High schools are a mainstay in horror films, usually because groups of teenagers seem very good at getting themselves into trouble, and bringing about the wrath of serial killers, aliens, and all manner of creepy creatures.
Let’s face it; there’s enough going on at high school on a typical day without adding a murderer or a little thing like Death chasing you into the mix, so high school students in horror movies have it especially hard.
With that in mind, I’ve picked ten of my favourite high school horror scenes for you to check out. From the classroom to the school swimming pool, and even class trips – nowhere is safe!
#10 – Scream (1996) – Sidney’s Bathroom Chase
In a classic case of thinking you’re safe in the daylight, especially when you’re at school, and being proved horribly wrong, we’ve got Scream! Ghostface has no problem popping up whenever he feels like it, but up until this point, he has only appeared at night and when his victims are alone and vulnerable.
But that all changes when Sidney has a run-in with her boyfriend Billy and heads to the school bathroom to pull herself together and calm down a bit. She hides in the cubicle to avoid a pair of schoolmates who are slagging her off to each other, and when she emerges into the apparently empty bathroom, she hears someone whispering her name. All the stalls appear empty, but soon a pair of black boots and the edge of Ghostface’s costume appears in the gap under the cubicle.
Sidney’s sweet slide across the floor shows why she’s worthy of final girl status, and she manages to make her escape unharmed. Scenes like this prove that when a serial killer is on the loose in your town, nowhere is safe, and you need to keep your guard about you at all times.
#9 – Idle Hands (1999) – The Halloween Dance
Well, we needed to have a least one high school dance on here didn’t we, as so many teens meet their end when they should be dancing and spiking the punch. Idle Hands is an over-the-top slice of ridiculousness, and the Halloween dance isn’t any different. As most American films would have us believe, the high school have managed to bag a real band for their dance, and this time around it’s The Offspring.
Anton and his detached hand have both ended up at the school dance, as they’re both there on the lookout for Anton’s neighbour Molly, though they each have very different intentions in mind.
Anton tries his best to warn his fellow students that his hand is detached and on a murder spree, but quite rightly, people are sceptical. Dexter from The Offspring pushes Anton away from the microphone and tries to kick the music off again, as Anton’s hand falls onto Dexter’s head and scalps him in one beautiful movement. At least it proves Anton is telling the truth, and it adds another gloriously gory death to a film that already has quite a few.
#8 – Cherry Falls (2000) – Science Classroom Chase
In Cherry Falls, the ideal victim for the killer is a pretty large pool of people considering he’s targeting teenage virgins, so very few of the main characters in the film are in the safe zone. Jody is wandering around her high school while her father, the sheriff, and most of the adults in the town hang out in the gym, so she probably feels like she’s not under too much threat when she comes across the freshly murdered body of her friend Timmy.
In her bid to run and find help, she ends up coming across the killer, and a chase ensues. While the killer manages to knock Jody out, and even start carving the word ‘virgin’ into her thigh, Jody wakes up and puts up the fight of her life, and again, proves she is the ass-kicking final girl this movie needs.
She uses everything the science classroom provides at her disposal, including climbing on top of a shelving unit and raining an arsenal of specimen jars down on the killer’s head. The final blow comes when she cuts a shark model free from the ceiling, and swings it into the killer, sending them flying into a glass cabinet and knocking them out. She is not going down without a fight!
#7 – The Craft (1996) – Rochelle’s Revenge
The Craft follows the story of four teenage girls, tackling a lot of reasonably regular adolescent girl problems except they have the power of witchcraft behind them. Sarah grapples with her feelings for the boy she likes, Bonnie wants to get rid of the burn scars that are taking a toll on her confidence, and Rochelle intends to take her racist bully down a peg or two.
After a ritual in the woods, the girls start to notice their spells taking effect, and the most satisfying of all has to be Rochelle’s bully Laura finally getting her comeuppance. Laura mainly likes to harass Rochelle during diving class, when Rochelle really needs to concentrate rather than being taunted from below.
As Laura emerges from the water and pulls off her swimming cap, huge chunks of her beautiful, blonde hair come away with it, revealing her bloody, raw scalp underneath. As her friends and the teachers flock around her, the success of Rochelle’s spell and the satisfaction of her revenge allows Rochelle to take a deep breath, perform an excellent dive, and finally get noticed by her diving instructor.
It’s incredibly satisfying to see Rochelle finally get one over on Laura, and especially gratifying if you were ever bullied in high school, as well as the excitement of seeing the girls’ magic starting to work in a significant way.
#6 – Ginger Snaps (2000) – The Death Presentation
Ginger Snaps tells the story of two teenager sisters, obsessed with death and suicide, who even have a death pact in place to see them give “the ultimate fuck you” to the world before they both turn 16 years old. Over the opening credits of the movie, we’re treated to a presentation of the girls recreating various forms of suicides and gory deaths as part of a class project, including Ginger impaled on a white picket fence, the girls enjoying a tea party with bleach instead of tea, and Brigitte lying in the family’s chest freezer.
At the last photo of Brigitte hanging from the ceiling of the girls’ basement bedroom, we pan out to reveal the images being shown to an excitable group of their fellow students (though most of them are teenage boys who are more interested in Ginger), and an outwardly disgusted teacher, who suggests the girls report to his office after class.
Not only is the opening credits scene visually stunning, but it quickly sets up everything you need to know about Ginger and Brigitte as characters, including the relationship with each other, their classmates, their teachers, and the whole town of Bailey Downs in general.
#5 – The Faculty (1998) – Pencil Pusher
It was tough to pick my favourite scene from The Faculty because the majority of it does take place within the walls of the high school, but when it came down to it, it had to be the opening kill.
This scene takes place before any of the teens get involved, as we’ve not even been properly introduced to our ragtag gang of misfits, and we’re fresh off the opening song of The Offspring’s ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ when we cut to a staff meeting in the high school. All seems well until Principal Drake heads back into her office and gets a pencil through the hand for her trouble from Coach Willis. With Coach Willis in pursuit, and all the doors chained up, Principal Drake tries to seek help from Mrs Olson, who is already outside, but decides she’ll have to return to her office to get her keys if she’s got any hopes of escape.
It’s already a horribly tense scene, as Principal Drake creeps about in the unlit corridors of the school, but just as she retrieves her keys, we hear Mrs Olson scream “Miss Drake! He’s coming!” She somehow makes it outside, slamming the door in Willis’ face, before chaining him inside, and all seems well. However, Mrs Olson retrieves the scissors Principal Drake was using for protection and brutally stabs her to death as Willis watches on from the gap in the door. Like a high school version of The Thing (1982), this film is full of twists and turns, where you’re never quite sure what is going to happen, or who has already been turned into an alien. This first switcharoo of expectations surrounding the staff members of the school sets up the tone for the rest of the film, and it’s bloody fantastic.
#4 – Halloween (1978) – Michael Stalking Laurie
In the original Halloween, Michael Myers is a calculated monster, and he shows this by spending most of the movie stalking his targets rather than killing people just for the sake of it. What makes this whole sequence so chilling is the fact that no one really notices anything is amiss apart from Laurie, which maybe explains why she’s the only one that survives this whole mess.
Laurie spots Michael watching her through the window as she sits in class, a shapeless face that she can’t quite make out from across the street, but it’s clear there is something not quite right. Her walk home from school isn’t much better, as Michael continues to follow her – driving past her and her friends in his stolen car, popping out from behind hedges, and even hanging around in her washing lines, watching her from the garden. He’s not afraid to show himself but makes sure to leave the scene before anyone gets too good a look at him.
The worst thing about Michael in these scenes is the fact it’s broad daylight, in the middle of a relatively peaceful town, and Michael manages to creep around, unnoticed, until night falls and he can put his plan into action.
#3 – Final Destination (2000) – French Trip Plane Explosion
Not technically set within a high school, but the group of teenagers who are boarding a flight to Paris at the beginning of Final Destination are doing so as part of their high school French class, so I’m giving myself a pass. Unfortunately for the people on the plane, or fortunately depending on how you see it, one of the students, Alex, has a premonition about the plane exploding.
When a Final Destination film comes out these days, we pretty much know what to expect, and we can enjoy the first big death sequence safe in the knowledge that it’s a premonition, and chances are, most of the people involved will be saved, at least for the time being.
But with the first Final Destination instalment, this was all new, and watching our entire group of main characters get wiped out in a fiery plane crash was more than a little shocking. The whole scene is my worst nightmare as someone who doesn’t enjoy flying. From people getting sucked out the side of the plane, to seeing Alex’s skin get melted off his bones as the fire from the explosion washes over him in waves, the whole sequence is quite disconcerting, and something that always goes through my head when I’m sitting waiting for takeoff.
We then find out it was a premonition, which Alex believes enough to try and get himself and as many of his classmates out of the plane as possible. Airport security ushers a group of them off the flight, and as the fight continues in the terminal, the plane explodes in the distance.
It’s a great opening to a horror film, and the double whammy of having to watch the plane explode twice is enough to put you off flying for life.
#2 – IT Follows (2015) – Old Maid
The Old Maid scene in It Follows is Jay’s first real taste of what life is going to be like now Hugh has passed this sexually transmitted curse onto her, and it’s terrifying. What happened to her the night before could perhaps be written off as a horrible one-off, and considering the police could find no trace of anything she was talking about, she’s probably just trying to get over the fact the guy who she decided to have sex with was a bit of a jerk.
However, much like Laurie before her, Jay is sitting in class at high school the next day when she notices an old woman in a hospital gown walking towards her. It’s a glance out the window during a lapse in concentration, and even though the woman is quite far away, the whole scene looks a bit wrong.
Jay quite rightly decides to make a run for it, and as she makes her way down the corridor, we see the old woman round a corner behind her. Realising her classmates cannot see the old woman, and what would an old woman in a nightdress be doing in her high school anyway, Jay bolts from the building, and loses the woman, for the moment anyway. Monsters that chase you by walking instead of running are 142 times scarier. Fact.
#1 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Nancy Falls Asleep in Class
When there’s a killer that’s hunting you in your dreams, chances are you’re not going to be getting a lot of sleep. Team that with a boring English class, and I do not blame Nancy at all for falling asleep. Everything seems normal as Nancy starts to drift off until she spots Tina’s bloody corpse in a body bag calling her name from the hallway.
Back in the classroom, her classmates now sit rigidly, and the boy who was reading aloud is now whispering. Nancy follows Tina’s body as it is dragged by an unseen force into the school basement, leaving an impressive blood trail in its wake.
From the hall monitor’s Freddy-esque sweater to Freddy’s maggot and puss-filled chest being sliced open, and Nancy being smart enough to burn her arm to wake herself up, this scene is one of my favourites from the entire movie, if not the whole genre.