Mary Harron's movie adaptation of Rachel Klein's book, The Moth Diaries, opens on April 20. It follows the Gothic-inspired tale of the darkly obsessive triangle that grows between three adolescent girls, Rebecca, Lucy and Ernessa, at an elite private school. You know, the kind of friendship that can only occur when privileged teenagers live together and wear the same clothes. The kind of friendship that gives blood brothers new meaning.
There's a long history of the private school trope in the horror genre. Shrouded in mystery, set away from society, obsessed with tradition and ritual, and often filled with young women in demure skirts just waiting to be ripped off, it's the perfect playground for all sorts of maniacs, stalkers and evil school marms. Preparatory school is a place where the cream of the crop go to live and learn in luxury and be molded into tomorrow's world leaders. And if someone isn't quite up to snuff - it's easy to get rid of them. In honor of all the bad things that can happen in the hallowed halls of academia, we've put together a list of our favorite murderous private school movies.
Finished with Finishing School - The House That Screamed
"The venomous seed of tormented desire grows to a nightmare of unspeakable horror."
Classify this one under ‘60s Franco Schoolsploitation. Girls at a French boarding school are being murdered at an alarming rate. There's a new girl who doesn't quite fit in. The sadistic head mistress allows her whip-wielding teacher's pets to exact punishment as they see fit. Button-up-turn-of-the-century lesbianism runs rampant. There's also the son of the headmistress who spies on the co-eds in a quest to find a girl "just like his mother." He'll scare you to pieces.
If all of this sounds very familiar it's because critics consider The House that Screamed highly influential to countless slashers to come, including the next film on our list, Suspiria.
Dance of the Dead - Suspiria
What girl wouldn't want to go to Germany to study ballet at a prestigious conservatory? Sure, there's the strange cook, the angry dog and the maggoty ceilings. Oh, and don't forget the savage murder of a student just as you arrived. But that's just part of challenge of being at a top school, isn't it?
Dario Argento's giallo masterpiece Suspiria combines garishly colored art nouveau sets, strange pairings of light and dissonant sound, grotesque special effects make-up and ghoulish characters to create a surreal Gothic nightmare. It plays on things little girls have been taught to fear for years, beginning with the fairy tales their parents read them, things like witches, cruel teachers, odd strangers and virile young men and gives those things a sharp knife with which to play.
Students Buggin' Out - Phenomena
The Richard Wagner School for Girls. As if that doesn't say enough. Dario Argento's Phenomena takes place at a school named after a German composer, whose work was appropriated by the Nazis. When you add that to a crazy soundtrack including Goblin and Iron Maiden, a protagonist who can psychically speak to bugs, Donald Pleasence and a chimpanzee nurse, attending this school might just make you lose your head.
Phenomena stars a very young Jennifer Connelly as the lovely Jennifer Corvino who is sent to school in the "Transylvania of Switzerland," where a serial killer is on the loose. It's a great movie, but a decidedly strange movie. Argento revisits the requisite evil older woman, in the shape of the school's headmistress and Frau Bruckner, who has been hiding a disabled son. And the son! Argento knows the power of a terrifying child and no one wants to be stalked by that little pizza-faced boy. He also revisits the use of maggots in many forms, in fact, they are the key to finding the murderer. The film is not as gory as many of Argento's other films, but the moment when Corvino falls in a pool of maggots with some skulls thrown in for good measure is pretty sickening. There's a whole lot of signature stabbing too, but this time the knife is longer.
Catholic School Girls Are Cruel - The Craft
If you see a girl in your school who looks like Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk) don't walk, just run, because nothing good can come from those crazy eyes. Here again, it's all about the Gothic, but this time the Gothic takes a cheesy ‘90s approach and the witches are out in the open.
Like Jennifer Corvino, the movie's new girl in town, Sarah Baily, has a special talent: she happens to be a very powerful witch. When she teams up with three outcasts in the school they form a very powerful coven and systematically take revenge on all the teenagers who have wronged them. They soon terrorize the student body, learn to levitate, walk in unison in thigh-highs, but wouldn't you know it, one of them gets a little out of control. Yep, good old Nancy Downs, she wants to be Queen witch, but Sarah Baily has other ideas culminating in a hair-pulling, hallucination-inducing Gothic teen showdown.
Killer Examination - Les Diaboliques
The French sure know their way around a bad boarding school. Shocking when it came out in 1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques tells the story of a mousy wife and sultry mistress who plot to murder the mustachioed headmaster of a second-rate boys private school who has abused both of them for many years. All goes according to plan with the help of some sedatives and a bathtub, until the headmaster's body disappears from the lake where it was dumped. Then, it reappears at school, punishing boys not following the rules.
Without giving too much away it's safe to say there are some serious plot twists that make this movie both a classic thriller and noir favorite. The lighting and art direction are visually stunning and it's not surprising Les Diaboliques was a great influencer of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. As the story goes, Hitchcock was originally set to buy the rights to Les Diaboliques, but the deal fell through. Les Diaboliques was also the first film to ask moviegoers to keep spoilers to themselves.
Watch the excerpt below, but beware there are spoilers.
Bad Valentines - Picnic at Hanging Rock
Where would Gothic literature or cinema be without a little female hysteria? Enter Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, a strange film from the ‘70s, based on a true story, that follows the young ladies of Appleyard College on a Valentine's Day in 1900 to explore a natural wonder near their school. Long story short, three girls and a teacher disappear on the outing. One is found later, but can't remember what happened. The other three are lost forever.
This is not everyone's cup of tea, but if indeed you like tea, there is quite a bit of tea drinking in the movie. Most of the movie is built on tension. There are all kinds of hints and nods of innuendo throughout, but it proves to be much more buttoned up than The House that Screamed. The repressed school mistresses clearly have favorites among the students and enjoy punishing the rebellious girls. Undergarments are found, lecherous young men are caught spying on the group, but there are no answers to what happened, just a lot of screaming and a little flute playing.
Continuing Dead - Halloween H2O
Quite a departure from Victorian underpinnings, Halloween H2O proves that not even your daddy's money will save you from Michael Meyers. It's 20 years later and for some reason Laurie Strode - now known as Keri Tate - is running a prestigious private school where she lives with her son, John.
Well, boys will be boys and John and his friends have decided to hide out on campus and celebrate Halloween while the rest of the school is out on a field trip. Guess who shows up? Uncle Michael. It's definitely not anywhere near as good as the original, but Halloween H2O has some creative Meyers' kills and classic Final Girl moments for Strode. Despite his advanced age, Meyers is pretty agile with a knife and can still fit into his old uniform. Watch him in action here:
Killer Christmas Vacation - To All a Goodnight
You might not recognize the movie To All a Good Night but you probably know director David Hess from his role as Krug in Last House on the Left. First, a disclaimer: To All a Good Night is technically about a sorority, but it takes place in a girl's finishing school so I'm leaving it in here because not only is it so incredibly stupid it deserves mention, but it stars Jennifer Runyon of Charles in Charge fame.
So, anyway, as I was saying, the film starts off with a flashback to a Christmas hazing gone awry a few years before - can't imagine why that's important - then, cut to the present day (er, 1980) and the ladies of Calvin Finishing School for Girls have decided to stay at school over Christmas and throw a wild party. House mother drugged and boys invited over, the Christmas cheer is flowing. Then Santa shows up, clearly looking for payback for the flashback accident and sets about killing everyone around with about every type of weapon he can. The best part is... wait, there's no good part of this. Watch the clip and see for yourself.