Horror and Location

One of my least favourite aspects of horror (apart from the gore), is related to the locations.  Psychogeography (see, I know long words) is defined as ‘[1]the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment… on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’. Basically, for me it’s fine if it’s an unrealistic situation like in [2]Saw where the environment is controlled and overall improbable (who has enough money and spare time to organise something like that?).

Truly the most unsettling is when writers shift these horror scenes to houses like in [3]Hush or Stephen King’s[4] Duma Key ‘How to Draw a Picture’, where the location is a house by the sea. It is when experiences of the mentally and physically horrific are introduced to somewhere as personal as the home that things become really scary, for me at least.

Otherwise, some of the most popular settings for horror to take place are hotels, camps, towns and asylums (think [5]American Horror Story). The reason for these location choices within the genre I feel is how public and available they are.

Everyone has heard of a creepy abandoned building with rumours of tragic killings. Or have gone camping with friends who’ve told scary stories about what happens if you wander too far from the campsite. It seems only natural that we entertain the idea of horror being something that could happen to us. So by setting stories in places anyone could be, makes it all the more frightening.

Despite realistic environments being spooky, in ‘[6]Un Chien Andalou’ written by Salvador Dali, a new kind of horror was presented for audiences with surrealism. The imagery of a couple slowly rotting and an eye being sliced made my stomach turn and even managed to get a reaction from my typically strong-stomached friends.

The surrealism movement is relatively new; only in the last century has it gained much attention. ‘[7]Un Chien Andalou’ constantly changing locations maintains its disturbing nature as it makes it difficult to keep track of the events. One minute we’re in an apartment, the next we’re witnessing a street scene and then characters on a beach. This interchanged with occurrences of insanity and gore makes this film dreamlike. But unlike in [8]A Nightmare on Elm Street, the real danger seems to come from waking up.

Dreams are not an uncommon location for horror films or sequences. Dali even collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock during the filming of [9]Spellbound. For dream sequences have a habit of throwing an audience off. It can leave them feeling confused and this vulnerable bewilderment leads to more fear.

[10]Jacob’s Ladder is a great example of this. Throughout the film, I could never quite work out whether or not if what I was seeing was real or part of a dream/vision. This imparted a deep feeling of uneasiness upon me as it did with many other people.

As technology has progressed, we find that we can start adding outer-space to the list of locations. Films such as Ridley Scott’s [11]Alien already renowned for breaking the box office. Thus this opens up a new form of horror which has mainly taken hold in the video game industry with releases such as [12]Halo,[13] Dead Space and [14]Alien Isolation.


[1] https://mappingweirdstuff.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/mapping-weird-stuff-psychogeography/

[2] Saw, James Wan, 2004.

[3] Hush, Mike Flanagan, 2016.

[4] Stephen King, Duma Key (New York, NY:Scribner), 2008

[5] American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy, 2011.

[6] Un Chien Andalou, Louis Bunuel, 1929.

[7] Un Chien Andalou, Louis Bunuel, 1929.

[8] A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven, 1984.

[9] Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock, 1945.

[10] Jacob’s Ladder, Adrian Lyne, 1990.

[11] Alien, Ridley Scott, 1979.

[12] Halo: Nightfall, Sergio Mimica, 2014.

[13] Dead Space, Warren Ellis, 2008.

[14] Alien Isolation, Al Hope, 2014.

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