The high school experience is different for everyone. For some, it’s heaven on earth, a time to look back on fondly with a wistful smile. For others? A hellish experience that you’d rather leave in the past, thanks. Those four hormone-charged years are rife with teenage kicks, no matter where you are in the social rankings, making them the *perfect* backdrop for some of the best high school horror movies.
Some of cinema’s most scream-filled, blood-soaked scarefests take place on campus. It’s easy to see why. At a time when everyone’s going through a tonne of changes, the terror of being turned down for a date, or flunking tests, is nothing when you’ve got a killer on your hands. Or a monster. Or a supernatural force of evil. Or – well, you get the idea. That’s what makes high school a killer backdrop for the macabre; who knows what’s lurking down the corridors, hiding in the classrooms, or patiently waiting for you in the basement? Think you can handle that? Then read on for our rundown of the best high school horror movies.
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15. Tragedy Girls (2017)
How many times have you said, “I would kill to have that many followers?” For the two high schoolers at the heart of Tragedy Girls, that sentiment is taken literally. McKayla and Sadie are a couple of teen bloggers desperate to score more followers. Their plan? Catch local serial killer Lowell Orson Lehmann. While their plan to trap him succeeds, Lehmann doesn’t want to co-operate and help them with their mission for social media dominance, leaving them no choice – they hold him captive and continue the murder spree themselves.
That’s… one way to increase your follower count. This black comedy is firmly a product of our social media-obsessed times; a Heathers-inspired slasher that drips with blood and razor-sharp witticisms. No-one at school is safe, with exes, friends, and enemies all in the girls’ sights. Tragedy Girls doesn’t merely acknowledge existing horror tropes with a cheeky wink. It bludgeons them. Slices them. Hangs them.
14. Dance of the Dead (2008)
Bodies shuffling across the dancefloor, glazed expressions, a curious lack of direction… ah, who doesn’t love a good high school prom? The undead certainly dig ‘em in this 2008 zombie indie that’s since earned its cult stripes. Paying respect to the likes of splattergore daddy Return of the Living Dead, Dance of the Dead dishes out blood, guts, and chuckles with ingenuity and abandon when a small town finds itself overrun by a horde of flesh-eaters.
The outbreak riffs on zombie lore of old – a nuclear power plant leakage seeps into the ground – and nestles it firmly in the late ‘00s. These zombies are a curious mix of sprinters and amblers, themselves almost mirroring the different cliques that form the heart of the movie’s teen survivors. The gang who rally together to stop the zombies from reaching the prom are the kids who couldn’t score dates. It’s a sweet, funny, gory low-budget horror that packs in some unique, ahem, educational moments. Try keeping your dinner down after a vile living dead tryst in a high school bathroom, along with a frenetic graveyard escape sequence.
13. Prom Night (1980)
As a result of Halloween’s box office success, producers were eager to cash in on more holiday-themed slashers. And while the prom isn’t a national holiday, it’s a time of year firmly rooted in an annual tradition. Oh and boy oh boy, do slasher villains love themselves a recurring event to use for motivation! Some years after a young girl’s accidental death, a killer stalks the teenagers responsible. The anniversary of which just so happens to land on prom night.
Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis – who, oddly enough, had to audition for the lead – stars as Kim, a calm, responsible high schooler at the center of a group of friends. What she doesn’t know is that they are the kids responsible for her younger sister’s death. Over the course of the movie, her pals are stalked and slashed all over school in a series of revenge killings. While Prom Night doesn’t pile on the gore, its tension builds nicely over the run time, making it have all the more impact when its cast of likeble teens are offed.
12. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Hot on the heels of her Oscar win for penning the verbose Juno script, Diablo Cody followed it up with Jennifer’s Body. A caustic and savage 2009 horror, pinned down by Cody’s trademark hyper-stylized dialogue, and directed by the brilliant Karyn Kusama, it under-performed massively at the time of release. Rocking a poor Rotten Tomatoes score, it didn’t seem to land quite right. The intervening decade has been kind to this feminist high school horror, where it has since found a cult following. And quite rightly so.
Megan Fox delights as the beautiful popular girl Jennifer Check who is inseparable from her best pal, the nerdy Anita “Needy”, played by Amanda Seyfried. Targeted by a bunch of drunken meatheads, Jennifer undergoes somewhat of a transformation when they sacrifice her to a demon. She doesn’t die. Instead, she’s resurrected, imbued with new power, a taste for teenage boy flesh, and a zero-tolerance policy for rapists and murderers.
11. The Faculty (1998)
Post-Scream, screenwriter Kevin Williamson turned his clever pen to another genre: science fiction. The Faculty is a loose remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, and yet, manages to throw in its own twists to the lore along the way. A cast of then-up-and-comers sells the traditional teen movie tropes; good-looking bitch, dumb jock, quirky rebel, goth gay girl, and subverts them as they gang together in figuring out what the hell is happening to their teachers.
It starts as it means to go on by embracing one of Williamson’s signature moves – an unsettling opening sequence. The first ten or so minutes drip with blood and some creepy-as-hell performances from its A-list faculty cast that includes Carrie’s mom Piper Laurie, and the T-1000 himself Robert Patrick. Watch for a huge homage to The Thing’s blood test scene.
10. The Craft (1996)
Skipping school. Shoplifting. Talking cheeky to bus drivers. When a group of teenage girls decides to dabble with a spot of witchcraft, what else can go wrong? Turns out, quite a lot. Part of the ‘90s teen horror explosion, The Craft tells the story of what happens when outsiders accrue great power. It’s a little like a superhero movie except without spandex. Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle, three teens whose high school experience isn’t exactly a blast, take up witchcraft as an after-school activity. The trio rope in new girl Sarah, making their coven complete, and begin experimenting.
High school can be hard enough without bullies nitpicking at you, so what do these girls do now they’re fully charged? They harness their skills to inflict revenge on anyone they feel like. It’s all fun and games until someone dies. There’s nothing more horrific than walking down the school corridor wondering if you’re about to have a spell cast on you by a disgruntled classmate, amirite?
9. Battle Royale (2000)
Oh, you think your high school experience was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Coming up on its 20th anniversary, Battle Royale makes any playground shenanigans you were subjected to look positively delightful. Set in a future Japan, where the government is eager to wield greater control over its rebellious students, every year one class is picked in a lottery and whisked away for what they believe to be a school trip.
When they awake – they’re all drugged, see – they each have detonators around their necks. It’s all part of the Battle Royale, a premise which, to be honest, The Hunger Games absolutely stole. The object of the game? To survive. But only one will. Each class member receives a bag which may have a weapon in it. Blood-soaked and gruesome – not like Katniss’ PG-13 adventure – this is a terrific reminder that you should really behave in class.
8. Halloween: H20 (1998)
The post-Scream landscape changed the face of horror. Luckily, it didn’t change it too much. Michael Myers, the mask-wearing lunatic, still remained a frightful figure. Enough so to warrant a reboot. Halloween: H20 picks up from Haddonfield, relocating to a private California school where Laurie Strode – now going by the name Keri Tate – teaches and her son, John, attends. With most of the student body away on a trip, the school remains empty for the weekend leaving only a smattering of folks behind for Michael to stalk.
Scream scribe Kevin Williamson penned the story for this underrated reboot, that absolutely nails what made the original Halloween so creepy: set-pieces. Choosing to have Michael run rampant in a boarding school is a stroke of genius. Not only do we get corridors with billowing curtains, casting endless shadows, we get a bonkers sequence featuring a dumbwaiter in the school kitchen that is tense. Easily the best Halloween sequel (come at me!)
7. The Loved Ones (2009)
Ever felt bad after turning someone down for a date? That dreaded guilt, resting in your stomach, is a mere hint of the repercussions in store for Brent. The Loved Ones doesn’t dilly-dally with consequences – it dishes them out brutally. When he declines a date with a girl from school, she decides that instead of having an angry wank about it like a normal person, she’d quite like to take him hostage and torture him.
This Australian torture pic is the debut of filmmaker Sean Byrne, who never shies away from the abject terror he submits poor Brent to. Interestingly enough, the decision to make the killer the most unique character in the whole damn school brings a whole new level of tension to the proceedings. Just why is she so unhinged? Why the hell is her father her partner-in-crime? It’s certainly one thing to be sad about being turned down to prom, it’s quite another to drill a hole in the guy’s skull to teach him a lesson.
6. All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
No matter your own experiences with cheerleaders, no rallying youngster deserves the fate that befalls this crew. The movie opens as Maddy is filming a video diary of her friend Alexis, the head cheerleader, go about her day. Things proceed as expected until she attempts a particularly tricky move that kills her. If that wasn’t bad enough, the rest of the squad also perish when their car is driven off the road by the thuggish football team captain.
From that point onward, All Cheerleaders Die ventures down a number of unusual paths, twisting into a supernatural resurrection comedy that’s gory and gruesome. It shares more than a few flecks of DNA with the likes of Jennifer’s Body – in its attempts to seek retribution for its cheerleaders – and doesn’t stop with the surprises, right up to its final frame.
5. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
No doubt, in years to come, The Blackcoat’s Daughter will spring up on best horror movie lists. On the surface, it looks like it adheres to your standard slasher format: two girls all alone at a Catholic school over the weekend. Kat (Kiernan Shipka), an oddly-quiet freshman, is left under the watchful guise of senior Rose (Lucy Boynton), a senior desperate to sneak off to her boyfriend. So when’s the masked killer gonna arrive, right? Well, never. This isn’t a brash, over-the-top stalk n’ hack pic, but a slow-burn chiller.
Director Oz Perkins does a great job of making the most mundane school activities heavy with mood. Every scene lies thick with that creeping feeling something isn’t right (Lucy Boynton you just don’t know what. Might have something to do with the fact that the nuns in charge are actually Satanists.
4. Cherry Falls (2000)
Cherry Falls is hardly subtle. From its name, to its killer, to its derivative backstory. It doesn’t clamber to be original or clever, but that doesn’t matter a jot because it’s one of the best high school horror movies that will have you shrieking and laughing along with every deranged twist.
Brittany Murphy stars as a teenage girl whose sheriff dad (a hammier-than-gammon Michael Biehn) keeps a close eye on her. With good reason too: a masked killer begins offing high schoolers, and it soon transpires that those kids? All virgins. Before long, they are plotting gloriously-trashy parties (“Pop your cherry ball!”) in an attempt to stave off the killer, while the adults sweat bullets about having to deal with a town of teens banging each other silly.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
There’s nothing worse than nodding off during English class, as your teacher (horror staple Lin Shaye, folks) drones on and on about Shakespeare… only to wake to the sight of your best friend’s corpse bumbling down the corridor in a bloodied body bag, is there? When A Nightmare on Elm Street burst onto the ‘80s slasher scene, its raspy-voiced villain Freddy Krueger brought this unique brand of torment to the high schoolers of Springwood.
Worse than any dreaded test or social faux-pas is a monster who’ll creep into your nightmares to kill you. Wes Craven’s iconic slasher takes the one place on Earth you’re meant to be safest – fast asleep – and twists it into a place to be feared by inventing a killer who attacks teenagers in their dreams. That’s certainly one way to make you stay awake and study.
2. Carrie (1976)
Imagine the worst prom night experience. Then add in a bucket of pig’s blood, a soul-destroying taunt from the entire school, and to cap it all off: a fiery blaze. That’s a mere drop in the bucket (ahem) for what poor Carrie White endures on what’s supposed to be the happiest night of her life. This classic DePalma horror embraces the real terror of being a teenage girl. On the cusp of womanhood, Carrie’s first period telegraphs the onset of another blessing: the power of telekinesis.
Arguably the finest Stephen King adaptation, Carrie remains a fraught, tense experience. Sure, while some of the music montages are a tad dated, one factor that DePalma meshes deep into the film’s marrow is the brutal, relentless torment that high school girls are subjected to. The big difference for Carrie is that she finally gets the upper, albeit bloody, hand.
1. Scream (1996)
Kevin Williamson wrote what was then titled Scary Movie after calling a buddy to keep him company while he was housesitting in the middle of nowhere. His pal obliged, and the pair quizzed one another on horror film trivia to keep the screenwriter alert. That’s what inspired the first kernel for Wes Craven’s post-modern scarefest.
Along with the disposable teens, typical horror tropes suffer the chop here too. Sure, one blonde might get slain, but another blonde knows better. The small group of Woodsboro high schoolers, stalked in the bathrooms, the football fields, the principal’s office, by a masked killer with a penchant for horror movies, find comfort in knowing how this will play out. Williamson’s dialogue is the key to its meta-ramble, most of which is stolen from the voices of audiences, hoarse from years of shrieking at screens “Don’t go into the basement!” Those same observations are placed in the mouths of its characters, who, like us know only too well the perils of being in a slasher film.