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Top 10 chilling thrillers for a cold winter's day

Ten suspenseful thrillers perfect for a long, cold winter
Ten suspenseful thrillers perfect for a long, cold winter
Warner Bros.

It’s shaping up to be another cold, cold winter.

On the East Coast we've been seeing snow since early December and we were barely into January before hearing the phrase 'Polar Vortex' . Although we have yet to hit the height of 2010's winter madness, the troubling threat of chill precipitation still looms large.

Every year, harsh seasonal weather has many of us looking over our shoulders, waiting for Jack Frost to give us an icy wedgie. Snow days may mean time off from work and school, but they also mean being snowed in. When you are there, lodged in your home, with no way to get out, it’s understandable that a bit of stir craziness might set in.

What better way to counteract that than with some good old fashioned cinematic madness? The white stuff is on the ground, you aren't going anywhere. How about a strong case of the frights to go with that hot tea and wool pajamas?

Here’s hoping the rest of the year is smooth sailing from a meteorological standpoint, but if it isn’t, here are ten creepy chillers you can snuggle up with on a cold evening.

What about you? What are some of your favorite winter-themed suspense films? Share your choices in the comments below.

10. Frostbitten (2006)
10. Frostbitten (2006) Paramount Pictures

10. Frostbitten (2006)

When you get down to it, what better season for the nosferatu than winter? The sun is dim, the evenings long and the days short, and with everyone wrapped up tight and shivering, it’s easier to go unnoticed. Similar in setting, but not in tone, to frosty vampire horrors like 30 Days of Night and Let the Right One In, Frostbitten has all but slipped under the radar of horror fans. Really, that’s a shame because this fun little flick, involving a town overrun by an ancient, blood-sucking menace, features plenty of humor, horror and zaniness. Not much of it is scary, but it’s always a hoot and a howl, featuring vamps that would make Buffy jealous, death by lawn gnome and, of all things, a talking dog. If you need a little malicious mirth to cheer your cold soul, try out Frostbitten.

9. Wind Chill (2007)
9. Wind Chill (2007) TriStar Pictures

9. Wind Chill (2007)

Emily Blunt plays a self absorbed college student who catches a ride home with a fellow student she doesn’t really know. Then, the two find themselves stranded together on a freezing back road during Christmas break. In addition to the mounting unease that Blunt feels when she realizes her driving buddy might be a stalker, there’s also the possibility of hypothermia setting in before they are rescued, and the fact that the road they broke down on is inhabited by real ghosts. Blunt really delivers a strong performance and for entire chunks of the movie she is alone, pitted against the supernatural forces of this stretch of highway. There’s a feel of Jack London survival stories in the immediacy of the setting and in the nature of the ghosts themselves, who are playing out a long forgotten misery that traps all who come their way.

8. Cold Prey (2006)
8. Cold Prey (2006) Fante Film

8. Cold Prey (2006)

A Swedish production little known here in the US, Cold Prey is one of the best slasher films in recent memory and the arctic setting has almost everything to do with that. A couple of ski buddies head up to a remote and abandoned (aren’t they always?) resort in the mountains and find a force bent on dispatching them one by one. The snow-capped peaks and ice glaciers are a spectacular canvas upon which to splash a little blood and viscera. The killer, a hulking giant in a snow parka, is a satisfying villain and among the ranks of the hapless youngsters, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal proves she can swing an icepick with the best of them. The film also has a sequel which manages to be similarly unnerving.

7. Transsiberian (2008)
7. Transsiberian (2008) Filmax Group

7. Transsiberian (2008)

Brad Anderson, who has channeled unspoken fears before in Session 9 and The Machinist, tells the story of a couple of missionaries (Emily Mortimer and Woody Harrelson) riding a train from China to Moscow, meeting up with a mysterious young couple, and getting involved with murder, international intrigue and a stone-faced Ben Kingsley who looks ready to snap. Mortimer and Harrelson have an odd chemistry as the couple, and Kingsley flip-flops between sinister and benign. All of this helps craft an uneasy sense that we can’t trust anything we see. The desolate, snowy scenery is matched against the cramped, claustrophobic confines of the train to deliver a thriller that moves single-minded about the business of fraying our nerves.

6. Misery (1990)
6. Misery (1990) Castle Rock Entertainment

6. Misery (1990)

Got cabin fever? Well, no one handles the idea of cabin fever or interior isolation better than Stephen King, who has two titles on this list. There’s even a snowstorm, mostly serving as a plot device to keep James Caan’s Paul Sheldon in the helpless care of the psychopathic Annie Wilkes, played to passive-aggressive perfection by Kathy Bates. What Annie does to Paul over the course of months he is in her ‘care’ ranges from subversively funny to downright harrowing. If you ever end up house bound as a result of the weather, or have to hole up for an extended period of time with company that isn’t exactly cheerful, just remember Sheldon’s misfortunes and that hot cocoa will taste all the sweeter.

5. Ravenous (1999)
5. Ravenous (1999) 20th Century Fox

5. Ravenous (1999)

Foreboding and gritty, Ravenous is half thriller, half dark comic farce and all revolting. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle play two opposing forces battling it out at a military outpost in the Sierra Nevadas circa 1847. Pearce is Boyd, a disgraced soldier sent to the fort as punishment by his superior, and Carlye is Colqhoun, a pioneer whose party was lost in the wilderness and went cannibalistic. Colqhoun finds he not only has a taste for human flesh, but in keeping with Native American legend, he can absorb his victim’s power and starts eating his way through the outpost, making converts as he goes. The cinematography is stunning and beautiful and director Antonia Bird captures several disconcerting shots of suspicious meat cooking on the stove. A thoughtful and cheerfully gross horror movie that will help curb that winter desire to snack all day.

4. Runaway Train (1985)
4. Runaway Train (1985) MGM/UA

4. Runaway Train (1985)

Based on a screenplay by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, Runaway Train is an action spectacle that never lets up. What really makes it sing are the performances by Jon Voight and Eric Roberts and the dazzling, snowy landscapes rushing past as the train hurtles forward. There’s a harsh, near existential quality to the film that distinguishes it from other thrillers of the same era. Voight and Roberts, as two prisoners trying to make a getaway, are seemingly up against the whole universe in their bid for freedom. Although there’s much that feels metaphorical, the frozen, craggy wasteland that these men are thrust into pushes reality and consequence front and center. Intelligent, emotional and entertaining, Runaway Train is the perfect popcorn thriller for a cold afternoon.

3. The Shining (1980)
3. The Shining (1980) Warner Bros.

3. The Shining (1980)

The granddaddy classic of all isolated paranoid thrillers involving winter, Kubrick’s The Shining deviates significantly from the events of King’s book, but it is terrifying nonetheless. Kubrick makes the Overlook a most menacing antagonist through long angle shots, still frames, and tracking scenes that capture the disquieting and the unsettling with no particular fanfare. When evil blossoms in such a potentially mundane scenario, everything becomes charged with fear very quickly. Images of swirling snow, and gently falling flakes have the same effect upon our psyche .Forget all of that though, and you still have the main attraction; Jack going crazy and stalking his wife and child with an axe through the art deco halls of the Overlook. The ultimate family dysfunction winter madness medley, this one works every time.

2. A Simple Plan (1998)
2. A Simple Plan (1998) Paramount Pictures

2. A Simple Plan (1998)

Sam Raimi’s best movie, A Simple Plan captures the melancholy and eerie loneliness that can accompany a long winter. Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton are brothers who stumble upon a bag of money in a downed plane while they are out hunting. With Paxton’s wife Bridget Fonda, playing lady Macbeth, Paxton, Thornton and a family friend conspire to keep the money for themselves and then things begin to go amiss and haywire. A treatise on greed and the dangerous nature of moral compromise, A Simple Plan is heartbreaking in its emotional depiction of a family pulling apart in the face of temptation. The shivery scenery casts exactly the right funeral pall for the film’s events. Crows dangle menacingly from an icy tree and Thornton muses contemplatively “They eat dead things. What a weird job to have.”

1. The Thing (1982)
1. The Thing (1982) Universal Pictures

1. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the most distressing and sneaky piece of cold weather paranoia you’ll ever lay eyes on. It adopts all of the functions of the original Howard Hawks movie but it skews more closely to the short story “Who Goes There?” when it comes the shape-shifting identity of the monster. Kurt Russell testing the blood with fire to determine who among the crew isn’t what he appears to be is spine-tingling tension at its very best. The gooey fx that include a head on spindly spider legs, mutated husky dogs, and Wilford Brimley trying to eat his coworkers are still neat all these years later. I also appreciate the way the weather conditions are presented as merciless and dangerous, and don’t take a side seat once the alien terror shows up. There are few horror movies that work as well as The Thing and fewer still that stick with us when they are over.