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The Best ’90s Horror Movies To Kick off Spooky Season

You won't feel "like, whatever" about these picks.

blair witch project

The ’90s were a pretty horrible time.

Stop it. I am not interested in your bleary-eyed millennial nostalgia. Let’s look at the ’90s OBJECTIVELY, shall we? For the first three years of the ’90s, there was NO INTERNET. That alone is a travesty. After that, you had to use the phone line to get onto the internet. And I don’t mean an iPhone hotspot (those didn’t exist), I mean you had to use the LANDLINE to look up Beanie Babies slash fiction or whatever people were reading back then. Yes, there were cool cartoons and a slew of good anime. But at what cost? Frosted tips? George Bush senior? Not worth it. The only silver lining is that this depraved decade was responsible for some depraved horror. And I suppose we have to give credit where credit is due. So here they are, the best horror films of the most horrible decade of all.

Scream (1996)

Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, Jamie Kennedy as Randy Meeks, and Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers in Scream (1996).
(Dimension Films)

Wes Craven’s slasher Scream wasn’t just a horror movie: It was a metacommentary on the horror genre itself. What’s a metacommentary? A word that film school folks made up to describe stuff that’s self-referential. After a string of serial killings leaves the sleepy town of Woodsboro in shambles, a group of teenagers realize that they are the killer’s next targets. They discover that in order to stay alive they need to stick to horror’s Golden Rules: Don’t have sex, don’t split up, and for the love of God don’t go into the basement. They don’t last long. The beloved film has since spawned five sequels, with a sixth on the way. But all we want is the return of the beloved final girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell).

Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

The war veteran Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) looking at something in horror in "Jacob's Ladder".
(TriStar Pictures)

Adrian Lyne’s psychological horror film Jacob’s Ladder was initially panned by critics but is now regarded as a masterpiece of the genre. The plot centers around Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), a traumatized Vietnam veteran who is struggling to readapt to life in New York City. Living in New York is hard enough, but hallucinations of tentacled homeless people and dance party demons make city living that much more of a challenge. Jacob’s Ladder is also famous for its twist ending, which has been copied, but never topped.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) staring menacingly in a leather mask in "Silence of the Lambs".
(Orion Pictures)

Jonathan Demme’s iconic Silence of the Lambs gives us another reason why the ’90s are a bad decade: horrible transgender representation in otherwise fantastic movies. The film stars Jodie Foster as an FBI agent on the hunt for serial killer Buffalo Bill. In order to profile the killer, she seeks out the help of the psychologist-turned-cannibal murderer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Lecter is one of the most chilling pieces of acting ever filmed. 70% of this film is phenomenal. Things take a turn when you realize that Buffalo Bill is killing women and skinning them in order to “turn himself into a woman”. Yikes. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture (the only horror film to do so), Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Perfect Blue (1997)

Mima screams in the bathtub in the anime 'Perfect Blue'.
(Rex Entertainment)

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue proved that horror movies don’t need to feature real people in order to be stomach-churning. You can get the same effect with animation! Perfect Blue centers on a young Japanese pop singer named Mima who is pivoting careers to become an actor. Things take a turn when the girl realizes that she is being targeted by a stalker, and begins to lose her grip on reality.

Ringu (1998)

Close up of the ghost Sadoko's eye glaring in "Ringu"

Based on based on the 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki, Hideo Nakata’s Ringu became a cultural phenomenon overnight. ’90s kids across the world were calling each other from blocked numbers and whispering “seven dayssssss” before hanging up. It was creepy! Ringu is about a cursed VHS tape because again, it’s the 90’s. If you watched the tape, seven days later a slimy ghost girl named Sadako would crawl out of that well and through your TV screen to murder you. The film was so popular it spawned an American remake, The Ring, in 2002.

Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates holding a sledgehammer in 'Misery'.
(Columbia Pictures)

Rob Reiner’s Misery is an adaptation of the Steven King novel of the same name. The plot concerns a famous writer named Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who crashes his car on a remote road and is rescued by his number one fan Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Yay! Sounds like everything will be fine, right? Well, the problem is that Annie wants Sheldon to write her a new novel and is willing to do anything to get it. Considered one of the best King adaptations of all time, the film earned Bates an Oscar for Best Actress.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

A filmmaker is terrified in 'The Blair Witch Project'.
(Artisan Entertainment)

The Blair Witch Project, directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, is perhaps the most groundbreaking horror film of the 1990s. The movie singlehandedly catapulted the “found footage” genre of horror into the public eye. Shot on VHS with a shoestring budget, The Blair Witch Project centers around three young filmmakers who venture into the witch-haunted woods of Maryland in order to find the mysterious Blair Witch. They find her alright, or rather, she finds them.

Audition (1999)

Asami (Eihi Shiina) stands in a hotel room holding a long syringe in  Takashi Miike's "Audition".
(Vitagraph Films)

Takashi Miike’s Audition is not just one of the greatest horror films of the ’90s, but one of the greatest of all time. This slow-burn nail-biter tells the story of a lonely widower named Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), who begins holding “auditions” for a new wife. That’s horrifying enough as it is. He falls for a woman named Asami (Eihi Shiina) with a mysterious past, but as the film progresses he realizes that the woman is ACTUALLY … I’ll just let you watch it. You will not see the twist coming.

Candyman (1992)

The ghostly Candyman (Tony Todd) wields a hook hand covered in blood in "Candyman"
(TriStar Pictures)

Bernard Rose’s Candyman is an adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden. The film revolves around Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a graduate student who studies urban myths and legends. While conducting research, she learns the legend of Candyman (Tony Todd), who is said to murder anyone who says his name five times while looking into a mirror. Skeptical, she tries the ritual herself. Big mistake. Candyman appears and begins killing innocent people. The film inspired two sequels, as well as a 2021 remake directed by Nia DaCosta.

Cronos (1993)

An old man (Federico Lupi) in glasses holds an ancient, bloody scarab in his hand in "Cronos"
(October Films)

Guillermo Del Toro’s indie film Cronos serves as the horror auteur’s directorial debut. Shot on a small budget, Cronos was made in Mexico and features a predominantly Latinx cast. The film tells the story of Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), an antiques dealer who discovers a strange artifact. After using it, he finds that he is now both immortal and thirsty for human blood. Featuring Ron Perlman (in his first collab with del Toro), Cronos is a must-watch for del Toro fans everywhere.

(featured image: Artisan Entertainment)

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.