This past fall saw the debut of the supernatural horror/comedy Jennifer’s Body, and with the film’s Blu-ray and DVD release being only a few weeks away (December 29th), I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at some of the most successful high school horror films that have been released over the past 10 to 15 years.
Jennifer’s Body is a slick production, equipped with fresh young stars, a hip soundtrack, and, of course, strings of “clever” dialogue. And that’s the criteria I’ve chosen to adhere to when working on this top ten list. Some of the films included here aren’t necessarily my favorites, but they’ve been impactful and deserve the call-out all the same. At the risk of spoiling some of the choices, I chose 1996 as the eligibility year for the simple reason that it was the beginning of the glossy, trendy teen ensemble films that continue today.
So let’s travel back to a time when citing Buffy the Vampire Slayer as your favorite show got you laughed at and people legitimately believed The Wallflowers to be the next great American rock band. It was a strange time for horror so let’s see what worked …
10. The Faculty (1998)
If it weren’t for the presence of actors like Robert Patrick and Famke Janssen, I’m not sure Robert Rodriguez’s foray into the hip and trendy world of late 90’s Dimension horror would’ve been worth a damn. Kevin Williamson’s script is fun, if a little too clever for its own good, but it’s the insidious adults that make this modern day Invasion of the Body Snatchers worth a look.
9. Ginger Snaps (2000)
While this isn’t quite the modern lycanthrope classic some have claimed, it was a welcome buoy of substance floating amongst the crowded sea of WB/UPN infused nonsense populating the genre at the time. Good performances and some groovy werewolf make-up fx, along with a smart script by Karen Walton, have made this something of a minor modern-day classic.
8. When a Stranger Calls (2006)
Yeah, I know remakes suck and PG-13 remakes are even worse. But you know what? I can dig this one. Camilla Belle steps into Carol Kane’s shoes as the ill-fated babysitter, but this time the film’s events are relegated to one night with the action shifting to an isolated home in the middle of nowhere. Director Simon West goes for atmosphere and suspense, and while it doesn’t always succeed (the final jump is laughable; ditto the regrettable decision to reveal our killer’s face late in the game), it understands the value of slow-burn horror. Besides, the use of Lance Henriksen (as the voice of the killer) is an inspired choice.
7. Cherry Falls (2000)
At one time Cherry Falls was being heralded as a brutal and exploitative return to edgy, R-rated horror. Then, it was hacked to pieces courtesy of the MPAA and shucked directly to video and DVD (on the same disc as the John Ritter anthology Terror Tract, no less). The end result? An enjoyable slasher movie that eschews convention by allowing the sluts to survive while the innocent and virginal are slaughtered by a revenge-minded maniac. In its current state, Cherry Falls has been obviously edited, but despite the lack of excessive gore and nudity, it remains an enjoyable example of post-Scream carnage – save for a terrible performance by Jay Mohr, that is.
6. Disturbing Behavior (1998)
Another variation on the pod people formula, Disturbing Behavior isn’t a terribly original film but a surprisingly fun one regardless. Director David Nutter’s film was notoriously recut at the hands of the all-knowing MGM management (where are they now?), leaving a somewhat fractured narrative in its wake. That said, Nick Stahl’s increasingly paranoid teenager heightens the tension (and makes up for James Marsden’s somewhat wooden performance), while Bruce Greenwood and William Sadler leave lasting impressions with their limited screen time. And can you really mention this one without thinking of Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta? I think not.
5. Final Destination (2000)
To be perfectly honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Final Destination. I like the premise and it was fun to see a movie gleefully torment its audience with prolonged and suspenseful set pieces, but in the end the story is far too serious. The film can’t seem to find its footing between the scary and the ridiculous (something the second film would rectify in my eyes), but people seem to love it, and the fact that it’s spawned three sequels (to date) makes it a no-brainer for this list. Not my favorite, but its influence continues to be felt, even today.
4. Fear (1996)
Reese Witherspoon gets finger-banged on a roller coaster and Mark Wahlberg yells, “LET ME IN THE FUCKING HOUSE!” Need I say anything more?
3. The Craft (1996)
I skipped this in theaters because I thought it looked like absolute filth and horror lite. And while I suppose the horror lite part is true (considering it’s not very scary and doesn’t seem to aspire to be), the movie itself was a pleasant surprise. Fairuza Balk’s transition from social outcast to the completely crazed coven leader really stands out in what continues to be a well written and clever little genre offering from the mid-90’s.
2. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
I know I’m cheating a bit here since it’s technically only the first 15-20 minutes that qualify under the high school theme of this list, but oh well. I was there on opening night for this sucker and for no reason other than I was living amidst a genuine slasher resurgence. Every seat was packed, and it played like gangbusters (whatever that means) to a jumping, screaming, enthusiastic crowd. No, it’s not a great movie (and as an adaptation of the Lois Duncan novel, it’s far, far worse), but it’s a solid slasher experience that hits all the right notes and even comes away with one or two really great bits (the best being Sarah Michelle Gellar’s extended chase scene). It only loses steam in the last fifteen minutes, when the mystery is solved by introducing a brand new character into the mix and bogging the narrative down with heavy (and dull) exposition.
1. Scream (1996)
Of course this was going to be number one. You can make a pretty strong case for the continued success of commercial horror films being a result of the runaway success of Scream in 1996. Oh so heavily imitated in the years following its release, like any good horror film, its impact has been dulled by waves of spoofs and copies. But going back to Scream, it’s not hard to see why it struck such a chord with audiences. It WAS smart and clever. It was also scary and suspenseful. Personally, I feel as though some of the performances are a little too over-the-top for their own good, and, as with a lot of movies on this list, it loses a bit of steam in the final stretch, but this one has aged pretty well in the thirteen years since its release (yikes).
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