We get a lot of horror movies about haunted houses. Or haunted hotels. Or cabins in the woods. These places are big, isolated, and they feed on a feeling of anxiety and loneliness. There’s a reason that people always go back to these locations. Horror tends to spring from a feeling of isolation.
Given that, you would think that an apartment building would generally be the worst place for a horror movie. There are always other people around. Depending on the size of the apartment, there aren’t that many places to hide and only so many ways in or out. An intruder would be noticed pretty quick. Hell, so would a ghost, for that matter.
It also seems limiting on a technical level as well. It’s harder to film in a confined area like an apartment, and that can reflect on the film itself. But that doesn’t stop apartment-based horror movies from happening.
There are more of them than you might think. I was certainly surprised by the amount when I started digging into it—especially at how many great ones there really are.
With that in mind, here are seven horror movies that depict the horrors of/unleash horrors upon apartment living.
Trilogy of Terror
Trilogy of Terror might only have one segment about someone being terrorized in their apartment, but it’s without a doubt the most famous part of the anthology. This is all people talk about when they talk about Trilogy of Terror. This Richard Matheson scripted segment about a woman being terrorized by an evil doll had a huge influence on several films that followed.
Child’s Play is maybe the most famous movie to take such a clear influence from Trilogy of Terror. Not just because it’s about a killer doll, but because it really does simply update that original story. It’s still about a woman—now with the addition of a son—being terrorized around their apartment by a doll that wants to kill their souls. While the movie technically spans across all of Chicago, the bulk of the action is confined to the apartment, especially as when it hits the third act.
Troll is a very bizarre Charles Band production about an evil troll that takes the form of a little girl, infiltrates her family and starts trollifying the entire apartment building and transforming everyone inside it into creatures from his mystical native land. It’s not nearly as famous as its more terrible sequel, but it’s a fun and quirky apartment themed B-Movie that you could even show to your kids. It wouldn’t traumatize them as much as Ernest Scared Stupid, trust me.
Poltergeist III is either developing a huge new following or just had a following I was completely unaware of. I never knew there were so many fans of it and I can’t say it works as well for me as it does for others, but it’s still a visual thrill-ride and gets by on its bizarre charms. I’ve found that whether one loves Poltergeist III very often hinges on whether or not they saw it before Poltergeist II.
Dario Argento’s follow-up to Suspiria takes all of the surrealistic hyper-violence of that movie, removes it from the setting of a secluded ballet school and just drops it into an apartment building in New York. And the results are fantastic. It has a very different sound than the previous film, but loses none of the flavor. The wildly different setting allows Argento to create a completely different kind of tension the second time around.
Critters 3 might not be quite at the level of Critters 1 and 2, but I still think it’s really enjoyable. Now best known for the acting debut of Leonardo DiCaprio, Critters 3 switches the setting from a sleepy Kansas town to an only-slightly-less-sleepy apartment building. It feels like an authentic building, shockingly enough, and the characters do kind of seem like the people you’d be stuck with if your building was invaded by space porcupines.
Between The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion, Roman Polanski sure had a thing for apartment-based horror. This is a very intimate, psychological horror film, but I think the intimacy and claustrophobia of it is what really speaks to the notion of living in a confined space like an apartment building. It’s the last of Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy,” but maybe the most genuinely focused on building horror out of the setting.
Cronenberg’s first major feature film, Shivers (AKA They Came from Within) is a unique body horror film about a high-tech high-rise, a secluded apartment community that is basically its own little world. In typical Cronenberg fashion, the parasite that is unleashed upon the building causes people to go mad with sexual hunger, a less literal hunger for human flesh than the typical zombie.
The quintessential apartment horror film and one of the most beloved horror movies ever made. Rosemary’s Baby is scary not because of the apartment itself, but because of the neighbors. Everyone is bottled in together in such close quarters, you can’t help but feel like people are always talking about you behind your back. Rosemary’s Baby is basically a worst-case scenario of that kind of paranoia. Everyone is talking about you, all the time, because they have awful, awful plans.