The best horror films are the ones that draw on humanity’s shared fears. Scary stories of the undead, giant insects, and murderous clowns.
The location of a scary movie is as important to the story as the monster lurking in the shadows. The Overlook Hotel in The Shining, the cabin from Evil Dead; they can draw the viewer in to the world and are often the origin of some larger evil. There are those films that never leave a singular location, choosing instead to build up every inch of dread within four walls.
The following list includes some of the most terrifying movies ever made. Films such as The Shining have been excluded due to the large size of the hotel, Evil Dead because of the importance of the forest outside of the cabin, and other great horror movies for similar reasons. With that in mind, here are the 15 Scariest Movies That Take Place In One Location.
15. Panic Room
When three burglars break into a four-story house in New York City, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) take refuge inside the panic room. Built with thick concrete and steel, the room is nearly impenetrable. As the robbers attempt to break into the room to get the 3 million dollars’ worth of bearer bonds inside, the Altman’s try to call for help.
David Fincher’s follow-up to Fight Club is by no-means his best effort, but it features excellent performances from Foster and a young Stewart. The vast majority of the film takes place within the panic room, with claustrophobic high-angle shots. Outside the room, we see the robbers (Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, and Forest Whitaker) use any means necessary to get inside, from propane gas to taking hostages. It’s a tense and well-paced thriller with the solid cinematography and dark tone Fincher fans have come to expect and enjoy.
14. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford lead this dark psychological film about two sisters with a screwed-up relationship. Both actresses in their youth, they have since fallen on hard times. Blanche (Crawford) is confined to a wheelchair and depends on the help of her sister, Baby Jane (Davis).
When Blanche reveals she plans to sell the family home (of which the vast majority of the film is located), Jane’s mental health rapidly deteriorates and she begins to emotionally and physically torture her sister. From serving her a parakeet on a platter to murdering her cleaning lady, things go from bad to very bad. Crawford and Davis unsurprisingly deliver stellar performances and the tension in their house is a palpable. It’s a slow burn classic film, but one certainly worth a watch.
Based on true events, Compliance is the story of a fast-food manager manipulated into abusing one of her workers. After being called by a man calling himself Officer Daniels, Sandra leads an investigation to discover which of her employees stole a purse. She suspects a worker named Becky, and after Daniels tells her to strip search her, Sandra complies.
What follows is an increasingly tense and hard-to-watch drama with great performances from Ann Dowd as Sandra and Dreama Walker as Becky. Though not a horror film in the traditional sense, Compliance works as a taught drama examining the horror of human nature. The camera hardly ever leaves the aptly-named ChickWich fast-food restaurant and the film is all the more suspenseful for it.
When Stephen King returned to the idea of a haunted hotel room with his short story 1408, the movie adaptation was inevitable. The additions of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are one of several things that make this film an entirely different experience than Kubrick’s The Shining.
Cusack is Mike, an author who writes about haunted houses. After deciding to stay in room 1408 at the haunted Dolphin Hotel, Mike begins to see visions that the room projects in his mind. Though the movie shows Mike going to other places, each of these events is merely taking place in Mike’s mind, as he never truly leaves the room.
Comparing it to The Shining is unfair, because 1408 is a far sillier, more like Shutter Island than Kubrick’s film. Regardless, it is still a grand, spooky time with a great, albeit brief, Samuel L. Jackson appearance.
Not a film for those with claustrophobia, Buried takes place mostly within the four walls of a coffin. Ryan Reynolds plays Paul, a truck driver who wakes up, buried alive underground. With only a lighter and a Blackberry, Paul tries to figure out an escape plan before his air runs out.
The camera angles and lighting, as well as the plot, are heavily inspired by Hitchcock. Shot in only 16 days, director Rodrigo Cortes turned out a short and crisp thriller with many twists and turns to keep the audience engaged. But it is truly Reynolds that carries the film, as his fear becomes the audience’s.
10. Wait Until Dark
Based on a stage play of the same name, this 1967 psychological horror film stars Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin. Wait Until Dark is known firstly for having one of the best jump-scares in movie history, and secondly for taking place entirely in one apartment building.
Hepburn plays Susy, a blind woman who gets tangled up with the wrong people, leading to a man named Hoat (Arkin) stalking her around her Montreal apartment. There is murder, intrigue, betrayal and a whole lot of screaming. Arkin and Hepburn both deliver top-notch performances, (Audrey Hepburn was up for Best Actress at the Oscars and lost to Katherine Hepburn), and the score is perfectly oppressive.
Starring Sam Rockwell as an astronaut and Kevin Spacey as an adorable robot, Moon is a cautionary science fiction tale. Rockwell plays Sam, a man who is nearing the end a 3-year solo mission in space. His only companion is Gerty (Spacey) who is only ever looking out for Sam’s best interest. But not in a HAL way; Gerty is a truly kind AI.
Without spoiling anything, Sam finds out that he is being lied to by the company that sent him to space and nothing is as it seems. The film takes place entirely on a space station on the dark side of the moon, though we’re guessing it probably wasn’t actually filmed there. Director Duncan Jones is directing this year’s Warcraft. Here’s hoping it is half as good as Moon.
Based on the vastly superior Stephen King novel of the same name, Misery is the story of an author who after a car crash, spends a few months being rehabilitated by his biggest fan. Unfortunately for the author, his biggest fan is a raving lunatic by the name of Annie Wilkes.
Annie (Academy Award Winner Kathy Bates) is a force of nature physically and a child mentally. She forces Paul Sheldon (James Caan) to write a novel to bring back his beloved character Misery from the dead. Trapped in her house in the middle of nowhere, Paul is too drugged and too injured to escape. Anytime that he attempts to find a way out, Annie effortlessly stops him, punishing him by cutting off a finger or worse.
Bates turned a spectacular performance as Wilkes but Caan is entirely miscast. He acts too gruff to play the obvious Stephen King write-in character. Reiner does his best to match the horror of King’s novel, and there are scenes that hit the tone just right. Worth a watch to see Bates perfectly embody one of the scariest villains on screen.
Inspired largely by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast, Pontypool is the story of a zombie apocalypse told almost entirely by… a radio broadcaster.
From inside his radio station, shock jock Grant Mazzy and his crew begin to hear reports of strange events occurring outside in the town of Pontypool. A virus is spreading that turns people into cannibalistic monsters, and unfortunately, it is spread through the voice. Luckily our heroes are in a sound-proof recording booth.
Pontypool is an entirely original film and an absolute blast to watch. Though it is much more of a comedy than the rest of the films on this list, it still features excellent scares and some great bloody violence.
Before James Wan and Leigh Whannell worked on Insidious, the two friends came up with the idea for a messy torture-porn of a horror film called Saw. Two men wake up in a disgusting bathroom, chained the wall, with a corpse in between them. Left with instructions from the Jigsaw Killer, they must escape the room to save themselves and the ones they love.
Infinitely better than the long list of sequels, Saw is a horrifying film with many gut-wrenching and sickening moments. It expertly walks the line of gross-out and intelligent, with a shockingly brutal final-twist. As one of the most profitable horror films ever, it’s no surprise we will be treated to Saw: Legacy sometime in 2017.
Vincenzo Natali’s feature debut is the most surreal of this list, and arguably takes place in many “rooms.” Cube follows a group of strangers that wake up in a cubic room with no memory of how they got there. They try to find an exit, encountering the many traps and puzzles of the various rooms of the ‘cube.’ Traps like flamethrowers and saws and lasers and timers and poison gas. Needless to say, there aren’t many survivors by movie’s end.
Natali’s film is the perfect low-budget, practical-effect loaded midnight movie. The kills are inspired and gory, the characters unique, and their plight mind-boggling to the nth degree. It is also a perfect example of how debating what is outside the box is always more interesting than showing it, a lesson the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane could have learned from.
Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock’s first collaboration features beautiful and suspenseful long takes. Hitchcock was known for dramatizing one location; this was his second “limited setting” film after Lifeboat.
Rope also takes place in ‘real time,’ so the events in the film take place over the course of the film’s 80 minute run time. It is one of Hitchcock’s most experimental films, with each of the shots running for about 10 minutes without interruption. The film is essentially a murder-mystery party set in an apartment with an amazing view of the New York skyline.
The set Hitchcock used was a work of art on its own; the cyclorama showing the skyline was the largest of its kind used in film, and prop handlers had to constantly reset glasses of wine, furniture and more during the takes, to make way for the cameras. The furniture and the walls of the set themselves were all placed on nearly silent rollers, so they could be moved around with ease. It was a vast production, and one that makes for a tense game of Clue with some great Hitchcockian moments.
3. Funny Games
The only home-invasion movie to make the list, Funny Games functions as both a slasher film and an examination of the true horror of the genre. In 2007, Michael Haneke remade his own 1997 film shot-for-shot, translating it from German to English. We’ll focus on the 1997 Funny Games, which acts as a superb, almost Clockwork Orange version of the home-invasion story.
The plot involves two young men breaking into a house and torturing the family that resides there with sadistic games. Funny Games is equal bits darkly comic and horribly violent, with characters breaking the fourth wall and each other’s’ bones. The American remake is also a harrowing experience, and features Tim Roth and Michael Pitt.
2. The Tenant
The last film in Roman Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” The Tenant is also one of the director’s best. Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby are both honorable mentions, but we couldn’t give all the spots to one director. As the name implies, the film takes place entirely in an apartment, and stars Polanski himself as Trelkovsky, a paranoid and unassuming man.
Though it was received poorly upon release, The Tenant has since become a cult classic due to its heavy thematic messages, crazy performances, and superb score. It functions as an interesting parallel viewing experience to Rear Window, and Polanski shoots claustrophobia in new and terrifying ways.
1. Rear Window
C’mon, there’s no way this wasn’t going to be number one. One of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest, Rear Window stars the affable Jimmy Stewart as a peeping-tom with all the time in the world. L.B. Jefferies (Stewart) is a professional photographer whose broken leg has led to him being cooped up in his high-rise apartment.
He watches his neighbors outside his window, making up stories for the lives that they lead. One day, he sees his neighbor Thorwald acting suspiciously, leading him to believe that he murdered his wife. Jeff gets his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) to help him solve the mystery but they bite off more than they can chew.
Taking place almost entirely in Jeff’s apartment, Rear Window is widely known as one of the greatest films ever made. Hitchcock’s ability to build up suspense in a single location, while telling a story that functions largely outside of that same location, is unparalleled.
Any other single-setting spookers that deserve some recognition? Let us know in the comments!
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