Now that the holiday season has come and gone, the long winter months are before us. January and February can be especially depressing with shorter days, long, cold nights, and snowy weather, especially for those of us who live in the northeast. That said, there are plenty of winter horror movies to help pass the doldrums of the gray season until spring finally blooms again. Here are my top five.
Let the Right One In
Based on the Swedish novel of the same name, this 2008 film, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is set in Blackeberg, a desolate town that's a suburb of Stokholm. The story follows a blonde-haired boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), who is bullied relentlessly at school and essentially ignored by his divorced parents. Oskar's life changes for the better when he encounters a 12-year-old vampire named Eli (Lina Leandersson), who teaches him to fight back against his abusers.
The scenes between Oskar and Eli on a snow-covered jungle gym are some of my favorite in any contemporary horror movie, and their relationship is endearing. This is a vampire movie unlike others, and its desolate setting is a perfect fit for the winter blues. That said, the relationship at the center of this film is a warm contrast to the otherwise bleak setting. Further, this movie does a lot in terms of positive trans representation and Eli's character.
Let The Right One In is currently streaming on Tubi, Peacock, and Crackle for free.
Based on Stephen King's 1987 novel, this 1990 film stars Kathy Bates in an unforgettable performance as the obsessed and crazed Annie Wilkes. Annie rescues her favorite writer, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), from a car accident and takes him back to her isolated cabin. There, he's kept prisoner. Annie demands that he write another novel after learning he killed off her favorite character, Misery. Paul is forced to draft another book in which he resurrects the character.
There's so much that's great about this film, especially the performances by Caan and Bates, who won an Oscar for her performance as the nurse turned mad superfan. Also, who can forget that scene in which Annie hobbles Paul's ankles? Ouch! There's also a lot to be said about this film and how it addresses writer's block, fame, and trying to grow as an artist, despite what the fanbase wants. In the case of Paul, that's creating the same novel over and over again.
Misery is currently available to rent on most major streaming platforms.
There's a scene in Pontypool in which shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) confesses to his longtime radio partner, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), that he can't stand the late winters. "It's like being in a basement at the bottom of the world," he says. Now that we're in January, I feel this character's pain. Pontypool is a strange and unsettling Canadian film that's slowly starting to find its audience years after its 2008 release.
The first shot of the film features a black night sky with snow swirling. Eventually, Grant, Sydney, and their co-worker, Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly), have to hunker and hide out in the studio because an infection spreads through words and language, causing people to hunt and kill. The group first learns about the outbreak through various callers. These scenes are truly creepy. The film's tension only escalates from there. This is a grim end-of-the-world film, but an apocalyptic story unlike any other.
Pontypool is currently streaming on Shudder.
Okay, was there really any doubt that Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece wasn't going to be on this list? This is the epitome of a winter horror movie, featuring a family of three stranded in the Overlook Hotel during a brutal snowstorm. In the meantime, the family's patriarch, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), goes crazy and attempts to murder his family after he fails to even start his new novel.
I assume that by this point, just about every horror fan has already seen The Shining. Still, it's a classic that never loses it rewatch value, especially during this time of the year. It's also a movie that warrants revisiting because each time you watch it, you may notice something new, some little trick that Kubrick wove into the film.
The Shining is currently streaming on Paramount Plus.
This is the rare case of when the remake, retelling, or whatever you want to call it, is better than the original, that being the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World. Though this one initially received mixed reviews upon its release, the film would go on to become a horror staple. The Thing, even more than The Shining, is the film I go to whenever there's a winter storm. It's the perfect January watch.
Once a team of researchers in Antarctica discovers something ancient and deadly in the ice, the creature infects their camp one by one, starting with a dog and spreading from there. This feature has so many iconic scenes, from the special effects to the blood sample sequence, to the ambiguous ending. Few horror films play up the suspense, isolating setting, tension, and paranoia as well as The Thing.
The Thing is currently streaming on Shudder.
If you've seen all of these films several times before, then check out The Lodge, currently streaming on Max, or perhaps Dead Snow, which features Nazi zombies, and is currently streaming for free on Tubi. There's also Frozen, which will make you never want to go skiing again. That one is also available on Tubi. Another recommendation is Jack Frost, because, well, who doesn't love a foul-mouthed killer snowman? That horror comedy is available on most major streaming platforms to rent.