Airplanes (or aeroplane to use the correct spelling IMO) are fantastic narrative devices for horror; claustrophobic, isolating, and miles away from help. It’s like being locked in a Camp Crystal Lake cabin that also happens to be hurtling through the air at 5,000 feet. Personally I soil myself from fear on most commercial flights with or without airborne zombies, demons, or William Shatners. Aviophobia and international terrorism aside let’s explore the horror genre’s best entries into the mile fright club (that pun tastes like the sweetest honey). Reader note, I’m going to keep this to horror and sci-fi so that rules out all aeroplane action and disaster flicks. I’ll also list movies largely set within the plane, ruling out the likes of Final Destination and Twilight Zone The Movie.
The Ghost of Flight 401 (1978): Ghosts on a plane! More drama than horror this little known TV movie recalls how the victims of 1972’s crashed commercial Eastern Airlines flight 401 began re-appearing aboard planes which had been built from the salvaged pieces of the doomed craft’s wreckage. Supposedly based on true events and in-flight sightings, the movie is given some much-needed credibility by disaster movie icon Ernest Borgine and features a young, and super hot, Kim Basinger. Effectively spooky in places.
Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (2007): The living dead on a plane! Utterly stupid and very entertaining. How did it take until 2007 for a producer to find a script about zombies on a plane? Modern b-movie zombie horror often struggles to recapture the charm, fun, and spirit of previous decades but the airplane setting elevates this way above the average direct to DVD release. Much more fun than Quarantine 2 and very much the bastard child of the 2000s Romero remakes and Snakes on a Plane. Leading us nicely into..,
Snakes on a Plane (2006): Ummm, what the title says. Infamous for Samuel L Jackson signing on to star based on the title alone, the movie become one of the first true pre-release internet sensations with producers ordering re-shoots solely based on the online demand for more violence and swearing. Imagine, a movie where producers looked to increase the age restriction of the final cut. Now there’s an anomaly. A rare example of modern b-movies capturing the spirit of what it is to be a b-movie.
The Langoliers (1995): Strangers on a plane! An odd and underrated movie adaptation of the Stephen King book. A small group of passengers aboard a flight between LA and Boston awake to find that they’re alone; the rest of the crew and passengers having vanished, leaving the plane on autopilot. Worse of all it appears everyone else on the ground has disappeared too. The mystery is far more effective than the reveal. There’s also Al from Quantum Leap, a great performance from Brosnon Pinchot, and David Morse sporting a delightful moustache. Never has 1995 looked more like 1982.
The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973): Demon on a plane! William Shatner vs a demonic demon loose aboard a transatlantic night flight between London and New York. That alone sells this to you right? The demon in question was trapped in a piece of ancient English abbey and only a cynical, alcoholic, faith questioning priest named Shatner can stop it. Yeah you ain’t got shit on the Shat demon.