The 1990s is a frequently shat-upon era for slasher movies even though the enormous financial and critical success of Scream spawned a revival of the genre at a time when it was pretty much dead. The franchises of the 1980s had been driven into the ground and had become parodies of themselves. You couldn’t take them seriously anymore because everyone knew the tropes, everybody knew what to expect. Fans could not be tricked and were fed up with the same types of slashers trying to talk down to them and pretend they were providing a new experience and not the same thing audiences had seen a thousand times over.
Kevin Williamson did something brilliant when he wrote Scream. He knew exactly where the genre was at the time and didn’t want to pretend he didn’t, so he made the characters in the script fans of the genre as well. They knew horror movies, they’d seen everything and were quick to point out the tropes, allowing fans to have fun with the situation as well. It’s not as cynical as it’s made out to be, though, because Scream is embracing those tropes at the same time. People tend to miss that the point of Scream is really that horror is a loose cannon of a genre, and there truly are no clearly defined rules. Each classic rule set by Randy’s monologue in the film is contradicted at some point during the film’s running time.
Like Halloween did at the start of the slasher cycle, Scream spawned a slew of imitators. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t. A lot of the entries on this list have their detractors, but are far from the bombs they’re so often made out to be. Not all of them are of the quality that Scream was, but that’s unfair. The post-Scream slashers should not be discounted, just like My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler and Happy Birthday to Me shouldn’t be discounted simply because they’re not as good as Halloween.
Of everything on this list, Valentine has the most of what people typically associate with ‘90s slashers. A collection of attractive TV stars, a gimmicky plot, and it sometimes looks more like a commercial than an actual movie. But out of all the titles highlighted here, Valentine feels the most like a slasher from the early ‘80s. It might feel like it was put together quickly, but that only helps it in that regard. The ending twist is also handled surprisingly well and manages to be done in a very different way than most films of its type, which is definitely a plus.
I know, I know. But I Know What You Did Last Summer is not that bad. It gets bonus points for having the same writer that gave us Scream. In some ways, Last Summer is Williamson doing a more honest throwback slasher than he’d done with Scream. These characters are still smart and developed—for the most part—but they’re not hinging on self-awareness and throwback references for the movie to be able to work. This doesn’t mean I Know What You Did Last Summer is the better film, far from it. But it shouldn’t be immediately discredited just because it’s not Scream.
This one got ahold of me when I was young. It was one of the first horror movies I was aware of before it came out, as I bought my first monster magazine to read coverage on Bride of Chucky and found an article on Urban Legend in the same issue. I was already fascinated by the classic urban legends, having been introduced to them—as many fans were—through the great Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. The concept of a killer basing their murders on urban legends was genius to me. Plus, it features appearances by horror veterans Robert Englund, Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris.
Bride of Chucky
As I’ve already pointed out, I was anticipating this movie in a big, bad way as a kid. It was everything I wanted it to be and still to this day I think it’s one of the best horror comedies of the ‘90s. It’s smart and funny with some great kills and amazing FX. But what really astonished me—and still does—is the fact that it is so genuinely heartfelt. There’s actual emotion in Bride of Chucky and that feels strange. It takes the traditional Child’s Play story in a fresh direction with heavy cues from Natural Born Killers and an excellent visual style from director Ronny Yu.
Cherry Falls might not be the most maligned entry on this list, but it’s still the one you hear talked about the least. That’s a shame, too, because it is such a smart slasher. The concept, when you just look at traditional horror stereotypes, is genius. It is the most obvious way to subvert the genre and yet it had never been done before. A killer that only targets virgins; it’s a simple concept but when you flip the story like that, you have a film that focuses on teenagers racing to lose their virginity so that they don’t die next. It totally changes the structure and central concept that had become so familiar by that point.
While critically acclaimed in its time, it’s now seen as one of the worst Halloween entries by fans, in part because it ignores the events of Halloween 4, 5 and 6, but also because some people just lump it in with its unfortunate follow-up Halloween Resurrection. This is a damn shame because H20 is a smart, strong entry in the saga that revisits Laurie as a sincere adult character struggling to come to grips with the most traumatic thing that ever happened to her. It culminates in an empowering showdown as she is able to put the past behind her by facing her murderous brother one more time, bringing us to an ending that would have been the perfect finale for the series as a whole.
When we’re talking about underrated slashers following on the heels of Scream, Scream 2 has to be a part of that discussion. It stands up very well next to its predecessor. The script is just as smart and the villain’s motivation is a biting commentary on the obsession with media violence that defined its decade. Considering how quickly it was made after the first, it’s amazing that Scream 2 turned out to be decent, let alone one of the best slashers of its day.