6 Thrillers or Horror Films Set in School
School is supposed to be a safe haven for students and teachers: a place for growth, learning, exploration, and security. Unfortunately, it can also be a period of awkwardness, isolation, and torment, depending on what side of the cafeteria you ate. Horror films or thrillers set on school or college campuses often exploited the tribal structures within the student body and the issues of conformity, bullying, or exclusion. Ask any adult and their memories of school days are either awesome, mind-numbing, or hideously awful. Here’s some of our favorite thrillers or horror films with settings or characters in educational environments.
Diabolique (1955): You could draw a line straight through cinematic history that runs from Gaslight to Diabolique to Deathtrap. They are kind of the evolution of movies with spouses who may or may not be slowly driving their partners into madness. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzet, this is an atmospheric classic. Hitchcock openly admitted that Clouzet was an influence on Psycho. A teacher at a boarding school is cheating on his wife with Simone Signoret. When the wife and the mistress find out about each other, they plot to murder him. But double-crosses and manipulations complicate matters. This movie features a famous image involving a bathtub. The lighting and mood in this film is as scary as anything you’ve seen. This always strikes me as one of those films when you run into an ignorant friend who claims they don’t like foreign films, plop them in front of this, and correct their thinking. Vera Clouzet’s descent into madness is harrowing in this film. It’s a classic. It was remade in the 90s with Sharon Stone and directed by the guy who made Christmas Vacation. I’ve never seen that but I can’t imagine it can touch the original. –Edward
Viy (1967, available on YouTube): Viy presents a situation no doubt familiar to seminarians everywhere: you must perform a three-day vigil for a witch you killed while wandering drunkenly through the countryside. This silly film makes goofy hay from a big wooden countryside church set, escalating necromancy, and justifiably scared priest-in-training. While a USSR production, it fits a certain tone I think of when recalling American Halloween: spooky, funny, morbid and cheaply costumed. Special effects-wise, Viy frequently employs rotating cameras in a surprisingly non-nausea-inducing fashion. In some of these set-ups, the camera spins centrally – as when the student-priest is beset by a circling, air-bound coffin. In another scene, a countryside backdrop is spun to help sell the illusion of the witch in flight – similar to an effect notably employed in the great Haxan (1922). The film clocks in at a short 77 minutes, but even if you can’t be bothered to watch the whole thing check out the final vigil scene at 1:03:00. –Matt
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975): It’s a common maxim in horror that what the mind imagines is scarier than what can be put on screen. Few movies have taken that mentality as far as Picnic at Hanging Rock, in which students at an Australian turn-of-the-century girls’ school up and disappear while on a day trip. It isn’t just that we’re denied an explanation – the threat is barely defined, despite its omnipresence. How can one resist something that bodes so ill, yet apparently lacks will or agency of its own? It’s as if the girls just get absorbed into an ancient eeriness emanating from the mountain or dissipate into the gauzy cinematography and pan flute soundtrack. The film juxtaposes this with the human fallout at the school, in which the cold headmistress seeks to impose order on both the inexplicable and the girls’ adolescence. –Matt