The ’90s was an interesting decade for horror. It stumbled a bit in the first half and became insanely commercial in the second half. Each end of the spectrum was covered with very little in between. But that’s part of what makes it so interesting. It’s a decade that covers a lot of different ground, it’s fairly schizophrenic and that leaves room for hidden gems. Here, though, we’ll be looking at the ’90s horror movies that had the most influence of the decade. Some of them are obvious and some of them a little less so. Some were massive blockbuster hits and some of them simply weren’t. But all of them had an undeniable effect on the time itself and the overall horror climate. These films affected the way people perceived horror, they kicked off an entire generation of fans.
The movies below not only represented the 1990’s, but the different eras of the decade as well. And even in that short span of time, there were many. Here are the ’90s horror offerings that were the most influential, not only at the time, but on the genre moving forward.
The Silence of the Lambs
Silence of the Lambs kicked off the decade in a lot of ways. There were important features in 1990 like Jacob’s Ladder and Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake. But The Silence of the Lambs was massive. The early portion of the ‘90s was filled with horror films that were rebranded as psychological thriller. This was the first horror feature to ever sweep the Academy Awards. It paved the way for the disturbing thriller movement that followed. Dark horror that maintained strong characters.
Francis Coppola’s rendition of Dracula was a massive hit. It’s a lavish, serious, sexy production that has a huge A-list cast and yet never shies away from gore or terror. It’s one of the best big budget all-star horror movies ever made, offering up the best of both worlds for genre and mainstream audiences alike. This is a movie with a hard balance to get right, being romantic and horrific in equal doses. Its success totally made it possible to finally bring Interview With the Vampire to the screen and led to an overall resurgence in vampire stories.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was not a hugely popular movie at the time of its release. In fact, at that point of its theatrical exhibition, it was the lowest-grossing Nightmare on Elm Street film to date. This one proved its influence over time. Postmodernism became huge in the following decade and while it was made really popular by a certain other movie that followed a couple years later, New Nightmare handles things in a different way. It goes deeper into archetypes and is extremely intellectual. People didn’t appreciate that at the time, but came around to it more and more as years passed.
The Crow skirted the line between horror and action in a way that really, really worked and set up a ton of films to follow. Spawn, Blade, Hellboy, each of these got to the screen because The Crow proved that a dark indie comic could make it on film and stand on its own along the likes of Batman and Superman. While it will always be remembered for the tragic death of its star, Brandon Lee, it is nonetheless a movie that deals with loss and pain in a very powerful way. It may not be all-the-way horror, but it’s undeniably rooted in the genre.
The most influential film of the decade is 1996’s Scream. Directed by Wes Craven from a script by Kevin Williamson, Scream is a horror movie for people who love horror movies. It seems like such an obvious thing, but it really hadn’t been done before. Full on in-jokes and references and deconstructions of genre tropes, Scream was a powerhouse hit that defined ’90s horror and is still relevant almost twenty years later, having spawned three sequels and a TV series. Not only that, but its influence was all over almost every single feature that followed for the rest of the decade.
While The Sixth Sense was just as big of a hit that year and got all the critical and Academy Award love, The Blair Witch Project was a game changer. It was a colossal hit made for next to nothing. It had one of the earliest viral marketing campaigns—in fact, the marketing was genius all around. It wasn’t technically the first found footage movie, but it was hugely influential and a defining moment in ’90s horror. It may sound crazy so many years later, but when it came out, people believed it really happened. Even now, people are constantly trying to recapture that success.