All this month Nightmare on Film Street is celebrating “Break Month,” and that’s partly because what’s thought of as “Spring Break” season in the United States and Canada happens throughout the month of March. So, it’s natural that people’s thoughts are turning towards vacation getaways. Unfortunately though because of the ongoing COVID pandemic travel is still not an option for many people. We at NOFS feel your pain! To help you come to terms with the fact that going places can be dangerous, and make the most of a staycation, we’ve compiled a list of 10 horror films that will make you happy you can’t go anywhere right now. It’s a globe hopping one that covers the Caribbean, snowy mountains, Europe, the Middle East, and a locale that all horror fans know to be wary of; the woods.
10. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Who wouldn’t want a vacation to the Bahamas, especially if it’s free? You have to be careful though because the island paradise is so relaxing there’s a good chance you’re going to let your guard down; and if you’re the target of a homicidal, hook handed stalker that could be fatal for you and your friends. Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie James discovered this the hard way in director Danny Cannon’s sequel to the classic ’90s slasher I know What You Did Last Summer.
9. Open Water (2003)
What about going to the Caribbean and not spending so much time on land? Perhaps a vacation taking in some of that area’s incredible scuba diving locations? That’a gotta be safer, right? Wrong! The ocean is full of many predators and if the supervisors of your dive are careless you could find yourself at the mercy of the most vicious, the shark. That’s the set up for director Chris Kentis’ harrowing survival horror, found footage film, Open Water.
In the movie, a head count error causes a scuba diving boat to leave a couple behind. Soon, that couple finds themselves stranded and a adrift in the Pacific Ocean. So on top of the already mentioned sharks they also have to contend with the panic of being lost in a vast and inhospitable environment, hunger, thirst, and other menacing aquatic life like jellyfish.
8. JeruZalem (2015)
There are many reasons to travel to the holy lands of Israel and Palenstine; you’re interested in archeology, a believer in the major Abrahamic religions, or you’re just looking for a sunny vacation spot. All of those reasons and more bring the main characters of writer/directors Doron and Yoav Paz’s found footage, zombie/possession horror film, JeruZalem, to one of the holy land’s most ancient cities. By coming there though they put themselves in the middle of a pending apocalypse.
The film is an interesting blend of zombie and demonic/possession horror that isn’t entirely successful in what it’s attempting, but it takes some big swings. Plus the movie, which was filmed in Jerusalem, makes great use of some actual ancient sites and religious structures. The fact that you’re seeing these places and the demons that are unleashed on them through the lenses of the main character’s Google Glass heightens the tension.
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7. Dead Snow (2009)
Not every Spring Break needs to be sunny. Some people might be be looking for a fun filled snowy getaway. Just don’t vacation in the mountains of Norway. There are zombies there! And the worst kind of zombies too, Nazi ones! That’s the premise of writer/director Tommy Wirkola’s Norwegian horror-comedy, Dead Snow. In the movie, a group of students celebrating Easter vacation head to a mountain cabin looking for wintry fun. What they find are murderous Nazi revenants and what follows is a gory, over the top battle to survive and escape the undead plagued mountain.
6. Hostel (2005)
Longing for an urban European vacation? We’ve got the cure for that in form of writer/director Eli Roth’s Hostel; one of the definitive films of the “torture porn” sub-genre. The movie follows two Americans who travel to the central European country of Slovakia, and become prisoners in a sadistic underworld where the wealthy use their influence to subject victims to all kinds of cruel and murderous tortures.
Hostel’s depiction of that underworld was so provocative that it lead a member of Slovakia’s Parliamentary Cultural Committee to claim that the film would damage the good reputation of his country.
5. The Rental (2020)
Looking for a movie that will make you happy that your Air B&B reservation fell through or wasn’t available? Then check out Dave Franco’s directorial debut, The Rental, where two brothers and their significant others rent a seaside property for the weekend. It’s a getaway that tests the fragile bonds of their relationships because, unbeknownst to them, the four renters have become targets of a masked killer that delights in playing mind games before ending his victims’ lives. The film features some chilling and insidious ideas that will have you questioning the identity and agenda of any Air B&B renters.
4. The Ruins (2008)
Many Americans head south of the border to Mexico for a Spring Break vacation. While they’re there they take in the beaches and maybe even see some ancient Mayan ruins. If you find yourself longing to do that put on The Ruins stat! Director Carter Smith’s adaptation of Scott Smith’s novel tells the story of a group of American and European tourists who set out to explore the titular Mayan setting and are forced into a nightmarish ordeal that will change the way you look at plant life. You won’t be able to walk by vines without shuddering. The film is that unsettling.
3. Midsommar (2019)
We’ve already made you feel better about not being able to visit the snowy parts of Scandinavia, but we still need to present evidence to make you glad you can’t travel to a sun drenched Norse country. So, allow us to enter into the record the best argument against a seemingly idyllic sunny vacation in Sweden; writer/director Ari Aster’s folk horror film, Midsommar. It’s a movie I describe with the elevator pitch of, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Wicker Man.”
Most of the film’s 147 minute run time happens beneath relaxing, sun drenched skies. I find the movie anything, but soothing though. In it, several college students attend the summer ritual of a Swedish commune and become embroiled in a web of violence and sinister psychological machinations. It’s a powerful film that I found so emotionally taxing I had to decompress after my first viewing by bingewatching several hours of Stranger Things.
2. The Descent (2005)
For the last entries on this list, we’re traveling to a locale that a life time of watching horror films has trained us to avoid, the wilderness! If you’re one of those people though who still can’t resist the call of the great outdoors these two films will have you glad you’re unable to go camping and explore some of the wonders of the natural world. If the later is something you find yourself longing to do put on writer/director Neil Marshall’s The Descent; a film about the worst spelunking trip ever.
The movie, which follows a group of women who set out to explore a network of caves in the Appalachian Mountains is a master class at building tension and terror. When the film’s big threat arrives they do so via one of the best jump scares ever. After that, the thrills and chills don’t let up as the women become locked in a gory struggle for survival against a monstrous threat. What makes The Descent truly special and powerful though is its subtle character work. All I can say about that is the film’s title doesn’t just refer to a literal journey down into the bowels of the Earth; a metaphorical trek is happening as well.
1. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
The final entry in our list will help curb any impulses you have to go camping, especially at the titular and iconic locale of director Drew Goddard’s meta horror-comedy, The Cabin in the Woods. The film, which tells the story the of a group of college students who embark on a weekend getaway to a remote cabin, is a love letter to the horror genre, and slasher films in particular. It’s humor is well done and it’s packed with so many cool elements that I see something new each time I watch it. Best of all, for purposes of the list, The Cabin In the Woods is a fun and perfect way to illustrate the catastrophic and potentially apocalyptic consequences of traveling to even the most harmless seeming locations.