Morbidly Beautiful

Your Home for Horror


We highlight eight of our favorite academic horror films — from the iconic and game-changing to the downright silly and just plain fun.

“Duke University” by Kobetsai is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Horror movies rank highly as one of the more intense genres. Whether it is a slasher film, a horrific thriller, or a comedic horror, one thing is certain: these films take us through a rollercoaster of emotions. While there are many sub-genres to explore, one of the most popular is student/academic horror.

High-school horror takes advantage of our innate horror at watching innocent young people be jeopardized, while collegiate horror taps into the fear of being alone and isolated from loved ones while in danger. For many, being away from home and on their own for the first time at college can be anxiety-inducing enough, even before a real threat is presented. This is why horror movies that capitalize on a collegiate setting can be quite relatable to young people and help amplify the fear.

Ironically, watching horror movies can be a great way to deal with the anxiety and pressure of school — a form of healthy escapism that can even stimulate creativity.

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Young people in peril is a common horror trope.

We love to see pretty co-eds in danger, and the genre is infamous for titillating as much as it terrifies.

Academic horror exploits two major genre motifs. The first is that the fear occurs in an unexpected setting for terror, one where we expect to be safe and protected. The second is that the setting is often contained, as in a college campus, where characters can be trapped and often removed from others who might keep them safe.

If you’re a student looking to make the most of your downtime with a relatable horror film, we’ve got you covered. Get some help from essay writing services reviews like, and then settle in for some satisfying scares.

When you do find yourself with some free time, these eight great academic horror films top our list of favorites and easily make it to the head of the class. 

1. Scream (1996)

This beloved, highly influential franchise began with the 1996 film by the iconic director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven. Originally, it follows a high school student named Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and. her group of friends in the fictional town of Woodsboro, California. Sidney and her friends become the targets of a mysterious killer in a Halloween costume known as Ghostface.

The film helped revitalize the slasher subgenre and the popularity and profitability of horror films in the 90s. It was intended as a satire of slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, as well as Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was considered unique at the time for how self-aware and self-referential it was, openly discussing the clichés that the film attempted to subvert. It still remains the highest-grossing slasher film in adjusted dollars.

Of course, it also spawned a highly successful franchise. In the second film, taking place two years after the original, Sidney and other survivors of the Woodsboro Massacre are now attending college, where they are targeted by a copycat killer inspired by Ghostface.

2. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1999)

Kevin Williamson, the brilliant mind behind Scream, penned another iconic teen slasher film turned franchise, I Know What You Did Last Summer. Prior to Scream, Williamson was approached to adapt Lois Duncan’s source novel by producer Erik Feig. While Scream was an innovative satire of the genre, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a straightforward 1980s-era slasher film whose sole purpose is to scare the bejeezus out of you.

The film centers on four young friends who are stalked by a hook-wielding killer one year after covering up a car accident in which they supposedly killed a man. The film also draws inspiration from the urban legend known as “The Hook” as well as two other must-see academic slasher films: Prom Night (1980) and The House on Sororirty Row (1982).

While critics were divided on this film, which was rushed into production after the meteoric success of Scream, audiences made it a huge commercial success. Like ScreamI Know What You Did Last Summer has been widely parodied and referenced in popular culture. And it also enjoys significant credit for revitalizing the slasher genre in the 1990s. 

3. Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)

Urban Legend is a 1998 slasher film with a cast of (at the time) hot, young stars, including Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Recca Gayheart, and Tara Reid. It’s yet another academic horror film that spawned a successful franchise. Its plot focuses on a series of murders on the campus of a private New England university, all of which appear to be modeled after popular urban legends. In addition to its young cast of co-eds, the film features supporting performances from horror icons like Robert Englund and Brad Dourif.

Though critics panned the film, calling it a blatant ripoff of Scream, it was popular among audiences, spawning two sequels, including 2000’s Urban Legends: Final Cut. It follows a film student being stalked by a serial killer in a fencing mask, who begins murdering the crew members of her thesis film about urban legends.

Although not nearly as successful as its predecessor and even more reviled by critics than the original, it’s a lot of gory, grisly fun and has since developed a cult following. By no means a masterpiece, it’s a great popcorn flick and a worthy sequel. In fact, many fans prefer the sequel to the original, appreciating the clever twists and commentary in a film that focuses on the art of horror filmmaking and not just folktale storytelling.

In February 2020, a reboot of the original film was announced to be in development, to be written and directed by Colin Minihan.

4. Final Destination (2001)

By this point, you may be noticing a theme. Many of our favorite academic horror films have kickstarted great franchises. Films, like the next one on our list, Final Destination, are based on concepts so smart and creative that audiences are left craving far more after the credits roll.

It’s one thing to cope with a killer you can see, but what happens when you’re up against otherworldly forces well beyond your wildest dreams? In the cosmos, there are many strong, evil forces at work, and Final Destination shows us just how dangerous they can be when they’re out for blood.

It’s such a simple setup, but the concept of fate and our inability to escape it is powerful and resonated with audiences. Every film in the franchise is essentially exactly the same: a group of young people escapes a horrible, freak tragedy that should have claimed their lives. They then find themselves stalked by death, which comes for them one by one in the order they were originally supposed to die.

In the first film, the freak accident that sets off the horrific chain of events is an airplane explosion carrying a group of high school students on a school field trip to Paris.

It doesn’t matter that each film is the exact same concept. After the striking originality of the first film, audiences keep tuning in for one thing: to watch the many creative and unexpected ways the characters will die. The franchise produces some of the best kills in the genre, and it’s masterful at creating suspense and subverting expectations.

The title of this film well illustrates the dual themes of death