There’s Blood In the Snow: How Winter Settings Can Set The Mood In Slasher Films

More slashers in the snow, please.

Cold Prey snow

In the 1996 slasher classic Scream, Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott voices a common criticism of the sub-genre and horror in general; instead of running outside to escape a killer, a character retreats upstairs and into more trouble. It’s a complaint that can take some viewers right out of a movie. But it can also be avoided in a number of compelling ways. One is making the choice to run outside. But what if running means outside you’re stepping out into a brutal, snow storm with of biting winds, poor visibility, and the possibility that you could do the killer’s work for them by slipping, falling, and breaking your neck?

Snowy settings can refresh and intensify the conventions of a slasher film. Yes, over the years there have been some slasher films set in the snow. But the iconic franchises like Scream and Friday the 13th have not yet had an entry set in a wintry wonderland. We’re taking a look at three very different snowy slashers: 1981’s Ghostkeeper, 2003’s Shredder, and the 2009 Norwegian film Cold Prey (Original title: Fritt Vilt). We’ll examine the common traits they share and what their setting adds to the usual slasher formula. Then we’ll postulate how those elements would enhance our favorite iconic slasher franchises. 

The Location

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Ghostkeepers

Before we delve too deep into the discussion of our three films, I wanted to tip my hat to journalist Paul who turned me on to them. Of the three, Cold Prey is most compelling. But all of them use their wintry environments to enhance the story they’re telling. One of the ways they do that is through the use of the abandoned lodge/hotel. It’s basically the snowy slasher version of the summer camp. 

In both Shredder and Cold Prey, a group of 20-something snowboarders finds their way to mysterious, abandoned ski lodges. In Ghostkeeper, three people take out snowmobiles from their hotel and get lost in a blizzard. Really though, any group of characters who get lost in the snow may find themselves at an abandoned ski lodge. And once there, the locale and environment propel the story forward in a number of ways.

A blizzard cuts the cast off from outside help and it also limits where they can run to and hide. So, a deserted but seemingly intact ski lodge is a great way of trapping a cast with the killer. That’s exactly what happens in Cold Prey and Ghostkeeper. The awful weather and the stylish and large location is a perfect way to get the cast of the slasher film to voluntarily step into the domain of the film’s killer. If your choice is an unknown building or freezing to death you’re going to take the unknown building.

The Killer’s Origin Story

The abandoned ski lodge also allows for a slow unpacking of the mystery surrounding a killer. While the cast is exploring their surroundings and being picked off by the homicidal maniac, hiding in the shadows, they uncover clues about what happened to the lodge, why it closed, and how it birthed a monstrous murderer. That’s what happens in all three films. Again, Cold Prey makes the most of this to organically build a fascinating mystery with a shocking final reveal.

The killer’s story isn’t the only one that advances when trapped in an abandoned ski lodge. It’s also a way to explore the dynamics among a cast. As we know from the cabin fever caused by the pandemic, being trapped with someone highlights what you do and don’t like about them. So being stranded in the snow creates moments of believable tension and passion within a cast. Stanley Kubrick’s masterful and controversial 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining expertly demonstrated the former, and so does Ghostkeeper. Some of the best moments in that film portray the simmering anger between the film’s two main characters as one tries to seduce a friend. In all three films, this type of tension only builds when characters decide to warm each other with their body heat via intimate skin-to-skin contact.

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Really Cool Kills

The other thing a snowy environment adds to the slasher film is the opportunity for some visually interesting kills. Freshly fallen snow brings a stark beauty to a place. When you splash the red of blood against that ivory backdrop things get hauntingly beautiful. You can also have some fun with how dangerous the outdoors can be. This is where Shredder especially excels. 

I found the characters and plot of Shredder to be somewhat lackluster, but the film does have some great kills. It shows that a winter storm doesn’t always have to figure prominently in a snowy slasher. The characters in Shredder have chosen to voluntarily stay at an abandoned ski lodge and test out its slopes and ski-lift. It’s all because one of the characters’ real estate-developing father is looking to purchase the land. This means they’re able to step outside and have lethal encounters with a ski-lift, a razor wire strung between two trees at neck level, and a giant vehicle designed to shred and remove snow and ice.

Snow Slashers In The Country

Snow is a way to refresh and revitalize the slasher formula with elements that force characters to be closer to a killer, accentuate interesting dynamics, allow for gradual and intriguing exposition, and most importantly fun, unique, and visually interesting kills. The question now becomes though how do we apply the lessons of Ghostkeeper, Shredder, and Cold Prey to the big slasher franchises?

You can easily incorporate some of the best elements of those films into the slashers that happen in remote and rural areas like Friday the 13th and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It doesn’t snow in many parts of Texas, but the areas where it does often get a lot. Plus cannibalism and snow have a long real-world history of being tied together (see: the Donner Party). 

Fan-made Friday the 13th films like Never Hike In the Snow have shown that Jason Voorhees can have a lot of violent fun in the winter even on a modest budget. So, one can only imagine how much mayhem Jason could create in a wintry Friday film with a studio budget. Plus, the story structure in Shredder is very similar to the Friday franchise; the characters drive to an out-of-the-way spot and are warned by the local townsfolk to stay away because of the locale’s bloody history.

Snow Slashers In Suburbia

Working an abandoned ski lodge into franchises that often revolve around suburban locales, like Scream, is a little more difficult. However, the sudden arrival of a massive winter storm is a perfect and organic way to isolate suburban characters and make their world feel smaller. The cops can’t come and rescue people until the roads are clear. Stepping outside without bundling up, even for a few minutes, could lead to frostbite. Plus, there are opportunities for all sorts of interesting and creative kills via things icicles, ski poles, and snowplows.  Also, just imagine how cool a winter camouflage version of the Ghostface costume, with a white cloak, would look against a snowy backdrop.

So, there are a number of reasons for slasher films, both big and independent, to zip up their coats and go play in the snow. If the past couple of years are any indication we’re in the middle of a resurgence of the sub-genre. One of the ways to make this new boom especially fun and memorable is to refresh the formula by adding stark, beautiful, fun, and dangerous elements like snow.

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