The Slasher Horror Genre’s Resurgence in the 1990s

The slasher film has been around in some form for many decades now. Even if you’re not a fan, you’ve definitely come across a few of these pictures in your lifetime. Now, you might be wondering what the actual textbook definition of these types of films are. Basically, they normally consist of a vengeful maniac hunting down victims one by one with the aid of sharp objects like knives or machetes. These antagonists are usually slow and prodding to build up suspense and make the audience think the person they’re trying to kill has a fighting chance. Yes, films like 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the 1978 John Carpenter classic, Halloween, have set precedents in the genre in the 70s but by the time Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street rolled around in the 80s, it was in full swing. After a number of years and a myriad of sequels, both franchises were joined by hits like Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, and Sleepaway Camp among others. The recently deceased Wes Craven was one of the biggest contributors to the slasher movie but by the time the 80s drew to a close, the genre had gone out with a whimper. That is until Craven helmed a film in the late 1990s that resurrected the slasher flick and and even inspired once popular horror franchises to give it another go as a means to cash in.

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That film was Scream. It was Craven’s tribute to the slasher genre with all of the over the top stereotypes that made it so great. You had the bloody violence, the campy humor, teenagers being picked off, drugs, and sex. Its self-aware nature also set it apart from the films of its time. Scream became a giant financial success, resulting in three sequels, and a television series. It also popularized the “ghoul” Halloween costume that’s still being worn to this day. As you can expect, with every great success comes a plethora of biters. There were a few notable entries in this resurgence that I want to cover and since Halloween is upon us, what better time than now.

I Know What You Did Last Summer
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Probably the most popular movie to come out of the slasher genre after Scream was 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. The film’s cast consisted of four of the hottest young Hollywood stars who dominated the end of the decade: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Ryan Phillipe. Hell, Johnny Galecki even pops up as the first kid who meets his grisly death. Following their high school graduation, four friends go out partying and while driving that night, they accidentally kill a man after striking him with their car. They then decide to dispose of the body and vow to never speak of that night again. Little do they know that one year later, the man returns for revenge, murdering people using a fish hook. How hellbent is this guy in making these kids’ lives a living hell? Well, in one scene he proceeds to cut Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character’s hair a few inches while she’s sleeping. If that doesn’t send a message, I don’t know what will! I used to really enjoy IKWYDLS but honestly, after re-watching it this past year, I found it to be pretty lame. There just isn’t a lot of genuine suspense and the amount they crib off of Scream is ridiculous. The general public disagrees with me however as the movie grossed over $100 million more than their budget.

A sequel, appropriately titled I Still Know What You Did Last Summer was released one year later but was a very obvious cash grab with very little of what made people enjoy the first one so much. A third direct-to-DVD sequel entitled I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer dropped in 2006 and was quickly forgotten. Don’t worry, this isn’t the last you’ve seen of this franchise as a remake is currently in the works.

Urban Legend
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This one was briefly discussed in my Jared Leto article where I discussed his rise in film. A few years before Leto caught the eye of the general public as an excellent actor and performer, he starred in this 1998 slasher picture. One by one, students of a fictional university are slain by a mysterious maniac. Though once skeptical, it’s soon discovered that the murders draw eerie comparisons of several urban legends that the scholars read up on and become obsessed with. The film was pretty bad with one of the worst payoffs I can remember and the laziest writing I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t well liked by critics either and was quickly dismissed. Despite that, it made enough money to spawn two sequels, the second of which went straight-to-DVD. Being released during Halloween season certainly had a hand in that.

One cool tidbit about Urban Legend was Robert Englund, one of the few icons of the slasher genre, appearing as a professor. The definitive Freddy Krueger wasn’t recognizable at first but fans knew it was really him without all that make-up.

Halloween: H20
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Let me first say that the original Halloween film might be my favorite horror movie of all time. It was the perfect mix of suspense and terror with an excellent killer in Michael Myers and equally perfect leads in Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode played by Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis respectively. Not to mention its creepy soundtrack.

With that said, the Halloween series was losing steam with each passing installment. After trying something new and developing an entry without Michael Myers (Part 3: Season of the Witch), the fans demanded that he return and thus the white-masked killer was brought back, terrorizing each movie ever since. In 1998, after Scream blew up, Halloween resurfaced to give one last hurrah with a seventh movie. Not only that, Jamie Lee Curtis, was lured back as well in her first film in the series in 17 years. Finally, we were looking to get some closure on the entire story.

The film’s subtitle was “20 Years Later”, a reference to it being released two decades after the original movie. Here, Curtis is all grown up and has seemingly turned her life around with a beautiful family and steady job in California. That is until she and her family are stalked once again by her older, psychotic brother which of course is Michael Myers. Now, she must find a way to put him to rest once and for all. There were a lot of interesting ideas that went into this one and I’m sure there’s a decent film in there somewhere but overall, it’s a convoluted mess. At the very least, there was finally a conclusive end to the story. Or so you thought.

Four years later, Curtis and Myers were brought back yet again in Halloween: Resurrection. In this one, we saw Curtis being killed off in the opening minutes and Myers getting karate kicked out of a window by rapper, Busta Rhymes. The series has definitely seen better days.

Bride of Chucky
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By the time 1998 rolled around, it had been 10 years since the original Child’s Play film. The story of a psychopathic doll who starts slaughtering others after having the soul of a serial killer implanted into its body was one of the most chilling things anyone had seen back then. By this time, the series was going for something a little more lighthearted and the result was Bride of Chucky. Yes, Brad Dourif returned as the voice of the doll but this time, he has a female sidekick, Tiffany, voiced by Jennifer Tilly. The two form a loving bond and go on a killing spree, terrorizing everyone and everything to absolute ridiculousness with a heavy metal soundtrack blaring in the background. The two dolls creepily compliment each other better than you’d expect and Chucky actually shows his wisecracking side with a selection of one liners. This is just off-the-walls insane; there’s a hilarious death where a man meets his doom by being run over by a truck, exploding into pieces. If you’re not expecting anything like the original, you’ll enjoy this one for what it is.

The series would move deeper into this direction with the next film, 2006’s Seed of Chucky before going back to its roots in the direct-to-DVD Curse of Chucky, released in 2013.

Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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