Horror in the Halls: Books at Extremely Suspect Boarding Schools was originally published in our horror newsletter, The Fright Stuff. Sign up for it here to get horror news, reviews, deals, and more!
Class is in session, unfortunate souls! Today we’re going to indulge in one of my favorite horror tropes: creepy boarding schools. The schools on this list aren’t all ringing bells and bright futures. Think big, old rambling buildings full of secrets and (often quite literally) ghosts of the past.
The Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
Deep in the woods of Pennsylvania is an exclusive, experimental school for only the best and the brightest: Catherine House. For three years students are given one of the finest educations available for completely free — but the price is three years of their life completely cut off from the world they left behind. No family, no friends, no contact with the outside world. Ines is ready to trade in her old life for a new world of intense study and discipline, but what she finds instead is a gilded prison of luxury and permissiveness. When tragedy strikes, Ines begins to suspect that the truth of Catherine House is not at all what it seems.
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
Vermont. The Idlewild School for girls — for the troublemakers, the illegitimate, and the clever. Rumored by the small town that surrounds it to be haunted, Idlewild is the site of mysterious disappearances and strange happenings. In 1950, four roommates bonded together during their time at the school until the day one disappeared. Sixty-four years later, journalist Fiona Sheridan is investigating the death of another girl, her own sister, found dead in the fields near Idlewild’s ruins.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Plain Bad Heroines tells the linked stories of two sets of girls whose live are entwined in the history of a mysterious New England boarding school. (It’s always New England, right? All we have up here are creepy small towns and creepy, isolated boarding schools, apparently.) In 1902 there’s Flo and Clara, who were students at the school and died tragically. Over a century later, Harper and Audrey are playing Flo and Clara in a horror film about their gruesome deaths and the supposedly cursed Gilded Age school, only to find past and present becoming tangled together.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
At Hailsham, the students are cared for and nurtured, raised in idyllic peace in the English countryside and kept ignorant of, and almost completely separate from, the world outside. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grew up together safe inside of Hailsham, but when the time comes for them to leave the school, they are forced to face the dark truth about Hailsham, its real purpose, and their own identities. Set in an alternate, dystopian England, the horror of Never Let Me Go is made all the more terribly by its subtlety and the resignation of its principal characters to their fate.
Enjoyed reading that? Watch this!
Sometimes you get on a reading trend…and then run out of books. The horror! (Ba dum tish…) While there are plenty of other scary school books out there to enjoy, sooner or later (depending on how fast you read) you’re going to run out. So allow me to recommend some scary films to go with these scary reads:
Set in 1695, The Woods is about frequently in trouble Heather, who has been sent away to an exclusive girls school located deep in the woods. And from the strange whispering she can hear in the trees, to the ominous disappearances of her classmates, it becomes clear that there is something terribly wrong at Falburn Academy. The Woods gets horror bonus points, by the way, for including a Bruce Campbell cameo as Heather’s somewhat negligent but loving father.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
This is one of those bleak winter horrors where everything feels really washed out and intense. So of course I love it. I mean does it get more peak boarding school horror than two girls being left behind over winter break at their Catholic boarding school where the nuns are supposedly Satanists? (If you believe the student rumors and yes of course we believe the student rumors.) And who doesn’t love Kiernan Shipka, right?