Just in time for Halloween, we’ve put together our list of the best horror movies that take place in New York City! If you think we’ve overlooked a film, or disagree with our choices, battle it out in the comments!
Without further ado…
EVIL BREWING IN THE CITY
Double Feature: Ghostbusters / Ghostbusters II
Does Ghostbusters really need an explanation? Though we’ve all seen it a million times, Ghostbusters is endlessly rewatchable and an excellent group film (I’ve seen entire crowds quote the dialog from start to finish). As for its New York content, the movie gives viewers one of the best tours of the city ever captured on celluloid, and as a plus, the geography of the movie actually makes sense!
Watch For: a brief glimpse of Ron Jeremy in the crowd outside Dana’s at the end of the film.
Say what you will about Ghostbusters II – when I reference 1) Vigo the Carpathian or 2) the River of Slime, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and that’s gotta mean something, right? (hell, chances are you even know what a “slime blower” is). Though basically a carbon copy of the first in nearly every way (underdogs become heroes, Venkman wins over Dana, a larger-than-life icon brought to life in the finale, etc.), this one still has its charms (New Yorker’s immense hate and disdain manifesting itself into a pink sludge? Brilliant!)
Watch For: Ray’s Occult Bookstore, located at 33 St. Mark’s Place
Another no-brainer. To those that see the film as being a bit dated and campy, I feel they’re missing the point. In my opinion, the characters are among the most realistic ever to populate a horror movie. Rosemary is both incredibly well-meaning and immensely naive, but she never comes off as a horror movie ditz. In many ways, it is her unyielding desire to please that causes her to ignore the obvious and get in such deep trouble.
Her husband Guy, easily one of the sleaziest villains in film history (he lets Satan rape his wife – can you get any worse?), is not a one-dimensional antagonist; we see him change from loving husband to self-centered asshole as the film progresses, an organic shift for his character. And though very much over the top, the Castevets are perfectly believable as the kind of kooks who would try to bring about the return of Satan. For some reason, people tend to picture Satanists as being robe-wearing goth types. Imagine instead that the crazy aunt and uncle in your family accidentally stumbled upon some dark magic and used it to bring about Lucifer. If you were to walk in on the ceremony, the appearance would be comical, but the results horrifying – one of the film’s juxtapositions that I love.
C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers)
You can stop worrying about the alligators in the sewers – it’s the CHUD’s you’ve gotta watch out for! A schlocky B-movie, but a charming B-movie at that. If you’re looking to make fun of this MST3K-style, you might find yourself surprised. Daniel Stern actually gives a decent, non-hammy performance (a rarity!) as the head of a homeless shelter. Not too many scares, but a lot of creepy fun.
SOMETHING’S BEHIND YOU…
If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and rent Cat People. Directed by horror maestro Val Lewton, Cat People is about…well, people that turn into panthers, and features at least two masterful moments of suspense that have stayed with me since I first saw the film (I’d mention more, but I don’t want to ruin them). Though Cat People wasn’t actually filmed in the city, look for a decent recreation of a Central Park transverse.
Wait Until Dark
I gotta be honest (and I know I’ll lose a lot of you on this one): I’m not a Wait Until Dark fan. My parents hold it to be one of the scariest movies ever, but though I’ve seen it a number of times, I’ve never really understood the appeal. Ultimately, it feels to me like filmed theater, which I really, really dislike. If you’re going to make a movie version of a stage play, just make sure to bring something cinematic to it. Instead, the camera is plunked down in practically a fourth wall position to film the proceedings (which at times are distractingly theatrical), and to me it feels hammy and flat. Yes, the finale in the dark is clever, but while I can imagine it having a great effect for anyone watching the stage play in a pitch black theater, on the screen, I feel it loses most of its impact.
I know I’m in the minority on this one, and if I’m going to have CHUD on this list, I have to include Wait Until Dark too!
THEY’RE DESTROYING THE CITY!
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
One of the first monster movies, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms tells the story of a hibernating dinosaur who, after being awoken by atomic bomb testing in the Arctic, comes to New York and tears the place up. The special effects, by master Ray Harryhausen, steal the show and are definitely worth a viewing. In a way, the movie is basically the same as…
Though a bit overhyped when it first came out, Cloverfield is a fun first-hand jaunt through New York City as a space monster wreaks havoc. The geography makes NO sense (they skip the Williamsburg bridge AND the Manhattan Bridge to take the (more photogenic?) Brooklyn Bridge as an escape route, and somehow walk from Spring Street to 59th Street in a matter of minutes) and the characters are especially unlikeable, but the handy-cam nature of the filming is well-used with the special effects to add a sense of realism to the whole thing…lending to some decent suspense and jump moments.
MONSTERS ON THE LOOSE!
Another no-brainer. What more can be said about King Kong? (though nowadays, would Kong prefer to climb the Time Warner Center?).
Q: The Winged Serpent
The tag line for this film – “It’s name is Quetzalcoatl…Just call it Q. That’s all you have time to say before it tears you apart!” – should give you a very good idea of what you’re in for. Regardless, it’s a fun monster movie featuring the winged Q, who has been busy snatching people up throughout the city. Filmed on location at the Chrysler Building, you get a look at the top-most floor of the spire (which surprisingly looks like a wooden attic!).
Planet of the Apes
I stayed away from sci-fi for this list (Independence Day, Escape from NY, etc.), but I’ll make an exception for Planet of the Apes. Not a New York movie, you say? Did you not see the ending? The whole thing was filmed in and around New York!
MOVIES TO AVOID
End of Days, Dark Water, I Am Legend (CGI zombies are not scary, period; two hours of watching Will Smith get chased by cartoony pixels is mind-numbing), Gremlins II, and especially…
Friday the 13th: Pary VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan
Look, this might be great if Jason actually got to Manhattan. Unfortunately, too much of the film takes place on a cruise ship BOUND for Manhattan (Jason has hitched a lift from Crystal Lake along with a high school senior class). Once he finally arrives, Jason causes a bit of mayhem on the streets, but then disappears into the sewers for the film’s climax. Yeah, lots of fun and plenty of victims in the New York’s sewer system, right? Jason is ultimately killed by “toxic waste” being flushed through the sewer.