The Best of High Rise Horror Movies

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Best Of Best of Movies Featured Scary Movies and Series

High-rise tower blocks have been a setting staple in action blockbusters throughout history through such films as Die Hard (1988) and the Towering Inferno (1974), though the horror genre has gotten plenty of mileage out of the batophobia-inducing megaliths too. Even the legendary Evil Dead series which has mostly kept to its cabin-in-the-woods roots is now moving its demonic antics into the concrete skies with the upcoming Evil Dead Rise. High-rises are often crowded, tightly packed and dizzyingly high up, leaving room for plenty of horrifyingly tense horror cinema. Below are some of the best high rise horror films to utilize a skyscraper or tower block as their setting, and a look at why exactly this choice is so terrifying.

Demons 2 (1986)

Lamberto Bava’s sequel to his 1985 horror thrillride Demons demonstrates exactly why tower blocks are a nightmare waiting to happen. A demon invasion makes its way into an apartment block through a film being broadcast one saturday night, and a few survivors must fight their way through the block to safety. Produced by the legendary Dario Argento, Demons 2 indeed lacks a bit of the joyful wackiness of its cinema-based original, which is by rights an imperfect classic, and sadly ends up devolving into a reskinned b-grade zombie movie before long. Bava seems to be crafting a sequel as quickly as he can here, with scenes reminiscent of Romero’s original trilogy and the then-just-released Gremlins. The gore and practical effects which made the original what it was are still present, though the vivid colour palette of Demons has been replaced with a lot of dominating blues and greys which sap the energy out of several scenes. Perhaps if its predecessor wasn’t such a cult classic, Demons 2 would have stood a better chance, as it still serves as a great example of nail-biting high-rise horror.

[•REC] & [•REC]² (2007/2009)

rec movie poster based on a horror film in a high rise building featuring a girl and a dark background

REC is a Spanish found footage horror film co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. Both REC and its sequel take place in an apartment block during a zombie outbreak. While the first relies on the found footage of a news reporter picking a very unfortunate night to cover her local fire station, the sequel utilises shots from SWAT team cams and some intruding youths to craft an even more tense and terrifying ride. The claustrophobia is very apparent here, with hordes of ferociously fast zombies taking up corridors and whole stairwells at a time. Doubly horrifying is the introduction of lockdown to the building, wherein characters realize that not only will the undead kill them if they stay, but the authorities will kill them if they try to leave. This makes the feeling of imprisonment much more acute, and makes the towering backdrop all the more effective

Poltergeist III (1988)

poltergeist 3 movie poster featuring a blonde girl and a scary high rise building

Poltergeist 3 was co-written and directed by Gary Sherman, and is the second sequel to Tobe Hooper’s legendary and massively influential 1982 classic. It was the final feature of Heather O’Rourke before she tragically died at the age of 12, adding even further to the already-present ‘Poltergeist curse’ that had been plaguing cast members of the franchise since its first entry. After being repeatedly tormented by supernatural horrors, Carol Anne moves in with her relatives in a tower block in Chicago in order to undergo therapy. However, the ghostly evil appears to have followed her as she begins to experience terrifying visions, as well as spectral figures in the mirrors of the relative’s high-rise apartment.

Attack The Block (2011)

attack the block movie poster featuring a group of teens in front of a high rise building

As its name suggests, Attack The Block takes place in a London apartment block and centres around the gang of youths that live there as they take on a vicious alien invasion. The charismatic teens trawl the streets and their beloved block evading police, rival gangsters and the otherworldly horrors that hunt them. Director Joe Cornish dials into a perfect blend of action, horror and comedy, doubled with plenty of satire on class and ethnic barriers, all aided by the sprawling urban setting and lively, if not a little unhinged, characters who live there.

Candyman (1992) 

Candyman Urban Legend Horror Movie Poster with a bee in an eye

Bernard Rose’s Candyman terrified audiences the world over in 1992 with its bleakly horrific depiction of the real-world superstition known widely as ‘Bloody Mary’. According to the lasting urban legend, one must say the name of their malevolent force in question five times in front of a mirror, and the thing will awaken and kill them.

Fascinated by local urban legends, Helen (Virginia Madsen) investigates the myths and superstitions surrounding the one-armed Candyman, writing a thesis on how the residents of the Cabrini-Green ghetto use his legend to deal with their surroundings. However, she confronts her worst nightmare when a series of murders, dangerously close to the Candyman’s modus operandi, start taking place around her. Jordan Peele’s 2021 remake expanded on the lore of Candyman in an interesting and often exciting way, though never managed to be as deliriously scary as the ‘92 original breezed its way through being. Playing more on themes of police brutality and ‘ghetto gentrification’, Candyman 2021 tries to add a lot of recent topics to the mythos, more than may have been necessary when considering the classic themes which are just as prevalent.

Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield  horror movie poster featuring burning high rise buildings in NYC and the statue of liberty

Cloverfield tore theatres a new one back in 2008, changing the game completely for the found-footage subgenre and for monster movies in general. Utilising the shaky-cam technique, director Matt Reeves created a monster movie with such sparse shots of its titular monster that a tension and mystery was retained around the monolithic creature and its origins right up until 2018’s legacy-destroying sequel The Cloverfield Paradox.

In 2008’s Cloverfield, a group’s surprise leaving party for their friend is disastrously interrupted by an explosion in downtown New York, which it is soon revealed was caused by a gigantic rampaging monster. The party’s survivors must flee across New York, documenting each atrocity as it occurs. Technically the film takes place in several tower blocks, including the survivors traversing the roof of one collapsing tower to another which allows for some dizzying shots of the city below.

American Psycho 

American Psycho Movie Poster with a Man holding a knife

Adapted from the 1991 novel from Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho concerns investment banker/serial killer Patrick Bateman and his homicidal exploits around Manhattan. Starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto and Chloë Sevigny, the Mary Harron-directed chiller is as sadistic as it is confusing, with Bateman’s unreliable first-person account of a disjointed plot involving brutal killings as well as equally intense conversations about business cards. Much of the plot takes place in Bateman’s high-rise apartment complex and the other establishments he inhabits around the suffocating Manhattan streets. The cold megalophobia of the film’s setting adds a new layer to Bateman’s madness, as well as adding to the exposure of the more low-key insanity of the society he lives in.

Land of The Dead (2005)

Land of the Dead horror movie poster

Land of the Dead was written and directed by George A. Romero, and is the fourth of Romero’s six Living Dead movies. As zombies begin to inherit most of the world, survivors of the apocalypse have built a walled city to protect themselves. However, the living dead are evolving more by the day, and a plan to overthrow the city leadership is in the works. Land of The Dead features a very on the nose portrayal of a modern political climate, with the rich and powerful living in Fiddler’s Green, a luxury high-rise, while the rest of the population are left to fend for themselves in the slums below. Fiddler’s Green eventually becomes the target of not only the zombies but also the working class, in a finale that shows exactly why tower blocks are the perfect setting for a metaphor on civil unrest.

High Rise (2015)

High Rise Horror movie poster

Another film to utilise the Snowpiercer-esque visualisation of class hierarchy through its setting is Ben Wheatley’s 2015 dystopian thriller High Rise. Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by British writer J. G. Ballard, High Rise takes place in a luxurious tower block in the 1970s. With a wealth of modern conveniences at their fingertips, the residents of the building grow gradually less dependant on the outside world, allowing them to live each day without even leaving. As the infrastructure becomes brittle and tensions begin to rise, the block is soon thrown into chaos as a full class warfare erupts. Without a clear protagonist in mind, viewers must wade in the moral ambiguity of one atrocity to the next, deciding for themselves who, if anyone, can be considered a hero in it all. Like Snowpiercer in a skyscraper, the violence and debauchery this societal breakdown results in is as entertaining as it is brutal, though with no clear moral alignment the plot of High-Rise can become confusing.

1408 (2007)

1408 horror movie poster featuring 2 mens faces and an old key

Based on the chilling Stephen King short story of the same name, 1408 stars John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson and centres around a grand old hotel in New York that is said to be haunted. Mike Enslin (Cusack) is an established horror author who stays in apparently haunted places and documents his finds. After overexposure to pseudo-supernaturalism, Enslin is becoming bored of his work until he hears about the legendary hotel and room 1408. He is soon trapped in the room with seemingly no escape.

Being trapped in such a high floor of a hotel is played out effectively, with Enslin hanging out of windows and trying to scale across the outer wall to the next room. The setting adds another dimension to his imprisonment and retains a hopelessly bleak air as Enslin’s mind is pushed to breaking point.

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Train to Busan presents: Peninsula (2020)

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So I watched Train to Busan presents: Peninsula (2020) last night and my exasperated sigh that began as the credits rolled has just about come to an end. 

For those who don’t know, Train to Busan (2016) was a hugely successful south-Korean zombie flick from 2016, which made use of its tight £8.5 million budget to create, believe it or not, a unique and exciting entry into the world of modern zombie films. The film utilised strong direction, a cast including zombies played by dancers and contortionists, exhilarating action in a snowpiercer-esque limited setting and some genuinely emotional moments to engage critics the world over. Then, the one thing happened that nobody really wanted: Next Entertainment went and got sequel fever. 

Train to Busan worked because of its limited setting and, dare I say, its limited budget. A common gripe with sequels of films like this is that they go “all Hollywood” and layer in as many computer-generated effects as they can over a rushed plot and basically try to crank every aspect up to eleven, many times missing the point of what made the original great and alienating those who appreciated it the most. That, sadly, is exactly what has happened here. 

Train to Busan presents: Peninsula Has No Heart

Firstly, the heart of Train to Busan has been ripped out in Peninsula and replaced with one mechanical and unfeeling, one that tries desperately to imitate the organic beating of its predecessor while any right-minded viewer frowns at the blatant algorithms forming their emotional experience. Basically, the sentiment is so forced into Peninsula that it borders on emotional manipulation at several points, wherein the film may as well have held up title cards saying FEEL NOW rather than spend so much time lingering on mediocrely-portrayed anguish and cheap, oh so cheap misdirection. Without spoiling anything, I honestly wished they’d committed to the more tragic ending that was implied in the final scenes rather than backpedal in their inferral that we as viewers couldn’t handle it.

That being said, for the most part Peninsula knows what it is, and as a result is a fast-paced and often fun action movie. Much of the claustrophobic tension falls by the wayside for car chases and gunfights so heavy on CGI that one would be forgiven for thinking they’d wandered into Zack Snyder’s latest picture. Every time we are shown a crowd of zombies, which here serve more as fodder than a threat, at least half of them look superimposed or computer generated which, along with the borderline cartoonish style, can break immersion regularly. Some of the long-take action scenes are competently pulled off and enjoyable, even despite feeling a little derivative. Any scene in which a somehow-indestructible car mows down hundreds of computer-generated undead (which happens more than enough) is enough to draw an exasperated groan from anyone familiar with modern, high-budget zombie flicks. 

Aside from a few unique ideas, such as twisted survivors throwing strays into their zombie arena to battle captured undead and a clever idea involving a little girl and her remote-control cars, a lot of Peninsula feels a little too familiar to justify its runtime. If they are indeed setting up a series of zombie films here then I hope they continue the variation in concept and boil things back down in an attempt at a more focused zombie flick. We all know the genre has more to give, if only those creating it could show enough restraint to remember what made zombies great in the first place. 

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Reboots, Remakes and Requels in Horror

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While new and fresh ideas are popping up all the time in the world of horror films, particularly amongst indie circles, some of the older nightmares can be just as potent. This is why films and franchises from as far back as the 1920s are to this day being graced with sequels, reboots and complete remakes. Of course it can be argued that to remake an old horror property is simply an attempt at draining the pockets of the nostalgia-susceptible, but a lot of creators go into such a process with a deep love of that original, be it Nightmare on Elm Street, The Evil Dead, or The Invisible Man. Sometimes people simply want to capture the essence of what made one of their favourite films great and share that with a modern audience, though a few recent entries have had trickier, cleverer ideas up their sleeves. As we are about to see, the line between ‘terrifyingly worthy tribute’ and ‘embarrassment to its predecessor’ can be a fine one, and not all make the cut.


Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)


Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was scary bordering on masochistic, and since then has been tarnished with a horde of shoddy sequels and rebooted more times than an 80s Macintosh. Filmmakers seem content simply chopping different bits off the original’s title each time they reset; first we had The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), and then Texas Chainsaw (2013), and now Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) horror remake. Many try to tack on enough lore just to fill and warrant their runtime, though our skin-masked maniac’s latest outing seems far more heavily focused on gore. Of course, gore isn’t what made Hooper’s masterpiece what it is, but it certainly helped. Sadly David Blue Garcia’s take utilises mainly CGI gore that can tend to look animated when it ramps up, and Leatherface himself never felt immediate enough to be actually scary. Olwen Fouere plays a returning Sally Hardesty (played originally by Marilyn Burns) in what seems like an attempt at the ‘returning leads in horror’ trend currently headed by Jamie Lee Curtis and most of the Scream (1996) cast, though Sally’s comeback was in no way as effective or as thought-out as the aforementioned. While it is worth a watch for gore completionists, Texas Chainsaw Massacre ultimately proves itself to be merely another in a lengthening line.


Scream (2022)

Scream 5 Horror remake


Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin got a lot of things right with Scream (2022); it was rife with the meta-awareness of its predecessors and aware of the change in their relatability as the years had gone on, perfectly willing to integrate itself into the new modern age and do so effectively. It brought back cast favourites from the very beginning of the franchise and even got so meta as to question what kind of addition to the franchise it really was, coining the term ‘requel’: not quite a horror remake, not quite a sequel.

Scream (2022) is a clever whodunit horror, though somewhere along the way it forgot to be scary. Aside from a couple of tension-building moments, most of the runtime is spent winking to the audience rather than actually being a horror film. Still, it is a funny, self-aware and welcome addition to the franchise, one that fans of any of the previous sequels will likely enjoy.


Friday 13th (2009)


Friday 13th (2009) is an example of a reboot that simply didn’t do enough to distinguish itself from its predecessors. While technically-sound and boasting plenty of gore, director Marcus Nispel’s (director of 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot) vision sadly followed too many of the same beats as practically every other film in the long-running franchise, proving that a sleek, modern look isn’t all that’s required to resurrect someone like the immortal Jason Voorhees.

The story does take some interesting turns, though all we are eventually left with are a handful of 00’s horror cliches and hollow half-scares. With a ‘reimagining’ like this, some expectations arguably have to be subverted, otherwise what is the production but an attempt to milk some more cash from the franchise? Unfortunately everything here that is expected to happen, happens, and the experience as a whole is forgettable, even in terms of late-stage Friday 13th titles.


Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2022)

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2022) horror remake poster featuring people with guns


Welcome To Raccoon City is an indisputable homage to the golden era of the Resident Evil game series, though it also throws into question whether or not this is a good thing for a film. Paul W.S. Anderson’s take on the series was heavily flawed and received mostly negative feedback, especially as it went on, and one of the factors for this was always thought to be its departure from the plot and themes of the games in favour of the story of Alice, played by Anderson’s wife Milla Jovovich. Now that we have a perfectly functioning cinematic version of the games themselves, complete with likeable cast, plenty of action and great callbacks to the originals, it becomes apparent that the problem may not have been wholly with Alice. Following the beats that the Resident Evil games did actually makes for quite a hollow cinematic experience, even when done with all the heart and care a fan can muster.


Wrong Turn (2021)


Here was a hell of a curveball in terms of horror reboots. While not by any means perfect, Wrong Turn (2021) completely reinvented the meaning of backwoods brutality by swapping out its predecessors’ cackling mutant hillbillies for The Foundation, a group who rejected modern society to live in the woodland, and who protect their way of life using savage measures.

Wrong Turn does lay it on thick in terms of political ideology, and it is odd to see a film in the series take itself so seriously. That being said, the film’s balance between being that of strong ideas and that of a strong body-count is what keeps it afloat for the majority of its runtime. Some truly haunting imagery and wince-inducing kills make up for the shaky pacing and ridiculous choices of its lead characters (it is a slasher after all). Anyone interested in seeing the effects of some gruesome woodland booby traps will find more than enough here to enjoy.

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013) horror remake poster featuring a woman and red background


My personal favourite horror reboot. Evil Dead (2013) manages to capture perfectly the ferocious insanity of the original while also creating a uniquely dark spin on its story. Five friends spend a night in a cabin in the woods to cure one of their heroin addictions. When addict Mia (Jane Levy) begins facing demonic and invasive threats, she must convince her friends that far more than withdrawal is plaguing her before it is too late. Fede Alvarez manages to keep some key items as love letters to Raimi’s legendary films, such as that tree for example, and amps up the gore and violence to vomit-worthy levels. Faces are stabbed, hands are split, heads are chainsawed and all is done with a gleeful knowingness of what makes Evil Dead special. Let’s not forget the iconic Necronomicon, which makes an appearance as well. And with Evil Dead: Rise just around the corner, it’s nice to know there’s a future for such an uncompromising horror entity.

Halloween (2018)


Blumhouse’s Halloween reboot is one of their better horror films. What makes Michael Myers scary is the apparent randomness to his killings, and Halloween (2018) knew exactly where to go with it. After a shaky intro (what is even happening there? Does Michael have the ability to send the mentally ill into a frenzy?) we are then given a very solid setup involving a returning Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, her family, Michael’s foreboding transfer from psychiatric hospital to maximum security prison (what could go wrong?) and even a little self-awareness with the ‘by today’s standards’ quip. Instead of Laurie returning in the same brief way Sally Hardesty did, she and her family are key players in Michael’s latest bloodbath, showing Laurie’s preparation and the deadly results it yielded.

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Hagazussa (2017) – Experimental Witch Horror

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Lukas Fiegelfeld’s debut chiller, Hagazussa (2017) (Hagazussa being a German term for Witch) is commonly mentioned alongside Robert Eggers’ debut flick The Witch (2015). This is not only for obvious titular reasons, but also for their moody, slow-burn atmospheres and psychologically bleak plots depicting young girls taken in by the darkness. Although there’s comparisons to be made, the two witch films do differ in many key ways. While The Witch has, for all its oddities, a rather straightforward plot, Hagazussa plays with ambiguity in a way reminiscent of such experimental films as David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1997) and Denis Villeneuve’s wholly interpretive Enemy (2013). From the opening shot of Fiegfeld’s snowy chiller an effect takes place on it’s audience. Some may shuffle uncomfortably at the slow motion frames of snow, accented by MMMD’s permeating stringed-drone soundtrack, though those familiar with hypnotic and slow burn cinema will already be settling in with a smile on their faces. 

Like the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, Hagazussa relies on an atmosphere of gradually-building dread to drag it along. While this could have been achieved with the tight, focused shots of snowy mountains and moody forests alone, MMMD’s cerebral drones help accent every frame to its full artistic potential. Atmospheric horror and drone music have always gone hand in hand on some level, though recent years have seen the two forming a dreadful bond. MMMD’s is a relaxing dread, more akin to the sounds of Bernard Hermann in his work for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, though retaining the world-ending vibrations boasted by many doom/drone groups. 

Hagazussa witch horror film poster featuring a witch with antlers

Hagazussa is a cerebrally-focused feast for the eyes, aiming to bring you down to its speed and keep you there until the final head-scratching scene climaxes. That’s not to say that you’ll be enjoying only mountain scenery and expressionist artistry. Hagazussa unflinchingly plays with themes of madness through isolation, child molestation, implied bestiality and multiple instances of rape in a bold way. It’s essentially that quiet kid you befriended in school, only to later find their collection of black metal CDs and skinned rodents; an analogy I’m sure we can all relate to. 

History of Hagazussa

Germanic folklore image from the Bohemian region

Hagazussa relates to the German folklore tale of Perchta, a ‘Christmas witch’ who was said to punish those with untidy houses or those too lazy to have all of their flax spun by a certain night with fire and disembowelment. While traditional ideas run rampant in Hagazussa, rather than tell a tale of Perchta herself the film focuses more on how these tales of darkness can affect superstitious groups, leading to prejudice towards its character of focus, Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) from surrounding villagers. A sense of self-loathing pervades every scene, making the viewer feel like one of the villagers themselves, observing each increasingly degenerate act as all human decency falters. The idea of loneliness in a populated land, being surrounded by people with no intent to help does wonders for the hostile foreboding the film is trying to invoke. 

Hagazussa (2017) Trailer

Without delving into spoilers, the third act of Hagazussa indeed involves a payoff of sorts, introducing a revenge aspect to the plot as well as some very dark psychedelic hijinxs. It’s very much worth wading through the admitted snails-pace of much of its proceedings, and features an ending that warps the viewers recollection of the whole film, meaning that if you weren’t already questioning everything you had just seen, you will by the time the credits roll. The heavy themes in Hagazussa will be polarising for some, though rather than just random shock factor inclusions they felt more by-products of an already bleak alternate universe, and rather fitting. 


Those with patience, and perhaps a little energy (I fell asleep during my first watch) will find artistry and atmosphere by the bucketload in Hagazussa, as well as a disturbing depiction of one woman’s struggle against dark urges and darker neighbors. While not for those with delicate sensibilities, it offers challenging source material that arguably goes further in terms of experimentation than Robert Egger’s comparative witchy outing of two years previous, from it’s opening to it’s beautiful final shot that will be burned into my mind for years to come.

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New Nightmare and the Art of Meta Horror

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Best Of Best of Movies Featured Scary Movies and Series

The idea of a metafilm has resulted in some brilliant innovations over the years, with plenty of pretentious cinematic offerings to follow. Simply meaning ‘self referencing’ or ‘self-reflective’, meta can apply to many things in the world, though when a filmmaker goes meta, the potential for genius is right at hand. No genre has arguably gotten the most mileage out of this idea than horror. For all its merits, there are plenty of well-trodden conventions to pick at with horror, particularly across the slasher realm where by the mid 80s the cheap-and-cheerful trend had become a by-the-numbers slog, begging to be re-evaluated and poked fun at in the process. There is a fine art to a good meta horror film, though for every Scream there is of course a Scary Movie which, while self-referential (and often hilarious), has stretched beyond meta into parody. This list tries to keep it close, though comedies are by no means excepted.

8 Meta Horror Movies That Define the Genre

From 90’s dream slashers to Whedon’s meta horror masterpiece these 8 meta horror films are perfect examples of what can be done in meta horror.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) horror movie poster

Picture it; you’re six films deep into the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and you’re sure Freddy Krueger is gone for good. Then horror maestro Wes Craven decides to up the ante with one of the more original twists on any established horror franchise, and brings Freddy into the real world.

Set apart from other films in the series, New Nightmare portrays Krueger as a fictional villain who begins to terrorize the ‘real-life’ Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy Thompson from the original series. Heather is plagued by her history working on the Elm Street series, experiencing nightmares, menacing phone calls and traumatic episodes involving her son Dylan. When her husband is killed by mysterious claw marks, she suspects that Freddy himself has found a way into the real world. She visits recognizable figures such as Robert Englund and Wes Craven to try and get to the bottom of the horrific events.

Taking this kind of leap with an established horror villain was bold to say the least. The result could have been an overly campy, self-parodying mess by all accounts, however Craven knew just how to keep things sinister. Robert Englund’s Freddy is far more menacing this time around, swapping goofy lines and comedic runaround for focused and evil kills, while his signature smirk lets you know you’re still watching a Krueger flick, just an altogether nastier one.

Scream (1996)

Scream horror movie poster featuring a hand over a woman's mouth

If New Nightmare was Craven’s warm-up into meta-commentary, then Scream was both his sharp jab at, and celebration of, the entire horror genre. The film that arguably kicked off a whole generation of parodic comedy with the reactionary Scary Movie series, Scream was Craven taking his self-aware buzz to the next level with a brand new property that would become a long running blockbuster series itself.

Scream gave a whole new generation of horror fans something to revere. While some had the likes of Psycho or Halloween to call their generation’s own, now the 90s had Scream. Taking a simple slasher formula involving a group of college teens being picked off by a masked killer, Craven takes every opportunity to flip each slasher trope on its head, all while having his characters spend much of the film discussing the exact tropes he explores. They describe the rules to surviving a horror film while their friends break each rule and are picked off around them. With a very human-feeling villain, an iconic mask, and some stellar performances, Scream manages to be not only a worthy entry into the slasher genre but an intelligent reevaluation of it and a worldwide classic in its own right.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) meta horror movie poster

This was the point where Director Tom McLoughlin took a good look at the Friday 13th series’ strengths, realised why it was becoming stale and decided to take a less serious, though far more enjoyable approach. The film starts with Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) exhuming Jason’s body to cremate it, in the fear that the maniacal masked killer would arise once more. After impaling the corpse with a metal rod in a fit of rage, the rod is struck with lightning and Tommy’s worst fears are realised.

Jason Lives features the best kills, one of the more likeable casts and more comedy than any other film in the series, and the result is a looser and more exciting affair. With the series’ unexpected, yet greatly effective foray into comedy came constant winks at slasher tropes and jokes like the James Bond gun-barrel opening to Bob Larkin as the graveyard’s groundskeeper, breaking the fourth wall to reprimand the audience for their blood lust. “Why’d they have to go and dig up Jason?” he exclaims directly at the camera. “Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment.”

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) Movie Poster
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, and directed by Goddard as his directorial debut, The Cabin in The Woods knocks things up a major notch on the meta-scale by showing awareness of all other horror franchises and attempting to build a lore involving all of them. Created as a commentary on ‘torture-porn’ and popular cabin-based horror outings, the film follows five college students travelling to a recognizably rickety old cabin for a retreat. Instead of shrouding the events in mystery, Whedon and Goddard waste no time in showing us a secret underground facility whose occupants are heavily involved with some unknown ritual. The relation between the cabin and the jarringly juxtaposed technicians of the facility is what truly elevates The Cabin in The Woods from comedy slasher to something far more clever and unique. Comedy elements help elevate the meta-slasher plotline and lean more towards wit than slapstick which avoids the film feeling silly or parodical. Goddard runs through each slasher trope, gleefully providing clever insights into how they would work if engineered by some unseen corporate entity. With a competent and often hilarious cast, top quality CG and practical effects and one of the coolest scenes to ever involve a ‘purge system’ button, The Cabin in The Woods is a meta slasher that even the most discerning horror fans can get behind.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010) meta horror movie poster featuring a man with a chainsaw

While Tucker and Dale is, on its surface, a classic horror-comedy complete with bloody slapstick and hilarious banter from its leads, it is also a sharp deconstruction of the slasher genre, employing a ‘what if’ edge to classic tropes in a similar fashion to TCITW. Highly subversive and knowledgeable in its source material, Tucker and Dale vs Evil plays with the idea of ‘what if those menacing hillbillies were actually really sweet?’, borderline parodying films like Wrong Turn and Hatchet. Full of hilarious misunderstandings leading to violent consequences, Tucker and Dale manages much of its runtime without an actual established villain in place. Thankfully vacuous-teen-fodder coupled with a wholly lovable pair of lead characters make the entire ride a blast.

The Final Girls (2015)

The Final Girls Movie poster featuring a slasher and many women

The Final Girls plays out like the daydream of a horror-obsessed teen, though something in the sincerity of its execution really works. Recently orphaned Max heads to the cinema with her friends to see a horror flick her mother starred in in the 80s. When the group are sucked into the film and find themselves trapped in its horrific world, they must use all of their wits and knowledge of the genre to survive. Taissa Farmiga does a brilliant job of portraying the grieving and confused Max Cartwright who must reunite with a version of her late mother and come to terms with her realities before it is too late. With plenty of light-hearted jabs at 80s slashers, along with comical performances by the likes of Adam Devine and Thomas Middleditch undercutting the heavier themes on show, The Final Girls is a fun meta slasher idea executed with razor precision and gleeful energy.

Resolution (2012)

Resolution 2012 horror movie poster featuring a phantom over a house

Every film Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead make seems to be layered in more self-awareness than one viewer knows what to do with, though their most committed and playful experiment into meta horror filmmaking is by far 2012’s Resolution.

Chris is a drug addict living in a dilapidated shack in the woods. One day his old friend Michael turns up and, deciding to cure Chris of his addiction, handcuffs him to a radiator. From here, viewers with a wide knowledge of horror stories will be mentally skimming their back-catalogues for some idea of what is about to take place. Very few will get anywhere close.

Without spoiling too much, Resolution has one of the more interesting stories of any horror film in that it creates something of a ‘metanarrative’ in itself, meaning that the plot taking place actually becomes sentient and even a character within itself. While variables are thrown into the mix, such as a couple of drug dealers looking for owed money, the plot eventually inverts on itself and boils down to a story’s purest form, as if Charlie Kaufman himself had directed, albeit with a little more restraint.

Funny Games (1997/2007)

Funny Games Horror Movie Poster

Michael Haneke’s 2007 remake of his harrowing 1997 horror/thriller Funny Games is not only one of the most disturbing films ever made, but is also boldly and unabashedly meta. Haneke was bored with the excessive violence he saw in the media and so set about making a brutally violent and otherwise rather pointless film of a family being terrorised by two unassuming men. The film is a commentary on Hollywood’s dependence on gore, featuring several fourth-wall breaks from its two lead antagonists, questions as to why the events are even taking place and an ending that throws the viewers entire experience back in their face. With stark realism and phenomenal acting, particularly from Tim Roth and Niomi Watts as the protective parents, Funny games is to this day a unique cinematic experience, and it is recommended you watch both original and remake.

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