13 Snowy Scarefests
Article By: Ben Raphael Sher
Who doesn’t love snow? It’s white and pretty. It means that Christmas is coming (along with, hopefully, the latest horror Blu Ray special editions). If there’s enough of it, you can even get the day off from work or school! As usual, horror movies are here to remind us that even the most beloved natural phenomena harbor great evils. Today, we explore snowy scarefests (some of which are scarier than others), which will remind you that, this winter, you are better off staying inside and watching TV (but don’t talk to the TV people!).
1. The Shining (1980)
This is certainly the most famous, and possibly the most overwhelmingly scary, depiction of snow-as-threat in film history. The mountains of snow that practically bury The Overlook Hotel, and trap its denizens, are almost as frightening as the many evil presences that inhabit it.
2. The Thing (1982)
The viewer experiences the isolation felt by the doomed scientists in this film. They live in a stark, cold laboratory surrounded by miles and miles of snow-covered land in the Antarctic, with nothing to do but drink, play cards, and watch videotapes of recorded game shows. When a shape-shifting alien begins to gruesomely murder the film’s protagonists one by one, tensions rise among them, and the space that they inhabit seems to shrink. The presence of snow everywhere enhances the film’s feeling of helplessness, despair, and terror. For more snowy creature terror, you must naturally check out The Thing from Another World (1951), upon which this film was based, and The Thing (2011), its somewhat controversial prequel.
3. Ghostkeeper (1982)
Remember that episode of Three’s Company in which Jack, Chrissy, and Janet go on a ski trip and hijinks ensue in the lodge? The Canadian classic Ghostkeeper is basically the horror version of that episode, which is a compliment. A dorky guy, a tortured brunette, and an airheaded blonde (named Chrissy) ignore the warnings of the locals and leave their “boring” ski lodge to explore uncharted land with snowmobiles when a storm is afoot. They take up residence in a magnificently creepy, deserted inn. After some bawdy conversation, things pick up when they encounter their shelter’s take-no-bull owner, a master of creating awkward conversation (Georgie Collins in one of the great, under-seen horror performances). Death, mental deterioration, the possible presence of a Windigo monster, and an odd scene in which two of the protagonists walk around the snow in a circle for 15 minutes ensue. Even though it doesn’t quite live up to its enormous initial promise, this is a wonderfully atmospheric and spooky film, perfect for a winter night.
4. Wind Chill (2007)
An underrated, old-fashioned spook fest about a couple of college students (Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes) who have a car accident and get trapped on a deserted stretch of road the day before Christmas Eve. Without cell phone service and unable to leave their car (lest they freeze to death), they have a series of increasingly ominous, possibly supernatural encounters. You know when your car radio keeps playing one of those melancholy ‘50s pop songs that it’s time to start praying to Triple A.
5. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
This infamous slasher film (which still comes across as impressively tasteless) does a great job putting everything that people love about the Christmas season through a meat grinder, including the concept of a “winter wonderland.” In Silent Night, the glistening snow is a place on which mothers get killed in front of their children by men dressed as Santa, sleds and heads roll down hills, and trails of blood provide clues for the police. Some seriously skewed Christmas carols on the film’s soundtrack, like “Santa’s Watching, Santa’s Creeping,” also work to drain the viewer of holiday merriment.
6. Dead of Winter (1987)
Pursuing a career in acting is very risky and dangerous! Ask Mary Steenburgen, playing a struggling thespian who unwisely agrees to film a screen test at a secluded mansion in the middle of the winter for Roddy McDowall. Like Nicole Kidman on the set of Bewitched, she soon discovers that she’s in grave danger, and must escape for the sake of her life and career. The likelihood of getting killed while auditioning for movies in remote snowy locations was weirdly a major public health problem in the 1980s. See also: Curtains (1980).
7. The Abominable Snowman (1957)
A scientist and several commercial bounty hunters hike snowy Himalayan mountains in search of the ever-mysterious Yeti. When they kill a giant, Yeti-like creature, they find themselves stalked by its vengeful, seemingly super-human clan. The same thing happened in the cut, alternate ending of Meet Me in St. Louis, after little Margaret O’Brien hacked the heads off her snow people.
8. Jack Frost (1997)
Every generation gets the killer snowman it deserves. A serial killer dies on the way to his execution and, thanks to a government experiment, comes back to life as a vengeful, pun spewing, “pissed off snow cone.” Christmas movies have often liked to suggest the possibility of “second chances.” Jimmy Stewart would likely have played Jack Frost had this masterpiece been produced in the 1940s. The townspeople try to stop Jack using everything from bullets to hair-dryers, but all of their attempts are problematized by his ability to melt and freeze at will (oh that Frosty had such power!). They finally succeed when they break out oatmeal laced with anti-freeze, and kill two partridges in a pear tree with one stone by also revealing a new breakfast idea for the calorie conscious.
9. Devil Times Five (1974)
If your idea of terror is being stalked by a young Leif Garrett and several other psychotic children in a ski lodge, then you’re smart, because this movie is surprisingly really scary. In the movie’s snowiest scare, the terrible tots turn one victim into a human snowman! If these movies have taught you anything, it should be that your parents were not overreacting when they wouldn’t let you make snow cones from snow that you got off the ground. Who knows what has decayed there!
10. Frozen (2010)
If these movies have taught you anything else, it’s don’t go skiing. According to snowy scarefests, the only thing more dangerous than an audition taking place at a secluded mansion is a weekend at a ski lodge. Frozen demonstrates that the only thing more dangerous than a ski lodge is a trip on a chair lift (something that has always been obvious to non-athletic people who are repelled by winter sports). A trio of friends bribe a lift-worker to let them take one trip down the mountain after hours. Due to a series of misunderstandings, they get trapped in the chair lift near the top of the mountain after the resort closes for a week, and are left to face some seriously upsetting elements. Frozen is proof that there are few things more terrifying than a horrific, highly plausible situation executed realistically.
11. Kwaidan (1964)
In “The Woman in the Snow,” the second tale in this legendary filmed anthology of traditional Japanese ghost stories, a woodcutter and his uncle try to get home in a blizzard. They come upon a hut, and the uncle falls ill. A ghostly woman in white appears and sucks the life of out the uncle, but agrees to spare the young companion if he never tells anybody about her. You can probably imagine how this story progresses. However, you must see its magnificent visual style and set pieces (including a majestic staged blizzard, and a sky filled with eyes). Unlike in many of the films on this list, in which the sheer mass of snow becomes terrifying, Kwaidan’s snow carries a sense of ghostly serenity that is eerie in a different, delightful way.
12. Misery (1990)
Which force of nature in Misery is more terrifying? The snow that leads to novelist Paul Sheldon’s car accident and allegedly kills the phone lines so that he cannot call for help, or Annie Wilkes, the nurse/#1 fan who “rescues” him? Everybody who has seen this movie would probably come up with the same answer.
13. 30 Days of Night (2007)
This adaptation of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s graphic novel proved somewhat disappointing, but it’s concept is amazing: A secluded, frozen-over town in Alaska experiences 30 days without sun each year. A gang of ruthless vampires comes to pillage the town, turning off all electricity. Only the town’s Sheriff and his Deputy, who happens to be his estranged wife, can save their community. Like many contemporary horror films, 30 Days of Night suffers from too much jerky cinematography, excessively fast editing, and a thin script. However, watching the movie, it’s hard not to get the creeps imagining what it would feel like to live through it.
Ben Raphael Sher is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, where he also teaches. His work has appeared in Fangoria, Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, and Back Stage. You can read more of his work here.