Name your favourite horror locale.
Give me a deep, dark lake with a creature of some kind in it and I’m sound as a pound. Runner-up: Besieged buildings (malls, supermarkets, farmhouses with gas pumps out front, Bodega Bay lakehouses, Helm’s Deep, etc.).
I have lots of favorites (summer camp comes to mind), but the one that I love that is underused would have to be the desert. I just saw “Feast” recently, and I think they used the desolation of that environment really well. It would be great to see more films take advantage of that setting.
Specifically speaking, there’s no place more frightening to me than Silent Hill. I (somewhat) ashamedly admit to being so scared that I’ve had to turn the games off on more than one occasion; I’m sure if I ever found myself trapped in that nightmare town, I wouldn’t be able to do much more than close my eyes, pee my pants, and sit down, crying until some weirdo effed up monster put me out of my misery.
In general, I find that any abandoned/decaying building (especially hospitals!) or stereotypical “big spooky house” will give me the willies, even if the movie sucks.
Inside people’s dreams… a la A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET!
I’ve always liked Frankenstein’s Lab (Lair would probably be a better term) in both the Universal and Hammer incarnations. Imagine the secrets that are found within Frankenstein’s journals - the “failed” experiments, the side experiments he didn’t get a chance to follow up on, the number of people he killed to further science, the secrets he stole from others, etc…an entire library of the fantastic and horrific.
All the equipment is there that he had to develop: the electrical / cosmic radiation device used to activate the chemicals within his creation’s dead flesh, the chemicals themselves, the microscopes with power enough to see the cellular processes at work, the surgical instruments, the failed machines, etc…
Then there’s the secret passages to the lab underneath and within the castle. A twisting, turning maze where the wrong turn could lead you to your doom. This of course would keep Frankenstein’s secrets his and discourage any form of espionage.
There’s the pit where he would throw the failed experiments and chemicals. I imagine that some of those experiments - a dog, a monkey, an amalgam of body parts perhaps - might have survived along with the rats and other vermin that feast on the failures. How might they be changed by the genetic manipulations wrought by the good doctor?
Yes, Frankenstein’s castle is a horrific mystery wrapped in an maze-like enigma. His secrets are safe — for now.
Haunted Vermont with its gnarls of twisted branches, naked and reaching to a sky that is filled with terrors from beyond the stars themselves, that’s the place that first comes to mind. It is monochrome, dirty and in that horrible transition from winter to spring, where it’s too cold for anything to grow, but too warm for snow to blanket the wagon-tracked dirt that has never heard the rumble of an internal combustion engine. It’s a world where superstition and squalor roost even within the bigger townships, where outsiders are regarded with a fish eye at best. Clapboard shacks squat in quiet hollows, harboring families that don’t look like people anymore, and haven’t in years. The woods are old enough to still contain things that were old when man was young, yet are so small and contained as to make bravado a certainty. Civilization may think that it holds sway in this place, but in reality, it’s a state of fear that rules invisibly, skulking in shabby alleyways and meeting halls and the places where the trains and buses don’t ever stop for long.
I’m a big fan of desert motifs. I’m thinking of old sci-fi movies like It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, Them!, and The Monolith Monsters.
For me it was an immediate toss-up between Old Dark House and Black-and-White Cemetery. I love me a haunted house movie or a murder mystery set within the revolving walls of somebody’s ancestral mansion, be it THE BAT WHISPERS, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE CAT AND THE CANARY, THE GHOST BREAKERS, THE HAUNTING and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE… any place where, no matter what horrific thing has happened the night before, everyone comes down for breakfast the next day in jacket and tie. Those old movies are comforting, with their alternating images of chaos and calm. But even more than I love an old dark house I love a badly landscaped Gothic cemetery like those vaguely Middle European graveyards you see in the Universal monster movies that for some reason have so many Celtic crosses in them. Seeing these fog-shrouded settings makes me want to breach the fourth wall of the television set or cinema screen and go there, from the poorly landscaped boneyard seen in the opening frames of James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN to the bland, comfortless and distinctly foreboding memorial park seen in the opening frames of George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. For the record, I think the ultimate Goth cemetery has to be the one in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN… that place rocks! A close second would be THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE. And who among us would pass up a chance to share some crusty bread and a bottle of Tokay with THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN’s Dr. Pretorious down in the belly of the catacombs?
Hooray for the circus! Hooray for the carnival! The sun is shining, happy families are laughing and chatting. The smells of popcorn, hot dogs and cotton candy waft on the breeze. You hear the cheerful music of a hurdy-gurdy as you watch the clowns cavort and tumble.
And then the sun goes down. The families start to leave, and the once-thronged grounds are barren and empty. The air smells sour and pungent, like old garbage or rotting meat. The hurdy-gurdy starts to go out of tune, and you’re no longer quite so certain that the clowns are wearing makeup.
Hooray for the carnival. Hooray for the circus.
If you had told me prior to my first viewing of Dawn of the Dead 18 years ago that my favorite horror locale would be a shopping mall, there’s no way I would’ve believed it. After all, what’s so terrifying about a mall? Well, thanks to Mr. George Romero, I understand all too well what’s so terrifying about a shopping mall, and there has not been a single time EVER that I’ve set foot in one since 1990 without thinking of that classic film. What a perfect setting for a modern-day vision of pure horror. That film and its location have long been obsessions of mine, so much so that in 2001 I made a pilgrimage to Monroeville, Pennsylvania to visit the actual mall that was used in the original movie. God bless my newlywed wife for understanding–of course we managed to fit the trip in mere months before our first baby was born, when we knew it would be significantly tougher to do things like jumping in the car and driving for seven hours on a whim to see a shopping mall.
Why The Bramford of course! Hidden passageways, dead babies in the basement, crackheads throwing themselves (or being thrown?) out of the windows. You can cover the walls with sunny yellow paint all you want to, Rosemary - you’re still gonna have the Devil’s seed inside of you!
I tend to really enjoy movies set in Mexico or South Texas. I grew up in those rural areas, and while then they never freaked me out, in movies, they always seem to scare me more than any locale. It’s the desolateness, I suppose. Movies like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE work so well because, even if it’s daylight, you can run screaming in the open fields and no one can hear you at all. Or, in the case of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN or FEAST, a bar in the middle of nowhere under attack.
Venice Italy! Specifically the way Venice is used in horror films and thrillers like Don’t Look Now (1973), Who Saw Her Die? (1972), Nosferatu in Venice (1988) and The Comfort of Strangers (1990). It’s a beautiful city so most of the time directors seem to use it as a romantic backdrop, but I think it’s really effective as a backdrop for horror films due to the cities dark winding streets, unexpected dead ends and bridge covered canals.
My favorite horror locale is sort of co-owned by the horror and mystery genres: the secluded island manor (that’s usually cut off from the mainland by a storm). I’m a big mystery fan, and starting with Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” I’ve always loved this kind of story. I’m pretty sure that “April Fool’s Day” was the first time I saw it done as more horror than mystery; either that or the abysmal “House of the Long Shadows.” I’m not sure why I find this particular location so striking, since, oh, NINETY-NINE PERCENT of slashers involve remote locations that are cut off from help during some sort of storm — but I swear, island mansions are different somehow.
Maybe it’s just the thought of Deborah Foreman being there.
I’ve always been partial to the Lovecraftian locales such as Arkham and Dunwich. Second to that in terms of pop culture would have to be Castle Rock from the Stephen King novels.
Full house this week. Thanks to the architects of terror who made up this week’s Roundtable. Make sure you visit them in their own backyard, via the links above. And if you have someplace you’d like to add to this atlas of fear, please do so in the comments below.