14 Killer High School Horror Films [Teenage Nightmares]
High Schoolers are, of course, prime fodder for Horror Movies. Whether these students are being hunted down by a masked serial killer, going through some life altering/ending changes or being forced to fight for their lives, there’s just something about teens in peril that is synonymous with the genre. That’s why so many High School Horror films exist, it’s a terrifying time for multiple reasons.
September marks the welcoming back of students to the halls and classrooms to be educated, enlightened, and in the case of these films, horrendously tormented. High School can be hell for many reasons, but these 16 films take that internal angst and pain and splatter it across the screen with visceral joy.
Cry Wolf (dir. Wadlow, 2005)
Rumours are par for the course in High School, who’s dating who, which teacher has a drinking problem, who’s selling drugs behind the maths building, but in Cry Wolf they go from intriguing to dangerous. When a group of bored prep school students decide to play a game, called Cry Wolf, but take it to a new level when they begin to spread rumours about a serial killer being on campus. Things escalate and the danger becomes all too real as the killings go from email stories to real life tragedies. From a game of deception it becomes a race to find out who the killer is before the next one in their group ends up on this orange ski masked killer’s list.
Anna & The Apocalypse (dir. McPhail, 2018)
It’s the last year of school and the world looks wide open for Anna, she wants to leave her small Scottish town of little Haven and head off to University, much to the dismay of her loving father. Unfortunately on top of dealing with her over protective father, trying to avoid her annoying one night stand and holding down a part time job, Anna must now deal with the rising horde of the undead that has descended upon them. The High School becomes a refuge for those who want to avoid becoming lunch for the festively dressed undead and is the location of the ultimate showdown at the end of the film. Anna and the Apocalypse really takes ‘surviving High School’ to a whole new level. Oh, and did I mention it’s a musical?
Cherry Falls (dir. Wright, 2000)
Coming of Age Movies have often dealt with the expectation of losing your virginity and the importance of having sex, especially films like American Pie and Superbad, but what about when that trope is introduced into Teen Horror instead? That’s when you end up with Cherry Falls. When the students of Cherry Falls begin to be brutally murdered and left with the words ‘virgin’ carved into their skin the town begins to panic. The teens have their own ideas to save themselves, and it involves the lewdly named ‘pop your cherry ball’, a party designed to remove both their virginity and their victim status. It twists and turns, and has some ridiculous plot points, but it’s an enjoyable take on the typical Teen Slasher that goes against the old rules of staying ‘pure’ to avoid death.
Idle Hands (dir. Flender, 1999)
Every school has a stereotypical stoner, a classmate who is rarely in class, and definitely isn’t ‘all there’ even when they are. In this Teen Horror it’s Anton Tobias, the weed loving lazy adolescent who is barely aware of the world around him, never mind the world of High School education. This is taken to the extreme when he doesn’t even notice his parents have been brutally murdered, even worse than that, it was by his own possessed hand. Filled with macabre comedy and ridiculous kill scenes often inflicted by a disembodied hand, this is Teen Horror Comedy at both it’s most brilliant and it’s most ludicrous. Again, there’s a culmination at a High School dance that hilariously sees the lead singer of The Offspring, Dexter Holland, being scalped by a floating hand. If that doesn’t scream 1999, I don’t know what does.
Ginger Snaps (dir. Fawcett, 2000)
Becoming a woman can be hideous, that’s why there’s a whole trope around the idea of monstrous menstruation, and to liken the transformation of a woman’s body to lycanthropy is not too far away from the hellish experience some females go through. Ginger and Brigitte are social outcasts, sisters obsessed with death and their macabre hobby of faking death scene photography, just your typical teenage angst stuff. On the night of Ginger’s first period she is attacked by a mysterious creature and begins to undergo a transformation. Her body changes, her appetite and sexual drive increase and her relationship with her sister is tested, all sounds pretty familiar even for those of us who didn’t become a werewolf. This feminist Teen Horror is whip smart and re-centres the often male genre of werewolf movies through a female lens with bloody and incredible results.
Freaky (dir. Landon, 2020)
It can often be difficult to feel seen and noticed in High School, every day can feel like an identity crisis wondering about who you are and what your role in this establishment is. It can be even more difficult when your identity is suddenly swapped with a towering, middle aged, male serial killer. That’s what happens to poor Millie Kessler who becomes the victim of The Blissfield Butcher, but instead of meeting her bloody demise is instead transported into his body Freaky Friday style. With all the fun of an old school slasher but a much more diverse look at modern High School life this is a fun Horror Comedy that gives Newton a sinister edge to play with, and lure in unsuspecting and gross boys with, whilst Vaughn revels in all the mannerisms of a shy and dorky teenage girl.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. Craven, 1984)
Wes Craven is a Horror legend and one who managed to reinvent the Teen Horror genre at least twice in his lifetime. With this High School Horror Craven created one of the most iconic killers, the razor gloved, smart mouthed child killer, Freddy Krueger. When a group of teenage students begin to have nightmares that transcend their dreamscapes and cause vicious real life deaths they must defend themselves from this nighttime menace. Falling asleep in class is embarrassing enough, but when Nancy can’t keep her eyes open during English she is assaulted with the images of her dead classmate and breaks the monotony of Shakespeare by screaming the house down. Being tired is just a symptom of being a teenager, but when a nap can be deadly it makes life even harder for these High Schoolers.
The Faculty (dir. Rodriguez, 1998)
Screenwriter Kevin Williamson is the name behind a whole heap of Teen Horrors, some groundbreaking and still revered, others a little lacking but still enjoyable. His fifth outing saw him pairing with independent director Robert Rodriguez and heading to High School for a Sci-Fi Horror about an alien race that wants to take over Earth as their planet is dying. There’s a real Invasion of the Bodysnatchers vibe that works well with the teenage themes of identity and conformity but updates it for the modern young adult audience. The cast is stacked with stars like Josh Hartnett as the drug dealer, Jordana Brewster as the cheerleader and Elijah Wood as the heroic geek, and even a cameo from Piper Laurie to cement its Horror credentials. The teens fight for survival and use their cunning, and some homemade anti-alien drugs, to fight off the otherworldly invaders.
Jennifer’s Body (dir. Kusama, 2009)
Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama were rightfully disappointed with the initial reception to this Teen Horror, but must be happy with its recent resurgence, reevaluation and entry into cult status in the past few years. Now hailed as a feminist High School Horror that was the victim of a shoddy, and quite frankly sexist, marketing campaign, the true genius and enjoyability of Jennifer’s Body is finally being appreciated. Jennifer is beautiful and popular, her best friend Needy is shy and nerdy, but when Jennifer undergoes a dramatic transformation after a Satanic sacrifice goes wrong, Needy must rise up to stop her best friend’s new found hunger. From it’s hyper stylised dialogue and visuals, to its overall message about misogyny and female social politics this is a film that was a little ahead of its time and deserves all the praise it receives from a modern audience.
The Craft (dir. Fleming, 1996)
Here’s the Teen Horror film that made every teenage girl want to start their own coven and introduced ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ to every single sleepover thereafter. When a trio of outsiders, Nandy, Bonnie and Rochelle, find themselves drawn to the new girl Sarah who has recently joined their LA school, it becomes clear that she is the missing fourth of their magical group. Feeling disadvantaged, bullied, maligned and mistreated, this group of young women use their new powers to balance the scales and correct these hardships. Unfortunately it becomes a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ when their newfound powers begin to backfire and a bodycount begins to pile up. The Craft is iconic in the Teen Horror sphere and is a rite of passage for many young women, even to this day.
Battle Royale (dir. Fukasaku, 2000)
In this dystopian future teenage rebellion has bypassed skipping class and swearing at a teacher to reach the heights of empty classrooms and knife attacks against the staff. Pushed to the brink by their lack of control over the next generation, the Japanese government introduces a system that takes these uncontrollable, disorderly teens and abandons them on an island to fight to the death, allowing only one survivor to return as the victor. After being tricked onto a school bus and drugged, a group of High Schoolers find themselves fitted with explosive collars and pitted against each other for survival. It’s luck of the draw whether you get a gun, knife, taser or a…bin lid to protect yourself with, but that is what you must do as the violence begins. Consequences for bad behaviour are taken to the extreme and it’s a terrifying vision of a bleak future for young students.
The Loved Ones (dir. Byrne, 2009)
Pretty much everyone will be able to remember their High School crush, the person in your class, or hall, who you just couldn’t get enough of seeing. Some may have gotten the dream ending of dating their crush, others will always remember the unrequited love and think back on this missed opportunity, but very few will have tried to kill that crush, but that’s what Lola does. When her crush Brent turns her prom invitation down, on account of him already having a girlfriend, Lola doesn’t take it very well and decides to take him hostage and torture him. An extreme reaction in most people’s opinion but one that is played out in all its gruesome glory in this Australian Teen Horror. As far as unhinged High Schoolers go, Lola is damn near the top of the list. Rejection is never fun, and it can hit hard as a teen, but retaliating with acid and a power drill seems a little bit too far.
Carrie (dir. De Palma, 1976)
When we think of iconic High School Horror scenes it’s almost impossible not to conjure up the image of gym doors slamming closed, electrical fire spreading and a wide eyed teenage girl doused in pigs blood standing statue stiff on a stage. De Palma’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel is probably one of the best interpretations of his work that still stands up as a Coming of Age Horror, and another prime example of the monstrous menstruation trope. When Carrie White, the poor bullied teenage daughter of a scarily religious mother, gets her first period she begins to experience telekinetic spells, moving objects when her emotions are high. She is tormented at school, judged at home and given no help with her burgeoning womanhood. Of course, this all leads to the iconic pig’s blood at the prom scene and Carries’ ultimate breakdown and revenge on those who have wronged her.
Scream (dir. Craven, 1996)
Of course there could only be one clear winner of greatest High School Horror, and it’s the one that changed the landscape of Teen horror and continues to influence the genre to this day. Bringing Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven their second hit on this list, this time as a combined force, Scream is arguably the most iconic Horror set in the High School landscape. This post-modern slasher set the bar high for the resurgence of Teen Horror that it kicked off, bringing some Psycho energy with its shocking opening kill and setting out the rules that most other Slashers went on to either follow, or purposefully esque. Woodsboro has a masked killer on the loose and teenage Final Girl Sydney must fight back against this stalking figure who has a penchant for knives and Horror movie trivia. Scream stands tall in pop culture with everyone who has sat down to watch is now listening carefully in all other Horror for the deadly line “I’ll be right back!”