There are a few settings that have become classic in horror movies. These include the gothic mansion, the abandoned hospital, and the cabin in the woods. Throw a ghost or a serial killer into a well-populated park in the middle of the afternoon and it’s just not the same. The setting works to scare us just as much as the actual threat. Maybe that’s why high school horror movies work so well. High school can be nerve-wracking enough on its own, after all. And since this year’s back to school season is maybe the scariest yet, let’s take our mind off it with a guide to high school horror. And like you’re supposed to do with high school, we’ll graduate and go on to college at the end.
High School Horror Guide: The Early High School Years
Whit Bissell and Michael Landon in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, image via American International Pictures
I Was a Teenage Werewolf
Tony Rivers (Michael Landon–yes, that one) is your average teenage boy, albeit one with a nasty temper. After one of his outbursts startles even him, he seeks help from a therapist. Unfortunately for him, this guy is experimental as heck. And once they meet a couple of times, wild animal attacks on local youth experience a sharp increase. Golly, what could be behind it?
This film ushered in other “I Was a Teenage” films, including the college-set I Was a Teenage Frankenstein–weren’t we all, bro? However, I’d stick with the original.
Sadly, though, it’s not currently available for streaming, but it is available on DVD.
Satan’s School for Girls
While this isn’t a traditional horror movie–it wasn’t even a theatrical movie–this wouldn’t be a high school horror guide if I didn’t include a few campy favorites. And this one is high camp. After Elizabeth (Pamela Martin)’s sister Martha (Terry Lumley) dies mysteriously, she goes undercover as a student at Martha’s school to figure it out. As I’m sure you can tell from the title, there is indeed something going on at the school. This 1973 Aaron Spelling offering also stars future Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd.
Available on Tubi for free, Amazon Prime Video, and for rental on YouTube and Google Play Movies & TV.
The Mid to Late 70s
Massacre at Central High (aka Blackboard Massacre)
This 1976 flick can be seen as the godfather of films like 1988’s Heathers. It follows what happens when bullied students turn on their tormentors. As with Satan’s School for Girls, I’m sure the title indicates that things don’t end in everyone holding hands and baking cakes filled with rainbows and smiles.
Available on DVD. Heathers is available on Tubi and Pluto TV for free, on Amazon Prime Video, and for rental on other services like Vudu.
Sissy Spacek as Carrie, image via United Artists
And speaking of bullied students turning on tormentors, this movie. When you talk about 20th century TV anthologies, you can’t have the conversation without talking about The Twilight Zone. Similarly, you absolutely cannot talk about high school horror without talking about Carrie. Its influence lingers and looms perhaps more than any of these movies. How do I know that? Here’s one example: Some of the movies in this guide have been remade. The original Carrie not only has two remakes, but it also launched a franchise and musicals. There’s just something in Maine upstart Stephen King’s story about a lonely and bullied young girl that sticks with audiences. Maybe that’s because it’s not just scary–it’s also heartfelt. You feel for Carrie and you feel her anger and humiliation when that bucket of blood comes raining down. (Uh, spoiler alert, I guess.)
SEE ALSO: The 1978 film Jennifer, an obvious take on Carrie, in which a troubled young teen–uh, Jennifer (Lisa Pelikan)–uses her psychic abilities to control snakes. As you do.
Carrie is available to Showtime subscribers through Showtime or through its add-on on other services. It’s also available for rental on services like YouTube and iTunes.
Jennifer is available on DVD.
Boy, teenage Jamie Lee Curtis characters couldn’t catch a break in the 70s. In this one, a masked killer once again stalks her, but this time, he has a lot less personality. Also, in case you couldn’t tell, it all goes down on prom night. (And everything is not alright.) Enjoy having that song stuck in your head for…ever.
The 1980 Prom Night is available for free on a number of different services, including Tubi and Amazon Prime Video. The 2008 remake of the same name is available to Showtime subscribers through Showtime or through its add-on on other services. It’s also available for rental on services like Amazon Prime Video.
1981 in High School Horror: A Banner Year
Student Bodies, image via Paramount Pictures
Although this movie is more of a comedy than a straight horror film, it’s notable for being probably the first movie to parody slasher flicks. For instance, every time someone dies, the movie displays the body count thus far.
SEE ALSO: Cutting Class, a 1989 horror comedy, which stars folks you’ve never heard of, like someone called Brad Pitt (?). Anyway, after Brian Woods (Donovan Leitch) returns to school after a sojourn in a mental hospital, bodies start dropping.
Available for rental on YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, and other services. Cutting Class is available to Showtime subscribers through Showtime or through its add-on on other services. It is also available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Although it has a pretty standard set-up, this movie developed a respectable cult following. It’s your basic “masked killer stalks teens” movie. This time, the twist, if you can call it that, is that the would-be victims are all track team members. Sure.
Available for rental on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play Movies & TV, and Amazon Prime Video.
Happy Birthday to Me
In the days leading up to her birthday, popular girl Ginny (Melissa Sue Anderson) has two problems. Number one, her friends are dying. Number two, she thinks she may be doing it while in a kind of blackout/fugue state. Whoopsy! Like Graduation Day, it’s your basic average horror movie, but it has its fun. I, for one, enjoy the suggestions Columbia Pictures had for theaters and radio stations to promote it. There were things like, radio stations having callers participate in a “scream-in” contest. Yeah, just scream directly into the phone. DJs love that.
Available for rental on Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and other services.
I Love the 90s
Rachel True, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, and Robin Tunney in The Craft, image via Columbia Pictures
Nowadays, it’s easy to be extra. But back in the 90s, there was still power in being a weird kid. If you were a weird girl, then it was almost like having a superpower. But what if those powers were actually real? Guess what? When you’re a teen witch, they are. Also known as the movie that created like, a million wannabe witches.
Available to Showtime subscribers through Showtime or through its add-on on other services. It is also available for rent on services like Vudu and YouTube.
After his older brother’s suicide, Steve Clark (James Marsden) and his family move to the small island town of Cradle Bay in Washington’s Puget Sound. He makes friends quickly with the weird kids–see above–but the school’s “Blue Ribbons,” their goody-two-shoes clique, also pursue him. Hmm, there something sinister about them, though, isn’t there?
Available on Tubi and Pluto TV for free, Amazon Prime Video, and for rental on Vudu.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
On its face, this is yet another yet another Halloween sequel. This time, it’s set at a boarding school at which Laurie Strode works as the headmistress under an assumed name. Her son, John (Josh Hartnett), is also a student there. Again, you could dismiss this as just a Halloween sequel. However, when I saw it, and Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) got her foot stuck in the dumbwaiter, just as Michael was approaching, the man sitting behind me hollered, “TEAR IT OFF AND GET A PEG LEG!” And that’s an important moment in film history.
Available on Vudu for free and on CBS All Access. Also available for sale on YouTube and Google Play Movies & TV.
A blend of sci-fi and horror, this is basically Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but at high school. And with a super-hot cast that includes Josh Hartnett (he gets around), Elijah Wood, and as Amazon describes him, “R&B superstar Usher Raymond.”
Available on CBS All Access and for rental on services like Vudu and YouTube.
I said in our work Slack that I was going to recover from the emotionally draining Lovecraft Country episode “Strange Case” by watching a dumb horror movie. This was it. And while it wasn’t the greatest horror movie of all time, it was better than I expected. Anyway, boarding school new kid Owen (Julian Morris) and his friends invent a twist on their parlor game. They create the legend of a fake serial killer. But then it looks like someone out there decides to become that serial killer.
Available for rental on Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, and other services.
Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried in Jennifer’s Body, image via 20th Century Fox
Needy (Amanda Seyfried) tells us all about what happened after her childhood best friend Jennifer (Megan Fox) caught a nasty case of the demons. Like Massacre at Central High, it does not end in puppies. Although this was kind of a critical and commercial bomb, it’s been reassessed in recent years.
Available to Starz subscribers through Starz or through its add-on on other services. Also available for rental on services like YouTube and Vudu.
And that’s it! This is by no means a final, definitive list. In fact, with Blumhouse’s Freaky, it seems terrible things continue to happen in high schools for our entertainment. I haven’t watched every single teen horror movie out there, despite my trying. So if there’s something that you think should have made the list, then yell it in the comments or tell us on social media. And be sure to come back for the college years, coming very soon.
featured image via Dimension Films and I guess whoever owns Miramax now (BeIN Media Group and Paramount Pictures)
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. 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.