Winter is officially here, and while horror movies tend to be geared more toward summer camps and fall hijinks, December through February have earned their own set of cool flicks. So for your horror-loving enjoyment, here are the top ten winter horror movies you should watch this season.
There’s winter, and then there’s nuclear winter. Paul Newman finds out just how hellish bad weather can be in this unrelenting post-apocalyptic drama from director Robert Altman. Previously featured on my 7 Underrated Apocalypse Movies, Quintet is one of those films that should be better remembered–fantastic cast, esteemed director, great concept–but is often forgotten. That might have something to do with just how bleak the film is. But the lack of a clean, happy ending shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the 1979 cult classic during the next big snowstorm.
Over the years, December 25th has racked up quite a few–though not nearly enough–horror movies in its honor. But one of those films wins by a nose (or a unicorn’s horn in this case). With its twists and turns and unsuspecting sorority girls, Bob Clark’s fantastic 1974 cut ’em up is everything a good slasher should be. And if anything will make you reach for more spiked eggnog, it’s Keir Dullea’s undeniable creep factor. Even when he’s not the killer, he’s still super scary.
Every time I include this one on a list, some fan takes issue with me calling Gremlins horror. But if you’ve got scaly little monsters wreaking havoc all over town, that’s as good a horror as a serial killer doing the same. Sure, Gizmo is a bit too adorable, but that just enhances the juxtaposition with his mean, green counterparts. To up the holiday ante, watch this film while making gingerbread men (with neon yellow icing!) and singing really bad carols. If you’re lucky, you too will have gremlins show up to join the macabre merriment.
Daughters of Darkness
It’s a European hotel’s offseason, so, of course, who shows up? A couple newlyweds and a couple vampires. There goes the derelict neighborhood. Daughters of Darkness is among my favorite horror films, and I already featured it on a Forgotten Horror Gem spotlight. But since it’s also got that certain wintry vibe, it deserves another mention. If nothing else, it’s worth checking out the original sparkly vampire–who is also a ruthlessly elegant killer. In cinema, there’s never been another vampire to match Delphine Seyrig’s Countess, and there probably never will be.
The ultimate winter horror movie, it’s almost a genre sin to watch this one during any other season. Everything works here–the far-flung Antarctic setting, the eclectically cool cast, the fantastic monster(s). Word on the street (or internet) is that every year, the real-life folks down at the Antarctica research facility do a double feature with The Thing and The Shining. Proof positive that scientists might not be as cool as Kurt Russell’s MacReady, but they’re still pretty damn cool.
My Bloody Valentine
Winter isn’t all snow and December holidays. Just before the weather breaks each year, there’s the much maligned Valentine’s Day, a perfect occasion to remind the single among us just how single they truly are. But alone or paired off, you can assuage your end-of-winter woes with a trip to Valentine Bluffs where February 14th is less about cards and candies and more about murder, mayhem, and mining. Does that sound romantic or what?
A winter stalwart, The Shining remains one of the most beloved horror films of all-time. As though being snowed in wasn’t bad enough, Stanley Kubrick added Jack Nicholson at a typewriter. Always scary, even with flip flops in the middle of July, but extra terrifying when the Overlook Hotel in the winter serves as the setting. Stephen King might not be a fan of this adaptation of his book, but that won’t stop the rest of us from kicking back this season with the 1980 classic. After all, you know what they say about all work and no play…
Not enough horror films take place on Christmas, but even less revolve around New Year’s Eve. However, Terror Train does its best to make up for it. Though far from Jamie Lee Curtis’s best genre film, this weird little gem is worth the ninety minutes. The ending is a little wonky, but then again, as horror fans, we’re rather used to oddball conclusions, aren’t we? Plus, it’s fun to countdown until the very stilted performance by magician David Copperfield comes to its inevitable end.
The Fearless Vampire Killers
Here’s the major reason I included this uber dark European fairy tale: it’s got Sharon Tate. And any film with Sharon Tate is worth seeing, even ones as truly horrifying as Valley of the Dolls. Tate’s incandescence shines through her every scene in The Fearless Vampire Killers (or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck). And even though Tate’s Sarah is not featured as much as she ought to be, this Roman Polanski vehicle manages to make the most of her slim bit of screen time. And the sled-riding scene at the end? ’60s horror at its glamorous best.
The Night of the Hunter
When describing this film to others, I say something along the lines of “Robert Mitchum hates women; two kids float down a river, singing about spiders; silent film actress Lillian Gish gets her gun; and then they have Christmas!” An opaque synopsis, though nonetheless accurate. Under the tutelage of auteur Charles Laughton–you know, the guy who played the Hunchback and was married to the Bride of Frankenstein–Night of the Hunter is one surrealistic ride, and while the whole film doesn’t take place in the winter, the denouement certainly does. And that earns the offbeat cult favorite a place on this list. The story of good and evil indeed.
What’s your favorite winter horror movie? Let me know in the comments below!