One theme, five great films. We honor horror’s place in higher learning with five lesser-known horror films set in academic institutions.
While watching horror is clearly about being entertained — often mindless fun that helps us escape from real-world problems — there’s also plenty of research and smart academic thinking to support horror’s value on a much deeper psychological level. Turns out, there’s a really good scientific reason why we crave the fear factor and why something we tend to avoid, anxiety, can actually be a good thing when we experience it in a safe space like watching a horror film.
In honor of horror’s surprising (well, maybe not that surprising to avid horror fans) place in academic studies, we’re looking at five lesser known horror films set in an academic setting we think you’ll love — no matter what kind of horror you’re most drawn to. From classic chillers to campy slashers to subversive arthouse horror films, we’ve got you covered.
If you are lucky enough to be learning about the horror genre in college, you can find essay topics and samples about fear on one of the best educational platforms for students. It’s a great time to be an academic because the internet is a wealth of valuable information, and it’s not difficult to find resources to help you dig deep into any topic — even the study of fear and its historical, cultural, and psychological significance. Of course, watching horror films directly is always a great way to do your research, not to mention a really fun way!
1. The Body Snatcher (1945)
The Body Snatcher is a classic horror film loosely based on the 1884 short story of the same name written by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was directed by Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and adapted for the screen by the film’s producer Val Lewton (writing under the pen name of Carlos Keith). The film stars the legendary Boris Karloff and was one of the three films he did with RKO Radio Pictures from 1945 to 1946. Acting alongside Karloff is another horror icon, Bela Lugosi.
Stevenson’s “The Body Snatcher” was based on criminals in the employ of real-life surgeon Robert Knox (1791–1862) around the time of the notorious Burke and Hare murders (1828). If you’re familiar with this real-life horror story, you’ll have some idea of what to expect from this film about a doctor and his helper who conduct medical experiments that often require the use of human corpses. It gets quite grim, though it’s definitely an interesting watch!
You can currently rent The Body Snatcher on several VOD platforms, or grab it on beautiful Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
2. The Addiction (1995)
The Addiction is a 1995 American thriller/vampire horror film directed by provocative filmmaker Abel Ferrara (Ms. 45). This unique take on the vampire sub-genre is widely considered an allegory for drug addiction, as well as an allegory of the theological concept of sin. Shot in striking black-and-white, it follows a philosophy grad student played by the wonderful Lili Taylor (The Haunting, The Conjuring) who is turned into a vampire after being bitten by a beautiful woman (Annabella Sciorra) during a chance encounter.
It’s fascinating to see Taylor’s character, Kathleen, navigate her new addiction on the streets of New York while trying to complete her studies at NYU. If you enjoy vampire stories, you will find this to be a refreshingly different take that’s as artistically captivating and beautiful to look at is as the story is compelling. The film was nominated for several awards and received wide critical acclaim. The marvelous Christopher Walken in the role of Peina definitely helps elevate the film’s entertainment value.
3. American Psycho 2 (2002)
Mary Harron’s iconic 2000 black comedy horror film American Psycho, based on Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel of the same name, is an undisputed horror classic. Serving as both a wickedly satisfying horror film and a savvy and scathing commentary on 1980’s consumerism and the decadence of the ‘ME’ decade, the film featured a starmarking performance from Christian Bale as insufferable yuppie Patrick Bateman who may or may not also be a vicious serial killer.
Even if you know and love American Psycho, you may not have seen the film’s 2002 sequel, American Psycho 2 (aka American Psycho II: All American Girl). This black comedy slasher film is a stand-alone sequel that was originally conceived as a thriller with no association to American Psycho. It was not until production began that the film’s script was altered with the incorporation of the Patrick Bateman subplot.
Starring Mila Kunis as Rachael Newman, a criminology student who is drawn to murder, and also featuring William Shatner as her professor, this sequel fell far from entering the hallowed halls of horror where the original resides. It was widely panned upon release and denounced by author Bret Easton Ellis. Kunis herself been expressed embarrassment over the film.
However, much of the hate the film received had to do with its awful gimmick of trying to shoehorn an otherwise smart script into becoming an unnecessary sequel to a beloved film. Forget the title and enjoy the film for what it is — a strange but solid black comedy with a great leading performance by a young Kunis (hot off the heels of her That 70’s Show fame) and a very amusing, scenery-chewing performance from Shatner. It’s bloody and funny. And it’s always a treat to see a captivating female villain slicing up the screen with style and savagery.
4. Phenomena (1985)
This film is a real deep cut, even for many horror lovers. It is an Italian film, directed by the great Dario Argento (Suspiria), that follows the story of a girl (Jennifer Connelly) living in a boarding school in Switzerland. When she finds out that she can communicate with insects, she uses her powers to protect her peers from a serial killer that’s been operating around the school. Connelley is outstanding in the lead role, and the film also features horror favorite Donald Pleasence as a forensic entomologist — along with his pet chimpanzee.
If the plot sounds familiar to you, it’s because the film was purchased and shown in the US after it came out in Italy. It was distributed under the title Creepers with over 20 minutes of the film removed. Though not well received upon its release, many critics now praise the film for its unique story and hauntingly beautiful visuals. The film also inspired a Japanese video game called Clock Tower in 1995.
If you want to check this one out, you’re in luck. It’s streaming on a multitude of platforms, and you shouldn’t have any problems watching it for free — with or without ads. Watch it on Shudder, AMC Plus, or Tubi (among others).
5. Slaughter High (1986)
Slaughter High is a light-hearted slasher film that was made in the United Kingdom and released in the United States. The story follows a group of high school graduates who got away with a violent prank that went really wrong. The plot takes place at their high school reunion where they’re met with a killer.
Though set in an American high school, Slaughter High was filmed in England under the working title April Fool’s Day. The film was re-titled after it was discovered that Paramount Pictures had a slasher film of the same name scheduled for release that same year.
Slaughter High’s main theme is revenge. It is beautiful in its simplicity. Don’t look for a deep lesson in this movie, but it is pretty entertaining for fans of old-school 80’s slashers. And you can watch it for free on Tubi.