This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Face it: we’re all a little claustrophobic. Why do you think astronauts train so much? Even the toughest folks in the world, when placed in one location for long periods of time, can understandably go a little batty as the cabin fever and existential dread begins to sink in.
Feeling trapped is awful but it makes for great tension, which is exactly why single confined locations work so well in film – horror especially. They’re like feature-length bottle shows – the TV trope of episodes set in single locations, a narrative rooted in cost-cutting – but, you know, for movies! From fortified shelters to long nights in the Hollywood hills, these are our favorite horror movies defined by their singular locales, as voted on by Rob Hunter, Kieran Fisher, Meg Shields, Brad Gullickson, Anna Swanson, Valerie Ettenhofer, Chris Coffel, and myself.
10. Cube (1997)
If you trap anyone in a tightly confined space long enough, they’ll eventually be clawing at the walls to be let out, and Vincenzo Natali allows this electric anxiety and discomfit to course through his debut feature Cube. Before Saw would masterfully utilize space to pack in their film’s gore, Cube was selling us di-, bi-, and trisections at wholesale value in each of the ominous geometric shape’s many booby-trapped rooms. And while the film’s high-concept story is worth your time, it’s these single locations overall design that is so remarkable, as if Natali was giving us a taste of what he would do if given the keys to the Hellraiser franchise. (Jacob Trussell)
9. The Mist (2007)
Monsters from another dimension ain’t got shit on good old fashioned religious zealotry. In a microcosm of the world, Stephen King‘s blue-collar archetypes attempt to ride out an apocalyptic mist while trapped in a grocery store that is slowly unraveling. Frank Darabont and his cast do masterful work bringing King’s lived-in characters to life in the claustrophobic aisles of the store, using the tentacular creatures as horrifying distractions to the real-world monsters – personified by the scene-stealing Marcia Gay Harden – cultivating in the store. Survivors trapped in a single location fighting off an impossible threat isn’t new to the genre, but in the hands of King, Darabont, and his capable ensemble of actors, it’s never felt more uncomfortably contained. And we beg you: only watch it in black and white. (Jacob Trussell)
8. Misery (1990)
As a child, I remember a classmate describing the plot of Rob Reiner’s Misery adaptation to me on the playground. They didn’t know the name of the movie that had chilled them to the bone, so it would be years before I saw it and realized that the mortifying horror story in question came from the mind of Stephen King. In a rare moment of genre recognition, the Academy gave Kathy Bates a well-deserved Oscar for her performance as Annie Wilkes, the savior-turned-captor and fan-turned-enemy of writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan). Almost the entire film takes place in Annie’s secluded home, where she nurses Sheldon back to health before pressuring him to rewrite his latest manuscript to fit her whims. Part obsessive-fan narrative, part medical torture movie, Misery has something to horrify everyone. The hobbling scene is, of course, the film’s most famous, as it should be. Paranoid Annie taking a sledgehammer to Sheldon’s ankles is enough to make you lose your lunch, and it’s also a perfect encapsulation of the single-location film’s growing, insurmountable claustrophobia. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
7. Green Room (2015)
Some folks might not consider Green Room to be a horror film, but those people are idiots. Jeremy Saulnier‘s brilliantly executed study in tension ratchets up the terror with some very human monsters, and the violence and brutality they unleash are all the more horrific for their real-world believability. The location here is a Nazi bar staffed by Nazis who target a punk band within their walls, and most of the mayhem unfolds in and around a single room before eventually spilling out into the bar and surrounding woods. It’s an utterly harrowing experience as human bodies are subjected to wince-inducing violence and trauma leaving viewers terrified for what’s going to happen next, but as grim as it gets the film remains a thrilling and ultimately cathartic experience. (Rob Hunter)
6. The Evil Dead (1981)
In 1981 Sam Raimi changed the horror game with his story of a group of friends that head to a remote cabin and accidentally release a throng of demon spirits after playing an audiotape reading from the book of the dead. Oops. Not only did it introduce us to the god that is Bruce Campbell, but it showed us that a film with a shoestring budget and shot in primarily one location (the cabin) could feel as big and expansive as the biggest budgeted horror movies. The film has its naysayers — I’m looking at you, jerkass Rob Hunter (Editor’s note: I’ve been called worse.) — but nearly forty years later and it’s as unnerving and impactful as ever. (Chris Coffel)