I’m not even going to attempt to sugar coat this- the winter season can suck. You have seasonal depression sprinkled on top of regular depression, stresses and anxieties of the holidays, and there’s so many things that need to be done and so many monkey wrenches that can be thrown into things. Perhaps you’re stuck with obligatory family gatherings with people you can’t stand even on the best of days. Maybe the weather turns severe and your house gets buried in snow so it’s better to stay inside. Or, worst case scenario, you’re snowed in with said family that you can’t stand (yes, that movie is on this list).
Whether you’re hiding from people and seeking a couple of hours to yourself or you’re looking for something to watch while waiting for a snowstorm to pass, this winter isolation watchlist is full of solid standards and a few newer additions to this niche subgenre.
Arguably one of the strongest adaptations of a Stephen King novel, 1990’s Misery is full of stress and dread. The story holds a special spot for me because it was one of the first King novels I read in middle school, along with Carrie and Firestarter. James Caan and Kathy Bates argued on set and they brought that to their arguments on screen as writer Paul Sheldon and superfan/sociopath Annie Wilkes. You’re trapped inside that Colorado farmhouse right alongside Paul at the mercy of Annie.
And don’t even get me started on the hobbling scene. *cue the cringes and phantom pains*
30 Days of Night (2007)
You almost couldn’t make up a better setting for a vampire story than Alaska during the polar nights. Writer Steve Niles saw the perfect opportunity and pitched his story 30 Days Of Night as a movie for a few years. After hearing repeatedly how, “it sounds like Buffy,” Niles pitched it to comic publisher IDW who were willing to print it if Niles was ok with not even getting paid for it. After the first issue was released, phones were ringing off the hook with calls from movie studios who wanted to adapt 30 Days Of Night. It was finally made in 2007, directed by David Slade and starring Josh Hartnett as town sheriff Eben Oleson.
One way or another, Niles got his story out there so good for him.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing has been appearing on lists for winter and lists for pandemic watches so, of course, it’ll show up on this list, too. You almost can’t make a list even vaguely about these themes without mentioning this absolute classic.
This adaptation, 1951’s The Thing From Another World, and the 2011 remake were all based on the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr (as Don A. Stuart). The fully-extended novel version of Campbell’s story wasn’t published until 2019.
Short of getting on a shuttle and going into outer space, Antarctica is about as physically isolated as you can get. Throw a parasitic shapeshifting alien in the mix and you have one of the best science-fiction/horror movies ever created.
Scare Me (2020)
The premise behind Josh Ruben’s Scare Me is so simple and was executed so perfectly. Fred (Ruben) and Fanny (Aya Cash) are both writers retreating to cabins in the Catskills to continue their work and when the power goes out they decide to tell each other scary stories. It’s gathering around the campfire and trying to scare the pants off of your friends but instead they’re adults who drink and do drugs with the pizza delivery guy (Saturday Night Live‘s Chris Redd).
Scare Me almost instantaneously became one of my favorite winter watches so you’ll probably see me praising it more as the season goes on.
Werewolves Within (2021)
Josh Ruben is showing up twice on this list and rightfully so. Has any movie with an Ace Of Base needle drop not been fun? Ruben’s adaptation of the video game of the same name stars Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, and What We Do In The Shadows star Harvey Guillén. It’s often been described as “Clue but with werewolves” and if you haven’t seen it yet I’m here to tell you that that’s an accurate description. The residents of a small Vermont town are trapped during a snowstorm while trying to figure out who the beast is among them with a satisfying werewolf reveal.
The Lodge (2019)
There is something about this damned movie that I cannot put my finger on but after I watched it for the first time I was distinctly more depressed for a few days. Maybe it was the shock you get less than ten minutes into the movie. Maybe it’s Grace’s (Mad Max: Fury Road’s Riley Keough) horrific cult past and her questionable present pulling the audience along with her in the darkness. Either way, whatever it did to me to make me feel that way is what made me love it. It also falls under the category of “holiday horror” if you need another one for that specific list.
And now we’re getting Alicia Silverstone in more horror movies (The Requin and Last Survivors are both due out next year) and that’s totally awesome.
From the catalogue of Hatchet director Adam Green comes 2010’s Frozen. Three skiers on Mount Holliston beg the chairlift operator to let them get in one last run before the slopes close for the weekend ahead of an impending snow storm. After a miscommunication between lift operators, the lift is turned off, leaving the three of them stuck high above the mountain with no way down. Our main trio of actors all have good horror resumes, with Kevin Zegers starring in Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead, Shawn Ashmore starring in The Ruins, and Emma Bell starring in Final Destination 5 and The Walking Dead.
I didn’t expect to feel super sad over a death scene in an Adam Green but that did happen (that has actually happened a couple of times now with his movies but that’s for another list).
Michael Dougherty treated us to a textbook Halloween movie with Trick r’ Treat and then gifted us a textbook Christmas horror movie with Krampus. The cast is stacked with Adam Scott, Toni Collette (who still deserves the Oscar for Hereditary), David Koechner, and the late Conchata Ferrell. It’s festive and frigid. You’ll laugh and you’ll be scared. The creature designs are brilliant, borrowing from ancient folklore and mixing it with modern horror.
And with the aptly named The Naughty Cut special edition just being released do you really need another reason to rewatch this gem?