6 Thrillers or Horror Films Set in School

Carrie (1976): The most chilling part of Brian De Palma’s classic adaptation of the Stephen King novel is not the prayer closet or the telekinesis or the psychotic mother, but the almost rapturous participation of the teenagers in bullying Carrie White. The study in groupthink begins with opening scene where Carrie gets her first period in the gym shower and her classmates swarm around, pelting her with feminine products, their laughter rising as malicious chants become screams. By the time the gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) comes in and tries to stop it, even the “nice girls” like Sue (Amy Irving) are giggling uncontrollably and joining in the taunts. For Carrie, the misery doesn’t end once the last bell rings, but deepens once she gets home to the presence of her religious fanatic of a mother (Piper Laurie), who regards femininity as a sin. De Palma focuses not only on the bullies but also the bystanders who are either unable or unwilling to intervene, as well as the risk Miss Collins takes in trying to reprimand the mean girls and protect Carrie. The legendary prom scene in the Bates High School gym makes the shame and mockery imposed on Carrie explicit as she is paraded and humiliated before the senior class, after which she mentally breaks and exacts her revenge. –Brooke

Student Bodies (1981): Long before there was the Scary Movie series, long before even Scream poked holes in Slasher film tropes, there was Student Bodies. Coming out in 1981, this was during the initial flush of the serial killer movie explosion. Halloween and Friday the 13th were relatively new back then, so poking fun at the mouth-breathing masked killer who dispatches high schoolers with various creative weaponry was still very relevant. Student Bodies was definitely a midnight cult movie. Somewhat forgotten now and made for a budget of what looks like negative 5 dollars, it’s the story of an escaped mental patient who goes on a rampage at a high school populated with students and staff filled with potential suspects.

Personally, I’ve been quoting this movie for a majority of my life (often to blank stares from people who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about). This movie was an early introduction to meta-humor. There’s a graphic that comes on the screen to tally the body count and arrows pointing to potential clues and weaponry behind the mystery. In the middle of the movie, “The Breather” stops the movie to rundown all of the suspects of who might be the killer, there’s comments about the heroine being the virginal “Last Girl”, parodies of the first person POV shot, Horsehead bookends, Malvert pee red, murder with a paper clip, galoshes, “Forget the girl, I’d like to kill the kid with the gum!”, “I’m doing what my Mommy told me not to do!” For those who have seen this cult gem, you’re probably grinning with recognition. For those who haven’t, you should seek it out. –Edward

El orfanato/The Orphanage (2007): Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) accomplishes the rare feat of increasing suspense through visceral sadness. When Laura (Belen Rueda) and Carlos (Fernando Cayo) bring their young son, Simon (Roger Princep) to the seaside orphanage where Laura grew up, the couple decide to reopen it as a boarding house and school for handicapped children. Their enthusiasm is short-lived when their son, who has begun playing with several “imaginary friends,” disappears and Laura begins hearing and seeing things in the house that Carlos can not. As her guilt and grief deepens, she becomes even more convinced that there are ghosts in her house while her husband fears she is headed for a nervous breakdown. Bayona’s set design echoes the despondency of the couple and their descent into isolation and heartache as the initial renovations they make to the building and its rooms as part of a fresh start become symbols of loss and life interrupted in the dormitory and school rooms, the crisp sheets and tiny chairs pristine and forlorn.  –Brooke

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Brooke's first theater trip was to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which taught her to sit still and absorb everything in the story, from sound to light to faces, and that each person's response is colored by their life and experiences.
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