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Five scary movies set in interesting houses

Posted on July 1, 2012 by ari

The apartment building from Walled In

I’m an architecture fan, so most of my favorite films prominently feature awesome buildings. I like movies where the setting is a character – when Wes Anderson zoomed out and showed the yellow submarine in cross section, in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, it totally made my day. In horror movies, a good spooky set, well-shot, can make up for badly-written dialogue and a lot of other shortcomings – or it can make a good movie even better. Here are five horror movies that are as much about their locations as they are about what happens in them. All of these except for the last are currently available on Netflix Instant (and the last one can be seen on DVD).

  1. House of Voices stars a pensive, curious Virginie Ledoyen and the wonderfully crazed Lou Doillon, who is apparently the half-sister of Charlotte Gainsbourg. I was nervous about seeing this one because it deals with the exploitation of women, and was directed by Pascal Laugier, who directed another movie I won’t name and won’t watch, which I hear is really brutal. But I’m so glad I gave this one a chance, because it turned out to be really interesting from a feminist point of view – and because it’s set in a sprawling sanatorium complete with hidden rooms, ruined churches and hospital wards, and other architectural bells and whistles. This film is atmospheric, psychological, and mysterious – well after watching it I still wasn’t 100% sure what had happened, but in a good way.
  2. Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, written by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Troy Nixey, is the only movie on this list that I haven’t seen in its entirety. I had to cover my eyes again and again since the little monsters in this one are so violent, which I didn’t expect, since it has a little kid as its protagonist. But I liked the strong female leads, Guy Pearce did a fine job of being a dopey dad, the script and cinematography were excellent, and the atmosphere was top-notch creepy. The house is a big part of why the movie works – its murals and textured wallpapers, deep dank basements and shadowed corners, and vaulted ceilings and ornate staircases give the little beasties plenty of places to hide.
  3. Session 9, directed by Brad Anderson: This movie marks the first time I ever saw Peter Mullan on screen, and it features a short cameo by Larry Fessenden, so it gets points for acting. I love those guys! Larry is just a quirky, totally naturalistic actor who I love to see anytime, but who showed up at exactly the right moment in this psychological thriller about a gigantic abandoned mental institution that’s being renovated. Peter Mullan and the other dudes on his character’s team are contractors, believable ones, who are in the house to handle asbestos cleanup. It all goes downhill from there, in a good scary way. The building is incredible – just gigantic, falling apart, complete with creepy underground steam tunnels and empty wards full of strategically empty chairs. Spooooooky.
  4. The Others, directed by Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar, has to be on this list, because I can’t think “scary movies about houses” without remembering a pale, brittle-looking Nicole Kidman hustling through her huge closed-up mansion of a home with her keyring, explaining that the rooms are like air locks that contain light, and that each door must be locked as you go through it. Ooooooeeee, that image still gives me the shivers! I love how this film shows so much of this house, but in such little portions – in keeping with the era in which it was set, its attitude is to unbutton only a corner of itself at a time, to show us only the part that’s absolutely necessary to the plot at that moment.
  5. Walled In, directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, stars Mischa Barton. I thought this was going to be a total exploitation flick, and I was partially right, but this movie really stuck with me and it deserves a place on this list because it features one of the creepiest, most interesting buildings I’ve ever seen in a movie – and it’s not just set in the building, it’s about the building. The story goes that in the past, people were sometimes walled up inside buildings to give them a soul. This movie plays off of that idea to horrifying effect, and as a bonus, we get secret passageways and hidden compartments, spooky basements and rooftops, hidden air shafts and spy holes, all wrapped up in an esoteric modernist apartment building built in the middle of an isolated field.

Now that I’ve made this list, I can think of a dozen other titles that are all about the house! But I’ll leave it at five for now. What are your favorite house-centric horror movies?

Related posts:

  1. Tiny houses = small footprint
  2. Possessions and Exorcisms: Seven Movies Worth Watching
  3. Hunting for houses


One Response to “Five scary movies set in interesting houses”

  1. Possessions and Exorcisms: Seven Movies Worth Watching | Shirari Industries
    July 13th, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    [...] Previously: Five scary movies set in interesting houses [...]

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