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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.

These books definitely weren’t literary masterpieces and often left readers with lingering, unanswered

2021-09-22 04:00

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