Continuing my theme for this week you get two lists from me focusing on haunted locations in film in anticipation of the new horror movie “Winchester”. My previous list focused on the Top 10 Haunted House Movies, but this time I’m looking at the movies that didn’t qualify for that list because they aren’t necessarily about haunted private homes, they’re about haunted locations. While a haunted house scenario is certainly frightening and effectively scary, sometimes the same fear can resonate when the focus is a more ambiguous setting. So to honor those films that put the frightening focus on other locations outside of private residences these are my picks for the Top 10 Haunted Location Movies.
For this list I looked at movies where the haunting takes place in a building, place or even a vehicle that is not considered to primarily be a private home. These include vacation homes, hotels, asylums, cabins, natural environments or anything of the sort as long as the building does not serve solely as a private home and the activity is due to paranormal entity.
Unlike my haunted house movie Top 10, all of these entries are considered horror films and were graded not only on their fright factors but also on the creativity and atmosphere of their setting because, let’s face it there are a lot of films that utilize the same spooky backdrop but some do it better than others. So a big part of my decision making wasn’t just how good the movie was, but how effectively they used their locations and how creative the filmmakers were in bringing to life a horror story set outside of the normal house setting.
Many of these entries were considered for my previous list but, due to the nature of that list, were saved for this countdown instead. What is your favorite haunted location movie? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “Winchester” this weekend.
10. “The Gallows”
While not a great found footage film on its own, it’s this film’s setting that gets it a spot on this list. “The Gallows” was a rather cheap 2015 film set inside a school as a group of students break in after hours to sabotage the school’s latest attempt to portray a play that gives the film its name. Twenty years earlier a young actor was literally hanged during a performance of the play and in the film’s setting the students become haunted by the alleged ghost of that young man as they try to vandalize the set. While the film itself was a pretty basic found footage romp, seeing a haunting take place in a school was unique and original in itself and it was this atmosphere that saved this movie from being a total loss. As the mystery unfolded and the audience and characters began to realize the true nature of their situation everything came full circle to an epic reveal. As a quality film it might be sub par but its unique setting gave it a nice touch that makes it the perfect place to start on this list.
9. “The Innkeepers”
This underrated 2011 horror film offered some decent scares and an engaging story set within an inn during its final days of operation. Employees of the inn begin to explore its paranormal qualities, eventually coming face to face with the ghost of a woman who was murdered inside the inn. Paranormal activity ensues and the inexperienced “ghost hunters” begin to realize they have bit off more than they can chew. For a small film “The Innkeepers” proved to be a pretty fun and atmospheric horror offering with fun scares that avoided too many clichés and a story that added an aura of mystery and suspense to the film’s setting. What could have been a generic story turned out to be a pretty decent ride as the inn’s mysteries came to life. It was a worthy tribute to films of the past that clearly influenced it, but also presented a story that held well on its own all set in a creepy, but unassuming inn that might make you think twice about the secrets hidden in your next vacation stay.
Honestly I toyed with whether or not to add this film on here because the film in its entirety does not revolve around a single location, but the main villain makes its home within a New York City apartment building which serves as the basis of the final confrontation so for that I put it here. A legend of 80s cinema and the comedy horror genre, “Ghostbusters’” main baddy was a paranormal entity called Zuul who haunted the apartment of one of the Ghostbusters’ clients. However, as it turns out, the apartment building as a whole is the hub of extreme paranormal activity and is the source of a gateway for a Sumerian God Zuul seeks to unleash. Seeing as this apartment building is not the only setting of the film, this legendary movie is lower on this list but regardless of its wider world the apartment building in “Ghostbusters” is its most iconic haunted set piece making it truly notable haunted location film in its own right. Add in the library, the first hotel and other locations and overall “Ghostbusters” is more of a collection of haunted locations than anything else. Besides many of the film’s best scenes are set on the top of the final hotel including the “dog” attacks, the counter-cooked eggs and the epic conclusion where the heroes finally face off against Zuul and his master as well as the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man. So yeah, it deserves to be here.
7. “The House on Haunted Hill” (1999)
While the original horror classic took place inside a rented home, the 1999 remake of “The House on Haunted Hill” took place in one of the most classic of horror settings, an asylum. Similar to the previous version of the story, this newer take on the horror tale follows a group pf invited guests who are caught up in a game put together by an eccentric millionaire. However the tables are turned when real ghosts begin to appear and haunt the group, leading to deaths and the revealing of a larger connection each person has with the specters running around the building. With gruesome imagery, a dark atmosphere, and plenty of paranormal mystery this remake may not be as iconic as its predecessor, but it is an underrated horror fright fest worth checking out. In fact in made my previous list of Top 10 Horror Remakes and Reboots Better Than You Remember. That aside the asylum setting of this film just works. It’s spooky, well designed and seems to have a personality of its own making the asylum in this film not only somewhat of an actual character, but one of the more inventive and memorable of such settings in any horror movie. It’s not for the faint of heart, but that’s the beauty of it.
6. “The Orphanage”
Another film that only “kind of” fits the theme of this list, the 2007 Spanish modern horror classic “The Orphanage” fits the bill because its main setting is in a house being converted to an orphanage, thus making it more than just a private home. The plot focuses on a woman who returns to the orphanage she grew up in bent on turning it into a house for disabled children. When her adopted son goes missing the paranormal secrets of the home begin to come to light. Slated for an English remake, “The Orphanage” was both haunting and atmospheric with its setting playing an important role in the overall theme of the film as the ghosts of occupants past come to haunt the new owner in a way that resonated with critics and audiences alike on multiple emotional levels. For some it was a terrifying concept, but for others it was one with heart and soul. The ending of the film is also tremendously heartbreaking and promises a long history of haunting still to come within the orphanage. Truthfully it’s hard to imagine the English remake living up to the lofty expectations, but we’ll always have the original to appreciate all the same.
5. “The Blair Witch Project”
Found footage lends itself nicely to some unique locations for haunted experiences, and the grandmother of them all “The Blair Witch Project” is no different. A trend setter that put the found footage filming style on the map, “The Blair Witch Project” and its proper sequel “Blair Witch” both take place within the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland exploring the legend of the Blair Witch. The original film makes this list as it’s documentary style approach to storytelling made it incredibly creepy, even if we never got to see the purported ghosts of children and the witch herself in person. As the story progresses we find that the woods are actually haunted and that the ghosts of the past and the witch are leading the victims in circles until they find a haunted cabin, itself a worthy haunted home that was considered for my previous list. While its simplicity and lack of visual scares might irk some people, today “The Blair Witch Project” stands as an iconic project that created fear with simplicity and atmosphere more than anything else. It’s a jaw dropping film experience that even today still makes many afraid to camp in the woods alone with fear that the spirits of the past will have their way.
4. “Ghost Ship”
In 2002 horror was looking for a way to remain relevant and what better way than to offer a unique experience of a haunting aboard an old cruise ship right? “Ghost Ship” played off of the old concept of a haunted vessel wandering the seas for unsuspecting victims with the setting being the S.S. Antonia Graza which was the site of a mass murder. The story tells of a salvage crew who happens upon the haunted ship and learns of its fate and the mystery behind the many deaths it hosted on its final voyage. “Ghost Ship” might not be the best horror movie, but it was celebrated for its original setting becoming a cult classic and even spawning a mockbuster called “Ghost Rig”. The confined setting and the deteriorated status of the ship made this film amazingly claustrophobic and spooky and while it may not be a situation we, the viewers, could see ourselves in “Ghost Ship” remains a fun flick that explores the legendary ghost vessel legends of old with modern horror flair for all to enjoy.
A personal favorite of mine, “1408” is based on a Stephen King short story and sees an author who has made a profession out of debunking haunted locations setting up shop within the infamous Room 1408 in a New York City hotel. What started as a simple night for the investigator quickly turned to chaos as the spirits of the room began to appear and odd events occurred within the confines of the room’s walls. Soon the realization set in that the only escape is to die or relive the events over and over again. Amazingly atmospheric and immersive, this is a must see for anyone looking for an epic haunting experience. At times a mind-bending fright fest and at other times a suspenseful mystery “1408” perfectly utilized the limitations of its hotel room setting to create a horror experience worthy of King’s name, expanding on the author’s short story in all the right ways and never forsaking the possibilities within Room 1408. It might not be as iconic or truly terrifying as the next two entries, but it’s a memorable experience and film setting all the same.
2. “The Evil Dead”
You can argue whether or not the cabin or the “Necronomicon” in this horror classic are the true sources of the haunting all you want, but in the end it is the cabin that is haunted regardless of why or how. “Evil Dead” takes place mostly inside the confines of a cabin, serving as a vacation location rather than an actual home. After locating the “Necronomicon”, aka the “Book of the Dead”, a group of friends inadvertently awaken an evil that leads to the possession of one and the psychological and physical torture of others. This entire experience inspired the “cabin in the woods” trope that today is still going strong as a popular film setting. The isolation and confinement of the cabin combined with the large, expansive and seemingly endless mass of forest around them makes “Evil Dead” a truly terrifying scenario, one where there’s plenty of places to run but nowhere to truly hide. The cabin remains one of the most famous haunted locations in all of film and even served as the setting of the second film and a 2013 remake that was equally as terrifying. Now that’s a legacy that just can’t be ignored.
1. “The Shining”
Here it is, the granddaddy of them all. Whether it’s a haunted house or a more ambiguous location, “The Shining” is among the best introducing film-goers to the Overlook Hotel. Straight out of the mind of Stephen King, this film didn’t match the book it was based on but, in time, became its own kind of masterpiece with the infamously anal director Stanley Kubrick at the helm. The Overlook is probably the creepiest location on this list and even tops many of the houses in my haunted house list. As an overall horror experience “The Shining” proved to be ahead of its time, popularizing many of the tropes that today are genre staples. From the amazingly crafted entities that haunt the hotel to Jack Torrance’s fall into insanity this horror flick had everything and, at the end of the day, provided fear fuel for anyone looking into their next vacation stay. The Overlook itself has taken on a life of its own in the genre as a haunted location many filmmakers emulate but have never truly come close to perfecting. It’s a quality film with iconic lines, scares and characters all set within one of cinema’s most iconic haunted locations and for that it makes number one on this list.