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10 Horror Films in High-Rises That’ll Make You Break Your Lease

You’re really going to wish you could afford a mortgage after visiting these horrifying apartment buildings.
Horror High Rises
By  · Published on October 14th, 2022

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 horror movies set in apartment buildings and high-rises is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.

The thought of hundreds of individual homes stacked on top of each other in the center of a city? That probably sounds pretty unappealing to those of you living in houses that don’t share walls with your neighbors.

Personally, I’ve always loved living in apartments. Sure, you get peace and quiet living in the suburbs or the country, but you also get a bubble of seclusion and isolation. Within the world of an apartment building, you’ll never forget the folks outside of your inner sanctum, especially if those people are trying to either eat you alive, turn you into a guardian to the gates of hell, or something altogether worse. When the outside world is also your inside world, shit can get spooky fast–and we’re not just talking about pandemic-related price hikes.

No matter how noisy our neighbors can get or how inattentive that live-in super can be, Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, Meg Shields, Rob Hunter, Valerie Ettenhofer, and I can all agree that we’re very grateful to not be locked into a lease at one of these accursed rental properties.

10. Poltergeist 3 (1988)


We’re told early on in Poltergeist III that the Freeling family sent Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) to live with her aunt and uncle because she required a fancy city school. Aunt Pat, however, thinks her folks simply wanted this weird kid out of their house. We’re inclined to agree with her since the moment she shows up in their high-rise, the diabolical Kane senses her presence and begins to torture the residents. Poltergeist III cannot compare to the original, but it doesn’t really try to either. If anything, it sinks its claws into the first sequel, celebrating the villainy of Nathan Davis‘ Kane and giving Zelda Rubinstein some meaty sequences to chew. The mirror gags are as creepy as they are numerous. After all, it’s one tall building covered in reflective surfaces. Director Gary Sherman goes nuts with the reflective gimmicks, and we can only roll or suffer with them. (Brad Gullickson)

9. The Sentinel (1977)


“Wah wah, the brownstone in The Sentinel is hardly a high-rise building!” Shut up, nerds. It’s still four stories of terror, and when I visited New York City last year the still-standing building was at the top of my sightseeing list. (It was very cool, thank you for asking.) The film sees a troubled young woman move into the building only to discover some creepiness among its occupants, and the unfolding story weaves in Catholic horror not dependent on boring possessions. Add in some great scenes, brutal gore, and an incredible supporting cast – Chris Sarandon, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Tom Berenger, a dubbed Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Dreyfuss in a cameo! – and you have an all-timer horror film set in a very short high-rise. (Rob Hunter)

8. Rosemary’s Baby


Now settle down. We hear you: is the Dakota really a “high rise?” First of all, Satan be with you. Second of all, uh, yeah, it’s literally an apartment building. It counts. The Dakota, which goes under the name “The Bramford” in Rosemary’s Baby, resides at 1 West 72nd Street at Central Park West. And a quick pop over to Google street view proves that the edifice is indeed neck-crane worthy. The Bramford/Dakota is integral to Rosemary Woodhouse’s demonic tale. Author Ira Levin specifies that the building the Woodhouses move into is a historic Gothic Revival apartment. And these uncanny, old-world undertones are our first tip-off that something strange is afoot. Indeed, it turns out that a spacious, rent-controlled apartment in the heart of the Big Apple is too good to be true. And sure, Rosemary was gaslit harder than a bonfire into carrying Satan’s spawn but hear me out: have you seen the size of the ceilings? (Meg Shields)

7. Demons 2 (1986)


If I boiled down everything I wanted from a horror movie set in a high-rise apartment building, the simplicity of Lamberto Bava’s Demons 2 may very well be the end all be all in this subset of the genre. Does Demons 2 have the most well-plotted story, with unique characters or situations like other films on this list? Subjectively, no. But between the neon-drenched rooms, the cadre of goopy demons tearing shit to shreds, and a rock-pop-punk soundtrack wailing the entire run time, really, what more could you ask for from an apartment-set horror film? Call me a simple kind of guy, but sometimes that’s all you need after a long day at work. (Jacob Trussell)

6. Attack the Block (2011)


High-rise horror is an interesting subgenre (that we just made up) because skyscrapers, more than most settings, are unambiguous symbols of class status. In films like Rosemary’s Baby, the tall apartment building was a sign of success for its young couple. In movies like Candyman, Cabrini Green is a place of urban decay and governmental neglect. Attack the Block presents its own unique take on the high rise, making the economic inequality of London clear by setting its alien invasion at underfunded council estates but also crafting local heroes who take care of their own with no help from the largely absent powers-that-be.

John Boyega stars as Moses, the resilient leader of a teen gang who must defend the tower block – and their less street-tough new neighbor, Samantha (Jodie Whittaker) – when an intergalactic invasion kicks off in their neighborhood. The tower apartments serve as a huge part of the story, whether Moses and his crew are blasting off fireworks from their hiding place in an elevator or Samantha’s turning her kitchen into a deadly weapon. One of the most effective works of class commentary horror in recent years, Attack the Block is also just a very good time at the movies. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

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Jacob Trussell is a writer based in New York City. His editorial work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Rue Morgue Magazine, Film School Rejects, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the author of 'The Binge Watcher's Guide to The Twilight Zone' (Riverdale Avenue Books). Available to host your next spooky public access show. Find him on Twitter here: @JE_TRUSSELL (He/Him)