Ask any kid, dentists are creepy. Doctors too. Add in hospitals, mental asylums, straitjackets, surgery, operating rooms, people in scrubs with face masks, horribly bladed surgical equipment, and the oddly sterile environment they all imply, and you can see why the medical field is such a fertile breeding ground for horror films.
I have an immense soft spot for Anatomy (or Anatomie in the original German) because it tries so freaking hard to be scary, but just isn’t. There’s just so little in this film that would make it actually terrifying, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t do its best. Apparently the best med school in Germany has a secret society called “The Anti-Hippocratic Society”, who see themselves as not being constrained by ethics, and are happy to vivisect live people in order to understand more. Naturally, a plucky young med student tries to unravel their doings, with plenty of chase scenes, evil dissections, a bit of sex, and the usual slasher trappings. Watching this film, I burst out laughing at one point where a guy who was meant to have a cut on his face, but you could clearly see the outlines of the makeup patch he was wearing. Full points for effort, though.
Outbreak straddles the line between medical horror and disaster film â€” it and films like it probably deserve their own sub-genre. Biodisaster maybe? While more in the thriller category than horror, there are still plenty of scenes that cross over into more fertile medical territory, including the ever creepy biohazard outfits, which to me evoke nothing so much as space suits, creating isolation and claustrophobia even in normal situations. While it rapidly devolves in explosion packed action, there are definite creepy moments that garner it enough similarity to medical horror for it to make this list.
15. Human Centipede
What, you thought we could do a medical horror film list, and not mention Human Centipede? By now everyone’s heard of it (and the sequel in the works). Mad German doctor stitches people mouth to anus, in order to create a human centipede. Rumor is the sequel will involve 12 people stuck together! Hot diggidy, the person at the end would be miserable.
A mixture of Anatomy and Skull and Bones, we see the frequently alluded to (but rarely seen in real life) horror trope of the rich kids secret society who murder for sport. I’ve always wondered if those “deadliest game” types were to really exist, surely it would make much more sense to prey on the dirt poor in the third world, rather than relatively well off people in America? Anyway, Pathology’s resident society of incredibly influential future star doctors have an ongoing contest to see who can commit the perfect undetectable murder â€” a thought game we’ve all engaged in, and Roald Dahl easily won with his story “Lambs to the Slaughter” in 1953. Yadda yadda, young new doctor, yadda yadda, attempts to expose them. All very standard.
13. Saw VI
It was inevitable that eventually the seemingly eternal Saw series would enter the medical realm â€” after all, there’s a limit to how many other creepy concepts they can come up with. Torture porn at its most pure, even though the titular Jigsaw killer is dead, and now its up to his successor to carry on the grisly work. This time the target is a predatory health insurance executive, who is punished for declining too many legitimately sick people who had insurance. As much as I support targeting those bastards as much as possible, there really isn’t a more hamfisted premise available, and it’s the merest shadow of a setup for an hour and a half of blood and gore filled choices the victims have to make.
12. Visiting Hours
Michael Ironside and William Shatner in a horror movie about a hospital? Oh yes, count me in! Ironside plays a psychopath who stalks his victim through a hospital and her home, targeting her friends and family at the same time. By all accounts it’s an utterly horrible movie, poorly paced without any real atmosphere or terror. Just a tedious slasher flick with a hospital theme. However, even with that, you can’t help but love it because it’s Ironside and Shatner! In a slasher movie! Come on, that’s amazing, right there!
11. Dr. Giggles
There’s something to be said for the gloriously stupid slasher film, which describes Dr. Giggles perfectly. I’ll admit that Larry Drake is an intensely odd looking human being, but to me he doesn’t have the gravitas or terror to really come across as a classic slasher killer, especially one named for his laugh. The film is chock filled with cheesy one liners, enough to make a muscle-bound action star jealous. Hell, here’s a great drinking game â€” whenever Giggles makes a murder related one liner or kills someone in a horrible variation of a medical procedure, drink! A hodge-podge of cliches, Dr. Giggles remains oddly enjoyable as a kitsch movie.
A bunch of brat-packers embark on an extremely dangerous experiment â€” experiencing clinical death before being revived after a number of minutes in order to ascertain if there is an afterlife. As each of the medical students is briefly killed then resuscitated, they start experiencing hallucinations from their past, their greatest fears, sins and regrets start haunting them. This film is a lot less visceral than many on this list, without any blood or real horror â€” a more traditional scary movie would have their hallucinations be real, or unleashed demons or something, instead Flatliners has it all in their heads, and it’s up to each individual to reconcile themselves with their past wrongdoings.
9. Body Parts
A man loses his arm in a car crash, and has it replaced in the first ever successful arm transplant surgery. The only problem? It came from a violent killer, and now it’s taking him over! Take one part alien limb syndrome, one part transplant rejection, and add a healthy dose of paranoia and typical movie pseudoscience, and you get Body Parts. It flirts with camp heavily, after all, how could you make a serious film with such a daft premise? Even so, it’s still a fun, if entirely predictable horror/thriller. And no, you can’t be possessed by a transplant, that’s not how anything works.
8. Halloween II
The original Halloween II (not the new one, which is a sequel to the franchise reboot that happened in 2007) was a direct sequel to the first one â€” as in it took place straight after the first movie ended. You can watch them back to back and not see any gap. Halloween and Halloween II introduced so many of the horror tropes that became standard for the genre â€” most notably that if you have sex or do drugs, you’re going to die. The second one puts Michael Myers and his original target Laurie Strode in a hospital, as the masked, seemingly invulnerable killer stalks her throughout the building. Halloween II was meant to be an end to story of Michael and Laurie, and revealed the connection between the two â€” and was unfortunately followed by more mediocre sequels than I care to think about. This one is still a classic, though.
7. Don’t Look in the Basement
Don’t Look in the Basement, sometimes known as The Forgotten, is a classic B Film from 1973, and was often double-billed with the original Last House On The Left. It’s got all the weirdness and craziness you could want from a 70s bad horror movie, with an asylum full of dangerous criminals who take over the institution. Designed as a bad drive-in gorefest, considering the extremely low budget, it’s impressive just how much offensive material they managed to jam-pack into it. Necrophilia? Seriously? Brutally gory schlock at its finest, you won’t see a more offensive portrayal of the mentally ill anywhere else.
Most of Coma isn’t too creepy, rather it’s thriller movie set in a hospital, where patients are secretly induced into comas so that their organs can be harvested and sold to the wealthy and ill. It’s a great thriller, paranoid and taught, but it doesn’t really fit the horror thrust of this list â€” so why’s it rated so highly? Because as soon as you see where they keep the patients. Holy crap, that scares the shit out of me. There’s an enormous room, where all the comatose people are suspended from the ceiling through hooks in their skin. Yeah, that’s pretty fucking horrific, and enough in its own right to get the film high on this list.
Re-Animator is a wonderfully schlocktastic gore comedy, a modern re-imagining of the Frankenstein mythos with a heavy jolt of Lovecraftian weirdness â€” plus Jeffrey Combs is always, always a wonderfully fucked up individual. He’s a medical student, with a penchant for killing people and bringing them back as zombies. Considering it came out in 1985, the film had astonishing special effects, with gore enough to make even the most jaded horror film freak happy. Yeah, it’s not terrifying, but it is wonderfully gruesome horror comedy fun.
4. The Dentist
The Dentist is vaguely based on real life dentist/killer Glennon Engleman â€” who moonlighted as a hitman. The movie, on the other hand, is about a dentist who goes insane after seeing his wife with the poolboy, and starts horribly mutilating people by ripping out their teeth and tongues. Renowned for its special effects, it’s an utterly horrific film to watch if you hate getting your teeth cleaned because the sound of teeth cracking and being ripped out is so utterly horrible and realistic that you won’t want anything near your mouth for weeks. The Dentist packs all the horrible things you could imagine a dentist doing â€” sexual abuse, intentionally cutting your gums, pulling healthy teeth, and then turns the entire thing up to 11.
3. Repo! The Genetic Opera
Despite having its plot more or less lifted by the far less entertaining big-budget Repo-men, Repo! is a balls to the wall crazy horror/rock opera about organ repossession. Completely over the top and bombastic, it’s either entirely unwatchable or an instant classic depending on how many tattoos the person you’re talking to has. If you’re the type who has a tendency to hang out with the pierced, tattooed, musical, burlesque and alternative crowds, you’ve probably already seen this glorious monstrosity, which manages to squeeze 73 songs into a 97 minute movie. Bloody, twisted, and more than a little camp, it’s a wonderfully screwed up and violent film.
2. Hellbound: Hellraiser II
The first couple of Hellraiser films are horror classics, and the second one took place in an insane asylum, making it utterly perfect for this list. The shifting between an asylum and a hell filled with incredible, non-stop torture? The goddamn Cenobytes? Flying blades and flaying skin? Any list of horror would be incomplete without Hellraiser, and one of medical horrors doubly so without the sequel. The psychiatric hospital has its own horrors, but they end up seeming so minor and limited compared to the craziness of hell and the damnation brought about by the Lament Configuration. Sure the plot was muddled and all over the place, but that doesn’t stop it from being utterly, utterly creepy.
1. Dead Ringers
A film directed by David Cronenberg, starring Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists. At what point in that sentence did that string of words not sound utterly, utterly fucking creepy? It’s goddamn Cronenberg! And it only gets worse. It’s bad enough that the twins pass off women from one to the other without the women knowing, but then one goes mad, obsessed with a woman who has an unusual reproductive network, and crafts those horror tools you see briefly in the trailer. Horrific metal creations designed for “mutant women”. There is something so utterly creepy and twisted about those tools, and the red robes, and the borderline torture. It’s not out-and-out screaming terror horror like so many others on this list, but for my money, it’s much, much scarier.