’s final victory came in reclaiming his horrific demeanor for a new generation to discover.
The meta-horror of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was only a test drive for the horror master’s next trick, as Wes Craven would go on to deliver a new classic in the realm of slashers with Scream. And the best part was, he built this next series of vengeful killers by playing off of the rules he set with his own killer past, while also using something every modern teen was familiar with as a part of the madness: the telephone.
Making the careers of young stars like Neve Campbell, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, and Skeet Ulrich, Ghostface’s debut would spawn three sequels, a TV series, and a following that just might see Scream come to life again in a new decade of horror. So add “random phone calls” to the list of things you should start being afraid of again, just in case.
Jack Frost (1997)
Flipping back to the subject of video stores for a moment, the movie Jack Frost owes every frame of its infamous reputation to the rows of horror movies your local rental dealers would maintain. Because if you remember this movie, it’s 98% certain it’s because of the lenticular cover that saw a kindly looking snowman shifting into a large toothed killer.
And before you ask, no this isn’t the Michael Keaton movie of the same title that saw a rock star dad reincarnated as a magical snowman. Though that confusion probably didn’t help when it came to this movie’s reputation for trickery; as this film’s plot was kind of similar. Only instead of a kindly dad getting to spend more time with his kids, a serial killer is accidentally transformed into a mutant killer snowman.
Wes Craven, man. When he wasn’t busy making people afraid of boogeymen or random phone calls, he was helping his friends bring horrifying visions to life in other movie series. Wishmaster was one of the most memorable efforts, as horror effects icon Robert Kurtzman took the concept of what we would call a genie, and gave it a more horrifying reality. Sure, we’d already seen tales of how not making a wish specific enough to get what we truly wanted backfire, but not even The Twilight Zone turned people into mannequins or drowned unfortunate wishers in a hellish, slow death.
One more fun note to make when talking about Wishmaster, besides Andrew Divoff’s chilling presence in the title role, is the fact that his character took out some of horror’s greatest heavies, as Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and even Tony Todd are all victims of his heinous magic.
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1998)
Speaking of Kane Hodder, if a ‘90s kid hadn’t ever seen one of the previous Friday the 13th entries before Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, then this film was more than likely their introduction to the memorable series of horror movies that spanned back to the dawn of the slasher era. And how could you blame them, as Hodder’s second to last appearance as the hockey masked hellion made some pretty big promises.
At last, we were going to learn why Jason Voorhees was a murderer! Finally, Jason Voorhees was going to die and stay dead! And last, but not least, we were going to get an explanation for what the hell that worm crawling out of his face on the poster was meant to be! But if there’s anything that Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday should be credited with, it’s the fact that it gave the world the biggest tease ever: a stinger that would eventually lead to the horror match up of the century: Freddy vs. Jason!
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
It might not feel as scary now as it did back in 1999, but when The Blair Witch Project was ramping up to its release into theaters, a rather convincing viral marketing campaign made the danger look more real than ever before. And it was all thanks to the team behind the film promoting it as a documentary, rather than a horror entertainment.
With missing posters, 1-800 numbers, and even a website and mockumentary dedicated to the disappearance of the trio of young film students at the heart of The Blair Witch Project, the lines between truth and fiction were properly blurred. All it took was the promise of a witch behind these heinous events to close out a decade of horror delights on a pretty high not.
Whether you ended up enjoying the movie or not, you can’t deny that The Blair Witch Project had you going for a moment during one of the busiest years in Hollywood history. And much like any of the other films on this list, it was living proof that the horror genre was alive and well through the ‘90s movies that kept its dark heart pumping.
Every decade has its notable beasties, creepers, and heavies, much like those laid before you in this rogue’s gallery of ‘90s horror. Not only ‘90s kids remember these infamous beings, but if you find yourself still terrified by these creatures, thank one of them for keeping these legends fresh in the minds of everyone.