College Horror Guide: Higher Deaducation
I promised (threatened?) when I shared my high school horror guide that higher education was coming. And now here it is, our college horror guide. Horror movies set at universities seem to be more plentiful than those set at high school. That’s probably because the more adult setting allows for, well, more adult stuff.
That’s not to say, though, that college can’t have plenty of horror. (And I’m not just talking about your student loans! But seriously, folks.) You couldn’t have all that adult stuff without independence. However, that same independence can be a double-edged sword. You’re on your own, but also…you’re on your own. Unsurprisingly, baddies (in whatever form) sometimes take advantage of that. And despite what you may think, it’s not a new phenomena. In fact, let’s start by turning back the clock.
(Note: As always with my guides, this is not an exhaustive list of every single movie that would fit this category.)
College Horror Guide: Pre-Code through the 1950s
Thirteen Women, image via RKO Radio Pictures and Warner Bros Archive Collection
Thirteen Women: For this one, we’re turning the clock back almost a hundred years, goodness gracious. From 1932, this film isn’t a horror movie as we think of them. However, you can clearly see a line between this early psychological thriller and later horror films. As for the plot, it’s not unlike one you’d find in one of those more modern movies. A group of women, who went to college together, start dying off. Maybe it has something to do with another woman, who didn’t exactly have the same fun college experience has the rest of the gals. (Note: As this is a movie from olden times, there are some problematic aspects here, like Myrna Loy playing a half-Asian woman.)
Available for rental from a number of streamers, like Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video. It also plays on Turner Classic Movies.
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein: As I said in my high school horror piece, weren’t we all, bro? Anyway, as you might be able to guess from the title–it’s very subtle–this is both a sequel of sorts to I Was a Teenage Werewolf and a Frankenstein story. A Professor Frankenstein (Whit Bissell) visits an American university and like, immediately sets about reanimating a patchwork corpse. (As you do.) Gary Conway plays Bob, the titular teenage Frankenstein, by the way.
Unfortunately, it’s not currently available on any streamers, as far as I can tell. However, like the previous film, it’s sometimes on Turner Classic Movies.
Monster on the Campus, image via Universal-International
Monster on the Campus: This sci-fi-influenced 50s horror comes with an irresistible hook. A professor, Dr. Donald Blake (Arthur Franz), is accidentally exposed to radioactive coelacanth blood and becomes a violent caveman-like creature. You know, that classic story. Whomst among us has not been there? Incidentally, Whit Bissell, whom we should really not trust on a college campus, plays one of Blake’s colleagues.
Available on Blu-ray and also on Tubi for free.
The 1970s in College Horror
College horror movies seemed to go out of favor in the 1960s, as there aren’t really any of note. It’s strange, since the 60s weren’t exactly a fallow period for horror in general. Nevertheless, we’re skipping ahead to the 70s–not a slouch, either, when it comes to horror.
Black Christmas: I’ve mentioned this movie before (in my roundup of Christmas horror movies), and even reviewed one of its reboots. Still, it deserves another mention, especially since it fits the category. Anyway, in case you haven’t seen it, it’s about a mysterious killer stalking a group of sorority sisters who are still on campus at Christmastime. Simple premise, but it’s effective.
Available for free on multiple streamers, including YouTube, Tubi, and Pluto TV. Also available for rent through other services.
Sisters of Death: Oh, boy. Years after a college student dies during a sorority initiation that involves Russian roulette for some reason, her daddy lures the surviving members to a purported reunion at an isolated estate. There he holds them hostage, intending to execute each of them, one by one, until the guilty party–the girl who switched in a live round–fesses up.
Available on Sling TV, Amazon Prime Video, and Philo. I highly recommend watching the Rifftrax version (on Tubi), though.
The Initiation of Sarah: If you’re looking for something else in that vein–the cheesy Saturday afternoon movie feel of a low-budget 70s thriller–then there’s also this one, which was actually made for TV. It’s basically a rip-off of Carrie, but set in the high-stakes world of sorority rush.
Available on Amazon Prime Video.
The 1980s: The Golden Years for College Horror?
Now this definitely wouldn’t be a guide to college horror if we didn’t cover the 1980s. It feels like there were a lot of college horror movies back then. Then again, there were a lot of college movies in general in the 80s. There were comedies like the Revenge of the Nerds franchise and at the opposite end of the spectrum (and decade), serious dramas like Dead Poets Society. Since they made so many of every stripe in the 1980s, it’s no wonder that more than a few college movies dripped with blood. So let’s continue this college horror guide with movies from the decade of greed.
Hell Night: This movie wasn’t well-received at the time, but has gone on to become a cult classic. You can see why, because it combines your two classic plot points for college horror: deranged killer meets some sort of Greek life thing. In this particular case, a group of fraternity pledges have to spend the night at an abandoned old house. Guess who else is there, though?
Available on Tubi, Amazon Prime Video, and Sling TV. Also available for rental on other services.
The Prowler, image via Sandhurst Films
The Prowler: I’m gonna be honest with y’all. This movie sucks. The killer’s identity is obvious from the start, mainly because they disappear from the plot right before the killing starts. They might as well have left the scene by saying, “I gotta go put on my killin’ clothes.” Anyway, this thriller, about a killer (clad in WW2-era fatigues) taking out youths at a college graduation party, is worth seeing only for Tom Savini’s special effects and for the appearance of the great Farley Granger.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood: The Black Christmas premise was so popular, obviously, that it led to two reboots. And it probably led to this movie, which has a similar story. To wit, an unknown killer comes after a group of students who are working on campus during the Christmas break.
Available on Blu-ray and uh, maybe some other places.
The House on Sorority Row, image via Film Ventures International
The House on Sorority Row: I know you’re never going to believe this, but this is about a killer preying on sorority sisters. And wouldn’t you know it–what kicks it off is that they accidentally murdered someone first. So yes, this is one of those moralistic horror movies that follows the “rules,” like never have sex, say you’ll be right back, and/or cover up a murder.
A 2009 remake (starring Carrie Fisher!!!) was allegedly released in theaters, but I have absolutely no memory of that. Do you?
Available on Tubi and Amazon Prime Video. Also available for rent through other services.
Sorority House Massacre: What if the movie Halloween but in a sorority house? Because that’s essentially what this movie is: a guy, who killed family members, escapes from a mental hospital, then wreaks havoc. It’s part of the “Massacre Collection,” which also includes Slumber Party Massacre. It is also, of course, the first part of a trilogy.
Available on Tubi and Amazon Prime Video. Also available on Apple TV+ for rent.
I Love the 1990s: Horror on Campus
As with the 60s, college horror seemed to go out of style for most of the 90s. I’m not really sure why, though. I can’t say I missed them, either. Then again, I was mostly watching stuff like Warlock, Sleepwalkers, and Puppet Master sequels. (Love you, Tunneler.) But since high school horror was doing well in the 90s, it is strange that more of these movies didn’t graduate and go on to college.
Scream 2: But of course, some of them did. Scream‘s sequel follows the same beats as its predecessor. To that end, someone in the Ghostface mask tries to kill Sidney Prescott and her friends, but this time, it’s at college. And perhaps surprisingly, it’s not awful. In fact, this is a good example of a sequel that’s almost as good as the original. Adding Super Hot Timothy Olyphant was a smart move, too.
Available on HBO Max. Also available on other services, like YouTube and iTunes, for rent.
Urban Legend, via Sony Pictures Releasing
Urban Legend: It seems like such an obvious premise that you wonder why no one did it before. What if urban legends were real? Or not real, exactly, but used to commit murders. And that’s what happens on an unlucky college campus. The movie was followed by two sequels, including 2005’s Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, which stars Kate Mara, so I definitely have to see it now.
All three are available on Pluto TV for free, while Urban Legends: Final Cut (the first sequel) is also free on Tubi. In addition, they’re all available for rent on various services, like Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.
Horror2K: Movies from This Here Millennium
I considered including Soul Survivors in this section, since it technically fits the criteria. But between its stunning 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the unsmall fact that I haven’t actually seen it, I think we’re good without it, babe. (And yes, again, that means that there are movies that didn’t make the cut for this college horror guide. Now on to the ones that did.)
Happy Death Day (and Happy Death Day 2U): Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve already seen one or both of these. However, in case you haven’t, the set-up is pretty clear. Someone murders college student Tree (Jessica Rothe), but it doesn’t stick. She keeps waking up on that same (death) day and getting murdered again. So she has to figure out who the killer is and stop her own murder to break the time loop. The sequel follows similar themes, but goes in a more sci-fi direction.
Both are available for rent on various services, including Vudu and Apple TV+.
Pledge, image via IFC Midnight
Pledge: In this one, a trio of freshman nerds would like to raise their social standing by rushing a fraternity. Unfortunately for them, they get no bids. In fact, they usually don’t even get in the door at any frat. But then a pretty girl invites them to a wild party, hosted by a secretive fraternal organization. The secret society invites them back for initiation, but the trials they must face are beyond their imaginations and out of their worst nightmares.
Available on Hulu. Also available for rent on other services, like YouTube and Google Play Movies & TV.
And this has been our guide to college horror. As I mentioned, it’s intentionally not an encyclopedic list. So if I missed something that you think should have been included, let me know in the comments or on our social media.
featured image (of Super Hot Timothy Olyphant and Neve Campbell playing the GOAT Final Girl, Sidney Prescott, in Scream 2) via Dimension Films
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.