9 Spooky Boarding School Movies Worthy of the Horror Honor Roll

Two girls in boarding-school uniforms sit and talk in horror movie The Woods.

The New Girl (Agnes Bruckner) and the Mean Girl (Rachel Nichols) in The Woods.
Screenshot: Sony

With Simon Barretts Seanceabout a group of teens who unwittingly awaken their dorms resident ghostarriving on May 21, weve got spooky boarding schools on the brain. Much like college campuses, theyve been a rather popular setting for horror movies over the years, but these are 9 of our favorites.

1) Phenomena

Its hard to top Phenomena, Italian horror master Dario Argentos 1985 take on the boarding-school horror genre (before anyone says anything, 1977’s Suspiria is set at a ballet academy, which isnt quite the samebut a double-feature of the two would still be thematically copacetic). Phenomena, which is sometimes titled Creepers depending on which version youre watching, stars a pre-Labyrinth Jennifer Connelly as a teen, also named Jennifer, whose movie-star father ships her off to a Swiss boarding school that happens to have a serial killer problem.

Jennifer has the strange (but ultimately useful) ability to communicate with insects, something that alienates her from her classmatesbut also brings her into contact with a kindly entomologist (Halloweens Donald Pleasence) and his nurse, Inga, who is played by… a chimpanzee named Tanga. And for what its worth, Phenomenas soundtrack (Goblin, Iron Maiden) and striking cinematography and production design (both Argento trademarks) are as glorious as the plot is gloriously weird.

2) Jennifer

Released in 1978 and initially dismissed as a Carrie rip-offnot entirely unearned, considering its tag line was Makes Carrie look like an angel!Jennifer introduces us to the titular sweet, brainy country gal (Ghoulies Lisa Pelikan) who earns a coveted scholarship to a boarding school otherwise populated by asshole rich kids. Shes immediately singled out for being different (read: being poor) by not just her fellow students, including a truly vile senators daughter played by Amy Johnston, but the schools snooty staff.

But what they dont realize is that like Carrie before her (and Phenomenas Jennifer, a few years later), the hillbilly they love to torment has an incredibly spooky gift that that she calls upon when pushed to the edge: MAKING SNAKES DO HER BIDDING. Really, the tag line should have been Shes the head of the classssss.

3) Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

This surprisingly entertaining entry in the long-running Halloween series was released in 1998, making it part of the ScreamI Know What You Did Last Summer onslaught of second-wave slashers, complete with a telegenic young cast that includes Michelle Williams, then the darling of Dawsons Creek, and newcomer Josh Hartnett. But the main draw is the returning Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strodewhos now the headmaster of a California boarding school, barely battling PTSD and living under an assumed name to protect herself (and her son, played by Hartnett), from her infamous maniac brother.

Honestly, the school itself isnt the problem in this one; its picturesque, boasts the convivial LL Cool J as a security guard, and does cool stuff like organize trips to Yosemite for its students. Really, it wouldnt be such a bad place to studyif not for that whole isolated location/Michael Myers on a kill-crazy rampage situation.

4) Picnic at Hanging Rock

Peter Weirs 1975 film is really more of a mystery than a horror film, but it does dip into some awfully dark places, both mentally and physically, as it investigates some of natures stranger powers. On Valentines Day 1900, at a very prim boarding school for girls in southeastern Australia, a day trip to a nearby geological oddity turns tragic when several girls and a teacher vanish without a trace.

The atmosphere at the schoolalready highly charged, thanks to some intense adolescent longings and the strict headmistress fondness for preferential treatment (or cruel treatment, depending on your status) among her studentsbecomes a tempestuous sea as everyone, including the local townsfolk, become drawn into the search. Picnic at Hanging Rocks conclusion may ostensibly be open-ended, but as the tragedies pile on, the dreaminess thats pervaded its early scenes has turned into a full-on nightmare.

5) The Moth Diaries

Mary Harron (American Psycho) wrote and directed this 2011 chiller set at an upscale boarding school for girls thats strict (demerits for messy hair, tardiness, etc.) but not draconian, and meaningful friendships are formed alongside field hockey practice and chapel assembly. The previous year, Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) arrived at the school after a family tragedy, but came out of her shell after forming a close friendship with Lucy (Sarah Gadon).

As The Moth Diaries begins, Rebecca is looking forward to another semester with her BFFbut her joy turns to frustration when a mysterious new student named Ernessa (Lily Cole) starts commanding all of Lucys attention while exhibiting some odd and frankly supernatural-seeming behavior. Youll know where the plot is going even before the hunky English lit teacher (Scott Speedman) whips out a copy of Carmilla, but The Moth Diaries treats its young heroines unusually respectfully, which makes the emotions it pulls from its familiar story actually feel well-earned.

6) The Woods

In this 1960s-set thriller shot through with dark fairy-tale elements, directed by Lucky McKee (May), sullen teen Heather (Agnes Brucker) is shipped off to an isolated boarding school after a fight with her mother inspires a bit of arson. Naturally, all is not what it seemsparticularly among the teachers, led by a ice-cold headmistress (Patricia Clarkson) who is keenly interested in Heathers potential as a gifted student, though her testing methods to gauge the girls abilities seem less academic and more… well, witchy.

It doesnt take long before Heather starts hearing ghostly whispers and having strange dreams that hint at the schools hidden agenda (hint: dont drink the milk!). When The Woods spooky shit really starts hitting the fan, both main character and viewer can delight in the fact that Heathers father is played by none other than Bruce Campbell, who obviously knows a thing or two about fighting evil things lurking in the forest.

7) The House That Screamed

This 1969 Spanish production from director Narciso Ibez Serrador (who also made the cult classic Who Can Kill a Child?) is set in 19th century France. While it follows the new girl arrives at new school and realizes things are very, very off template that would become the standard for later boarding-school horror films, The House That Screamed has a much racier tone than any of the others listed here. Trashier, even, if youre able to interpret that as a compliment, which it is.

There are sadistic beatings in the name of discipline, sky-high sexual tension that somehow goes along with that, and a vicious serial killer whose identity might be obviousbut whose grim and extremely specific endgame, which is presented in a big last-act reveal, is absolutely not.

8) The Blackcoats Daughter

Osgood Perkins (Gretel and Hansel) directed this moody tale with a twist: its partially set at a boarding school thats empty during a chilly school holiday, save for a couple of left-behind students (including Chilling Adventures of Sabrinas Kiernan Shipka; American Horror Storys Emma Roberts also has a juicy role). Plus, theres maybe, just possibly, some Satanic vibes lingering in the airthe school is called Bramford, for all those eagle-eyed Rosemarys Baby fans out there.

The Blackcoats Daughter is actually full of twists, with shifting perspectives and time jumps that pretzel the story until the last act. Unlike many other films on this list, you definitely wont see the finish line as soon as you walk through the schools imposing front doors.

9) Down a Dark Hall

Rodrigo Corts (Buried) directed this 2018 adaptation of YA horror giant Lois Duncans 1974 novel. Teenaged troublemaker Kit (AnnaSophia Robb) is shipped off to a boarding school aimed at taming troublemakers, though there are only a handful of other studentsall girlsin attendance. At first, things dont seem so awfulthe fact that the school is kept perpetually dark is a little odd, but having to hand over their cellphones is about the worst of it, at least until unmarked pills start becoming a non-negotiable part of the night-time routine.

Gradually, though, the girlswho are all unremarkable in terms of academic and artistic achievementstart displaying genius-level talents that spring not from hard work, but from something beyond the grave. The malevolent headmistress is played by Uma Thurman, whose deliberately theatrical French accent allows the mostly very serious Down a Dark Hall to slip into campy territory on a few welcome occasions.

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