All students (and former students) know that mid-December marks the end of the first semester and a well-deserved break from partying, studying, and drama. For me, the holidays always bring back memories of being in school, which is why now is the perfect time to talk about films about university – specifically, horror movies set on campus.
The first things that come to mind when talking about campus are keg stands and partying. College is where you experience your first taste of freedom – you can go wherever you please, do whatever you like, and drink more than you ever could before. But there are a lot of emotional things that can happen on campus – the loneliness of being away from home and all things familiar. There’s violence. There can be death. It’s a huge transitory period and with it comes the good and the bad – that’s what makes it such a ripe setting for all things horrifying.
If you’re looking to relive your campus years this holiday season, here are the top 10 most fun horror movies set on campus:
#1. Scream 2 (1997)
Scream 2 takes what was great about the first film and elevates it. Instead of being stalked in her high school, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is being targeted on campus by a copycat killer. From the meta-like film school scenes to the infamous attack in the sorority house, Scream 2 definitely leans into the college campus scenario. It also has enough mystery to keep you guessing, the kills are definitely bigger and more brutal, and the film parodies the clichés that come with horror movie sequels. Fun all around!
#2. The House on Sorority Row (1983)
There’s something to be said about all college students being total assholes – and The House on Sorority Row is the film to make that point. Young people get a lot of flack for being totally self-absorbed and selfish and, in some ways, it’s true. But college is also the first step into adulthood and this film epitomizes how young people can make really bad decisions when they don’t have any real-world experience. Satisfyingly shot, acted, and executed with surprises along the way, this is the campus horror movie to end all campus horror movies.
#3. Urban Legend (1998)
Reminiscent of I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream, Urban Legend is one of the classic late-90s slasher films that everyone needs to see because of the cast and ‘90s cheese. It’s campier than Scream 2, but it also features all the relevant, terrible dynamics on campus – betrayal, shitty roommates, sexism and sexual harassment – at their absolute worst. Local Toronto readers will also appreciate the setting as the film was shot at the University of Toronto.
#4. Happy Death Day (2017)
A film that straddles the line between horror and comedy, Happy Death Day is a rare modern treat. Tree (Jessica Rothe) is a sardonic sorority sister who’s murdered on her birthday. The twist is that she keeps living the day over and over again. Surprisingly, the concept never gets tired. At times heartwarming, sad, and nihilistic, Happy Death Day also plays with the setting and sorority dynamic to expose how horrific the college experience can be when you’re trying to figure out who you are. It’s like a millennial version Groundhog Day with the wit and meta-references of Scream.
#5. Prince of Darkness (1987)
From horror master John Carpenter, Prince of Darkness follows a group of physics students and their professor as they help a priest (Donald Pleasence) investigate green liquid in the basement of an abandoned church. It has all the elements of a campus slasher – students getting picked off one by one while they drink, have sex, and research the encroaching evil force. It’s a slow burn, but also a really creepy film that’s even better than Halloween.
#6. Hell Night (1981)
Horror movie enthusiasts will probably see the twists coming and there are a lot of hallway-wandering sequences that have little to no pay-off, but Hell Night features some interesting tension about capitalism and nepotism in the education system. The film’s lead Marti (Linda Blair) comes from a blue-collar family and is only pledging to the sorority because her friends are doing it. Her romantic interest comes from a well-to-do family and is joining a frat because his father wants him to. Watch it for scream queen Linda Blair, decent kills (with absolutely no mercy), classic 80s cheese and maybe the first instance of the man in the wall trope that’s been really popular in more recent horror films.
#7. The Prowler (1981)
The Prowler is a cult gem with a decent amount of tension, gore, and college kid shenanigans. A dormitory is terrorized by a masked killer decked out in WWII gear. It might not make much sense, but you’ll still want to go along for the ride if only to find out who the hell the killer is.
#8. The Addiction (1995)
Strange and dark, the film is a stark look at how our shared experiences affect our perceptions and behaviours. Lili Taylor is absolutely phenomenal in it and it’s gorgeously shot in black and white. Plus, there’s a cameo by Christopher Walken as a vampire (his natural state). For all the existentialism and nihilism that no movie about university can be without, The Addiction is fun in an art-house kind of way.
#9. American Psycho 2 (2002)
American Psycho 2 is easily one of the worst movies ever made and that’s exactly why it’s so much fun to watch. Mila Kunis plays Rachael Newman, a criminology student so desperate for a teaching assistant gig for William Shatner’s class that she’s willing to kill for it. So few of these films actually focus on classes that it’s fun to see how student-y this film is, but that’s its only redeeming quality. The film is atrocious, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a lot of fun watching it.
#10. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The characters never set foot on campus, but that doesn’t mean that The Blair Witch Project isn’t one of the best university horror movies ever made. No other movie has ever captured what it feels like to be a film student. The petty jealousies, unsafe school shoots, in-fighting between crew members, the general obnoxiousness, and the demanding personalities of directors who won’t deviate from their vision. There’s also the constant bitching about getting the right shot, temperamental equipment, consistently being off schedule, never having the right supplies – it perfectly captures the surprising amount of stress that exists on student film sets. Enjoy watching your entire film school experience being summed up in under two hours and not being able to sleep at night.
Prince of Darkness all day long for me. Not John Carpenter’s best film by any means, but you feel immersed into the story after watching this one.