Fright Club: Best College Horror

We’d like to thank Gordon Maples—blogger, horror fan and all around smarty pants—for joining us to count down the best college-themed horror movies. (We might talk about some of the worst, too.)

5. Night of the Creeps (1986)

B-movie heaven, writer/director Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps embraces—nay, bear hugs—what has come before. With the help of Tom Atkins (at the top of his game), this alien invasion/zombie/frat movie is a hoot.

This film about alien slugs that enter the human body, nest in the brain, and reanimate the corpse looks like a lot we’ve seen before (mainly Cronenberg’s Shivers) and a lot we’d see later (mainly James Gunn’s Slither). The fact that it can be so genre-referential and still become a touchstone for other filmmakers speaks volumes about Dekker’s grasp of the genre.

4. Pledge (2018)

On its surface, Pledge may appear to be little more than a competently made fraternity horror in the tradition of Skulls. It is a cautionary tale about hazing taken to its sadistic (if likely logical) extreme.

But director Daniel Robbins’s latest horror show, from a tight script by co-star Zack Weiner, digs into issues bigger than tribe mentality. Pledge is not just about how far you’d go to belong. It asks about compliance, cowardice, and the cost and definition of success.

Where Weiner’s savvy script and Robbins’s sly direction really excel is in digging into this predictable plot to find an ugly picture of American privilege.

3. Scream 2 (1997)

Just one year after director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson struck gold with their meta-horror Scream, the survivors are off to college. Too bad the horror—and the rules—follow Sidney to campus.

The film picks up on its predecessor’s infatuation with genre tropes, this time trying to apply the rules of the sequel to what’s happening, giving characters the chance to figure their own plot out in an attempt to survive this sequel.

Fun return performances and excellent newcomers (Hello Laurie Metcalf! Good to see you Liev Schreiber and Timothy Olyphant!) keep this one fresh and fun.

2. Black Christmas (1974)

Sure, it’s another case of mysterious phone calls leading to grisly murders; sure it’s another one-by-one pick off of sorority stereotypes; sure, there’s a damaged child backstory; naturally John Saxon co-stars. Wait, what was different? Oh yeah, it did it first.

Released in 1974, the film predates most slashers by at least a half dozen years. It created the architecture. More importantly, the phone calls are actually quite unsettling.

Why the girls remain in the sorority house (if only they’d had an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!), or why campus police are so baffled remains a mystery, but director Bob Clark was onto something with the phone calls, as evidenced by the number of films that ripped off this original convention.

1.Raw (2016)

A college freshman and vegetarian from a meat-free family, Justine (Garance Marillier) objects to the hazing ritual of eating a piece of raw meat. But once she submits to peer pressure and tastes that taboo, her appetite is awakened and it will take more and more dangerous, self-destructive acts to indulge her blood lust.

The film often feels like a cross between Trouble Every Day and Anatomy. The latter, a German film from 2000, follows a prudish med student dealing with carnage and peer pressure. In the former, France’s Claire Denis directs a troubling parable combining sexual desire and cannibalism.

Writer/director Julia Ducournau has her cagey way with the same themes that populate any coming-of-age story – pressure to conform, societal order and sexual hysteria. Here all take on a sly, macabre humor that’s both refreshing and unsettling.

The Mutineer

The Ghost of Peter Sellers

by Hope Madden

You can’t go home again. You can go to Cyprus again, though, which is what director Peter Medak does in an attempt to come to terms with the project that nearly derailed his blossoming career.

Objectivity be damned!

Medak’s documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers deconstructs the disaster that was his unreleased 1973 pirate comedy Ghost in the Noonday Sun. Medak believes he may be the first director to make such a documentary.

He’s not entirely wrong. Richard Rush directed a doc about the making of his own The Stunt Man – but that was an Oscar-nominated success. And though Terry Gilliam was involved in Lost in La Mancha—a doc outlining the endless disasters that doomed his first attempt to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote— he was not the director.

Rather, this time the documentary is the filmmaker himself documenting not his successes but his massive, almost career-ending failure. That failure was partly due to incessant weather troubles and other catastrophes—hell, his pirate ship sank the day it arrived in Cyprus.

But according to Medak, those involved in the shoot and those who knew the actor best, the main problem was Peter Sellers.

“It’s not as if any of us didn’t know that Peter was nuts,” remarks the incredibly sage producer John Hayman, nearly 50 years after the fact. “But none of us knew how nuts.”

Medak’s clearly been haunted by the production—and, to a degree, by Sellers—since the shoot wrapped. Riding high at the time on two critical and box office successes (Negatives, The Ruling Class), the in-demand director jumped at the chance to direct the brilliant Sellers, then considered the greatest comedic actor in the world.

But Sellers—possibly, as friends suggest in the film, a man suffering from an undiagnosed mental health condition who was exploited by money hungry moviemakers—would not be the artist Medak hoped he’d be.

Lunatic behavior combined with an outright desire to sink the film turned an already underwhelming script, underfunded production and nightmarish environment into something crippling.

The stories from the set are fascinating, as are moments of commiseration between Medak and directors who’d dealt with Sellers on other films (Casino Royale and the Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu). Equally interesting are the sympathetic but knowing, even giggling responses Medak’s tales of woe elicited from Sellers’s family and friends.

“Oh, yes. He definitely did that.”

But too much time spent with director who is also subject turns many scenes into a self-indulgence.

That doesn’t topple The Ghost of Peter Sellers. Medak’s confessional pity party delivers a compelling look at the wrong side of filmmaking as it offers yet another take on Sellers—his genius as well as his demons.

Fa La La Land

The High Note

by George Wolf

Since rising to fame on Black-ish, Tracee Ellis Ross has apparently been biding her time, patiently waiting for the right vehicle to showcase her talents as a singer. It isn’t hard to understand the apprehension.

Oh, look, another TV star trying to sing. And this one just wants to ride her mother’s (Diana, FYI) iconic coattails!

Ross chooses wisely with the endearing The High Note, absolutely killing it as Grace Davis, a modern brand of pop diva.

Davis still basks in the glow of worldwide fame, but it’s been a minute since she scored a big hit. Grace’s longtime manager Jack (Ice Cube, with more proof of his maturation as an actor) wants her to ink a long-term residency in Vegas, but Grace isn’t sure she’s ready to be pushed onto the “greatest hits” circuit. And there’s a small but potentially mighty voice in Grace’s corner.

It belongs to her personal assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson, flashing a winning mix of naïveté and ambition). She’s been lobbying for new Grace Davis music, which would carry some weight if everyone only knew how great a producer Maggie could be if they’d just give her the chance!

If this sounds like something for the Hallmark Channel, did I mention Maggie has stumbled across David (the impressive Kelvin Harrison, Jr., with his own vocal chops), a talented musician who could use an L.A. music producer and maybe even a girlfriend?

Sure, you can guess where most (but not all) of this goes, and in other hands it might have been a tone deaf stiff. But director Nisha Ganatra (the underseen gem Late Night) runs Flora Greeson’s debut screenplay through the filter of an endlessly charming cast to craft an extended mix of finger-snapping smiles.

Look beneath those layers of what may feel like fluff, and you’ll even find a sometimes awkward but still refreshing look at two women gracefully navigating the path to controlling their own destinies. Nice.

Don’t discount those finger snaps, either. In a music business movie the music should mean business, and the tunes in The High Note sound like something a producer might actually get excited about, especially when Ross lets it rip.

She makes Grace a determined diva that’s spoiled but still worth rooting for, infusing her big numbers with the expressive vocal power of an actor and a character who are both seizing their moment.

The first single from the soundtrack, Ross’s “Love Myself,” is already looking like a hit. The High Note sounds like one, too.


Her son is on the other side of the country. So is his girlfriend. You can be supportive from 2000 miles away for only so long, and this mother has hit her breaking point.

How far can a mother be driven?

I Shouldn’t Go Out – Week of May 25

Drive-in sensation and throwback SciFi fun comes home this week, as well as a handful of other mainly decent choices.

Click the film title to link to the full review.

The Vast of Night

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band

The Invisible Man (DVD)

Endings, Beginnings (DVD)

Swan Song

The Painter and the Thief

by Cat McAlpine

Barbora Kysilkova is a hyper-realistic painter known for her large, dark pieces. But when two of her paintings are stolen from a gallery in the middle of the day, she begins an unexpected journey to reclaim the most important piece in her collection. Boldly, she asks one of thieves if she can paint him, and he nervously agrees. Though he swears he was too high to remember what happened to the paintings, Barbora cannot stop painting Karl Bertil-Nordland.

The Painter carefully teases out The Thief, but he is watching her right back. What follows is a tender exploration of the things that make us feel broken and how we absorb them into our identities.

The narrative weaving of The Painter and The Thief is what makes it a truly great documentary. Director Benjamin Ree shows you the story through two sets of eyes, both staring into the other. He shapes a beautiful give and take that relates the events based on how they were experienced rather than exactly how they happened.

In exploring the way Barbora and Karl see each other, Ree also explores how we grapple with our many faces, comparing the way we present ourselves and the way we are seen by others.

When Karl sees Barbora’s first painting of him, he is utterly transfixed by the portrait. He cannot take his eyes off of it as he stands and begins to loudly weep.

Although The Painter and The Thief takes a winding path into an incredible and unexpected friendship, it never forgets that it began as a mystery.

This documentary is so intriguing and so honest, you’ll be transfixed until the incredibly satisfying and almost unbelievable end.

Supa Fly

Supa Modo

by George Wolf

At the risk of limb outing, I’m guessing a little film that might restore your faith in human decency would not be unwelcome right now.

Supa Modo may center on a young girl with a terminal illness, but it will warm your heart in the sweetest way, spinning its tale of escapist fantasy, cold reality and the simple joy of the movies.

Nine year-old Jo (Stycie Waweru, wonderful) spends most of her days under the care of a Kenyan hospital, dreaming of flying like her favorite film superheroes. But after a distressing visit with the medical staff, Jo’s mother Kathryn (Marrianne Nungo) decides her dying child should spend her remaining days in the comfort of home.

Jo’s sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia) encourages Jo’s superhero fantasies, and her neighbors unite to create situations where Jo can flash super powers and right wrongs in the village.

It’s a lovely “Make a Wish” scenario that is not uncommon, but director Likarion Wainaina and a team of writers deepen the humanity through simple contrast.

Kathryn does not support the indulgence of Jo’s imagination, clashing with Mwix and the villagers over what is best for her child. This push and pull keeps the film grounded when overt sentimentality offers a road more easily traveled.

And, naturally, good conflict makes a more satisfying resolution. Wainaina plays his hand skillfully, turning what could have been a lazy and cliched final shot into a moment full of the happiest tears.

All In

Lucky Grandma

by Hope Madden

It’s hard to watch Lucky Grandma without giving at least a passing thought to Lulu Wang’s 2019 gem The Farewell. This story could not be more different, honestly, but at the heart of both movies is the undeniable force of a nai nai.

In writer/director Sasie Sealy’s tale, Tsai Chin portrays Nai Nai Wong as a dead-eyed hoot. Cigarette dangling, disgusted expression, Nai Nai doesn’t play. Her dismissive stare is priceless. Her confrontational giggle even better.

One routine trip to see her fortune teller/doctor/friend (Yan Xi) convinces her that her luck is changing. She boards a bus, hits a casino and lets it roll.

But luck is not always what you hoped for and the next thing Nai Nai knows, some homely gangsters are after her.

What makes this film the savvy, funny adventure it is results from Sealy’s manipulation of the familiar. The basic story follows many an Underdog Runs Afoul of the Mob stories (Hard 8, Jackie Brown, Millions, True Romance, etc.)

The difference here, obviously, is the underdog.

Like the movie on the whole, the elderly and beloved old grandmother at the center of this mess is simultaneously familiar and alien. Her aches, pains, poverty and the clear patterns of her behaviors suggest something authentic and recognizable. She’s just not a movie grandma—not like any in the movies we’re used to. Her will is as strong as steel, whether her body keeps up or not.

Sealy’s careful not to mock Nai Nai Wong (a good thing, as she would clearly kick a person’s ass). But Chin makes certain this character is not only formidable, but hilarious.

She’s aided by her odd couple sidekick Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha), a gentle giant of a bodyguard hired in the savviest, old-ladiest of ways. (You know who can spot a bargain? Grandma can.)

Michael Tow also lends a fascinating, unseemly quality to his scenes as creepy gangster henchman Little Handsome.

The emotional grounding for the film never feels forced, which allows the Lucky Grandma to run its course without the predictable sentimentality that crushes most “look how funny this old person is” films. It’s there—the weighty pull of family over self-reliance, of dependence over loneliness—but, like everything else in the film, it respects the character Chin has so meticulously developed.