Your Vice is a Locked Room: favourite single location horror movies

Single-location movies rule. Especially when that location is a bit out of the ordinary: a ski lift, a haunted morgue, elevators! It forces everyone involved to get a bit creative. No convenient detectives here to explain the finer details. No meeting with a priest at the church. We’re all on our own.

In the past couple weeks I watched Michael Soavi’s Stage Fright (Deliria) and Giuseppe Bennati’s giallo The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (L’assassino ha riservato nove poltrone). Both good films with the basic premise that a bunch of Italians are locked in a theatre with a killer. This is exactly my type of thing. So to celebrate: a mini list of some of my favourite single-location horror films.

I ruled out the general location of “house”. As haunted houses would open up a whole can of worms, and definitely need a list of their own. Also, it’s just too basic! Instead, these locations are all familiar to most people, but may not be places we visit every day.

While writing this list, I had to force myself to stop. But I’d also throw classics like Train to Busan and The Thing onto the list as well! This might just become my new Thing.

Ha ha.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) dir. by George A. Romero
Location: shopping mall

A class for a reason. Over forty years on, Romero’s masterpiece remains politically relevant. Sure, technically the opening bit doesn’t take place in our shopping mall. But once we’re there, the story really gets going.

When a plague causes the dead to rise from their graves, a group of survivors lock themselves up in a shopping mall. Where else would any good consumerist American go? All is well while the world collapses around them, until one day everything changes for them.

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk at the shopping mall.”

Intruder (1989) dir. by Scott Spiegel
Location: supermarket

Written and directed by one of the Michigan Evil Dead crew, Scott Spiegel, this is a slasher with lots of imagination.

During the closing time of a supermarket, employees are picked off one-by-one. But who is doing the killer? A vindictive ex? A total unknown maniac? The standard slasher formula is given plenty of inventive twists with lots of iconic death scenes.

Chopping Mall (1986) dir. by Jim Wynorski
Location: shopping mall

On the opposite side of the shopping mall spectrum from Dawn of the Dead is the delightfully strange Chopping Mall.

A group of teens stay late at a mall one night to party. Unbeknownst to them, the mall’s security robots have gone rogue, and they’re out for blood! It’s bananas and utterly 80s in every way possible. A true delight.

Popcorn (1991) dir. by Mark Herrier
Location: cinema

During an all-night movie marathon at a local theatre, a group of film students are terrorised by a disguised killer. The deaths here, like in Intruder, are incredibly inventive. This movie is the product of 80s slashers and William Castle gimmicks.

The Last Matinee (Al morir la matinée) (2020) dir. by Maximiliano Contenti
Location: cinema

Another cinema slasher, but this one is very giallo-inspired. On a rainy night, a man in black arrives at a cinema, but he isn’t there to watch the movie. A young student and cinema-worker must save herself when she discovers a series of brutal killings have taken place on her watch.

Speaking of Italy…

Demons (Dèmoni) dir. by Lamberto Bava
Location: cinema

Sorry for the cinema-set overload, but this setting is ripe for good storytelling. Of the three, this Italian slasher goes into the supernatural realm. At the screening of a new horror film, a woman cuts her hand on a demonic mask. Thus a demonic outbreak begins.

This wasn’t Baby Bava’s first time directing, but it’s possibly his best-known film and for a good reason. The demons look incredible, the people act incredibly stupid, and the gore arrives by the bucket full. Its sequel, Demons 2, also takes place in one primary location, a block of flats, but it just isn’t as good. No motorcycle riding through an auditorium!

Terror Train (1980) dir. by Roger Spottiswoode
Location: train

This movie’s plot is a bit hard to sell: So Jamie Lee Curtis is on a train with former classmates and David Copperfield is there performing magic. Who am I kidding? It’s not hard to sell at all. This movie is odd in all the right ways.

JLC is great in this, like she is in every slasher she graces her presence with. But in addition to good actors, we get a creepy-looking killer in a Groucho Marx mask. It’s up there with best Canadian slasher mask of the 80s along with Curtains‘ granny.

Slaughter High (1986) dir. by George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, Peter Litten
Location: high school

There are a lot of slasher movies that take place in high schools: Student Bodies, The Faculty, Return to Horror High, and Graduation Day but this one still sticks with me.

A group of friends return to their old school for a class reunion. When they arrive, however, they learn they are the only ones to have been invited. They’re all linked by one thing: a prank gone wrong years earlier.

Like Terror Train, we have a killer in an excellent get-up: a jester’s hat and a mask of an old man.

The setting is wonderfully desolate. Scenes are still etched in my mind, and it’s been years since I last watched it.

Night of the Demons (1988) dir. by Kevin S. Tenney
Location: funeral parlour

A classic.

Considering how much death we see in horror movies, very few of them involve a funeral home. Sure we have a couple with scenes in cemeteries or mausoleums, but not very many that have a crematorium.

Like most movies on this list, apparently, the story revolves around a group of friends doing something stupid. On Halloween night, this gang decide to party in an abandoned mortuary. When one of them holds a seance, they are in for a lot more than anticipated.


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