The late ’80s was a rough time for the horror genre. The slasher boom started by Halloween in 1978 had devolved into endless sequels. In 1989, audiences were even greeted with three sequels in one year: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, Halloween 5, and Friday the 13th Pt. VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Reviews were bad, box-office revenue was low, and it seemed horror was dead.
But then the ’90s came and breathed new life into the genre with more modern, unexpected horror films, especially in the slasher genre. Many ’90s horror films became box-office successes but ended up heavily dividing critics.
10 Leprechaun (1993) – Stream On Peacock
When Leprechaun was first released, it was heavily bashed by critics. The NOW review even stated, “Leprechaun is supposed to be fiendish but…he seems to be no more than dangerously cranky,” and “the screenplay and direction are amateurish, which doesn’t suit films of any kind.”
And yet, despite the reviews, the film did have its fans and went on to become one of the biggest cult classics in horror history. In fact, to date, the movie has spawned seven sequels, including the extremely popular Leprechaun in the Hood, starring Ice-T and Coolio. It’s also important to note that the original film was the first major role for Jennifer Aniston. In recent years, critics have begun to appreciate the campy nature of the films and Leprechaun‘s unique spot in horror history.
9 Event Horizon (1997) – Stream On HBO Max
Throughout the years, Event Horizon has become a widely popular film. However, upon release, it was met with mixed reviews and a tepid box-office earning. The movie centers around a ship that was accidentally transported to hell, and now crewmates are dying one by one. Upon release, The Washington Post stated, “If you want to have that Event Horizon experience without spending the seven bucks, try this instead: Put a bucket on your head. Have a loved one beat on it vigorously with a wrench for 100 minutes. Same difference…”
However, the film went on to be a breakout success on home video and gamers will likely know that Dead Space was heavily inspired by the film. Retrospectives have been much kinder to Event Horizon, even calling it a horror classic.
8 The Exorcist III (1990) – Stream On Vudu
The Exorcist was a huge success and is still cited as one of the best horror movies of all time. Its 1977 sequel, The Heretic, however, was universally panned. To bring the series back, the original screenwriter (and writer of the novel on which the film is based), William Peter Blatty, returned for The Exorcist III, serving as writer and director.
The film ignores the events of the sequel and acts as the true follow-up to the first film. In the film, the demonic spirit that possessed Regan in The Exorcist returns for revenge against Fr. Damien Karras for performing the exorcism in the first movie. The film became a box-office success, but received mixed reviews, with many critics saying it’s impossible to recapture the terror of the first film.
7 Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995) – Rent On Apple TV
Before Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey were A-listers, they starred in the fourth Texas Chainsaw installment. The movie received varying responses from critics, with some calling it complete trash.
However, there were other critics who understood it. First released in the festival circuit in 1995 (but not released theatrically until 1997) the movie was one of the first horror films to go meta, incorporating a secret society pulling the strings and making direct comments about the state of early-90s horror. Famed horror critic, Joe Bob, even stated, “This is the best horror film of the ’90s.”
6 Urban Legend (1998) – Rent On Amazon Prime
Made during the slasher boom of the late 90s, Urban Legend had fans and critics divided. It was a relatively standard slasher film, but the deaths were all executed in the same way as classic urban legends. Some found this to be a schlocky gimmick, while others found it to be a fresh take on the slasher genre.
It currently holds a 5.6 rating on IMDb, meaning the consensus is almost unanimously split 50/50. Genre fans are sure to love it though, and the performances of Rebbeca Gayheart and Loretta Devine cement them as true scream queens.
5 Bride of Chucky (1998) – Rent On Vudu
Over-the-top, offensive, and trashy. Is it any wonder why John Waters loved Bride of Chucky and even appeared in its sequel? This reboot of the franchise introduced the world to Tiffany, Chucky’s backstabbing and fierce girlfriend (played by Jennifer Tilly).
The movie was panned for lacking any kind of horror but was also praised for its self-referencing humor and campy vibe. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it film, but it was a box-office success and gave new life to the Child’s Play franchise.
4 Halloween H20 (1998) – Stream On AMC+
After the franchise drove itself into the ground, culminating in the lackluster Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, it was decided to give Halloween a proper conclusion on its 20th anniversary with Halloween H20.
The franchise brought back Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as a cast of young rising stars, to once again battle Michael Myers. Some viewers and critics loved the return of Curtis and saw it as a much better conclusion than Curse of Michael Myers. Others, however, felt the film lacked substance and failed to build the deep character that Laurie Strode deserved.
3 I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) – Stream On Paramount+
Despite becoming a box-office and a full-blown cultural sensation, I Know What You Did Last Summer was bashed by most critics, holding only a 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie was both criticized and praised for its acting and story, proving that every critic has their own idea of what a good film is.
The Chicago Tribune stated that it, “Wastes more opportunities than it does teenagers.” While LA Weekly said, “All the scary, screaming, sniggering fun continues here, aided by swell performances from Hewitt and Gellar in particular…” Despite the mixed reviews, the movie went on to gross over $125 million at the box office and was heavily parodied in Scary Movie.
2 The Faculty (1998) – Stream On Showtime
The Faculty was an odd film. It was one of many remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and was injected with an intense dose of ’90s horror. Written by Scream writer, Kevin Williamson, and directed by Robert Rodriguez, the movie was sleek and stylish. But many couldn’t quite put their finger on what it was.
It didn’t perfectly fit the horror genre…but it didn’t perfectly fit sci-fi either. It was entirely its own beast. To some, this was a much-welcomed surprise, but to others, it didn’t live up to their expectations. A perfect example of this is a Variety review, which both criticizes and praises the film all at once, stating, “they make a complete lack of socially redeeming value seem so much fun that The Faculty might well become a pulp classic.”
1 Scream (1996) – Stream On HBO Max
Despite going down in history as one of the best slasher movies ever, upon release Scream was actually met with mixed reviews. Variety gave a now-hilarious review, stating, “Craven attempts an uneasy balance of genre convention and sophisticated parody. The pic’s chills are top-notch, but its underlying mockish tone won’t please die-hard fans. That adds up to no more than modest commercial returns and fast theatrical playoff.”
Little did Variety know that horror fans would love the meta humor and that Scream would go on to gross almost $200 million at the box office. Now, more than 20 years after its release, fans still crave more Scream, and the fifth installment is currently in production.
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