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This is the perfect setting for a horror film, which means two things: that somebody used it perfectly, and that it has since been done to death. Horror movies need a setting that distances the main characters from safety. The easiest way to do that? Put 'em in a cabin in the woods.
Eli Roth's "Cabin Fever" (2002) is both an homage to the cliché setting and a perfect example of it. "The Cabin in the Woods" (2012) practically includes a plot description within its title, although it certainly offers some twists of it's own. Audiences just never get sick of seeing twenty-somethings stranded in a cabin, apparently.
"While Evil Dead 2" (1987) is the definition of "cabin fever," I have to go with the original "Evil Dead" (1981). For Ash, the cabin is both a sanctuary from the evil in the woods and a prison to hold him. Not only is the film a landmark of the horror genre, but the production of "The Evil Dead" has also become legend. The budget was so tight that the entire cast and crew lived on the set, which was an actual cabin in the woods.
For high school students, prom is one of the first awkward steps in the transition to the real world. In horror movies, it's the perfect time for everything to hit the fan... Or the perfect time to dump pig blood on the least popular girl in school.
Holidays and horror films have been linked since "Black Christmas" (1974) and "Halloween" (1978) established the slasher subgenre. Many movies were made to cash in on the craze, and most of them are forgettable — including "Prom Night" (1980). Before she was slaying weeknights on television, Buffy staked vampires at the big dance in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1992). It’s true that vampires can't enter without an invitation, but unfortunately they have been invited... to the
prom. Hey, they're seniors. The most famous prom scene in any horror film is definitely from "Carrie" (1976). The poor girl is mistreated by everyone she meets, but this prom queen finally gets her revenge at the dance...
"Dance of the Dead" (2008) is yet another film in the long, long line of low, low budget zombie flicks. The difference is that it's so much better than so many of the others. As if teenage life isn't hard enough, their town has been invaded by zombies on prom night. Only a rockin' garage band can save the day with the ultimate zombie lullaby.
There are several ways to make a sci-fi/horror film, but what's the best way? Answer: do it in space. Any horror movie could be rewritten and relocated to outer space for a quick and easy sci-fi twist. "Jason X" (2001) and "Leprechaun 4: In Space" (1997) both took established horror franchises off the planet.
Some of the best (and some of the cheesiest) horror movies take place in outer space. "Pitch Black" (2000) features more than just Vin Diesel and explosions, but some genuinely-good horror. John Carpenter's "Ghosts of Mars" (2001), on the other hand, was an action/horror film that fell flat for most audiences.
The Film That Nailed It
"Alien" (1979) is the perfect blend of science fiction and horror, while its sequels strayed away from horror and into action/adventure territory. "Aliens" (1986) had a group of space marines blasting their way through hordes of alien monsters, but the original had a single alien terrorizing and slaughtering the crew of a spaceship. As if Alien didn't have enough sci-fi/space/futuristic elements, there's an android thrown in the mix for good measure.
Okay, so Texas isn't exactly a cliché setting for a horror film; "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974) and its sequels are the only ones that immediately come to mind. However, there are several horror movies with a Texas-like setting (and I'm not talking about Westerns). The main characters are stranded in a place that's cut off from the real world. This place's inhabitants seem to have no morals whatsoever. The rules (and safety) of modern society are gone. Escape is seemingly impossible.
"Hostel" (2005) is not unlike the TCM series. It substitutes an Eastern European country for Texas, but the premise is similar: young adults who aren't from the area are captured, tortured, and killed. All the locals they encounter conspire against them, which means getting any help is extremely unlikely. "The Human Centipede" (2009) follows two American girls in Germany who just need help with a flat tire. The only people they find to ask for help are a pervert and an insane doctor who drugs them, captures them, and surgically attaches them to create a "human centipede."
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003) is a rarity among the recent horror remakes. Not only is it good (which certainly can't be said for all remakes), it's better than all of the earlier TCM films, including the original. The version of Texas in this movie is the same, but amplified. Every Texan we see is a backward murderer, and they all seem content with their twisted way of life. Even the sheriff is just another member of the family.
Haunted houses are an aspect of innumerable horror films. There's almost always a ghost, demon, or other beastly creature inside. "The Amityville Horror" (1979) and the eight subsequent films in that series are good examples: a family moves into an old house and, after a number of increasingly-terrifying events, they discover its atrocious history. Most recently, Paranormal Activity (2007) took a standard haunted house story and looked at it through the lens of modern technology. As far as cheesy classics go, you won't find a better haunted house film than "House on Haunted Hill" (1959) starring Vincent Price.
Some of the best haunted houses in film aren't houses at all. The Overlook Hotel from "The Shining" (1980) is one of the greatest haunted "houses" in movie history. And, of course, who could forget the Grey Lady who haunts the New York City Public Library in "Ghostbusters" (1984)?
The Tobe Hooper-directed, Steven Spielberg-produced '80s classic "Poltergeist" (1982) is a great example of a haunted house movie. Unlike the average story, the house is not an ancient structure, but instead part of a brand-new housing development. Even so, there are some seriously upset spirits in this nice little house.
Jimm McShane writes for HalloweenCostumes.com, where he can write about Evil Dead whenever he wants. HalloweenCostumes.com has a great selection of scary Halloween costumes, from zombie to werewolf and much much more.