October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the creepiest horror movie towns with deep, dark secrets is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Picture this: it’s late at night, and you’re driving down an interstate. The road is eerily quiet as you pass by mile markers and rest stops. As the moon reflects off the asphalt, your headlights wash over a sign signaling that you’re about to pass through a series of tiny, one-light towns tucked just a few short miles off the interstate. If you’re like me, the only thought running through your head is, “What weird stuff happens when the lights go down low there?”
Quiet towns harboring deep, dark secrets are one of my absolute favorite locales in horror fiction. Whether it’s Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery or H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, this trope is a hella deep well the horror genre has liberally dipped into time and time again. However, these towns aren’t just beacons for cosmic horror or harvest cults but secret societies and families taking the law into their own hands. What fuses all these disparate stories together is an unending sense of dread because, in these towns, we can all feel like outsiders who’ve inadvertently stepped into a slaughterhouse.
Roll up your windows and lock your doors because Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, Meg Shields, Rob Hunter, Valerie Ettenhofer, and myself are taking you on a tour of towns you absolutely do not want to stop in on your next road trip.
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Springwood, Ohio)
There’s no place more modern to hold a deep dark secret than in the center of suburbia. It’s at the center of the horror haunting the Freeling family in Poltergeist, it’s the deep familial secrets haunting Sidney in Scream, and it is the central reason why the titular local has found themselves with a major dream demon problem on their hands in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Unlike other of the closely guarded town secrets on this list, this is one of the only ones that was actually done for altruistic reasons. Yes, you wouldn’t normally consider lynching someone by burning them alive altruistic, but when that person is an unrepentant pedophile with a penchant for murdering literal children, hey. Who am I to judge in a world where the eyes of justice aren’t as blind as they once seemed? (Jacob Trussell)
9. Race with the Devil (Central Texas)
Growing up passing through tiny one-light towns throughout Texas, you can quickly get the sense of the anxiety coursing through rural America. There’s something unnerving about those little burgs, tucked off the interstate that have insulated themselves from the changes and progress made in the outside world. And what if it isn’t just one town hiding an unthinkable secret, but a series of towns across an area of the country filled with virulent nationalism, to the point you’d never imagine that there were a bunch of devil worshippers staking claim over central Texas.
In the case of Race with the Devil, the town(s) secret is not that unimaginable, and the cult members aren’t being that secretive about their Satanist activities. But the fact that they are doing everything in broad daylight makes the terror our lead characters feel all the more real, leading up to the titular race before leaving us with a pit in our stomach as we watch our heroes be left with an ambiguous fate. (Jacob Trussell)
8. Dead & Buried (Potter’s Bluff)
Released in 1981, Gary Sherman’s Dead & Buried uses the pace and tone of classic horror tales from masters of the genre like M.R. James and Shirley Jackson, where the secrets of a small town are slowly revealed in a masterful balance of tension and release. Sure, the villain may be telegraphed from miles away, but the root cause of the film’s horror is a clever reveal that sets the fictional Potters Bluff right in EC Comics country. As they take photographs and monotonously tell their victims, “Welcome to Potter’s Bluff,” we can’t help but feel a twinge of glee at the perfect actualization of a town with a deep dark secret. (Jacob Trussell)
7. Dagon (Imboca)
If it’s true that H.P. Lovecraft’s work is impossible to translate to the screen, someone should probably tell Stuart Gordon. Yes, Dagon, the 2001 direct-to-video wonder, is one of the most faithful (if not the best) adaptations of Lovecraft’s work. Much like the novella on which the film is based, Dagon follows an increasingly confused everyman who finds himself in a Spanish seaside town that is quite possibly the wettest place on earth. But hey, when your entire population is steadily mutating into horrible fish people, dampness is a boon, not a curse! Yes, the town of Imboca made a pact with the titular Old God, who spat up fish and gold from the sea in exchange for blood sacrifices and, uh… my notes say, “women to breed with?” Oh god. Should the people of Imboca have realized that there was something a little fishy about their new deity? Probably. But maybe the gargling citizens are right that it’s better down where it’s wetter. Only one way to find out. (Meg Shields)
6. The Fog (Antonio Bay)
Few films are as aptly named as John Carpenter‘s The Fog. Antonio Bay is a mostly quiet, sleepy coastal town. But as is often the case, sleepy coastal towns contain deep, dark secrets. For Antonio Bay, those secrets go back one hundred years to when the town was first founded. The town’s six founders intentionally sunk a ship of a wealthy man and stole his money to fund Antonio Bay. Now just in time for the town’s centennial, the ship’s crew has returned through the incoming fog, and they’re looking for vengeance. The town of Antonio Bay may serve as the setting for The Fog, but it’s also a pivotal character. It’s a spooky, eerie place that, even before the fog rolls in, is clearly not as peaceful as it seems. But once it becomes covered in fog, the fear intensifies, and the result is Carpenter’s scariest film. (Chris Coffel)
This list of the ten creepiest horror movie towns ever concludes on the next page…
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists