Now that Labor Day weekend is over and sunset is coming earlier each day, many people are slowly packing up their bikinis and rompers and lamenting the end of fun in the sun. But hey, it's not the end of summer, it's the beginning of the greatest season of all: fall. Cozy sweaters, crunchy leaves, pumpkin-flavored everything — what's not to love? And best of all, there's the glorious approach of Halloween. And these 24 spooky '90s movies are the perfect choices to get you in the mood for both the holiday and autumn overall.
It'd be all-too-easy to list straight horror flicks as prelude to October's High Haunted Season. But these selections specifically evoke the best parts of autumn — they're the visual equivalent of the smell of damp leaves and burning fires, of longer twilights in cooler air. There's moody, brooding action, like '90s cult classic The Crow (and nothing like a little The Cure on the soundtrack to get you ready for gloomy weather), goofier preludes to Halloween like Hocus Pocus and Ernest Scared Stupid, and plenty of eerie seasonal selections that'll satisfy leaf-peeper and popcorn-muncher alike.
Say sayonara to summer 'til next year and settle in for some spooky 90s goodness. Grab that caramel corn and flannel — it's about to get severely cozy in here.
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1. 'Sleepy Hollow'
This late entry from Tim Burton's blue period throws you right into fall with a high gothic take on the classic tale. Misty woods, small New England towns, and grisly, ghostly murders pair perfectly with a hot cup of cider and flannel wrap.
2. 'Hocus Pocus'
3. 'Dark Waters'
A convent of nuns hide dark secrets in this Russian/Italian horror film. After her father's death, a young woman travels to the one place he warned her never to go — the remote island where her mother died giving birth to her. Inspired by Lovecraft's stories, this eerie film implies there's more in the catacombs than just the dead, and it's definitely not resting in peace.
4. 'The Last Broadcast'
Overshadowed by the success of The Blair Witch Project, this film was the first (by a couple months) to use the "documentary found footage" horror concept. Taking place in Jersey's creepy Pine Barrens (which look exactly like they sound), mysterious murders pile up as a TV crew searches for the Jersey Devil. An editor working with the footage tries to figure out who, or what, might be responsible.
5. 'In The Mouth Of Madness'
An underrated gem from master of horror John Carpenter, this film implicates you as part of the terror just by watching it. An absolutely bananas performance by Sam Neill as a reporter searching for missing writer Sutter Cane, whose new book seems to drive all who read it mad. Another New England jaunt leads to a small town that should only exist on paper, as fiction seeps into reality and monsters crawl out of the woodwork.
6. 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'
If you're still sad about summer, this film will set you straight. Nothing like an all-star cast of '90s teens (including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze, Jr.) brutally murdered one-by-one over the Fourth of July to remind you summer's not always a picnic.
7. 'The Addams Family'
It's always Halloween at the Addams household. If Morticia's long sleeves and chic draping don't get you pumped for fall layering, Wednesday's dry sarcasm will help put summer's perkiness into full hibernation.
Based on a Clive Barker short story, this dark take on urban myths is one of the few films dealing with race and poverty as institutional problems (The People Under The Stairs, another, also makes the list). In a twist on "Bloody Mary", a graduate student researches the local Candyman legend — if residents of notorious Chicago housing project Cabrini-Green look into a mirror and say his name five times, he'll murder them with a hook. Ironically, Cabrini-Green is now demolished and under redevelopment, mostly as "upscale" housing.
9. 'The Craft'
Fall's also all about back-to-school season. It can be hard making friends when you're the new kid in town, but Sarah Bailey learns nothing bonds like witchcraft for dealing with bullies and bad boys. Killer spells (and killer school outfits) make this perfect inspiration for how to make a splash at the start of the semester.
10. 'Miller's Crossing'
An earlier noir from the Coens, Miller's Crossing opens with a shot of fall leaves and goes from cool to ice cold as its gangsters cross and double cross each other. As brisk as a slap to the face after a long walk in the woods and feeling like it exists out of time, this is a great film to watch as winter sets in.
11. 'The Frighteners'
Peter Jackson's ghostly murder-mystery features Michael J. Fox in his last live-action film role as "exorcist" for hire Frank Bannister. What clients don't know is Bannister's in cahoots with the spirits, as he can see ghosts and made pals with a few. When a Grim Reaper shows up and starts murdering the living and the dead, Frank and friends act fast to figure out who's behind the hood before their number's up.
12. 'Fire Walk With Me'
Twin Peaks: The Return ended along with summer, but now's the perfect time to revisit Lynch's feature film on Laura Palmer in the days leading up to her death. As with any Lynch film, it won't answer any outstanding questions you might have about Twin Peaks, but will definitely deepen the mystery. Like, who is that woman playing Donna?
13. 'The Witches'
Filled with amazing practical effects and performances, including actor/director Mai Zetterling as the grandmother and Anjelica Huston relishing her role as Grand High Witch, The Witches is the sort of dark, blunt tale children love. It's also the final film Jim Henson worked on before his untimely death.
14. 'Bram Stoker's Dracula'
This film gets flack for Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeve's less-than-Shakespearian performances, but what better testament to the '90s could you ask for? Gary Oldman absolutely chomps the scenery (pun intended) as Dracula, nearly matching the film's deliciously ludicrous operatic heights. The entire film is 100 percent practical effects (another '90s throwback), and all those high collars and heavy Victorian draping will give you some severe fall fashion ideas.
15. 'Jacob's Ladder'
Possibly the closest thing to a filmed Frances Bacon painting outside of David Lynch's shorts, this surreal psychological thriller tries to cram too much plot in and doesn't quite succeed. What it does do successfully is create a genuine sense of unease in a version of New York that quickly slides from grimy to hellish, including a dance floor encounter that will leave you wondering if you actually saw that.
16. 'Ernest Scared Stupid'
It wouldn't be a '90s list if Ernest didn't represent — and Ernest Scared Stupid is a sort of origin story. After successfully trapping a troll terrorizing their 19th century village, Ernest's ancestor says the creature can only be unsealed by one of his descendants, doomed to get dumber and dumber through the ages. Cut to: Ernest accidentally unleashing the troll after his friends' treehouse is torn town. Eartha Kitt outshines everyone as Old Lady Hackmore, and the entire film is a fall lead-up to a Halloween party with a real-life monster.
17. 'Cemetery Man'
Based on popular Italian comic Dylan Dog, which in turn was based on Rupert Everett, who in turn is in the film, Cemetery Man follows a weary groundskeeper tired of re-killing the deceased in a cemetery where no one stays dead. His grip on reality starts slipping when he becomes obsessed with a widow, who keeps reappearing and dying in different forms. This film is very... European, meaning the attitudes towards ladies and their bodies is less-than-stellar.
18. 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'
A little less fall, a lot more '90s, this fluffy, fun version of The Slayer deserves a rewatch. It's often overshadowed by the insanely successful TV show, but there's still a lot to love. Plus, Paul Reubens kills it in a rare non-Pee-Wee role.
19. 'The Dark Half'
While budget-horror maestro Romero (R.I.P.) had difficulties with his second big studio project, the creepy come through in this tale of a writer whose pen-name takes on its own personality. What better time to watch the sparrows fly again than migration season?
21. 'Demon Knight'
From the director of Juice comes the first Tales From The Crypt feature, getting lots of milage from its snug location and stellar character-actor cast (also a pre-ultra-fame Jada Pinkett-Smith, excellent as always). It's a lighter, goofier horror film, perfect to slowly ease your way towards Halloween.
22. 'The Crow'
The film that spawned a thousand Hot Topics. A gothic, brooding film whose soundtrack's aged slightly better than its CGI, this'll put you in the mood for smokey eyes, dark lipstick, and pouting out in autumn rain.
23. 'In Dreams'
I like Neil Jordan (The Company Of Wolves, The Butcher Boy), and I love the Roy Orbison song, but straight off the bat this is not a good movie. It is a perfect fall mind-melter, a ludicrous tale of a woman (Annette Bening) with a psychic connection to her daughter's serial murderer Vivian (Robert Downey Jr., in the worst wig and contacts). What it lacks in coherence it makes up for in Jordan's beautiful, dreamy imagery.
Now here's a serial-murder mental-connection film that gets it right. A genuinely unsettling examination of violence-as-contagion, officer Takabe looks into a series of bizarre murders committed the same way... by different people. The only common link is Mamiya, a man with extreme short-term memory loss. The slate-gray palette and bleak mood should fit how you feel heading back to work post-Labor Day.
The classic redux that brought '80s slasher films into the '90s, with a knowing wink. Just because you "know the rules" doesn't mean you're safe, and just because you've seen endless spoofs, that doesn't make the OG any less intense. The movie features the '90s-est of '90s actors, including Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, and a baby-faced Matthew Lillard. This film is the perfect list-capper to pave the way for full-on horror season.
Hopefully these films brushed the sand out of your hair and sunscreen from your eyes. Summer can be a bummer, and it's about time to embrace the cold and cozy comforts autumn has to offer. So button that cardigan, brew up some tea, queue up a film, and enjoy.