TOP 9: Back to School Horrors

As parents and students both steel themselves for the new school term, Ygraine Hackett-Cantabrana takes a look at the Top 9 back to school horrors…

People say that school days are the best of your life. They’re liars: school is actual hell. Between power tripping teachers and sadistic bullies it can be like you’re starring in your very own horror film. No wonder then that horror movies set in schools and other educational facilities strike such a chord, triggering deep set fears in viewers who know what it’s like to shudder at the thought of dark corridors, creepy janitor closets and teachers who don’t quite seem human…

1. CARRIE (1976) dir. Brian De Palma

Perhaps the ultimate school-set terror, this 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel depicts what happens when school bullies and disinterested staff members cross a troubled telekinetic teen. Portraying just how horrific it is to  be a girl in high school, Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is terrorised in the locker rooms by her fellow students whilst also withstanding abuse from her devout Christian mother, eventually culminating in the most infamous prom scene in history. The morality tale behind this scholastic supernatural bloodbath? Don’t be a bully… especially to the kid with homicidal psychic powers.

2. THE GALLOWS (2015) dir. Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff

After a freak accident involving a failed gallows prop kills a student during a high school theatre production, this titular play has not been staged for over twenty years at Beatrice High School… until now. When a group of students break into the school after dark to attempt to vandalise the set they discover that Macbeth isn’t the only cursed stage tragedy. Depicted through found-footage, The Gallows is a terrifying supernatural chiller.

3. JENNIFER’S BODY (2009) dir. Karyn Kusama

Going through something of a revival recently, Jennifer’s Body follows two best friends played by Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried as they navigate the trials and tribulations of high school including dating, exploring sexuality and of course… demonic possession. Originally panned on release the film has since gained a cult following due to its portrayal of bisexuality, its truthful depiction of adolescent female friendships and a thoroughly entertaining performance by Fox. 

4. THE CRAFT (1996) dir. Andrew Fleming

One of the supreme 90s teen horrors The Craft is a stylish, cool story of a coven of Catholic prep school witches who welcome new girl Sarah (Robin Tunney) in an effort to release their maximum wiccan potential. As with most power surges the young women find themselves overwhelmed and tripping on their new found capacity, descending into a dark and twisted struggle not just against supernatural forces but also each other. Touching on serious topics such as suicide, racism and consent The Craft is a must-see occult classic that also boasts one of the most perfect ‘Back-To-School’ soundtracks.

5. THE FACULTY (1998) dir. Robert Rodriguez

Created by the dream team of director Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Til Dawn; Planet Terror) and 90s teen writer stalwart Kevin Williamson (Scream; I Know What You Did Last Summer) this sci-fi-horror sees the teachers of Herriington High hiding a terrifying secret. Headed by a who’s-who of ’90s talent – including Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Elijah Wood and Usher – The Faculty is a gory ode to Invasion of The Body Snatchers which also gives a social commentary on the pressures teenagers can feel to assimilate into an adult life they may not be able for. 

6. DISTURBING BEHAVIOUR (1998) dir. David Nutter 

Continuing on the theme of high school science fiction horror – and released the exact same year as The Faculty – Disturbing Behaviour stars a young James Marsden (X-Men; Sonic The Hedgehog) as a new student at Cradle Bay. As he comes into contact with the school’s prestigious Blue Ribbon circle however he soon begins to realise this clique is not just about charity fundraisers and getting good grades. Also starring a fresh faced Katie Holmes as a terribly stereotypical goth girl – and with heavy influences from Stepford Wives (1975) – this body-swap horror paints another terrifying picture of how the treatment of young people by authority figures is detrimental to their development. 

7. PHENOMENA (1985) dir. Dario Argento

If you’re looking for a Switzerland-set giallo starring a teenage Jennifer Connolly as well as horror royalty Donald Pleasance and set to a bonkers soundtrack of British heavy metal then look no further than Dario Argento’s absolutely gonzo Phenomena. When Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) begins attending an academy for girls that has been plagued by a local serial killer she’s hit by a car during a sleepwalking episode and soon discovers she can psychically communicate with insects. With the help of a local entymologist (Pleasance) she investigates the identity of the killer, leading to a reveal which is one of Argento’s most bananas. An ideal back to school horror for fans who like their murder mysteries flecked with the supernatural. 

8. BATTLE ROYALE (2000) dir. Kinji Fukasaku

Based on the novel by Koushun Takami of the same name this Japanese cult classic follows a class of junior high-schoolers whose teacher has nominated them to take part in the controversial BR ACT which is used to curb delinquency in children. The result? The kids must kill each other on a remote island until the last remaining survivor is crowned the winner. Highly controversial, even before the film’s release, Battle Royale has gone on to have a huge impact on pop culture, with influences seen in The Hunger Games trilogy, The Purge franchise and most recently Hwang Dong-hyuk’s Squid Game on Netflix.

9. THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (2015) dir. Osgood Perkins

Starring Emma Roberts (Scream Queens) and Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) The Blackcoat’s Daughter – also known as February – is set at a Catholic boarding school where the majority of pupils have left for Christmas. Still on-site are Rose and Kat, and one of them is haunted by a supernatural entity intent on causing trauma. The debut feature of Oz Perkins, who went on to direct I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is just as gothic, dark and full of twists. 

© Ygraine Hackett-Cantabrana

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