The 1990s brought a lot of interesting things to cinema, but one particular trope that emerged in a big way is the teen who takes things way too far. I’m not entirely sure what inspired this, but from the late 80s to the early 2000s, there was a wealth of movies about fresh-faced, inventively life-ruining high schoolers. They were the types of films you might rent on a whim on a Thursday night or catch on TV—certainly not Oscar worthy, but still fun. Below is my round-up of five movies that show teens who go too far and do that theme the justice it so richly deserves.
*I’d like to give The Craft an honorable mention; those weirdos get an A++ in life devastation.
5.) Poison Ivy, 1992
Drew Barrymore is at her best in this. She plays intelligent, white trash Ivy who befriends Sara Gilbert’s Sylvie Cooper, a wealthy private-school loner who calls in bomb threats to her father’s TV station for fun. A match made in heaven.
In a mildly unrealistic plot progression, Ivy becomes the Coopers’ pet project; she basically moves into their house, and Sylvie’s bourgeois, neurasthenic mom, Georgie, lends Ivy nice clothes, while her tightly-wound dad, Darrel, does his part by banging her a bunch. This movie gets really absurd when Ivy essentially tries to become Georgie, eventually killing Georgie to make it look like a suicide and assuming the role of wife and mother.
However depraved she is, Ivy really doesn’t have to do much work to destroy the Coopers; they’re already a fractured group whose insecurities and hang-ups make them vulnerable for her to prey on. She’s not infiltrating a stable family—she’s exposing the rot that already exists in the foundations.
And in the end, no one is the better for it. So, let this movie be a lesson to creepy dads everywhere—your daughter’s hot friend isn’t worth the trouble.
4.) Heavenly Creatures, 1994
This would be further up the list, except it’s virtually un-rewatchable, which I think is incredibly important. Still, it makes the cut; this movie is hardcore. Melanie Lynsky and Kate Winslet play Pauline and Juliet, a pair of 14-year-olds who develop an obsessive and unhealthy friendship, much to the chagrin of their parents.
Lots of weird stuff in this movie: tuberculosis, a sex scene between one of the protagonists and a middle-aged man, hallucinations of mildly religious fantasy worlds. It eventually becomes clear to Pauline and Juliet that Pauline’s mother is the main obstacle preventing them from being together, which leads them to the obvious conclusion that they should probably KILL HER. AND THEY DO. THEY BLUDGEON HER WITH A PIECE OF BRICK. What were YOU doing when you were fourteen?
I saw Heavenly Creatures for the first and only time with my best friend (surprisingly not a good bro movie); we were significantly disturbed and left with zero desire to ever watch it again. But I couldn’t leave it off in good conscience, because matricide is some next-level shit.
3.) The Crush, 1993
Featuring Alicia Silverstone when she was an actual teen and Cary Elwes sporting a sick set of horn rims, The Crush is one of the more underrated movies of this ilk. Silverstone plays Adrian, an insane Lolita whose crush on writer Nick (Elwes) quickly turns deadly. Adrian does a lot of batshit stuff, including locking Nick’s new, age appropriate smooch in a room and emptying wasps into the vents, and framing Nick for rape with a used condom from his trash can. True ingenuity.
This movie is great for two reasons; the comical lack of chemistry between Silverstone and Elwes, which makes sense considering he was 30 and she was 15, and Adrian’s totally unwarranted psychosis (they kiss ONCE). The scene when Adrian calls Nick, post-kiss, and casually drops, “Got my period,” into the conversation as ominous music swells is the most nonsensically creepy interaction ever.
2.) Fear, 1996
It’s not just teenage girls who can psychopathically ruin your life, as Fear proves with Mark Wahlberg’s David—a seemingly sensitive “rough around the edges type” who charms innocent Nicole, played by a young Reese Witherspoon. The reasons for his immediate infatuation are murky, but David quickly makes it clear that no one will get between them—least of all Nicole’s semi-absentee-turned-protective father who is overly concerned with his daughter’s sexual and romantic life.
I’m sure there’s something to be said here on the concept of young women’s purity and the transfer of ownership of a woman’s sexuality from father to boyfriend—but to be honest, this potential social commentary is outweighed by David doing things like carving “Nicole 4 Eva” into his chest and beating himself in order to frame her father. If we’re being technical, I believe David may be in his early 20s, but regardless he certainly takes it way too far and tries to kill Nicole’s entire family. Ah, young love.
1.) Swimfan, 2002
It’s been made apparent to me that people do not like this movie because it’s a rip-off of Fatal Attraction. Those people are the worst kinds of people. You’ve probably seen parts of Swimfan around 9PM on TNT or FX, and if you have a functioning brain, you stuck around til the end.
A bit more recent than its contemporaries, Swimfan is a fine wine that gets better with every watch. It features Jesse Bradford and Erika Christensen at peak hotness and the best underwater sex scene I have ever seen. Bradford plays a swimmer, Ben, with a bright future and a nice girlfriend who unknowingly throws it all away for three minutes of bliss in a pool with Madison (Christensen)—a very passionate young woman.
Naturally everything goes to hell once he tries to backtrack. As a result of his indiscretion and Madison’s subsequent obsession, Ben’s best friend is murdered, his Nice Girlfriend almost drowns, and his swimming career is almost shot. The clear lesson here is, if you have a Nice Girlfriend, do not cheat on her with a hot blonde girl because she might put steroids in your pee and ruin your life.
Swimfan manages to make its own absurd predictability enjoyable. One look at Madison and you’re already shouting at Ben to stay far away because she is clearly textbook deranged—but of course he won’t. It hits a great note of schadenfreude; you watch with a hint of glee as Madison systematically destroys Ben’s life. There’s nothing specific about this movie that makes it that much better than similar films; Swimfan just has a certain je ne sais quoi.