Tor.com content by

Alissa Burger

Tricks, Treats, and Halloween Hijinks: Richie Tanskersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat and R.L. Stine’s Halloween Night duo

Elements of horror are naturally central to all of the books within this tradition, from Fear Street to Point Horror and beyond. But when the ‘90s teen horror trend collides with Halloween, there’s a whole different level of scares to be had with Halloween tricks, the looming fun—and potential danger—of Halloween parties, and costume-fueled subterfuge, confusion, and terror.

Richie Tanskersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat and R.L. Stine’s duo of Halloween Night and Halloween Night II are excellent examples of this ‘90s teen horror Halloween tradition. In each of these books, in addition to just trying to survive, the characters face the challenge of figuring out whether their lives are actually in danger or if the seeming threat is an ultimately harmless Halloween prank that just went a little too far, and just whose face resides behind those Halloween masks.

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Femme Fatales and Toxic Masculinity in Christopher Pike’s Die Softly and Master of Murder

There are a range of girls in ‘90s teen horror: there are the marginalized and hapless victims, who are stalked, attacked, and murdered for the reader’s entertainment. There are the intelligent and resourceful Final Girl-style survivors (who are also often stalked or attacked for the reader’s entertainment). And then there are the femme fatales like those of Christopher Pike’s Die Softly and Master of Murder, who are sexy, manipulative, and destructive.

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Horror and History on Fear Street

This past summer, Netflix took fans back to Fear Street with a trio of films: Fear Street 1994, Fear Street 1978, and Fear Street 1666. While there are significant differences between the two iterations of Shadyside, both R.L. Stine’s series and these films are deeply invested in the horrors of history and the Gothic tradition of a past that refuses to stay buried.

Leigh Janiak, who directed all three of the Netflix films, has made it clear that her adaptations aim to be true to the spirit of Stine’s books rather than follow any specific narrative from the author’s series, which is ideal for creating new stories for a contemporary audience and amplifying representations that were marginalized, silenced, or absent altogether in the pop culture landscape of 1990s teen horror.

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The ‘90s Teen Horror Landscape: The Babysitter and The Lifeguard

Being a teenager is tough: juggling classes and extracurricular activities, navigating the high school social strata, scoring the best weekend plans with hot dates and the right party invites, figuring out college visits and summer jobs. But it gets even more challenging when your house is haunted by a pissed off ghost, your new friend might be a murderer (or an otherworldly monster), some anonymous creep is following you, and your classmates keep going missing or turning up dead.

From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, there was an explosion of horror paperbacks marketed to teen readers—and particularly teen girls—by authors like R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Richie Tankersley Cusick, Caroline B. Cooney, Carol Ellis, Diane Hoh, Lael Littke, A. Bates, D.E. Athkins, and Sinclair Smith. Some of these novels followed the long-series form that was enormously popular in the larger teen fiction landscape at the time, like Stine’s iconic Fear Street series and Hoh’s Nightmare Hall, while others were standalone novels, with Scholastic’s Point Horror imprint as the gold standard.

Drawing on Gothic horror traditions, slasher film conventions, and over-the-top soap opera-style melodrama, these books were enormously popular among teen readers, who flocked to their local mall to hit up the B. Dalton or Waldenbooks for the latest scares, which ranged from the supernatural (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and Lovecraftian-style horrors) to the all too real (mean girls, peer pressure, stalking, intimate partner violence, or loss of a loved one). Regardless of the nature of the specific threat, there was a preponderance of dark secrets, mistaken identity, and one “terrible accident” after another.

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