October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best dinner party horror is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Dinner parties: they’re lots of fun until suddenly, at a certain point of the night, they’re not anymore. They’re awkward until they’re comfortable, or comfortable until they’re awkward. It’s not surprising that so many horror movies are set around a dinner table because it’s a place where social conventions are heightened, and the status quo reigns supreme. What better way to subtly hint that a character is sinister than by making them push our hero out of their comfort zone, asking them to stay longer when they’re ready to go, or forcing them into a conversation that reveals their true intention?
The dinner table is where the nuclear family is imagined to naturally gather, and therefore, it’s the perfect symbol to disrupt on screen in big ways and small ones. Here are ten horror movies that skillfully employ the dinner party as a gateway to horror:
10. Beetlejuice (1988)
God bless Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin). They’re so delightfully corny and cute. In their desperation to rid their home of the painfully living Deetz family, they invade their dinner party, possessing their shrimp cocktails and forcing the guests to prance along to Harry Belafonte. It’s their best shot, but all they do is bring joy to the homeowners. A real haunting!?!? There’s money to be had with such a blessing. This failure forces Barbara and Adam to call upon Michael Keaton‘s demented Betelgeuse. It’s a decision they’ll quickly regret, as Betelgeuse is anything but corny and cute. “Nice f*cking model!” (Brad Gullickson)
9. You’re Next (2011)
My wife and I love hosting dinner parties, but good god, can they be awkward, especially if you have a contentious relationship with your family or a discordant assortment of friends. The uncomfortable fissures that fracture groups of people who profess they love each other is at the heart of Adam Wingard’s home invasion horror thriller, You’re Next. Backs are stabbed, blood is shed, and family secrets are revealed – you know, just like at your regular, run-of-the-mill dinner party! The film finds its footing in its bait-and-switch approach to injecting much-needed action-oriented entertainment into a slice of horror that can often be submerged in bleak despair. And that action kicks in just as the central family gathers around the dinner table to break bread. As an arrow pierces the eye of Ti West (in a small cameo), the mayhem commences, and the dinner party enters a fight for their lives that is too much fun to look away from. (Jacob Trussell)
8. Coherence (2013)
James Ward Byrkit’s freaky, shoestring-budget sci-fi thriller Coherence takes place entirely during a dinner party, one that begins with its guests chatting about jobs and relationships and ends 89 minutes later with a trippy twist that will make your blood run cold. In between, the jumble of friends, colleagues, and strangers who happened to get together on the night of a rare comet’s passing have to deal with a strange new reality when a power outage brings about an end to the stability of their universe. Party tricks are traded in for quick lessons on quantum physics, and soon a sense of paranoia becomes thick in the air. What more could you want from a night out? (Valerie Ettenhofer)
7. Hannibal (2001)
Eating dinner with a known cannibal is always an adventure. Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) learns this the hard way. FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) wakes up feeling doozy and wearing a fancy cocktail dress. As she tries to regain her senses, she realizes she’s at an elegant dinner party hosted by her arch nemesis – and secret BFF – Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Krendler is the guest of honor and the main course. Calmly, Hannibal cracks open Krendler’s skull and cuts out a piece of brain. He then proceeds to fry it up and serve it to the unwilling guest. A bit chewy but otherwise nicely cooked and presented with gorgeous plating. Hannibal Lecter, you have survived Cutthroat Kitchen. (Chris Coffel)
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
We’re not above double dipping around these parts. So sure, we’ve already sung the praises of the dinner party scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. But who doesn’t love seconds? Well, Greta, for one… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Whilst our spunky heroine Alice runs around trying to stop Freddy Krueger from using her unborn child as a lil’ flesh vessel to re-enter the real world, her recently graduated high school pals are picked off one by one. Which brings us back to Greta, an aspiring model who can barely lick a celery stick without her controlling mother taking notice. Whether due to abject boredom or low blood sugar, Greta nods off during a dinner party and is greeted by the knife-handed child killer himself. In what is easily one of the most disturbing moments in the film (which, and I cannot stress this enough, prominently features fetus Freddy), Greta is force-fed tray after tray of food (and her own organs) until her cheeks swell up like a bloated chipmunk. Whether it’s the loss of control or the hyperbolic infantilization, Greta’s diner party death is truly the stuff of nightmares. (Meg Shields)
This list of the ten best dinner party horror scenes concludes on the next page…
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