The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls and a New Hollywood Formula
Review by Kelly
“Many critics and fans refer to the 1990s as the decade that horror forgot, with few notable entries in the genre. Yet horror went mainstream in the ‘90s by speaking to the anxieties of American youth during one of the country’s most prosperous eras. No longer were films made on low budgets and dependent on devotees for success. Horror found its way onto magazine covers, fashion ads and CD soundtrack covers. “Girl power” feminism and a growing distaste for consumerism defined an audience that both embraced and rejected the commercial appeal of these films.”
Over the past year I have become more familiar with Alex West. She is the co-host of a horror podcast dedicated to discussing horror movies through a feminist and academic lens called The Faculty of Horror. I have also been to a few movie screenings where she has done introductions or held a discussion afterwards, and the one I remember in particular was a screening of Raw last year. With this film being a French film, the genre of New French Extremity was brought up. This was also because Alex has written another book entitled Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity. I own that one as well. You might not be able to tell yet but I am a huge fan of this woman.
When I heard she was coming out with another book and that this one was focused on 90s horror, I was elated! I also love 90s horror with a huge penchant for “teen screams” or teen slashers. I bought it as soon as it was released. Spinster #1, Jess, also bought it and we have been enjoying it during this 90s horror month. As someone who isn’t even close to having an academic mind, or with any training beyond a Vet Technician degree, I appreciate the minds behind horror analysis and enjoy reading academic sources about horror, my favorite genre.
The book cover is the poster from the movie Urban Legend, a favorite teen slasher movie of mine, so I already had a feeling I was going to enjoy this book. Like the book prior to this, New French Extremity, there are great educational chapters on America and the youth of the 1990s. I like having a bit of backstory to set up for what the overall theme of the book is going to be. Alex touches on some obvious choices for movies like The Craft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but also discusses some surprises like Fear, The Crush and Disturbing Behavior.
Alex West puts a lot of thought into her analyses of these movies, movies that I grew up with and enjoyed. They are fascinating and definitely eye opening. From the toxic masculinity in the movie Fear to the importance of Rochelle’s character in The Craft, Alex West has a lot of insightful things to say. Since I come at horror movies from essentially a purely entertainment approach, having these seemingly vacant films be scrutinized was refreshing. Like in the description of the book, this was an era that not many people talk about and obviously these movies have more to them than it seems. This was an interesting time in horror history and I am really glad that someone is highlighting it. As a young woman, these movies were a part of my life, influencing and shaping me into the woman I am today; a strong sensible woman with terrible fashion sense! I enjoyed the various references she made and the quotes she used to help further her points. They were very diverse.
I have two main negative comments regarding this book however and the first one is the editing. There are so many mistakes in spelling and grammar that it at times made sentences challenging to read. There were so many that it was very noticeable. Obviously not a fault of Alex’s but definitely not something I saw in her previous book. Another comment is both negative and positive; I wish the book was longer! I enjoyed this great “little” book but a part of me wants to hear more about all of these movies.
What I love about Alex West’s books is that she takes these snippets of horror history that are rarely spoken of and puts the spotlight on them. She sees the beauty and intrigue in them. Alex thinks they deserve to be talked about and I think we should listen. I am so happy to have read a thoughtful book on movies of a personal favorite, nostalgic era of mine. I am also happy Alex West exists in the horror world as I think it needs her.
I can’t wait to see what she does next!