Top 10 Drug Horror Movies

Turn on, tune in... and freak out!

Beginning in the 1960’s right-wing politicians enjoyed painting recreational drugs as Public Enemy #1, endowing these substances with an evil reputation that gave them an almost supernatural magnitude. It’s a sentiment that ran strong through the 1980’s with Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. True, attitudes have changed, especially in regards to marijuana which is now (mostly) regarded as comparatively safe and even medically beneficial, but “hard drugs” and mind-altering substances are still taboo—which makes them excellent subjects for horror movies.

Drugs can confuse, ravage, and transform their users like a possessing entity, and addiction is like a demonic manifestation of their destructive powers. The substances themselves may be poisonous, but what’s most terrifying is the idea that they can unlock an internal evil that already resists, a monster merely lying dormant; think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Another chilling aspect of drugs is the loss of control that they represent, with an ability to highjack and manipulate our thoughts and actions, essentially turning our dominate state of consciousness into a helpless passenger in a dangerous vehicle.

The films below represent some of the best examples of horror movies that use drugs as a major plot element, tapping into a unique set of primitive and cultural anxieties. Get ready to turn on, tune in… and freak out!

 

Shrooms (2007)

Director: Paddy Breathnach

Writer: Pearse Elliott

Stars: Lindsey Haun, Jack Huston, Max Kasch |

Featured Drug: Psilocybin Mushrooms

13493A group of American college students get more than they bargained for on a mushroom foraging excursion in rural Ireland. The promise of trippy, cerebral, and even spiritual experiences makes these natural psychedelics extremely popular among care-free 20-somethings looking for consciousness expansion. But when Tara (Lindsey Haun) accidentally eats a toxic “deathcap” mushroom by mistake, a near fatal seizure leads to premonitions of murder. Is the dark entity that descends upon them a mad monk from a now abandoned home for wayward children, or something altogether more terrifying? While fans of psilocybin might not appreciate their warm-and-fuzzy fungi being demonized, horror fans will eat it up.

 

Toad Road (2012)

Director: Jason Banker

Writer: Jason Banker

Stars: James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitleigh Higuera |

Featured Drug: LSD

2-toad

As opposed to psilocybin mushrooms, LSD has always suffered a more sinister reputation; the idea that “acid” can send you on a one-way-trip to insanity still holds sway with many. The movie Toad Road uses the real-life urban legend of The Nine Gates of Hell as a metaphor for an LSD trip into oblivion. The movie is shot in a gritty verite-style that blurs the line between fiction and reality, but may alienate mainstream audiences. Toad Road emotes a palpable sense of tragedy and loss, and in a morbid example of life imitating art, 22-year-old lead actress Sara Anne Jones died the same year the film was released; cause of death: Drug overdose.

 

John Dies at the End (2013)

Director: Don Coscarelli

Writers: Don Coscarelli (written for the screen by), David Wong (based on the story by)

Stars: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti |

Featured Drug: “Soy Sauce” (fictional)

3-john

Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli helms this hallucinatory mind-fuck based on the novel by David Wong; John Dies at the End is a potent mix of black comedy and stunning psychedelic visuals. The film centers on a slacker (played by Chase Williamson) and his experience with an extreme metaphysical drug called “Soy Sauce”, which opens doorways to alternative dimensions; once opened, however, these same doorways allow opportunistic aliens a chance to invade. Yes, the plot is very Lovecraftian, but the presentation is very hip and stylized, feeling altogether fresh. A looping, non-linier story arch almost demands repeat viewing, but the abundance of otherworldly fiends (including a one-of-a-kind Meat-Monster) make revisiting the film a pleasure for fans of trippy, twisted horror.

 

Naked Lunch (1991)

Director: David Cronenberg

Writers: William S. Burroughs (novel), David Cronenberg

Stars: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm |

Featured Drugs: “Bug Powder” (insecticide, fictional), “Black Meat” (giant centipede entrails, fictional), “Mugwump Jism” (creature ejaculate, fictional)

4-naked-lunch-typewriter

While it defies easy categorization, Naked Lunch, loosely based on the writings of beatnik pioneer and lifelong addict William S. Burroughs, is absolutely a horror movie. What else would you expect of a film written and directed by David Cronenberg? The “story” unfolds in a dreary yet timeless alternate universe and follows the hallucinatory exploits of an “exterminator” and secret agent named Bill Lee, played with unsettling aplomb by Peter Weller. Gigantic centipedes, humanoid reptilians, and living typewriters are just a few of the creatures we encounter as Bill travels from the bizarre metropolis “Interzone” to perceived freedom in “Annexia”. The entire film plays out like a fever-dream with a nearly incomprehensible ending that’s nonetheless stunning.

 

Banshee Chapter (2013)

Director: Blair Erickson

Writers: Blair Erickson, Daniel J. Healy (story)

Stars: Katia Winter, Ted Levine, Michael McMillian |

Featured Drug: Dimethyltryptamine-19 (government research chemical, fictional)

5-banshee

Like John Dies at the End, Banshee Chapter is clearly influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, specifically From Beyond (the story and the movie directed by Stuart Gordon); but writer/director Blair Erickson sets his debut film apart from other Lovecraftian horror by incorporating elements culled from actual declassified documents related to MK-ULTRA. Banshee Chapter deals with a government research chemical used in mind-control experiments; no one suspected that the drug was actually a sort of homing beacon that allows otherworldly creatures to find you—and take you. Ted Levine plays Thomas Blackburn, a Hunter S. Thompson knock-off down to the shorts and glasses, who gives the film a counter-cultural element that meshes nicely with concepts like government conspiracies and alien technologies. Banshee Chapter makes excellent use of its Found-Footage presentation and delivers some genuine scares.

 

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Writer: Panos Cosmatos

Stars: Eva Bourne, Michael Rogers, Scott Hylands |

Featured Drug: Unknown Black Liquid (fictional)

 

6-rainbowCritics and supporters both liken Beyond the Black Rainbow to “a bad acid trip”. The story (if you can even call it that) unfolds at the Arboria Institute, a facility dedicated to reconciling science and spirituality as a means of achieving perpetual happiness. It’s a process that involves complete submersion into a vat of thick black liquid where hellish visions precede unsettling transcendental transformations. There’s a teenage girl being held as a slave, tormented and provoked by a cold scientist; she’s attended to by a nurse and a crew of red robots with syringes for fingers. Beyond the Black Rainbow will appeal to fans of 2001 A Space Odyssey (especially the Third Act) but the sparse dialog and extreme slow burn pacing will drive some viewers to the brink. A single 10-second shot after the credits will have you second guessing everything.

 

A Field in England (2013)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writer: Amy Jump

Stars: Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover |

Featured Drug: Psilocybin Mushrooms

7-feild

Set during the English Civil War of the 17th Century, A Field in England seems a bizarre locale for a film about men in the throes of a mushroom trip, but writer Amy Jump and director Ben Wheatley insist there’s historical support for such a scenario. A motley quartet consume a stew made with foraged fungi before descending into a surrealist universe of terror and symbology. Like nothing I’ve seen before, A Field in England approximates “tripping” by employing strobe and other experimental filming techniques; it’s an experience that can be somewhat overwhelming at times, and could even be a trigger for people prone to seizures. Ultimately, this is a film that may only appeal to brave cinema-goers with art-house sensibilities.

 

Enter the Void (2009)

Director: Gaspar Noé

Writers: Gaspar Noé, Lucile Hadzihalilovic (with the help of)

Stars: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy |

Featured Drug: DMT

8-enter

Heavily influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Enter the Void is the ultimate POV experience (extremely ambitious and visually stunning); still it’s best to approach this film with some background: It was written and directed by Gaspar Noe, the French director responsible for the infamously brutal Irreversible; so while this may not be your conventional horror movie, you can expect Noe to go places most filmmakers would never dare to tread. Before beginning the extended Director’s Cut, you might want to clear your calendar: Enter the Void is almost 4 hours long. What makes it worth the time-investment? Amazing, hypnotic visuals and filming techniques that defy gravity, time, and space. Also: lots and lots of sex (it’s basically an art-house porno) and a view of penetration I guarantee you’ve never seen before.   Noe actually journeyed to Peru where he consumed the psychoactive brew ayahuasca (which contains the active ingredient in DMT) in the name of cinematic “research”. The result in a singular experience that’s sometimes exhausting, but mostly exhilarating.

 

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Writers: Hubert Selby Jr. (based on the book by), Hubert Selby Jr. (screenplay), 1 more credit »

Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly |

Featured Drugs: Heroin and Diet Pills

9-requiem

If Requiem for a Dream isn’t a horror movie, then how come it not only scared the shit out of me, but took me to a deep dark place most genre offerings can’t reach? The scene where Ellen Burstyn’s refrigerator comes to life had me clawing at my seat and fighting the urge to scream. The sleek, hypnotic style of filming is a sinister juxtaposition to the hardcore brutalities of drug addiction; while Requiem for a Dream often flows like a music video, the film’s bleakest scenes linger long after the closing credits. Perhaps the greatest anti-addiction film ever made, it’s a morality tale of rare resonance. Whether or not you have personal experience with the harshest aspects of addiction, it’s impossible to experience Requiem for a Dream without being profoundly affected.

 

Evil Dead (2013)

Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez (screenplay), Rodo Sayagues (screenplay), 1 more credit »

Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas |

Featured Drug: Heroin

10-ed

While the original franchise never even broached the subject, the 2013 remake/reboot of Evil Dead is an outstanding example of drug addiction being used as a starting point for a horror movie. Jane Levy plays Mia, a heroin addict whose withdrawal symptoms are indistinguishable from signs of demonic possession. It’s not just an apropos for the trope, it sets up a tragic conflict based on mistrust, misunderstanding, and misidentification. Mia’s entire struggle, which includes the loss of all her friends, can be seen as a metaphorical battle for sobriety, where freedom from possession comes with a hefty toll. Still, I hope she has a relapse: One that will set up another bloody-good reimagining of The Evil Dead.

 

What are some of your favorite Drug Horror movies? Sound off in the comments!

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5 Comments on this post.

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  • Melissa B.
    4 January 2015 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Enter the Void was one trip of a movie. Half the time I wasn’t sure exactly wtf was going on or what the point was, but it was one crazy watch.

    • Josh Millican
      4 January 2015 at 1:59 pm - Reply

      I heard the director said it’s not about the afterlife or reincarnation, it’s just a stoned guy’s hallucinations before dying. It’s such a long, difficult movie, but so damn captivating I just couldn’t turn it off.

  • Matthew Myers
    4 January 2015 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    A Field in England was crazy LOL I loved that movie!

    • Josh Millican
      4 January 2015 at 2:53 pm - Reply

      It really made me think about what it must have been like to be tripping but not know it. No wonder “Friend” thought God was punishing them!

  • At the Movies: Paying a Visit to Horror High? | jamesdorrwriter
    30 June 2016 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    […] No, no, not the school with the zombie students (well, with some, maybe) but real horror highs.  As it happens, last night I watched BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW but a combination of lack of patience and sleepiness meant I’ll really have to try it again.  But then, by pure coincidence, what should I run across today but another list . . . with, at number 6, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW.  There are a few I already have, NAKED LUNCH for one, but also some I’ll be ordering today if I can find them.  And most seem at least of passing interest.  The list:  “Top 10 Drug Horror Movies” by Josh Millican on THEBLOOD-SHED.COM, brought to us somewhat indirectly by Mark Matthews via the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION on Facebook.  And which, to see for yourself, press here. […]

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