Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Top Ten Winter-Themed Horror Films

March 5, 2015 | Posted by Joseph Lee
The Thing

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

We’re in the beginning of March now, and you’d think that would mean that winter is over. Thankfully, it’s not and we still have a ton of snow in some places. It’s coming down with reinforcements here and I couldn’t be happier. I’m a winter kind of guy.

Even if the snow is currently blocking the way out of the house. That just means I get to sit around and think about some of my favorite winter-themed horror films. There really aren’t enough of them. I still find it hard to believe it hasn’t snowed in one of the Friday the 13th sequels. Just a minor change like that would freshen things up a little. So this week I’m going to take it easy and present a list of the best winter-themed horror films. If you’re surrounded by white stuff like I am, sit back and enjoy the list!

#10: D-Tox (2002)

If you read my blog (which I really need to update), you’d know that I was surprised that this Stallone thriller was as reviled as it seems to be. I stand by what I said then. It’s a solid thriller with slasher elements and Stallone is really good in it. If you’ve seen a typical “whodunnit” slasher movie before, all the tropes are here, but it’s still kind of tricky to determine who is behind the killing. In addition to Sly, you also have a supporting cast that includes Tom Berenger, Jeffrey Wright, Robert Patrick and Kris Kristofferson. There’s a lot of heavyweights in this one.

There are some problems, like the fact that it gets formulaic quickly and it’s easy to pick out and notice the red herrings. However, I still don’t think it’s as bad as it’s 15% on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest. It’s a well-made thriller with terrific performances and a fun story. I can’t tell you why people hated it, but I will say that if you didn’t want to see it due to the negative hype you should give it a second chance.

#9: Ravenous (1999)

I just talked about this one last year in my “Top Horror Films of 1999” review. Haven’t rewatched it since then but I’ll try to sum up why I enjoyed it. Ravenous is a dark horror comedy with a lot of gore and cannibalism. With the cast, setting and pedigree of actors you wouldn’t expect it to be as funny as it is. Instead of being serious, they all chew the scenery and keep their tongues firmly in their cheeks.

The late 90s weren’t a great time for horror movies so it’s nice to see something and original get released. Scream Factory recently put this out on blu-ray, so it will be great to see it get some of the recognition it deserves. The gore, the setting, the cast, it all works well. There’s not much to be scared of, but it’s really funny and there’s plenty of blood for those who aren’t squeamish. If there’s one thing to be worried about in the winter, it’s the wendigo.

#8: Dead Snow (2009)

The sequel that recently came out (which made my Top Ten Horror Films of 2014 list) reminded me just how much I love people fighting Nazi zombies. Dead Snow is another horror comedy that really cranks up the gore level in order to make up for the fact that there’s not a lot of story going on. Really, what else do you need? It’s a movie where undead Nazis want their stolen gold and will kill you to get it. That’s all the setup you need for some brutal and bloody deaths on both sides of the battle.

This is one of those movies where if you read the description you’ve already decided if you want to see it or not. If you do, you’re my kind of person! This is a nasty, mean-spirited but funny zombie comedy before zombie comedies were really everywhere. There’s almost as many zombie comedies these day as there are serious zombie movies. I’d like to think that something like Dead Snow would still stand out even if it were released today. The sequel sure got a lot of praise.

#7: Frozen (2010)

Frozen was already a little-known horror gem that came and went without anyone noticing it. Now there’s another Frozen movie out there and that means that any time I bring up the movie I have to clarify which I mean. This is the Frozen movie where three people are stuck on a ski lift and are in danger of freezing to death. That’s basically all it is. It’s nearly an entire film spent on a ski lift in the middle of winter. There’s cold air at the top and wolves at the bottom. The three are screwed no matter what they do.

This is a very suspenseful movie because it’s easy to imagine yourself in that scenario. Sure, maybe you could attempt to jump down and risk an injury, but what if you’re too hurt to get away from the wolves? If you stay in the ski lift there’s no way you’ll survive. It’s a tight little thriller that gives the cast an impossible choice and deals with the aftermath of their decisions. I still hope for the best for Adam Green because his filmography is very entertaining.

#6:30 Days of Night (2007)

A movie that seems to be forgotten eight years later is 30 Days of Night, a movie that came along a year before the Twilight movies took off and was one of the last good vampire movies we got. Since then it seems like no one has been able to make a proper scary vampire movie. Sure, there’s Daybreakers and Stake Land, but every one of those we got a billion Twilight clones (I may be exaggerating).

This featured some scary, animal-like vampires that could barely grasp the concepts that make humans work. Only one of them seems like he retains his intelligence. The rest are just feral beasts that prey on you for sustinence. This movie had everything. Scary vampires, gore, snow, fun performances and a great atmosphere that only the frozen wasteland of the arctic can provide. No one can help you when you’re that far away from humanity.

#5: Storm of the Century (1999)

The top five are movies I’ve praised before, so I’ll try hard not to repeat myself. This is a miniseries from 1999 by Stephen King, and is still one of my favorite King movies. It follows a god-like being (who may be the Devil, who knows?) named Andre Linoge who offers the town of Little Tall Island a simple bargain: give him what he wants and he’ll go away. Unfortunately, he wants one of their children and he’ll kill the entire town if he doesn’t get it.

Even though this was made for TV (and it shows with the special effects), this is a creepy miniseries featuring a town cut off from the rest of the world by a blizzard and besieged by a omnipotent evil. Not only is Andre Linoge a great villain, but he exposes just how slimy and terrible the people of this island can actually be. Sometimes the thing to be most afraid of is the evil that lurks inside of people.

#4: Let The Right One In (2008)

I could have easily put the remake here too, but I tend to prefer the Swedish original. Let Me In is almost as good but I think it’s just a matter of preference. Let The Right One In is a movie that I heard almost nothing about when I watched it and was blown away by how good it was. The story of Oskar and Eli is a sweet tale of friendship in the middle of a dark tale about an immortal creature that preys on others. The problem is that she’s stuck as a kid and wants friends.

Eli is both likable and scary at the same time. She’s not really someone you’d want to be friends with but you can see why others fall for her charms. The acting from the two children in the lead roles is phenomenal and the story is one that I enjoy watching over and over. It was my favorite horror film of 2008 and is still one of my favorites today. Once I switched to blu-ray it was one of the first movies I made a point to buy. Go see it if you haven’t. If you must watch a movie without dubbing or subtitles, then settle for the remake. It’s still a good story no matter what.

#3: Misery (1990)

Another week, another couple of paragraphs of me praising Misery. I don’t mention this movie as often as other movies (certainly not my top two) but I have praised this one quite a bit. Let’s do it some more. This movie is obviously set in winter because without the snow the plot doesn’t happen. Poor James Caan is in an auto accident and is found by Annie Wilkes, who is secretly crazy for about ten minutes before she begins to reveal how nuts she is.

Kathy Bates won the Academy Award for her performance and I find it hard to believe anyone could have come close. It’s the kind of performance that Rosamund Pike should have won for this year in Gone Girl. Playing a crazy person is really hard to do without going over the top and making your character less intimidating and more silly. Bates manages to walk that line and gives a performance that never fails to give me the willies.

#2: The Shining (1980)

The best thing about winter-set horror films is the fact that snow can add a ton of horror to the story just for being there. All the best horror films set in this type of weather know and take advantage of that. The snow can cut you off from everyone leaving you all alone with whatever evil is after you. It could be a crazy woman, it could be Nazi zombies or it could be ghosts inside of a haunted hotel. You can’t ever leave the hotel because the blizzard will kill you. So you risk insanity, death because of someone else going insane or freezing to death.

That’s the scenario of The Shining, a horror movie I’ve praised numerous times for good reason. It’s scary, it’s atmospheric and it features great direction and performances. Sure, it’s not 100% like the book but the miniseries that was accurate wasn’t very good. Give me quality over accuracy any day of the week. There’s a reason this movie gets constantly praised. It’s one of the best ever made.

#1: The Thing (1982)

However when it comes to personal preference, I tend to favor The Thing. John Carpenter’s remake is the movie to watch in the winter. It has all the great tropes of a winter-themed horror film (it’s set in the Arctic, so that’s why there’s snow…work with me here) and it milks them to invoke a sense of dread and suspense through the entire film. If you’re not being grossed out or disturbed by the superb special effects (which still hold up), then you’re getting into the story as the men try to figure out who to trust.

Even though you know who is a Thing and who isn’t on repeat viewings, it’s still easy to get lost in the story. The great thing about the best Carpenter films is that you can watch them over and over and never get tired of them. I feel that way about Halloween and I feel that way about The Thing. It’s one of my favorites of all time. If you’re in some bad weather right now, then pop this one in your DVD player and remember that some people have it worse than you do.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Agree with my choices? Did I leave anything out? Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook. Next week, I’m going to celebrate Black History month horror style, as we look at the Candyman movies!

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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See you next week!