I remember my first experience with apartment horror movies. I was eight when I first saw Sigourney Weaver in her apartment as Dana Barrett. She came home in workout gear carrying a brown bag of groceries. I imagined it was exactly what adulthood would look like. But when a monstrous hand aggressively punched through her armchair between her legs, grabbing her face, and pulling her towards a neon lit door, it terrified me.
Ghostbusters is not exactly horror but much of the supernatural element focuses on her haunted building. When the gargoyles on the roof came alive, I knew I’d never look at New York City apartments the same way. I was also completely enthralled. Thirty two years laters, they still fascinate me.
I’ve been spending time in quarantine revisiting some of my favorite apartment horror movies. I’ve also gotten a chance to find some new ones, like Netflix’s recent 1BR. It’s not high rise horror, but focuses on the mysteries that lurk behind apartment complex communities.
These 7 apartment horror movies are some of my favorites:
The Devils Advocate is one of my favorite sexy thrillers. In the film hot shot lawyer Kevin Lomax and beautiful wife Mary Ann leave their humble, successful Southern life behind for a flashy, New York City lifestyle. One that comes with a hefty price.
As well as a lucrative position, this new life includes a gorgeous Central Park apartment. The building serves as a mysterious, and important backdrop to everything that unfolds around them. It houses everyone in Lomax’s new firm and happens to quite literally be the devil’s lair.
Sliver gets a lot of hate, but it’s one of my favorite thrillers. Yes, it’s gloriously 90’s and cheesy. Plus it has a non sensical climax as the result of a scrapped original ending. I still love it, and it’s partly because of the setting. Based on Ira Levin’s novel, Sliver is the name of the NYC building Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) moves into when we first meet her. Like so many apartments in horrors and thrillers, it also harbors a lot of secrets.
Levin’s novel explores the detailed lives of the inhabitants of the complex. But Joe Eszterhas’s film’s main focus is Zeke (William Baldwin). Depicting the secretive and obsessive ways in which he watches and stalks his neighbors, including Carly. There’s something about a mysterious apartment building that continues to fixate me. Life isn’t a thriller, but it’s fun to pretend the city’s buildings are just as interesting in real life.
The iconic horror film has a lot of themes. But it’s also a cautionary tale not to befriend your neighbors. Other apartment horror movies focus on the building itself. Rosemarys Baby is more about the nefarious people you may meet when you move into them.
No apartment building in horror is more iconic than Guy and Rosemary’s complex; the real life Dakota building on NYC’s upper West Side.
The original is the most memorable of course. But I have a soft spot for part three. This time Carol Ann is staying with her Aunt and Uncle in a modern style Chicago high rise. This high rise is the film’s focal point. It’s also the outlet the ghosts use to reconnect with Carol Ann. Mostly through mirrors littered throughout the building, as well as art pieces in the complex’s art gallery. As far as apartment horror goes, this is one of my favorites.
Netflix’s recent horror movie isn’t set in a high rise. I’m counting it though, because this apartment structure is at the center of the mystery our protagonist finds upon arrival. After moving in, Sarah is excited though hesitant about some overly friendly neighbors. She quickly learns that the community is more aggressively inclusive than she could have ever imagined.
1BR (like similar apartment horrors) explores the idea that behind a friendly complex can lie a lot of disturbance. And being part of the community isn’t always a good thing.
The high end high rise in the lesser known sequel to Dario Argento’s classic has a variety of tenants. From a sixteen year old girl celebrating her birthday, to a young expectant couple. When demons come out of the TV screen into reality, they use the building as a conduit to spread, infect and kill most of its residents. It’s not as memorable as similar films. But Demons 2 does make good use of it’s high rise setting.
The critters have gone from small town to the big city. As evident from the film’s poster, they’re now invading a Los Angeles apartment building and keeping residents trapped inside.
There’s not much depth to unpack here. Yet it’s interesting to note another example of the third installment of a franchise using an apartment building as the horror backdrop. Maybe because it allows for a number of characters all embedded within one location.
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