Washington State's Most Horrific Film Achievements

Some are horrific in a good way, some are horrific in a bad way—and we're not telling you which is which.

By Sophie Grossman and Sophia Struna

North Bend, Washington stars as the town of Twin Peaks in David Lynch's eponymous cult classic. 

WE TOLD YOU what to watch from what you ought to spare yourself in our Big Seattle Movie Guide, and we told you what these famous local films got right and oh so wrong about our city, but we’re less prescriptive when it comes to horror movies. Good acting and decent writing aren’t always the big-ticket items in this genre. These films (and one TV show) run the gamut from genuine cinematic achievements to box office bombs, and all have ties to Washington state.

The Changeling (1980)

Yet another film in which Vancouver, BC, appears as a sub-in for Seattle, this Canadian classic tells the story of a grieving composer who relocates from New York City to a baleful old Victorian mansion. With the help of an agent from the historical society, he unravels the sinister tale of family intrigue and supernatural vengeance that plagues the house. —Sophie Grossman 

Poltergeist (1982)

Even if you haven’t seen the seminal 1982 film, there is a good chance you have heard about the sinister happenings that took place on set. Whether you believe in supernatural forces or chalk the deaths of four cast members during and after filming up to coincidence, it is true that Spokane-born Craig T. Nelson was there through it all. The Spielberg-written flick, starring Nelson as the Freeling family patriarch and directed by horror great Tobe Hooper, remains timelessly haunting 40 years later. —Sophia Struna

The Lost Boys (1987)

Harvey Bernhard, a Seattle-born film producer, had a hand in some well-known movies, including The Goonies the 1987 classic The Lost Boys. The latter has become an important footnote in the essential 1980s horror film buff viewing guide. The movie follows two brothers who find themselves in the middle of bleach-blonde Kiefer Sutherland’s vampire gang, and is chock-full of bared fangs, unruly reckoning, and, of course, slightly corny but requisite romance to the tune of  tinny ’80s saxophone runs and electronic snare drum pops. —SS

Twin Peaks (1990)

This cult classic set in a gloomy Washington logging town starts its life as a murder mystery, takes a supernatural turn, and then goes majorly off the rails midway through season two. —SG 

The Vanishing (1993)

Starring Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, and Sandra Bullock, this English-language remake of the original Dutch thriller, Spoorloos, chronicles a Seattle man’s years-long obsession with solving the mystery of his girlfriend’s disappearance. Largely filmed in Seattle, the box office bomb also includes shots from Monroe and Snoqualmie. —SG

Scary Movie (2000)

While the franchise eventually bloated to unsightly proportions, finally juddering to a merciful halt in 2013 with its fifth and most maligned installment, the OG Scary Movie is a self-conscious B movie that takes a rough and raucous hatchet to the cliches of the genre, and is well worth a watch. It is perhaps best appreciated by the horror movie aficionado; as Roger Ebert writes, “To get your money’s worth, you need to be familiar with the various teenage horror franchises, and if you are, Scary Movie delivers the goods.” The first four films star Anna Farris, who was raised in Edmonds and attended the University of Washington, in her breakout role. —SG

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Characteristic of a David Lynch affair, it’s hard to articulate just what Mulholland Drive is actually about – such pedestrian concerns as “plot” and “coherence” are of little note to the surrealist director, who spent several years of his childhood in Spokane. Deeply unsettling and disturbing in a way that clings to you like a film of grease long after the credits roll, the movie (loosely) follows an amnesiac victim of a car accident and a young actress as they try to piece together something sensical from her splintered memories. Spoiler alert: The result is anything but sensical. —SG

The Ring (2002)

Adapted from a 1998 Japanese film by Hideo Nakata, this remake is set in Seattle and has a green-lit, waterlogged aesthetic that conjures the damp chill of a PNW winter. The now-archetypal plot traces the bloody progress of a video tape whose viewers all die seven days after watching it. Arguably the most horrifying part of the film is that one of its protagonists, Noah, is wearing flip-flops in one of the climactic scenes. In Seattle! During the rainy season! Truly the stuff of nightmares. —SG 

Cthulhu (2007)

A young professor, Russ, returns to his blustery coastal hometown after the death of his mother and must confront the machinations of his cult leader father. The low-budget indie film debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2008 and is steeped in metaphor; its director, Daniel Gildark (Paper Tigers), says that the film’s Lovecraftian horrors are an allegory for the alienation and terror of a queer person returning to an oppressive childhood home. —SG

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Thanks to misguided marketing, and, honestly, a film that was just way ahead of its time, this 2009 high school horror/dark comedy was a box office flop. Cut to today, however, and the movie has been rediscovered and embraced as a cult favorite. The film, which playfully draws its premise from the saying, “hell is a teenage girl,” centers on the possession of high school cool girl Jennifer Check and a subsequent killing spree to keep her inner demon satisfied. While his life is spared from the long list of boys Jennifer rains down hell upon (literally), Washington-raised Chris Pratt makes an appearance, bringing his goofy charm to the big screen the same year as his big break in workplace comedy Parks and Recreation as Andy Dwyer. —SS  

The Ward (2010)

The Ward, filmed at Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake, is a largely unmemorable – but still satisfying – specimen of the insane asylum subgenre. A group of patients attempt to survive a vicious supernatural force bent on their demise, with a genuinely compelling (though not exactly shocking) twist at the end that adds some metaphorical depth to what might otherwise be a trite tale of madness and vengeful spirits. —SG

The Possession (2012)

Released in 2012 amid a surge of films about families terrorized by evil supernatural forces—a la The ConjuringSinister, and InsidiousThe Possession is a popular example of the slumber party subgenre. The film follows a family whose youngest becomes enamored with a mysterious box that leads to, you guessed it, evil supernatural forces that terrorize the family. The film stars Seattle local and avid Seahawks fan Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who Grey’s Anatomy fans may recognize as Denny Duquette (yes, the guy with the fateful LVAD wire). —SS

Knights of Badassdom (2013)

Three friends head into the woods to live action role-play (LARP), and the first-act buddy comedy quickly pivots to demonic blood bath when they unwittingly release an evil succubus from hell. Washingtonians may recognize the "Fields of Evermore," where the LARPing and ensuing demonic havoc occurs, as Spokane’s Riverside Park. —SS

Cooties (2014)

While the zombie movie is a well-trodden branch of the horror genre, dark comedy Cooties is a fresh twist on the old tropes. The 2014 film follows an elementary school staff forced to battle zombified students after they fall victim to the school lunch’s tainted chicken nuggets. Penned by Saw’s Leigh Whannell and Glee’s Ian Brennan, the screenplay is a delightfully dissonant marriage of the minds. The cast is led by Seattle-born Rainn Wilson, who stars as the school's egocentric gym teacher. Be warned, this movie’s sunny color palette and line-up of comedic all-stars belie themes that are anything but bright and cheery. —SS

Polaroid (2019)

After obtaining a vintage camera, a girl finds herself locked in a fatal struggle to figure out why everyone who she photographs with it is dying. One classmate captured by the nefarious shutter is Riverdale’s Madelaine Petsch, who was born in Port Orchard and attended Tacoma School of the Arts. While we won’t spoil Petsch’s fate in the film, Polaroid hearkens back to early 2000s classics in which unassuming victims fall prey to technological devices, like Final Destination 3One Missed Call, and The Ring. —SS

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