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The 90s Nostalgia Horror Starter Kit

It's time to relieve the gory days...

90s horror starter kit
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  • Photo Credit: Dimension Films

I grew up in the 90s. Saying that ages me tremendously, but goddamn, age is going to get us all, so better to just embrace it. What better way to embrace it by diving into the very depths of the “pop culture” zeitgeist of the times? We’re talking about the era of Spencer gifts and Hot Topic, mall arcades and lazily wasting Saturdays with movie matinees. 

I miss it more than anyone can imagine. It comes down to the good of those times, the luster of experiencing something new. The 90s were the era of slashers and found footage, survival horror and surrealism entering the mainstream. Hell, in the 90s there still was a “mainstream” and “underground.” These were the days of no internet, or, at best, 56k dialup and Napster (and MySpace).

This got me thinking about what might be in a 90s horror starter kit, should one be nostalgic enough to time travel back and have a taste. This would be my starter kit. What would be in yours?

Mortal Kombat

Specifically the sequel, Mortal Kombat II. “Mortal Mania” was at its peak in the mid-90s, when arcades were dank bastions of cutting-edge gaming, with tons of fighting games showing up to ensure that the violence is kept high. When Mortal Kombat became a controversial overnight sensation, the sequel was inevitable. Still, nobody expected it to dive even deeper into its horror side and focus specifically on the tournament in Outworld, the nether realm of which so many of the series antagonists originate, along with creepy new combatants like Baraka and Mileena. It was among the first fighting games to really pull in an atmospheric darkness that was novel at the time.

Twin Peaks

David Lynch’s Twin Peaks goes hand in hand with the 90s. The opening theme alone is a shining example of 90s horror. Angelo Badalamenti and Lynch famously crafted the theme in under a half-hour. The series only lasted two seasons and didn’t gain wide acclaim or large-scale popularity until a bit later. Still, Agent Dale Cooper remains among one of the most recognizable protagonists in any television show, with his odd yet charismatic personality and penchant for talking to an offscreen Diane. There’s of course Laura Palmer and her murder—which became perhaps the real main character of the show—and Killer Bob and the red room. It’s all there like a well-remembered memory. 

Related: Who Killed Hazel Drew? The Little-Known 1908 Murder Case That Inspired Twin Peaks


The 90s ended with a  film that dove head-first into the metaphysical, effectively riffing on its own horror tropes as it played alongside them. Wes Craven’s Scream and the now iconic Ghostface was still getting its start as we were fast reaching the millennium. The small town menaced by a mysterious serial killer, the final girl trope by way of Sydney Prescott, and of course tons of film references and teen angst (and sex)—Scream had it all. The film toyed with the audience in a number of ways, something that would become its MO as its many sequels followed in the 2000s.


I might as well just name the entirety of nu-metal, given how many bands in the genre used horror personas as part of their on and off-stage image. Yet it was Slipknot who seemingly came out of nowhere in 1999, with their numbered jumpsuits and horror masks. Metal bombs like “Purity and “Eyeless” really hit the mark. Here is a band that went all out in all they did: constant touring, a persona that becomes as much about the music if not more so, and even their fans had names: “maggots.” It was difficult to look anywhere without seeing something about Slipknot. No surprise then that, decades later, the band is still going strong, despite lineup changes, deceased members, and an ever-evolving sound.

The Blair Witch Project

I’m a sucker for found footage. Give me even the most derivative paranormal investigation, as long as it’s captured from a camera helmed by someone that has no clue how to hold the damn thing correctly. During the beginnings of the internet, The Blair Witch Project took the world by storm via a clever and understated marketing campaign wherein a website was designed to look like a missing persons case for all those unsuspecting visitors to pour over and become obsessed about.

The movie itself depicts three young filmmakers entering the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, in search of the Blair Witch. The manner with which they depicted the downfall of the three-person crew is done almost entirely offscreen, making it easy for viewers to fill in the blanks, using their imagination as the stage from which the real horror would play out. It’s also a film that was so groundbreaking that it changed horror overnight, much like Nirvana did for rock music at the top of the decade.

Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?

I swear, all of us 90s kids were lucky because we got a chance to live the sensation that was Goosebumps (both the book series and show), along with the rise of Nickelodeon and their horror-anthology show, Are You Afraid of the Dark? Everyone wanted to be part of the Midnight Society, and so many kids ran to bookstore shelves to pick up the latest horror novella RL Stine had cooked up. I can still see so many of those iconic illustrations that became the face of the series. We all had our favorite entries, be it Monster Blood or Attack of the Mutant, Go Eat Worms or Say Cheese and Die, and we collected them like trading cards. Hmm, I suddenly have the urge to go collect them all again…

Related: Essential 80s and 90s YA Authors that Continue to Chill and Thrill Readers

Resident Evil and Silent Hill

So many creative mediums were growing during the 90s, and video games saw a quick rise to the top in terms of revenue and mass appeal. By the time Halo and Grand Theft Auto III came out in the early 2000s, the video game industry had surpassed the film industry in yearly earnings. Yet back in 1995 and 1997 respectively, two little games became their own breakthroughs, becoming pillars of a new subgenre of story-driven adventure called survival horror. First out was Resident Evil, designed by Shinji Mikami. An ode to the NES RPG classic, Sweet Home, the game was for many players an introduction to a palpable sense of survival. You are dropped into an odd mansion full of monsters, particularly zombies, amid the growing outbreak of a leaked bioweapon, the T-Virus. Silent Hill opted for something less action-packed and infinitely more cerebral. The eponymously named town, Silent Hill, is shrouded in a thick mist, its populous missing. A father crashes his car just outside the town and ends up searching for his daughter, who runs off mysteriously. Of course, there’s quite a bit going down in this would-be quaint little town— everything from ritual sacrifice to the rise of Hell itself. Both games went on to become some of the best games of all time. 

Related: Every Resident Evil Game, Ranked by Most to Least Frightening

That could be said of everything in this starter kit: They became touchstones of their own respective mediums. Perhaps it’s due to how the 90s was truly an age of cultural growth, a time when consumerism led to an insatiable desire for different experiences, and entertainment that was truly unique, “brand new,” and fresh. It was a time of curiosity within a business model of scarcity, a direct opposite to our modern-day abundance.