We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
For those who know me, or even know of me really, it's no secret that I'm a horror fan. There's something to be said about turning off all the lights, no interruptions, and watching as chaos swallows the characters onscreen. Whether it's the pounding of the door (like in 1963's The Haunting) or a well-placed shriek (in the case of Hitchcock's seminal classic, Psycho) there's a lot more to horror than the blood and guts so many horror films shower themselves in these days.
Sometimes it's as simple as the location. In celebration of the release of this week's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which involves a creepy basement, we're gonna take a look at some of the mansions that put the scare in horror movies. Today, we take a look at some of the creepy locations that have stood the test of time and stick out as horror landmarks.
7. The Shining (1980) - The Room 237
Recap: An innkeeper and his family are snowed in at the scenic Overlook Hotel. As the season wears on, it becomes clear that there's something off about the hotel... something possibly linked to the mysterious Room 237. Reason: Stanley Kubrick manages to make a sprawling inn seem like one of the most claustrophobic places in movie history. But it's not just about the inn as a whole. I will never forget the moment that Jack Torrance goes into Room 237. I was 8 (great parenting, right?) and curled up alone in the basement. The only thing more intriguing than the allure of the forbidden room was the fear of what was in there. Easily one of the most bizarre scenes I'd ever experienced in my young life, but even years later, that distinction might still hold true.
6. Silent Hill (2006) - The Church
Recap: A mother goes searching for her missing child after a car accident leaves them stranded in a ghost town called Silent Hill. Reason: Easily one of my favorite video game to movie adaptations (not that there's too much competition) Silent Hill boasts a genuinely creepy atmosphere. The desolation of the town and the undeniable pull of a mother looking for her lost child come together to create an unsettling scenescape. But things come to a head when Rose's search leads her to the church, where people gather. It is only when she realizes that the only thing more threatening than the unknown outside is the group of zealots inside. Combining the uneasiness of the characters with a desolate and surprisingly ornate church makes the unreal fears of monsters seem grounded in a very real fear of religious extremism.
5. Psycho (1960) - The Motel
Recap: Reclusive innkeeper Norman Bates is thrilled when Marion stops for the night. What follows is a tale of madness and a shower scene that has lived in infamy for over 50 years. Reason: It's not enough that Bates is socially awkward and creepy, at best. When Hitchcock sets the scene of the Bates Motel, he does so with such relish. It's almost as if the motel, all twelve cabins, is Bates's devious little playground. From his strategically placed hole in the wall, to the isolated nature of the motel itself, everything about the film is set up for a horrifying conflict. What is perhaps most impressive about it is the use of memorable characters and such a limited setting. While Hitchcock claims that this is his attempt at a B movie, even the shoddy set works in his favor with this horror classic.
4. The Amityville Horror (1979) - The House
Recap: A couple's idyllic married life is shattered when they move into a house that they soon find out is too good to be true. Reason: The Amityville Horror has the distinction of being the only tried and true "haunted house" movie on this week's Top 7. It seems in celebrating the age-old saying "location, location, location" that The Amityville Horror is one of the ones that got it right. There are a lot of things about this movie that have earned it a place on the list, but there's nothing quite like that image of the house, with two lights in the window. It feels as if it's smiling at you. I hafta say, this is one of the only times that the house itself has scared me as much as the events that take place inside.
3. Session 9 (2001) - The Insane Asylum
Recap: An abandoned mental hospital sets the scene for a cleaning crew that soon find out that there's a horrific past to the place. Reason: If we're being honest, the location makes the movie. Half House on haunted Hill (the terrible remake, not the Vincent Price classic) and other half Psycho, Session 9 is burdened with a lackluster cast and a sub-par story. What makes me forgive all that and put it so high on the list? The abandoned insane asylum is so downright creepy that even a ridiculous story couldn't detract from the discomfort that I get from it. It's not just what the building was used for, but the movie toys around with the audience and the idea of voyeurism to make you feel like the characters are trapped by the camera's gaze. It's hard to describe the effect of Session 9 but even after repeat viewings, it becomes clear that the location is pulling a lot of the weight for the film.
2. The Changeling (1980) - The Attic
Recap: A man, seeking isolation after a tragic accident, moves into a house that is plagued by the spirit of a young boy. Reason: The Changeling is one of those atmospheric pieces that has just the right amount of subtlety and scares. It's never too much, but in terms of a simple ghost story, it certainly delivers. Although the haunting takes place in the house as a whole, there's nothing quite like the scenes in the attic where the heinous crime in question was committed. The right soundscape combined with the simple imagery of an attic, not unlike any other, makes the film feel like the scares could really happen anywhere... even in your own house.
1. The Exorcist (1973) - The Bedroom
Recap: A young woman is possessed by a vengeful demon and unleashes hell upon her mother and two priests that are trying to help the young woman. Reason: The Exorcist has never made domesticity more terrifying. The unassuming interior of a young girl's dream room is the perfect setting for the unspeakable horrors that take place in the movie. There's something so jarring about the sweet innocent decor when juxtaposed with the horrific imagery of Linda Blair's spinning head. Even though there are a number of locations to speak of in the movie, there's something about Regan's room that sticks with me, even long after the credits.