The 1990s was a great decade for scary and horror movies. With advances in special effects and makeup, filmmakers were able to ratchet up the fright factor to new levels. From ghosts and demons to serial killers and monsters, the 90s delivered some memorable spine-tinglers. Here’s a look at 17 of the most popular and jarring 90s scary movies:
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Tim Robbins stars as a Vietnam vet experiencing surreal hallucinations and visions of demons. He struggles to determine if he’s going insane or if something sinister happened to his platoon during the war. Jacob’s Ladder combined psychological and supernatural horror in ambiguous, unsettling ways.
Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her unhinged performance as a deranged fan who holds her favorite author (James Caan) captive. She breaks his legs with a sledgehammer in one wince-inducing scene. Bates’ Annie Wilkes remains one of the scariest villains in movie history.
Cape Fear (1991)
Martin Scorsese’s remake of the 1962 film casts Robert De Niro as a convicted rapist who stalks the family of his former defense lawyer (Nick Nolte). De Niro’s Max Cady is an intimidating, swaggering villain who quotes Bible verses. Juliette Lewis plays the rebellious teen daughter drawn into Cady’s dangerous games.
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This Oscar-winning thriller introduced the world to the creepy, brilliant cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) consults with Lecter to help catch another serial killer, Buffalo Bill. Lecter’s tense interactions with Starling made him one of the scariest villains in cinema.
Army of Darkness (1992)
Sam Raimi’s horror-comedy sequel transported wisecracking Deadite slayer Ash (Bruce Campbell) back to medieval times. Campbell gets to utter classic one-liners while battling an army of undead soldiers. Army of Darkness combined Raimi’s signature slapstick style with gruesome horror visuals.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola directed this visually stunning take on the classic vampire novel. Gary Oldman plays the seductive Count Dracula who travels from Transylvania to England, where he preys on Winona Ryder’s Mina. Dracula highlighted the gothic romanticism and eroticism that previous adaptations downplayed.
Say his name five times in the mirror, and the murderous, hook-handed Candyman will appear. That’s the scary urban legend at the heart of this cult horror film. Tony Todd plays the title character who terrorizes a graduate student (Virginia Madsen) researching the Candyman legend.
David Fincher’s dark, stylish thriller follows two detectives (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) tracking a serial killer inspired by the seven deadly sins. The movie delivers numerous chilling scenes, including the horrifying “lust” murder scene involving a man forced to wear a strap-on device.
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
From the TV series, this horror anthology film tells the story of a man protecting a key containing the blood of Christ from demons. Billy Zane plays the head demon pursuing the key. Demon Knight dished out scary moments while staying true to the show’s EC Comics roots.
The Craft (1996)
Four outcast teenage girls form a coven and gain supernatural powers. They use witchcraft to improve their looks and get revenge on bullies. Things turn darker when power corrupts the girls. The Craft became a cult favorite thanks to its themes about female empowerment and friendship.
The Frighteners (1996)
Peter Jackson directed this horror-comedy starring Michael J. Fox as a psychic detective who communicates with ghosts to con people. Real supernatural forces come into play when he tries to stop a spirit killing people in his town. The Frighteners combined creepy visuals and laughs.
Wes Craven revitalized the slasher genre with this meta-horror movie. Drew Barrymore is terrorized and killed in the opening scene, setting the stage for a mystery about who’s behind the Ghostface mask. Neve Campbell plays Sidney Prescott, the target of the killers. Scream inspired numerous imitators and spoofs with its self-referential style.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Four friends are stalked by a hook-wielding killer one year after covering up an accidental hit-and-run. Jennifer Love Hewitt screams her way through this teen slasher that also starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr. Its success led to numerous late 90s teen horror flicks.
Scream 2 (1997)
Wes Craven followed up his slasher hit by satirizing horror sequels. Scream 2 brings back Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette as they face a new Ghostface killer on a college campus. Clever plotting keeps viewers guessing while still delivering solid scares.
The Faculty (1998)
Teen horror maestro Robert Rodriguez directed this Invasion of the Body Snatchers update. Elijah Wood and fellow students suspect their teachers are aliens after taking over people’s bodies. It’s up to the kids to stop the invasion. The Faculty offered fresh twists on familiar tropes.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
One of the first “found footage” movies, Blair Witch follows film students lost in the woods and haunted by a legendary witch. The documentary-style footage made it seem like real events captured on camera. And the shaky, grainy filming ratcheted up the fear factor by making viewers feel like they were there.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
“I see dead people.” This ghostly thriller became a phenomenon thanks to the famous twist ending. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist who tries to help a boy (Haley Joel Osment) who claims to see ghosts all around him. The ending reveal that Willis’ character was dead the whole time shocked and amazed audiences.