Winter may not be considered prime time for horror movies, with most people’s first inclination to watch something holiday inspired (and there is certainly no shortage of great, creepy Christmas films). One winter motif that gets repeated time and time again in horror? Snow. There’s nothing like a devastating blizzard or snow softly falling at night to set a cold, dark, ominous mood. Let’s dive in to five of the best snowy scenes in horror, starting with a true classic and moving on to explore four great modern films.
Spoilers abound, but read on below!
THE SHINING (1980)
This list would be incomplete if not for one of the most famous wintry endings, and if not one of the most famous endings ever – Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) chasing wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) out into the snow. Thankfully, Wendy manages to get the Snowcat running while Jack chases Danny through the menacing hedge maze. It’s a culmination of every warning the Torrance family received from well-meaning hotel staff – that it’s lonely out here at the Overlook in winter, that the isolation gets even worse during a blizzard and that, trapped inside with only his family and his demons, a man is apt to fall prey to the hotel’s murderous influence. The heavy snowfall and the resulting feeling of helplessness, stuck in a hotel that won’t have an easy way out until springtime, makes us feel Jack‘s growing madness and Danny and Wendy‘s growing suspicion that they won’t be able to escape if something goes wrong. When Jack finally succumbs to death from exposure, his face frozen in a grotesque, empty-eyed smirk, it’s as if he’s frozen in time, his body permanently stuck within the grips of insanity while his mind has drifted off to become yet another one of the Overlook’s ghosts.
Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool opens with a monologue, where a lone voice, visualized on screen only as a trembling soundwave, addresses the audience. The voice belongs to Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), veteran radio DJ, who makes one thing clear – this story that is about to unfold is one of language and riddles, of interpreting the meanings (or not meanings) or words. Mazzy is a seasoned DJ with the gift of gab, meaning he is ideally suited to take charge when an apocalyptic disaster strikes in the form of a deadly virus that infects the sound of certain words. The setup is revealed brilliantly, but our first inkling that something is wrong occurs in this opening scene, right after the monologue, as the word “TYPO”, suspended in red over falling snow, becomes “PONTYPOOL”. Mazzy maneuvers his car through a thick blizzard, driving through the early morning darkness, yelling on the phone to the boss that’s stationed him in this “podunk town”. As he pulls over, intending to answer his blaring cell phone, a hand slaps the windshield. There, in the falling snow, stands a woman – a nicely-dressed, seemingly normal-looking woman, in pearls, even, who can only repeat one word: “Blood. Blood. Blood”. The rest of Pontypool takes place almost entirely within the radio station, but it’s this bizarre scene that sets the stage for a film about wordplay, repetition, and the ever-growing threat of the infected – outside, in the cold, closing in.
DEAD SNOW (2009)
The hilariously over-the-top Dead Snow franchise rockets from good to bad taste, and back again, but never once stops being a great time. The first film is the most straightforward. A group of Norwegian med students decide to spend their spring break at a snowy cabin in the mountains, but little do they know they’re about to unleash a horde of Nazi undead from their frozen graves. As expected, the group is picked off one by one, falling prey to the zombies in bloodily creative ways. By far the most inventive is a scene involving a snowy cliff, a brave college kid, and a seemingly endless small intestine. The fearless Vegard (Lasse Valdal), after escaping a zombie attack by stabbing his assailant in the eye, is knocked backwards off a cliff by another zombie. Grabbing the first leverage he can – the massacred zombie’s small intestine – Vegard flies off the cliff whilst entangling with the frantically flailing second zombie. Dangling precariously off the side of the cliff, Vegard manages to not only avoid being eaten, but falling to a snowy death below. Foot after foot of small intestine spools out of Zombie #1’s belly like a bloody roll of toilet paper. It’s a disgusting, silly, and gloriously absurd contrast to the majestic beauty of the snow-capped Norwegian mountains.
CRIMSON PEAK (2015)
Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro‘s love letter to Gothic Horror, features all the elements that made Hammer films gorgeously over-the-top – oozing red blood, sprawling gothic mansions, women who were both lovely and terrifying, wielding candelabras and floating like ghosts in elaborate gowns. It is these women who shine in Crimson Peak, which Del Toro envisioned as a female-driven film. Both protagonist Edith (Mia Wasikowska) and antagonist Lucille (Jessica Chastain) stand as the film’s strongest characters, outwitting and outclassing their male counterparts at every turn. It is only fitting that the film culminates in a showdown between the two of them that takes place in the grounds outside the crumbling Sharpe family estate. The clay that leaks from the soil turns the snow a startling blood red, as both women, wild-eyed, exhausted, wearing white nightgowns similarly stained with blood, trade swipes with sharp instruments in a nail-biting climax. Crimson Peak is so heavily reliant on visual motifs, especially with regards to color and form, that it’s impossible to not be struck by the dichotomy of dreamy white with sharp and intense red. Del Toro lets his female characters engage in a no-holds-barred fight to the death, and this too is a fantastic contrast – it’s refreshing and exhilarating to see two women in a gothic horror so brutally ferocious.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
The story of Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a bullied boy who strikes up a friendship with an androgynous young vampire named Eli (Lina Leandersson), Let The Right One In was released at the height of Twilight-mania. It served as a palate-cleanser to every vampire fan aching for a a film that was equal parts horrific and poignant, a hauntingly beautiful love story between two lost children set against the stark backdrop of a snowy Swedish subdivision. So much of Let the Right One In takes place in the dead of winter that it’s difficult to pick just one moment that stands apart. But the scene in which Oskar meets Eli is a strong contender for the best example of how locale works to the film’s advantage. Oskar, alone in the playground outside his apartment building, practices how he will react when one of the bullies at school torments him. His feet crunch in the snow as he stalks towards a tree, and he unleashes his bottled-up rage, stabbing wildly at the trunk. The sound of his screams cuts through the silence of the night. He then notices a strange sight in the distance: a girl about his age, standing on top of the jungle gym. The wind whips at Oskar‘s scarf and coat, but the girl doesn’t seem to notice the cold despite being clad only in pants and shirtsleeves. She tells him she lives next door, and immediately informs Oskar that she can’t be his friend before walking away into the night. It’s a strange and striking introduction to a strange and striking character, and one of the most beautiful relationships in modern horror.