There’s something about horror movies set in winter that makes for an added layer of dread. The dreary, sunless skies could be a factor in setting a grim mood. But it probably has more to do with the fact that the harsh winter weather makes for an added serious threat. It’s one thing to fight off an unrelenting killer with a pickaxe in a summer camp, but it’s even trickier when the battle is smack in the middle of a blizzard. If the killer doesn’t finish you off, the freezing temperatures surely will. These 10 chilling winter set horror movies make things extra difficult for the protagonists and will make you want to burrow under a warm blanket.
The Shining is a worthwhile watch any time of year, including the 4th of July. But the very setup, in which Jack Torrance and his family take up residence in the Overlook Hotel to watch over it during the harsh winter months, means that the snowy winter months are peak viewing conditions. The Torrance family is isolated inside, slowly terrorized by the hotel’s ghosts within, while the outside world is cut off from them due to major blizzards. The unrelenting snowfall factors into the third act in a major way, making you feel the cold from the comfort of your couch.
Six young actresses are spending their weekend at a remote mansion enduring what may be the most eccentric audition for a movie role. Naturally, it’s the perfect setting for a masked killer to start picking them off one by one, and it just so happens to be winter. There aren’t very many slashers set in icy weather, and Curtains takes full advantage of its winter setting. The most memorable kills involve the creepy masked killer using the weather against the victims, including the film’s best death sequence set on a frozen pond. Sickles and ice skating equal bad news.
Sometimes winter set horror is too bleak. Enter Blood Glacier, an Austrian horror comedy about the discovery of a strange liquid leaking from a melting glacier in the Alps, and its bizarre affect on local wildlife. As in, that red liquid is turning everything into deadly mutated creatures. This is pure camp that doesn’t take itself seriously, and delivers spit-taking lines like, “Stop eating that banana while you’re crying!” Memorable characters, monstrous creatures, and an icy mountain setting means Blood Glacier is a winter wonderland of silly horror meant to be consumed among friends.
Storm of the Century
The residents of Little Tall Island are trapped without outside access thanks to a dangerous blizzard that only continues to worsen. Trapped with them is an ominous stranger, who quickly makes a statement by murdering a long-time neighbor. Penned by Stephen King, Storm of the Century builds suspense as the stranger continues to dangle his motivations out of reach while exploiting the darkest secrets of the residents. The outside world may be dangerous thanks to harsh weather conditions, but sometimes inside is even more dangerous.
Based on Peter Straub’s beloved novel, Ghost Story tells of two generations of men haunted by the same woman. The snowy New England winter setting is perfect for this tale of the supernatural; it chills inside and out. There’s an old tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time, and while this isn’t a Christmas movie, it is a great example of why the tradition exists in the first place. Alice Krige owns this movie, and legendary artist Dick Smith’s special makeup creations are worth the price of admission alone.
Often in winter set horror, the setting keeps the characters trapped in place with the killer or supernatural entity closing in around them. Adam Green refreshingly makes the weather the thing to fear in his survival thriller Frozen. A weekend getaway at a ski resort in New England becomes a harrowing fight for survival for three skiers when they’re trapped on a chairlift high off the ground. An incoming storm has the resort shut down, with no one aware that anyone was left behind. Worsening conditions means time is an urgent matter as the trio face frostbite, wolves, each other, and death. This one will make you rethink going outside during winter.
Before director André Øvredal unnerved with The Autopsy of Jane Doe, there was this fantastic twist to Norwegian folklore. A group of students venture into the frigid forests to investigate a series of unusual bear killings, but find something much more dangerous is responsible. The landscape plays a major factor into this stunning world, and Øvredal quickly establishes an eye for detail. The fascinating mythology and great special effects make this a fun watch, and gives a new spin on the found footage subgenre.
A group of five friends snowboarding in a secluded area of the mountains in Jotunheimen are forced to find shelter when one breaks their leg. They take refuge in a deserted lodge, completely abandoned save for the homicidal maniac dubbed the Mountain Man. Cold Prey is a fantastic modern slasher with a stunning snowy backdrop that does factor into the group’s fight for survival. Suspenseful, brutal, and with one of horror’s most underrated final girls in Jannicke. Cold Prey 2 is also great, and borrows heavy story cues from Halloween II. So, make it a double feature.
We Are Still Here
Similar to Ghost Story, this too is a ghost story set in 1979 New England winter, though this particular supernatural haunter is more closely aligned with the works of Lucio Fulci. Couple Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig) move into a new home in a rural area after the loss of their only son. Deep depression in a dreary winter would be enough for any couple to contend with, but their new home happens to be the cursed Dagmar house and its just awoken from a 30-year slumber. It’s hungry for blood. We Are Still Here takes a quiet haunted house story and revs it up to an explosive, gory finale.
Of course, no winter set horror list could exist without the pinnacle of movies set in sub-freezing temperature. John Carpenter’s The Thing is pure paranoid perfection. A shape-shifting alien flees from a Norwegian research station and finds solace in the American research station in Antarctica, before viciously consuming its victims and assuming their appearance in this glorious special effect driven spectacle. The sub-zero setting means there’s no place to flee, and the crew soon turn on one another as it becomes less clear who is still human. Even if they can defeat the monstrous entity, surviving the elements is far less certain.