And then there are horror movies that exasperate the external chill by using cold as a trope, a plot motivator, or even a character itself. Kids love building snowmen, but an unforgiving Arctic blast can be just as scary as any haunted house or masked psychopath. Hey, at least no one at Camp Crystal Lake has to worry about freezing to death.
The 10 horror movies below are chilling, but they're also cold in the literal sense, taking place in the dead of winter and/or in extreme climates. These films are so gripping, the onscreen iciness is palpable, so keep a parka (or at least a blanket) close by. Horror fans will relish the challenge; the faint of heart simply won't be able to contain their shivers!
The Thing (1982)
You simply can't get much colder than John Carpenter's The Thing. It's set at an Arctic research facility that's so chilled, its residents stay bundled up even when indoors. And even when their remote outpost is invaded by a shapeshifting alien, the unforgiving temperatures outside the station are at least as deadly as the beast within. As if all of this isn't enough to set your teeth chattering, The Thing boasts a nihilistic ending that's just as icy as the terror it unleashes. While you can enjoy The Thing any time of year, winter will certainly make the experience more immersive.
The Shining (1980)
While Wendy Torrance keeps the temperatures inside The Overlook Hotel toasty during the off-season, the consistently snowy conditions outside keep her family completely isolated from the rest of the world. They might as well be at the North Pole. This is part of what gives The Shining such a claustrophobic vibe, despite the immensity of The Overlook. The literal and figurative temperatures drop to minus zero in the film's iconic climax when an insane father armed with an ax stalks his son through a hedge maze at night-all while a sever blizzard bares down on them. Some may argue that a snowplow saved the lives of Wendy and Danny Torrance at the end of The Shining, others will insist it was the cold that actually did Jack in. If the winter weather isn't enough to motivate you to revisit The Shining, keep in mind that Mike Flanagan's sequel, Doctor Sleep, will hit theaters on January 24th, 2020.
Three friends get stuck on a ski lift when a resort closes early for a long weekend. That's it. There aren't any ghosts, cryptids, or hulking psychopath with mommy issues involved; no flashbacks to action-packed or horrifying sequences that took place prior to the events of the film. But Frozen's simple premise speaks to both the banality of evil and the Melvillian indifference of Mother Nature. And don't think for a moment that Frozen is boring; our protagonists transition from stunned disbelief to frenzied desperation, risking both bodily injury and the appetites of hungry wolves gathered below them in a frantic bid for survival. The slow-burn intensity of Frozen won't be enough to penetrate the film's blisteringly frigid atmosphere. There are a few scenes that will make even seasoned horror fans cringe.
Wind Chill (2007)
While Frozen (described above) is about as straight-forward as a narrative can get, Wind Chill's simple premise is deceptive, as the film takes a number of unexpected turns. While being stranded in a car on an isolated road during a white-out sounds like a real-life nightmare, Wind Chill has us second guessing everything, from the true intentions of the vehicle's driver to the would-be rescuers who approach (and disappear back into the darkness). Wind Chill is ripe for rediscovery as it stars a then-comparatively unknown Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) as a college student whose ride home for the holidays descends into a chilling oblivion. In the age apps like Lyft and Uber, Wind Chill will remind some of us how often we tempted fate in the early days of ridesharing (which was essentially a socially-acceptable way of accepting rides from strangers).
Devil's Pass (2013)
The Dyatlov Pass is sometimes called Russia's Area 51, a remote region in the Ural Mountains where locals have reported everything from UFOs to cryptids and clandestine government experiments. The Dyatlov Pass incident refers to the mysterious deaths of nine hikers back in 1959. Devil's Pass is an excellent mockumentary/found-footage horror/sci-fi spooker that sees a group of ambitious American grad students on a quest to explain the enduring mysteries of The Dyatlov Pass. To its credit, the film includes some of the more grounded theories regarding the actual fates of the hikers in 1959 (like an avalanches and exposure), but doesn't shy away from the truly fantastic. With both effects and production far superior to your standard found footage affair, Devil's Pass will hook you fast and keep you squirming until its mind-boggling conclusion.
Let Me In (2010)
An American remake of the Nordic megahit Let the Right One In (a film that made my previous list of chilling Scandinavian horror movies), Let Me In probably won't be remembered as one of the best genre flicks of the early 21st Century, but it's nonetheless a sleek iteration that definitely conveys the environmental chill of its source material. While the story of two young outcasts in love is heart-warming, but the horror is real and the subtext is just as dark and cold as Let the Right One In.
In the dystopian, not-too-distant future of Snowpiercer, Earth's climate has become so frigid and inhospitable, no mighty parka or insulated pair of boots could protect you from deadly exposure. Survivors live on a train that must remain in perpetual motion, lets it too becomes frozen solid; an inoperable meat locker. With the elite occupying the forward cars and the poverty-stricken masses subjugated to cramped, filthy rear compartments, Snowpiercer is both an allegorical warning about impending climate change and a stinging indictment of class disparities. Writer/director Joon-ho Bong works with an exceptional cast that includes Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and John Hurt.
There are plenty of Stephen King movies that take place in the bitter cold; in addition to the previously-mentioned The Shining, there's Misery, Storm of the Century, and The Mist to name a few. But none packs the frigid wallop of Dreamcatcher. The story of childhood friends reuniting as adults includes a cozy cabin in the snowy woods of New England, but that safe-place is soon invaded and destroyed by killer "butt-weasels", sending the pack fleeing into winter's icy grip (on the eve of a full-on alien invasion, no less). Dreamcatcher conveys such a palpable chill my toes are cold just thinking about it.
30 Days of Night (2007)
Any film that takes place in Alaska is bound to include an Arctic blast of bone-chilling weather, but 30 Days of Night is extreme. Not only does it take place in a remote village, it unfolds during the coldest part of winter when the geography experiences a full month without ever seeing the Sun. Too bad it never occurred to the hamlet's residents that the conditions are like Club Med for vampires! When a bloodsucking clan descends, survivors make a desperate bid to outlast and outsmart their attackers, hoping the Sun will rise again before everyone starves. The vamps in director David Slade's film are also exceptionally chilling; animalistic and feral, yet ruled by a master with the intimidating poise of a ruthless Russian mobster. Excellent pacing, a talented cast, and a crackling script with have you holding your breath until the film's icy conclusion (which is both triumphant and heart-wrenching).
Horror fans who like a hefty dose of drama in their zombie movies (like Maggie and World War Z, for example) will definitely enjoy 2015's Extinction. Years into a zombie apocalypse, survivors have relocated to extremely cold regions of North America, places where the pervasive chill freezes the undead solid-or so they hope. The story centers on two survivors and a young girl; and while the adults maintain and extremely strained relationship, the youngster's innocence and their shared desire to keep her safe turns them into a de facto family. Not only is the climate frigid, the undead revenants who lurk in the periphery will freeze your blood.