Top eight college horror movies

Celebrate the season by watching these eight horror movies about college students.

by James Schaak

The horror of college lies in its isolation. These movies tackle the simultaneous phenomena of separation from familiarity and inability to confess dissatisfaction through hyperbolic conventions of the horror genre. They show college students stuck in unrecognizable places and unexplainable predicaments, not unlike a freshman year walk of shame through Dinkytown. Whether they’re a trope or they’re realistic, each character in these movies are at least a little relatable. That’s what makes them so scary.

Here are the top eight horror movies about college students to watch this October:

8) “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997) dir. Jim Gillespie
When this high school friend group kills a pedestrian in a hit-and-run, they vow to secrecy rather than coming clean. This decision haunts them a year into college. Its contrived, self-serious plot largely feels like an obstacle that the movie’s real entertainment is trying to overcome, especially considering it is a slasher. Yet the objectively attractive cast and interesting-enough drama work well enough to hold attention.

7) “Cabin Fever” (2002) dir. Eli Roth
A celebratory cabin weekend turns bloody in the first of two Eli Roth movies on the list. It may seem like a funny thing to say, considering the 94 minute runtime, but with a drag of an opening act, this movie really does require some patience. Once the violence ensues though, things turn unexpectedly weird. Between the gore and the quirk, it’s no wonder that Quentin Tarantino is a fan.

6) “Scream 2” (1997) dir. Wes Craven
The iconic first “Scream” movie has cemented its legendary status in Halloween culture, and American pop culture broadly. However, that is no excuse to skip out on its quality sequel. Centering on college kids instead of high schoolers, “Scream 2” runs a similar whodunit route as its predecessor meaning it is sure to dole out ample amounts of both satire and horror.

5) “Happy Death Day” (2017) dir. Christopher Landon
By leaning into its stereotypical campus setting and silly college student characters more than any other movie on this list (bongs and frat paddles are used as weapons), “Happy Death Day” finds just as much comedy as horror in its brutal “Groundhog Day”-esque repeat murder of its sorority girl protagonist. Thanks to a game cast and a weirdly feel-good bent to its message, that risk mostly pays off. Be sure to check out the even funnier sequel too.

4) “Hostel” (2005) dir. Eli Roth
Two boorish American best friends, Paxton and Josh, are on a post-college graduation backpacking trip through Europe when they stumble upon a secluded hostel, bringing their celebratory voyage to a bloody conclusion. Released just one year after the like-minded “Saw,” this canonical torture porn differs from its forebear in its opening scenes. Roth uses light-hearted (and problematic) sexual debauchery to acquaint the viewer with the movie’s ill-fated characters early on. This makes the inevitable gore that much more stomach-lurching.

3) “Cabin in the Woods” (2012) dir. Drew Goddard
From its onset, this feature may seem like just another horror movie about an unsuspecting friend group in a forest, like the aforementioned “Cabin Fever,” except with the added bonus of one handsome Chris Hemsworth. Not to spoil anything, but the entertainment of “Cabin in the Woods” becomes a little more complicated than Hemsworth’s movie star looks.

2) “Black Christmas” (1974) dir. Bob Clark
Screaming sorority girls meet cruel deaths during the holiday in this classic serial killer slasher that shares a director with 1983’s “A Christmas Story.” Based on both urban legends and true stories, this pioneering film helped create many genre norms, such as the “final girl.” Upon its original release, “Black Christmas” found mixed critical reactions, yet the following decades proved that its winning horror recipe would be highly influential on the genre as a whole. For those who can’t find time before Halloween, worry not. It doubles as a Christmas movie too!

1) “It Follows” (2014) dir. David Robert Mitchell
Ever taken a drive through the forgotten neighborhoods of some of America’s more forgotten Rust Belt cities? Toledo, Gary or, the most infamous, Detroit?

“It Follows” takes a ride through Detroit in all its urban gloom. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, delivering career-defining work, and director David Robert Mitchell, who was born in the Detroit area, sets these Oakland University student characters in scenes of the Detroit area that appear to have more in common with Chernobyl than Chiraq. No movie captures the melancholic horrors of college life better than this film’s STI metaphors and themes of loneliness.

Next time you find yourself putting off that routine Boynton STI test, watch “It Follows.” Instead of the abandoned Packard Plant, imagine those graffitied grain mills behind the stadium. Picture yourself in that opening scene.