As we’ve pointed out several times before, setting is everything in a horror film. It can completely shape the atmosphere. In times of oversaturation for the genre, though, you see a lot of the same locations being used over and over again. Sometimes a haunted house plays itself out and you need to change things up. From old castles to abandoned cabins and summer camps, just about every horror setting that seemed like a great idea has been played out. Even suburbia, which was a genius setting for Halloween, has become oversaturated.
This has led the creative forces behind genre pictures to come up with increasingly bizarre and imaginative locations. Even cities like New York and Los Angeles—which can be their own kind of scary, for sure, are used less in horror because they inherently lack the sense of isolation that the genre thrives on.
Some of the most obscure locales don’t work out that well, but there are others that work when they probably should not. These locations range from the perfectly ordinary to completely out-of-left-field but all of them wound up working surprisingly well.
Walt Disney World in Escape from Tomorrow
This one gets bonus points for actually shooting the film there, in secret. Even though the lack of budget and time really shows and it has little to no plot, the film is impressive nonetheless. It taps into the inherent strangeness and fake smiles behind the empire that is Disney World. While the movie may not really take the time to explore its themes, it is at its most effective when it showcases particular locations in and around the park and lifts the veil to show otherworldly horrors beneath.
Slashers ran out of ideas by the mid-eighties, so by the time Intruder came along in 1988, filmmakers had to try very hard to be new, exciting, or different. A supermarket was pretty much the only location that hadn’t been used as the location for a slasher by that point. Scott Spiegel, who had co-written Evil Dead and Evil Dead II with Sam Raimi, made his directorial debut with this film and did a pretty good job at it. Intruder is a solid cult hit that tends to go overlooked.
Ghostbusters gets a lot of credit for balancing comedy with mild horror elements. But it doesn’t get nearly enough credit for making New York City seem remotely paranormal, whatsoever. Considering that ghosts almost exclusively haunt old Victorian homes, the fact that we don’t question the plot revolving around a massive apartment building in the middle of the city is just a testament to how well the film works as a whole. Director Ivan Reitman actually did a good job of portraying the supernatural side of the building. As funny as the feature is, the scene in which Dana is terrorized in her apartment is pretty straight-laced horror.
Beaches work extremely well in shark films, naturally. But a beach is the last place you would think of for a vampire movie. It’s nothing but sun and warm weather. But it worked perfectly for The Lost Boys. This film actually mixes vampires together with the traditional teenage rebellion story. What should be the least effective location for a vampire flick actually becomes kind of brilliant when paired up with the subtext and counter-culture elements that made it the cult classic it became.
And we go back to Orlando for this title, it may have ultimately failed as a film but was actually a great concept. It was always destined to be a B-Movie, but where Jaws 3 actually failed was in turning its version of the park into a futuristic mecca, basically 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea World. If it had just focused on a shark exploiting the failings of the park—with its teeth—that would have been so much better. Still, there’s always the joy of knowing that there really was a Jaws sequel set at Sea World. So, maybe that’s enough.