Ah, the ’90s wave of teen-centric horror. Critically maligned (except for Scream, really) and scorned by horror fans for their seemingly milquetoast and sanitized scares, the films finally get a book-length appreciation in the form of Alexandra West’s treatise The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls And A New Hollywood Formula, a fun and readily accessible look at the philosophical themes (and commercial considerations) that tie these movies together. After a brief assessment of early ’90s American culture and the cinema it birthed, West tackles a few films from the first part of the decade, largely a wasteland when it came to horror from the studio system. After treatments of comedy-horror hybrids like My Boyfriend’s Back and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the heart of West’s analysis comes in the barrage of movies produced in the wake of Scream’s massive success in 1996, leading to post-modern slasher silliness like Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer, as well as more interesting fare (The Faculty and Cherry Falls). West’s writing is lucid and appealing, save for the occasional stumbling into academese with its penchant for unnecessary verbiage. But mostly she hews to a conversational style that brings these films and their intellectual considerations to life with flair, on a subgenre all too often ignored in horror. She especially does excellent work with the Kevin Williamson oeuvre, dredging up oft-forgotten thrillers like Teaching Mrs. Tingle and finding remarkably interesting things to say about them, usually with a good dose of feminist critique. Even when I disagreed with her assessments—The Faculty, in particular, has far more subversive things on its mind than she gives it credit for—I found myself happily advancing to the next chapter, ready for what pleasingly felt like another round of talking horror with a friend over drinks.
If there’s one thing that frustrates about The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle, it’s how the book unintentionally serves as a call to arms on the vital necessity of a good copy editor. The book’s publisher, McFarland, either hired one asleep on the job or—more likely, given the final product—simply passed over the requirement altogether. It’s unfortunate; rarely does a page go by without at least one glaring typo, improper conjunction, or simply poor grammar left unfixed. I opened to a page at random just now to prove I wasn’t overstating my case, and within three sentences I got to “Many film insiders are happy to site instances during the franchise heyday…” West is a solid writer with fascinating things to say—hopefully her next book will find its way into the hands of an editor who will do it justice. But for now, the content is rich enough to accept the form.