Happy New Year! The holidays are over and it’s time to get back to the daily grind. If you’re returning to work and dreading every second of it, I thought I’d bring forward a few examples of the worst case scenario of on-the-job horror stories.
These workplace horror films show what a “rough day at the office” can really look like. Of course, there are some titles I’ll miss (because really, workplace horror is a very broad topic), but I’ve tried to mix it up a bit with some more unconventional jobs. It’s not all about the high-rise, baby.
Last Shift (2014)
Last Shift follows a rookie cop as she works her first shift, which happens to be the last night of a closing police station. As she’s working the shift alone, naturally, some spooky spooky shit goes down, and her mettle is put to the test.
It’s a fantastic film that places our heroine in a highly stressful work situation. Your first day on the job anywhere can be a little daunting, but for a cop working alone in a creepy, empty building, it’s an uncomfortable way to start your career. And that’s before the crazy phone calls start coming in.
The Belko Experiment (2016)
As some form of twisted social experiment, eighty Americans are locked inside their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia, and ordered via intercom to either start killing each other or face far deadlier consequences.
Written by James Gunn (Slither) and directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek), The Belko Experiment is fantastically violent and peppered with dark humor. The cast are totally into it, featuring John Gallagher Jr (10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush) as the thoughtful and likable lead, Tony Goldwyn (Ghost, The Last House on the Left) as his cutthroat boss, and John C. McGinley (Scrubs, Se7en) as the most menacing middle-manager in company history (probably). It’s essentially an all-adult, white-collar Battle Royale.
An employee is promptly fired after getting blamed for an executive’s mistake. Now quite disgruntled, he teams up with a client to march to the top brass to plead his case. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately?) the building is thrown into quarantine as a “red eye” virus runs rampant through the high-rise, which affects the neural pathways and completely obliterates any inhibitions or moral integrity. Everything gets very violent, very quickly. It’s a lot of fun!
Starring Steven Yuen (The Walking Dead) and the unstoppably charming Samara Weaving (Ready or Not), Mayhem is similar to the aforementioned The Belko Experiment, however, due to the virus, there’s no liability whatsoever. Maim or murder, a legal ruling means that everyone gets off scott-free. Release your repression, because it’s an all-out free-for-all against every patronizing asshole in the office.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
Directed by Troll Hunter’s André Øvredal (pre-Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), The Autopsy of Jane Doe follows a father and son — both coroners — who are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman. This corpse has some secrets, and the father-son-duo are in for a rough night.
Chilling, thrilling, and atmospheric, The Autopsy of Jane Doe puts it all on the line and comes back a winner. Fueled by dread and stellar performances from legendary character actor Brian Cox and the talented Emile Hirsch, the film sinks in a lot of emotion while remaining thoroughly scary.
Bloodsucking Bastards (2015)
Starring genre favourite Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods) and a beautifully smarmy Pedro Pascal (and this was post Game of Thrones, if you can believe it), Bloodsucking Bastards is a horror slacker-comedy that sets a group of overlooked office grunts against a new manager, who just happens to be a bloodsucking (though morale-boosting) vampire.
It’s a biting blend of comedy and horror with a quirky ensemble cast that really seem to relish in the script’s absurdity. Kranz brings his usual brand of the charmingly neurotic underdog to the role of Evan, the hopeful managerial candidate who is shunned in favour of the swanky outside hire.
As far as workplace horror goes, this film gets the corporate struggle and throws some classic lore on top to really make it pop. It’s goofy, it’s fun, and it really captures the monotony of an outbound sales call center. The horror!
Not all workplace horror is office-bound. In Feast, a downtrodden waitress at a trashy bar must team up with her coworkers and shady patrons to survive an onslaught of angry, hungry, horny monsters. It gets… pretty gnarly.
Being a single mother and working as a waitress in a tiny, slum town bar with unsavory clientele is challenging as is, but battling for your life against horrific, monstrous creatures is enough to make you quit and never, ever, ever come back. Hell, burn that place to the ground, while you’re at it.
Feast is the result of the third season of Project Greenlight — an amateur filmmaker documentary series/contest — and was executive produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Wes Craven. It’s gross, it’s violent, and its tongue is planted firmly in-cheek. It even spawned a few sequels!
Session 9 (2001)
In Session 9, an asbestos abatement company is hired to work on an abandoned psychiatric hospital. As they get to work on the fantastically creepy building, one of the team finds a box of session audiotapes with patient Mary Hobbes, who was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Odd things begin to happen, some of the crew start acting strange, and violent secrets are revealed.
If you’re called to work in an abandoned psychiatric hospital in any capacity, you can bet your bottom dollar some spooky shit is going to happen. These are the rules of horror.
Canadian horror cult classic Pontypool follows radio announcer Grant Mazzy as a virus spreads across the small Ontario town of Pontypool. The virus is spread by certain words in the english language, resulting in violent attacks from those “infected”. When the radio station is assaulted by a horde of affected townsfolk, Mazzy takes to the airwaves to try and reverse the effect of the virus with a series of self-contradicting phrases to scramble the infected words.
Based on the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by author Tony Burgess (who also wrote the screenplay), Pontypool has a unique premise. Language as a creative threat is something that any shock jock would balk at, but Grant Mazzy’s valiant attempts to find a solution make him a radio-wave hero.
The Possession of Hannah Grace (2018)
Megan Reed is just out of rehab and trying to get her life back on track. Once a cop, she takes a job as an overnight intake assistant in a city hospital morgue, which seems like a nice, quiet way to ease herself back into things. Unfortunately, one of the corpses isn’t all that it seems, and Reed soon faces a series of bizarre, violent events caused by an evil entity that’s found its way inside.
The Possession of Hannah Grace is a creepy, scary, thrilling journey into darkness. It tackles some heavy themes associated with Megan’s past as a police officer and her struggles with addiction. So when she’s tossed in over her head in a dang creepy environment (motion-sensor lights in a morgue seems downright cruel), she’s determined to make it work. You can absolutely respect her dedication, because there’s no way I’d stick around through all that madness.
The Lighthouse (2019)
The Lighthouse is a great if not unconventional example of the trying and terrible times of a working stiff. The film tells a tale of two lighthouse keepers trying to maintain their sanity while stationed on an isolated island in 1890s New England. When a storm hits and they’re unable to leave their post, their obsession with the beacon’s light pushes them to a wild and violent end.
From the extraordinarily detail-oriented mind of Robert Eggers (The Witch), The Lighthouse is a powerful look at the unraveling mind. And if we’re talking about on-the-job horror, it puts its two-man cast through the ringer with rough physical labor that demonstrated how much the job really did suck. It also features a rather toxic dynamic between the two keepers, with a grizzled Willem DaFoe continually berating an exasperated Robert Pattinson. And you thought your coworkers were bad.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Ok, so when you hear The Cabin in the Woods, workplace horror isn’t your immediate thought. I get that. But let’s be honest, it’s a damn near perfect example of a day at the office gone horribly awry.
In the film, a group of five college-aged friends escape to a cabin in the woods for a bit of weekend fun. Little do they know that they’ve been selected by an ultra-secret organization to be sacrificed to ancient beings for the good of all humanity. But they’re a bit pluckier than anticipated, and they throw a huuuuge wrench into the whole “sacrifice to save the world” thing.
For the staff of this secret organization, it’s basically the worst day ever. Their mission fails, the ancient ones rise, and literally everyone dies. In really painful, deeply terrifying ways.
A commercial space tug and its crew are returning to Earth, when they are interrupted by a distress signal, which — as per company policy — they must investigate. When three of the crew leave the vessel to check it out, they are accompanied by a horrific creature with no concept of personal space (or consent, for that matter). As a result, we find the crew of the Nostromo facing a lean, mean, acid-blooded killing machine.
Alien is blue-collar horror at its best. The crew — who didn’t even want to check out the distress signal in the first place — are thrown right under the bus by their commanding corporation (Weyland-Yutani). The higher-ups order android Ash to bring the alien back, with the super friendly note that the crew are, in fact, expendable. If that doesn’t scream “workplace horror”, I don’t know what does.
The Thing (1982)
In John Carpenter’s The Thing, a group of researchers in Antarctica encounter a parasitic extra-terrestrial life form that violently absorbs its victims and imitates their form. The researchers are extremely isolated, very much alone, and with no help on the way. It’s all-or-nothing, they’ve gotta take this Thing out before it spreads across Earth.
As a research team, being stationed in Antarctica would be… probably not the most fun environment to work in. And obviously, being stuck up there with an insidious parasitic organism would be the absolute worst. Overall, it’s just a bad work environment.
(If you want to hear me talk about The Thing more in-depth, check out my guest spot on the Haven’t Seen It Podcast. And if you’re into the whole “research team in the arctic” thing and dig modern Canadian horror, I would also recommend Black Mountain Side. It’s very similar in tone and clearly inspired by Carpenter’s classic.)
Asylum Blackout (2011)
Written by S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk), Asylum Blackout sees a group of cooks in a genuinely terrifying situation. Working at an asylum for the criminally insane, the cooks get locked in with the inmates during a massive thunderstorm. The power goes out, the cells open, and the madness begins.
Trying to navigate to safety through dark corridors full of sadistic maniacs is pure nightmare fuel. These criminals are the worst kind of crazy, and once they start skipping their meds, it’s a whole new world of no thank you. I’ve included this film before in my list of 5 Movies You Wouldn’t Want to Survive, because the sheer trauma of it would just be way too much.
A Serbian Film (2010)
Listen, I know what you’re thinking. A Serbian Film is probably not a title that you’d expect to see on this list. But let’s be honest, it’s basically the worst day at work a porn star could possibly have.
In the film, an aging porn star named Milos agrees to work on a new “art film” that pays incredibly well, which — in theory — would allow him to leave the industry for good. As the film shoot starts and the director demands more from Milos, he soon finds that he’s agreed to work on a necrophilia and pedophilia themed snuff film.
If you haven’t heard of or seen A Serbian Film, I mention it with a strict warning. It’s definitely not for everyone; it’s notoriously vile, depraved, brutal… it’s just rough. For most people, a life without A Serbian Film is a life well lived. So… keep that in mind, I guess.
Workplace Horror Honorable Mentions:
Synopsis: A normal Friday service at a fast food restaurant becomes interrupted by a police officer who claims an employee stole from a customer, but something more sinister is going on.
Note: Not necessarily a horror film, but still incredibly unnerving. Check it out!
Synopsis: A law student, who takes a job as a night watchman at a morgue, begins to discover clues that implicate him as the suspect of a series of murders.
Note: I have not seen this movie, and can’t seem to track it down anywhere, but I know it qualifies, and I know y’all will be expecting it.
The Shining (1980)
Synopsis: A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from both past and future.
Note: He is technically working. But — though it’s all about the horrors of his workplace — it’s not quite “workplace horror”. Still a good one though!