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25 of the Best Coming-of-Age Horror Movies

Bel Powley in Wildling. Photo: IFC Midnight

There’s something especially visceral about horror movies rooted in coming-of-age narratives. Being a teenager is a hormonal and emotional nightmare already, and the process of bodies changing and hearts breaking and love blossoming and skin mutating and family pressures mounting is a biological script practically written to terrify. This weekend, a new movie enters the canon: Wildling, a haunting creature feature. The feature debut of filmmaker Fritz Böhm, Wildling stars Bel Powley as Anna, a teenage girl who’s lived her entire life in a basement belonging to a man called “Daddy” (Brad Dourif), who’s been injecting her with hormone-halting drugs since she got her first period. Daddy tried to freeze Anna in time, but when she gets free of him after a series of events we won’t spoil, she starts to change all at once into something she was never prepared for.

Wildling joins a storied tradition of fantastic coming-of-age horror movies, chock-full of confused teen feelings, stunning body horror, and the occasional dashes of sadism and serial killings. Below, we’ve made a list of 25 of the best. (Get through a few of these and you’ll notice it also doubles as a guide to high-grade gory movies, too — but how better to honor those relatively gross years than with extreme and unsightly visual effects?)

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
This Australian classic from director Peter Weir focuses on a group of schoolgirls in 1900 who set out for a day trip. Several of them end up disappearing after venturing into the caverns around Hanging Rock. It’s beloved by film fans for how it explored themes of emergent female sexuality during adolescence, and you can see its effects in movies like the haunting, dreamy sad-nightmare that is Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides.

Alucarda (1977)
Alucarda became infamous after its release for elements like “extreme violence, scenes of sacrilege, and perversely defiled religious imagery.” It also features a pair of orphaned teen girls who come together at a convent, develop an obsessive relationship with each other, summon a demon, and get possessed by Satan. High-school years are crazy.

In the Company of Wolves (1984)
The second movie on this list from Neil Jordan also deals in fantasy. It’s basically a take on the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood that also serves as a parable about the dangers of men. How 2018! Wolves stars Sarah Patterson as Rosaleen, a girl whose dreams have been invaded by wolves and witches, and an old grandma played by Angela Lansbury who warns Rosaleen, “The worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside. And when they bite you, they drag you with them to hell.” In other words, choose abstinence, kids!

Society (1989)
Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) was adopted into a ritzy Beverly Hills family, but he’s never really fit in among the upper crust. When we meet him in Society, he’s starting to think his family is involved in some seriously weird shit. Bill is right, but he also has absolutely no idea what he’s about to find when he starts unpacking what it truly means to be a productive member of Society. This movie features some of the most brain-scrambling practical effects of cinema’s pre-CGI gore heyday (thing The Thing, The Brood, Total Recall) and a finale so bizarre it could put David Cronenberg at a loss for words.

Ginger Snaps (2000)
This cult hit stars Katharine Isabelle as Ginger and Emily Perkins as Brigitte, two sisters living in the sleepy town of Bailey Downs. After Ginger gets her first period, she’s mauled by a wild creature, which catalyzes a gradual, bloody transformation into a new animal form. So when you have those bad cramp days, just remember that it could be worse (better?): You could turn into an actual werewolf.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Life is hard when you’re a young girl with a pregnant and sick mother and your bastard stepdad is a soldier hunting down rebels in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. Given her circumstances, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) does what any little girl would do when she becomes convinced she is the reincarnation of an underworld princess: She follows a fairy to a labyrinth, where she finds a giant faun who tells her she can achieve immortality if she can pass a series of challenges. And unlike almost all the other movies on this list, it’s actually something you could watch with your kids. (Well, provided you don’t have very sensitive kids and are willing to explain that fleshbag demon with eyes in its hands.)

Teeth (2007)
Teeth arrived as a beloved indie when it came out in 2007, but if it debuted today, this tale of a young girl who develops teeth in her vagina would likely have been a whisper-campaign hit and a magnet for Twitter-intellectual discourse. Jess Weixler stars as Dawn, a high-school girl whose vagina dentata begins as a burden, but becomes an asset when she has to start fending off the brutish advances of the men around her.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)
This Diablo Cody–written and Karyn Kusama–directed tale of a thoroughly modern succubus stars Megan Fox as hot cheerleader Jennifer Check and Amanda Seyfried as her (mostly) platonic companion, Needy Lesnicki. It’s a story about finding your individuality in an all-consuming friendship, navigating different types of relationships in your raw teen years — and also what happens when you think you can just sacrifice a woman and leave her for dead, only to have her revive as a bloodlusting hell-beast.

Amer (2009)
Amer is a movie told in three parts. It tracks the emotional and sexual development of a girl named Ana, who is, as the movie says, “in thrall to her own fantasies.” The more fully Ana explores eroticism, the closer to danger she gets. The movie’s aesthetics are heavily inspired by the giallo works of Italian icons like Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci.

The Snowtown Murders (2011)
Based on real events that took place in a South Australian community, Snowtown centers on a teenage boy named Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) who falls in with his mom’s violent and compelling boyfriend, John (Daniel Henshall), and is groomed to help him commit terrible crimes. Australian filmmakers have a real way with suburban horror stories (see: Hounds of Love, The Loved Ones) and Snowtown is a gritty take on this chilling subgenre.

Excision (2012)
Strap in, because this one gets really weird — as in, “Malcolm McDowell, Traci Lords, and John Waters are all here” levels of weird. In Excision, AnnaLynne McCord stars as Pauline, an extremely awkward high-school girl coming into her own as she develops obsessions with sex and the human body. But Pauline doesn’t just want to see naked bodies. She wants to cut them open and writhe in the blood and organs — visuals we’re treated to as hyperstylized fantasies, in which Pauline imagines herself as a sort of ultrasexual surgeon goddess. Relevant to these fantasies is her younger sister, played by Ariel Winter, whom her parents definitely love more — and who is slowly dying from cystic fibrosis. It all culminates into something truly unexpected.

Byzantium (2012)
Another twist on the vampire narrative, Byzantium is the story of Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), an undead mother and daughter who are on the run from a vampiric group called the Brethren trying to hunt them down for breaking community rules a few hundred years ago. Arterton and Ronan both deliver moving performances — and who better to trust with a unique story of vampire familial relations than writer-director Neil Jordan, who also gave us Interview With the Vampire?

We Are What We Are (2013)
It’s a rite of passage for teenagers to push back against the expectations foisted upon them by their parents. In We Are What We Are, the Parker sisters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) must decide whether or not to carry on a sinister legacy that’s been passed through their family for generations. This 2013 film is based on the Mexican original called Somos lo que hay from 2010, and both are well worth watching.

When Animals Dream (2014)
Nothing says coming of age like a good animal transformation! In this moody Danish thriller from Jonas Alexander Arnby, actress Sonia Suhl plays Marie, a lonely teenage girl growing up on a small island who’s about to realize why she’s always felt so disconnected from everyone else around her. It’s also a fine showcase for Scandinavian fishing village ennui.

The Tribe (2014)
It’s debatable whether Ukranian writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe is a straight horror film, but you’ll rarely come across a movie so deeply horrifying from start to finish. Shot entirely without music and with dialogue delivered almost exclusively in sign language — with no subtitles — The Tribe takes place in a boarding school for the deaf that’s lorded over by a savage gang of upper classmen who run a drug, theft, and prostitution ring, using fellow students as labor. Grigoriy Fesenko plays the new boy, Sergey, whose efforts to fit in lead him on a path to ruin and revenge. There are at least three scenes that are so intense they’ll make you want to throw up.

The Lure (2015)
How many Polish musicals about man-eating mermaids do you get to see? At the center of The Lure are sisters Srebrna (Marta Mazurek) and Zlota (Michalina Olszanska), two mermaids who take to the land and join a singing and dancing act at a nightclub. But they become compromised after Srebrna (“silver” in English) falls in love with the bassist of her backing band, and she must choose between a life with him and a life with Zlota (translated to “golden”). There’s murder, stripping, cabaret, and extremely invasive leg-transplant surgery.

It Follows (2015)
Writer and director David Robert Mitchell’s second feature has become synonymous with the recent surge in high-brow horror cinema. Maika Monroe stars as Jay, a teenage girl who, after having sex for the first time, is beset by an entity passed along like a monstrous STD. It follows and follows and follows in a variety of human forms until it either kills its target or is passed along to the next victim — a true innovation in the walk-and-stalk genre.

We Are the Flesh (2016)
We Are the Flesh is hard to describe: It’s a French and Mexican collaboration about a pair of siblings who are forced to scrounge for food and shelter in a post-apocalyptic environment. They come upon a man named Mariano who has dominion over a fortified structure, but the price of protection is participating in a series of increasingly strange and disturbing acts. It must be seen to be believed.

The Witch (2016)
Robert Eggers wrote and directed his impeccably designed debut film, and it earned him the top directing honor the year it premiered at Sundance. Genre stalwart Anya Taylor-Joy plays Thomasin, a teen girl coming into adulthood right as her zealot family has been cast out of their commonwealth for worshipping God the wrong way. They make a settlement at the edge of some ominous woods, and are soon terrorized by an elusive witch. But thanks to stellar casting, Thomasin’s eroding relationship with her family is as harrowing as her battle with good and evil.

Evolution (2016)
This haunting French film is extremely deliberate, introspective, and beautifully shot. Evolution takes place on a remote island inhabited only by prepubescent boys and ethereal young women who serve as their nurses and caretakers. Young Nicolas (Max Brebant) starts to get suspicious about the intentions of their stewards, and sets out to unearth the secrets of his island prison.

Neon Demon (2016)
Nicolas Winding Refn delivered one of the most sumptuous movies of 2016 with Neon Demon, the story of a young model, Jesse (Elle Fanning), who arrives in Los Angeles to find creepy old men, competitive women, vacuous fashion-industry moguls, hangers-on, and basically a whole city set up to consume her pure beauty. Whether you take it as a study of how we commoditize and covet physical appeal, or just as a superficial, stunning feature-length music video, Demon invites you to be complicit in the cannibalism — both literal and figurative — of star worship.

Raw (2017)
French writer-director Julia Ducournau made her debut with this absorbing, beautifully shot story about a brainy introvert who goes off to her first year of vet school, and realizes she has a hunger for human flesh in the aftermath of a gross hazing ritual. Star Garance Marillier gave one of 2017’s standout performances as Justine, and Ducournau introduced herself as one of the genre’s most exciting up-and-coming voices.

The Babysitter (2017)
At its warm heart, McG’s The Babysitter is the story of a young boy coping with first love. His first love just happens to be his cool babysitter, Bee (Samara Weaving), a Satan worshipper in need of his virgin blood, who invites a bunch of friends over one night after Cole (Judah Lewis) has gone to bed for a rip-roaring ritual sacrifice. It’s well-done slasher fare, but the sweet relationship at the center of the movie is what makes The Babysitter better than body count business as usual.

Super Dark Times (2017)
Teen female friendships are complicated, but those formative high-school years are hell for sensitive boys, too. Super Dark follows best friends Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) whose bond turns into a dangerous codependency after a tragic accident, and they’re forced to protect the worst kind of secret for one another. Kevin Phillips’s debut feature is as chilling as it is emotionally fraught.

mon mon mon Monsters (2018)
This Taiwanese horror satire is populated by savage teen bullies and apathetic bystanders that make the people-eating monsters feel like extremely sympathetic characters. Lin Shu-Wei (Yu-Kai Teng) is relentlessly harassed at school by a violent clique of popular boys, but he accidentally gets absorbed into their group when, on a community-service assignment, they end up capturing a childlike monster and keeping it prisoner. As long as the monster is chained up and being tortured, Shu-Wei has a respite from abuse. But he must decide if saving himself physically is worth sacrificing any shred of decency he’s got left. These teens make “Plug it up!” sound like a mantra of encouragement.

25 of the Best Coming-of-Age Horror Movies