Saturday, September 11, 2010

Location Location Location

As some of you know and others don't care about, I spent the last year or so contributing to Pop Syndicate, a recently renovated website that lost all its past content (and writers). The following article appeared in 2009 and since you can't find it anywhere else in InterWorld, I'm rerunning it here. Apologies for the deja vu.

Some time back, I mentioned a movie that deserves no real further discussion: Moscow Zero, the Val Kilmer-headlined Russian thriller with little thrills and even less Kilmer. What bothered me was not so much that the film was dull (because anything that helps me sleep is welcome in my life) but that it wasted one of the greatest potential settings of any horror. The Moscow Metro system is deeper than hell and probably crawling with more agents of evil than Walmart in December. 
Naturally, this got me thinking of other places that naturally frighten visitors and the films that utilized set location for maximum thrills. Enter at your own risk:
Closed carnivals
Is there anything sadder than a man-made playground abandoned by man?  Squeaky rides and stale popcorn just aren’t the same without screaming kids that beg for seconds and then throw up the remains on wooden roller coaster...especially when the amusement park is littered with ghostly apparitions that really like to waltz. Hence, the classic 1962 Carnival of Souls, a beautifully surreal ghost story inspired by a lonely Salt Lake City locale and filmed to translate its spooky atmosphere onto the big screen. 

Part of my workday is stationed in an overcrowded appliance warehouse. Recently, I took a wrong turn and ended up navigating a labyrinth of boxes that would make the Goblin King grip his codpiece in GPS-less fear. Storage facilities are dangerous places, and not just because they tend to be generously stocked with sharp objects and sloppily stacked with heavy boxes. While Final Destination 3 packed on the precarious nail gun and other fatal industrial accouterments, my heart goes out to Child's Play 2 for its factory finale. Many people never understand why a two-foot doll instills such fear in so many filmgoers, but imagine a petite plastic redhead chasing you through an endless maze of ominous cardboard. It’s scary. And brown.
The thing about lodging facilities is, despite all lazily standard attempts to make you think otherwise, they’re not your home. In fact, they’re no one’s home, yet countless scores of travelers have come before to sleep, make love, and flip through basic cable, all under the watch of bland pastel paintings in rooms that look identical to a million others across your respective country. There’s something existential and empty about the very idea of a pay-by-the-night place. Of course, The Shining is the definitive hotel horror for capturing the vast emptiness of a place that has been well lived (and died)-in before a cracking family moves in. I’d also point to the more recent Bug. The terror of this Friedkin thriller/drama/horror/undefined piece of disturbia doesn’t necessarily lie in its setting, but Ashley Judd’s cheap residential motel does help to create an atmosphere that never feels quite like home--thus making her lonely and longing waitress all the more vulnerable to forming a not-so-healthy connection with Michael Shannon’s quiet and slowly unraveling stranger. One thing’s for sure: by the end of Bug, you’ll never have to worry about confusing that room with the Day’s Inn.

Empty asylums
What’s scarier than a home for the criminally insane? How about one abandoned by the criminally insane? House on Haunted Hill makes nice use of its institutional mansion setting, but few films have created such a terrifying location as Brad Anderson’s Session 9. Filmed in the former Danvers State Hospital (aka the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, a far scarier title), Session 9 follows a frustrated asbestos removal crew and their ill-fated attempt to clean up am empty  (and most likely haunted) asylum. Like Carnival of Souls, Session 9 absorbs its environment, squeezing every drop of horror and letting it spread into the cast, music, lighting, and overall filmic effect. Plus, it achieves the seemingly impossible task of making David Caruso sympathetic. 

I gave up watching Survivor the day Mark Burnett announced the show would never be filmed in the Arctic. To me, watching resourceful people combat frostbite and fight polar bears is far more exciting than seeing bad cases of sunburn aggravating oozing mosquito bites... which is probably why I hold winter horror in such high esteem. For true frozen conditions, John Carpenter’s The Thing pretty much corners the vast, cold market on ice, especially since Kurt Russell & Co. battle the boredom and isolation of Antarctica while  dealing with a shape-shifting gooey creature set on world domination. The more recent 30 Days of Night took great advantage of the Arctic Circle’s weirdly misunderstood sunrise patterns by, naturally, making it a haven for vampires. Sure, it fudged the actual earth science a tad, but 30 Days of Night also answered the question for why America’s largest state has such a small population.  
So my safely nestled readers, which films have you constantly noting the nearest exit? Also, what are some of your everyday hot spots just waiting for a bloody massacre to redden to floors?


  1. High school proms for me. It's not bad enough that, should I have ever attended one, it would've just been a night of sorrow ahd loneliness, but Horror movies have taught me NOTHING good comes out of a high school prom setting. Sure, maybe "Carrie" is the one sole solid example of that, but you get my drift!

  2. oooooh good call Mikey. I had a good time at my prom, but I surrendered any worry (or chance) of a date most of my senior year so it was mostly a night with friends, followed by board games. No pressure of pig's blood there. There certainly are a good collection of horror prom films--wait, there's a whole SERIES of PROM NIGHT films!

    Now I'm sad that my prom didn't involve disco or Leslie Nielson.