Is there any short cut to an effective horror more successful than limiting the locations of your story?
Think about it—how successful would Jason Voorhees’ murder sprees be in scaring us if the doomed teen cast could simply up and leave the deserted summer camp, or cramped cruise ship, or (groan) spaceship at any time? There’s nothing less scary than a slasher stuck in the big city, as Jason Takes Manhattan regrettably proved, and horror loses its impact if our characters can easily just stroll out of whatever predicament they are in and outpace the threat currently attempting to kill them.
The lone location horror is an institution in the genre, with even early literary classics such as Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House deriving much of their effectiveness from the claustrophobic fear of being trapped in a remote, byzantine old estate with some unseen ghosts (or, you know, a crazy governess, depending on how you read the former).
With that in mind, we’ve collected a shortlist of some of the horror genre’s most effective one-location nerve shredders, borrowing from the world of sci-fi and psychological thrillers to find the most intense examples of intense, one-setting thrill rides.
You know it’s good news when the names "Hot Tub Time Machine hero John Cusack" and "horror icon Stephen King" show up together, not to mention, er, Derailed director Mikael Hafstrom.
Yes alright, so he may not have as illustrious an onscreen career as the Con Air star and Children of the Corn scribe (no one mention Maximum Overdrive), but Hafstrom was responsible for Derailed’s barnstorming final confrontation between Vincent Cassell and Clive Owen, and it’s that talent for gripping thrills he brings to this entire rollercoaster ride of a horror.
The film follows professional paranormal debunker Mike Enslin, who recently suffered a terrible bereavement (one guess whether that will come up again at the scariest possible interval), and insists, despite warnings from Samuel L. Jackson’s stern manager, on staying in The Dolphin Hotel’s titular room 1408.
What follows is nothing but Enslin attempting to survive the night as the room throws gradually larger and more disturbing horrors at him the more he tries to escape. From ghostly visitations, to ghouls in the vents, to vanishing ledges and impossible floor plans, this is a rare genuinely scary horror which can boast a scene featuring Jackson talking from inside a mini fridge.
Just make sure it’s the theatrical cut you’re watching and not the director’s—this isn’t The Mist, and you don’t need an ending even darker than the one King himself authored.