Looking for something spooky to watch this Halloween? Why not pick a horror movie set in New York!
Longtime Scouting NY readers know I’ve been writing and revising this list for the past five years. While some of these might skirt the boundaries of the horror genre, my main requirement was simply that they’d feel appropriate playing on Halloween. As always, if I’ve forgotten any, please let me know!
LOVECRAFT IN NEW YORK
Title: In The Mouth Of Madness
Tagline: “Lived any good books lately?”
Synopsis: Lovecraftian horror author Sutter Cane is so popular, his books outsell Stephen King and are said to cause readers to commit deranged acts of violence. But when Cane disappears, insurance investigator John Trent is hired to locate him and the manuscript for his final novel, taking Trent to the eerie town of Hobbs End.
Notable NYC Location: This was actually filmed in Toronto, which looks way more like LA than NY in the movie. But this is a fun one, despite not really making a lick of sense.
SATAN STARTS A LAW FIRM
Title: The Devil’s Advocate
Tagline: “The newest attorney at the world’s most powerful law firm has never lost a case. But he’s about to lose his soul.”
Synopsis: Kevin Lomax, an up-and-coming attorney with questionable ethics gets a generous offer to work for the New York law firm of Milton, Chadwick, and Waters. Lomax’s early cases are on the bizarre side – for example, defending a man accused of sacrificing animals in voodoo rituals. But an increasing number of strange occurrences lead him to wonder if his boss might be up to something devilish.
Notable NYC Location: 180 Maiden Lane, home of Milton, Chadwick & Waters (sadly, no rooftop pool)
ARNOLD VS. THE DEVIL
Title: End of Days
Synopsis: In 1979, a passing comet signals the birth of the woman who will one day be the mother of Satan. Twenty years later, depressed cop Jericho Cane must find and protect the girl from Satan, who has returned to Earth as a banker.
Fun Fact: The role of Jericho Cane was originally written for Tom Cruise, but he passed to work on Magnolia, and Schwarzenegger stepped up.
Title: Vampire In Brooklyn
Tagline: A comic tale of horror and seduction.
Synopsis: The last vampire on Earth shows up in Brooklyn in search of a dhampir (daughter of a human and a vampire) who can restore his life force. Hilarity presumably ensues.
Fun Fact: Eddie Murphy believes the failure of the movie is primarily due to the wig he had to wear.
SATANISTS IN GREENWICH VILLAGE
Title: The 7th Victim
Tagline: SLAVE to SATAN!
Synopsis: When Village resident Jacqueline mysteriously disappears, her sister Mary sets off for New York City to figure out what happened. After finding her apartment empty save for a chair and a noose, Mary embarks on a film-noirish investigation that eventually leads her to a group of Greenwich Village devil worshipers.
Notable NYC Location: the RKO Greenwich Village backlot set
PSYCHO MEETS REAR WINDOW ON STATEN ISLAND
Tagline: What the Devil hath joined together let no man cut asunder!
Synopsis: Staten Island resident Danielle takes a man home one night, only to have him murdered by her twin sister Dominique the next day. Though her doctor helps cover up the crime, neighbor Grace Collier sees the incident from her apartment and decides to investigate.
Notable NYC Location: Danielle’s apartment was filmed at 36 Hamilton Ave in Staten Island.
ANOTHER CONJOINED TWIN SERIAL KILLER TAKES NEW YORK
Title: Basket Case
Tagline: The tenant in room 7 is very small, very twisted, and very mad.
Synopsis: Basket Case comes from the director of the cinematic classic Frankenhooker (see below). When two conjoined twins are separated against their wishes, they move to New York and go on a killing spree, with one brother carrying the other around in a basket.
Notable NYC Location: lots of early 80’s Times Square footage.
WE ARE GOING TO EAT YOU
Title: Zombie (known as Zombi 2 in Italy to trick Italians into thinking they were seeing the sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, known there simply as Zombie)
Tagline: We are going to eat you!
Synopsis: An abandoned yacht sails into New York harbor…with a zombie on board! Police officers manage to take out the reanimated corpse, but idiotically bring a bitten officer to the city morgue. Most of the movie takes place on a tropical island as the daughter of the yacht owner goes to track down her father, but the bookends of the movie are set in Manhattan.
Notable NYC Location: zombies heading over the Brooklyn Bridge via the pedestrian walkway. Watch out for angry bikers!
THE FINANCIAL DISTRICT CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Title: American Psycho
Tagline: Killer looks.
Synposis: Exquisitely-dressed and well-manicured Patrick Bateman lives a dual life: Wall Street banker by day, homicidal psychopath by night. While American Psycho was egregiously shot in Toronto, its heart is firmly set in the world of 1980s New York finance, and I’d even argue that the sort-of-but-clearly-not New York locations add to the surreal quality of the film.
Tagline: It can catch up to you.
Synopsis: Director/writer/editor Larry Fessenden plays Sam, a directionless alcoholic who spends his days wasting away in a Village bar. One night, he happens to meet Anna, and as their intense physical relationship blossoms, Sam begins to notice oddities: her aversion to garlic, the small knicks and cuts on his body…Or is it all just another hallucination?
A SCARY MOVIE ABOUT SWANS
Title: Black Swan
Synopsis: A struggling New York City ballerina gets the chance of a lifetime when she’s chosen to play the lead in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. But as she rehearses for the role, she finds herself struggling to meet the demands of an overbearing director while competing with a talented understudy. Then things take a right turn into horror-movie-ville.
Notable NYC Location: the hallway featuring this very creepy statue on the ground floor of the Customs building.
IT’S TIME FOR YOUR CLOSE-UP, CHRYSLER BUILDING
Tagline: It’s name is Quetzalcoatl…Just call it Q. That’s all you’ll have time to say before it tears you apart!
Synopsis: A fun monster b-movie featuring the eponymous winged creature, who has been busy snatching people up throughout the city.
Notable NYC Location: the top-most floor of the Chrysler Building, which surprisingly appears to be a wooden attic
THE DEVIL COMES TO NEW YORK
Tagline: Pray for Rosemary.
Synopsis: Young post-hippy newlyweds Guy and Rosemary get a steal on an apartment in the legend-shrouded Bramford and move in. Sure the neighbors are kooky, Rosemary’s first friend in the building jumps out a window, and her new tannis root necklace is a bit smelly, but it’s worth it for being so close to Central Park, right? Rosemary becomes pregnant, but soon begins to realize Guy might not be the father…
Notable NYC Location: Check ‘em all out here!
FORGET ABOUT THE ALLIGATORS IN THE SEWERS…
Title: C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers)
Tagline: They’re not staying down there, anymore!
Synopsis: All the dumping of toxic waste into New York City sewers is having a rather bad effect on the city’s homeless population, and it’s up to a ragtag group of citizens to stop the CHUD onslaught.
A ROACH TRAP GONE HORRIBLY WRONG
Tagline: For thousands of years, man has been evolution’s greatest achievement. Until now.
Synopsis: Bad news is, roaches are spreading a deadly disease throughout New York City that kills children. Good news is, Susan and Peter create a genetically engineered insect to get rid of the problem, and it works. Bad news is, three years later, the insects mutate and become capable of doppelganging humans. When people begin disappearing in the subway, Susan and Peter have to save New York – or actually, Toronto, where this was filmed.
I’VE BEEN SLIMED! TWICE!
Double Feature: GHOSTBUSTERS / GHOSTBUSTERS II
Tagline: They’re here to save the world.
Synopsis: Sure, they’re shelved as comedies, but one of the reasons Ghostbusters was so successful is that the horror aspects were treated as importantly as the laughs. As for its New York content, the movie gives viewers a great tour of the city, and for once, the geography of the movie actually makes sense. And while some may argue Ghostbusters 2 is just a rehash of the original, can we all agree that Vigo the Carpathian would make a fantastic addition to the Met?
Notable NYC Location: Check ‘em all out here!
IF A BLACK CAT CROSSES YOUR PATH…
Title: Cat People
Tagline: Kiss me and I’ll claw you to death!
Synopsis: Produced by horror maestro Val Lewton, Cat People is about…well, people who turn into panthers in New York. Sounds silly, but there are at least two masterful moments of suspense that have stayed with me since I first saw the film, and the whole thing has a fun creepiness to it.
Notable NYC Location: A backlot version of a Central Park transverse
WHERE DID ALL THOSE TIMES SQUARE HOOKERS GO?
Pull-quote: “If you only see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER” – Bill Murray
Synopsis: When New Jerseyite Jeffrey Franken’s wife is chopped to pieces in a tragic lawnmower accident, he decides to bring her back to life Frankenstein-style. But where to find the missing body parts? Times Square, of course! Specifically, the hookers. Unfortunately, his wife returns from the dead with a much increased libido and goes on a rampage through New York. Will the Big Apple ever be the same?
Notable NYC Location: 1980s Times Square
A WITCH IN NEW YORK
Tagline: Come face to face with hell.
Synopsis: Poet Rose Elliot finds a book describing how the world is ruled by three evil witches, and becomes convinced one of them is living in her apartment building. After enlisting her friend Mark for help, Rose is horribly murdered, and Mark is left to get to the bottom of things.
Watch for: a very unusual scene in which a guy from a hot dog stand literally runs across a Central Park lake and kills a guy getting eaten by rats.
THERE’S SOMEONE BEHIND YOU!
Title: Wait Until Dark
Tagline: The blinds moving up and down…the squeaking shoes…and then the knife whistling past her ear…
Synopsis: Blind young Village resident Audrey Hepburn accidentally comes into possession of a drug shipment, and the owners want it back. I’m really not a Wait Until Dark fan, but my parents swear it’s among the scariest movies ever made, so I have to include it.
THEY’RE DESTROYING THE CITY!
Title: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
Tagline: They couldn’t believe their eyes! They couldn’t escape the terror! And neither will you!
Synopsis: 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 watch.
SOMETHING ELSE IS DESTROYING THE CITY!
Synopsis: Cloverfield is a Blair Witch Project-style film about some annoying 20-somethings trying to escape New York in the middle of an alien invasion. Look closely, and you’ll actually see The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms playing on a TV in an electronics store! The geography in particular makes NO sense – they skip the Williamsburg bridge AND the Manhattan Bridge to escape via Brooklyn Bridge because it’s quicker (??), then somehow walk from Spring Street to 59th Street in a matter of minutes.
Notable NYC Location: watch the characters jump from one fallen Time Warner Center tower to the next
SOMETHING ELSE IS DESTROYING THE CITY!!
Title: King Kong
Tagline: The most awesome thriller of all-time!
Synopsis: The classic story of Beauty and the Beast, if Beast was a 50-foot gorilla. Impoverished beauty Ann Darrow accompanies the S.S. Venture on a trip to Skull Island to star in a film…and finds herself kidnapped by a giant ape! Kong is brought back to New York for a gala unveiling, only to escape and run amok in the city.
CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE VISITS NY
Title: Friday the 13th: Part VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan
Tagline: New York has a new problem.
Synopsis: In the 8th installment of the series, Jason hitches a lift to the Big Apple from Crystal Lake with a high school class on a cruise. This might have been great if Jason actually got to Manhattan early on. Unfortunately, too much of the film takes place on the damn boat. Jason causes a bit of mayhem on the streets of pre-Giuliani Times Square (did he run into Frankenhooker?), but then disappears into the sewers for the film’s climax, where he’s killed by “toxic waste” being flushed through the sewer – ironically, probably responsible for the CHUDs.
A NEVER-ENDING NIGHTMARE
Title: Jacob’s Ladder
Tagline: The most frightening thing about Jacob Singer’s nightmare is that he isn’t dreaming.
Synopsis: Breaking pretty much every rule of Fiction 101 (Is he dead? Was it all a dream?) Jacob’s Ladder nevertheless has an awesomely high creep factor. Vietnam vet-turned-postal worker Jacob Singer suddenly finds that the world around him crumbling in horrific ways. He begins seeing regular people with monstrous deformities, evidence of government conspiracies, and ultimately loses all grip on reality.
Notable NYC Location: pre-gentrification South Williamsburg
THESE PIXELS ARE DEADLY!
Title: I Am Legend
Tagline: The last man on Earth is not alone.
Synopsis: Will Smith runs from badly rendered computer images that you never believe are there. Honestly, that’s all I got out of what I consider to be the worst entry on this list (and that includes Frankehooker). A virus has turned most of New York’s population into Darkseekers, which are basically zombies without the undead part. The city flees, and Robert Neville is left as the last man in New York City.
A HOTEL ROOM HORROR WORSE THAN BED BUGS
Tagline: The dolphin hotel invites you to stay in any of its stunning rooms. Except one.
Synopsis: Skeptical ghost book author Mike Enslin spends the night in the allegedly haunted room 1408 of the fictional Dolphin Hotel on Lexington Ave, and a lot of really weird things happen. There’s some stuff about a dead daughter, a strange hotel owner, and other nonsense thrown in to give the film some semblance of a story, but the real point is to cram as much horror into room 1408 as possible before the credits roll.
Fun fact: 1408 adds up to the number 13!
MONSTERS IN TRUMP TOWER
Title: Gremlins II: The New Batch
Tagline: Here they grow again.
Synopsis: Billy from the first Gremlins has moved to New York City with fiance Kate and now works at a skyscraper owned by multimillionaire/egomaniac Donald Tr-er, Daniel Clamp. His old mogwai Gizmo ends up in the building and somehow gets wet, and Bill and company have to save the day once again from a horde of gremlins.
NEW YORK BRAIN SLUGS
Title: Brain Damage
Tagline: The movie that will blow your mind!
Synopsis: Average New Yorker Rick suddenly finds that a slug-like parasite has attached itself to his brain. Not an uncommon occurrence in the Big Apple, Rick is further troubled by the fact that the slug can excrete an addictive, euphoria-inducing chemical – but only when Rick commits murder.
Watch for: a cameo from the killer in Basket Case on a subway platform
EVIL ON ROOSEVELT ISLAND
Title: Dark Water
Tagline: Dark water conceals darker secrets.
Synopsis: Roosevelt Island. Ghosts. Water. Why not? Other than a killer location, Dark Water is a pretty depressing run-of-the-mill ghost story. Single mom Dahlia and daughter Cecilia move into an apartment on Roosevelt Island and soon begin having major water leakage issues. A “restless spirit” backstory is gradually revealed, leading to a somewhat haunting, but mostly annoying finale. Super depressing.
AWOOO, WEREWOLVES OF LOND- UM, NEW YORK
Tagline: There is no defense.
Synopsis: A series of bizarre murders are occurring around New York, in which victims have been torn to shreds, and Detective Dewey Wilson soon realizes something distinctly inhuman might be responsible.
If you were hoping for a werewolf New York horror flick, you’re going to be disappointed, as the culprits turn out to be [spoiler alert!] well, wolves. OK, not exactly. They’re described as advanced wolves that sit above man on the food chain, and there’s some neat Wolf-POV cam to boot…but they’re still wolves at the end of the day.
Notable NYC Location: a terrifying 1981 South Bronx that is nearly unrecognizable today.
MOVE TO THE LAST SUBWAY CAR…IF YOU WANT TO DIE!
Title: Midnight Meat Train
Tagline: The most terrifying ride you’ll ever take!
Synopsis: This is by no means a good movie, but Midnight Meat Train at least has a neat premise at its core: subway riders have been disappearing for the past ten years, and it appears a serial killer is responsible. But is he just doing it for kicks, or a darker purpose? Photographer Leon investigates, and soon learns the horrifying truth lurking beneath the city’s streets…
I think it’s unclear in the final film where it’s taking place. It was originally written for New York, but shooting moved to LA for budget reasons. Oh well.
Fun fact: Oddly, the movie goes out of the way to point out that the murders occur after 2AM. So ignore the title of the film.
TERROR IN LITTLE ITALY
Title: Mulberry Street
Tagline: There’s something below us worse than hell.
Synopsis: Mulberry Street is basically a low budget/low quality 28 Days Later set in a post-9/11 New York. A deadly infection spread by rats breaks out in Harlem and quickly overtakes Manhattan, turning people into ravenous rat creatures. We’re definitely starting to get into the SyFy-original-movie territory here…
BOWIE IS A VAMPIRE! IT EXPLAINS SO MUCH!
Title: The Hunger
Tagline: Nothing human loves forever.
Synopsis: Based on a book by Whitley Streiber (always a good sign), The Hunger tells the story of immortal vampire and Upper East Side resident Miriam, who has a history of turning men into her vampire lovers. Unfortunately, they don’t get quite the longevity she has, and current 200+ year old husband David Bowie has suddenly developed a case of rapid aging. He appeals to a medical examiner for help, who inevitably winds up in Miriam’s hands, and soft-core lesbian scenes ensue.
THE WORST LANDLORD EVER
Tagline: I warned you not to go out tonight.
Synopsis: The maniac in question is Frank Zito, a Vietnam vet, New York City landlord, and crazed homicidal killer. Frank kills his victims, then takes their scalps and clothes back home to decorate his many mannequins with. The story takes a turn when Frank falls for photographer Rita, which ultimately leads to his undoing. The film is famous for a scene in which Tom Savini gets his head blown off with a shotgun, which caused Gene Siskel to walk out of the theater.
THE GATEWAY TO HELL IS IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS
Title: The Sentinenl
Tagline: There must forever be a guardian at the gate from hell…
Synopsis: Fashion model Alison moves into a creepy Brooklyn Heights apartment and quickly becomes annoyed with the strange sounds she hears in the night. Except, the only other person living there is a blind priest. Well, this sort of thing happens when you’re one floor above the gateway to hell. Watch for David Carradine, Martin Balsam, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them performances by Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum, among others.
Fun fact: John Williams was supposed to do the score for the movie. Then he backed out to work on a little known film called Star Wars. Dummy.
GORE IN GREENPOINT
Title: Street Trash
Tagline: If you’ve never seen a melt movie before…Be prepared!
Synopsis: A Manhattan liquor store owner finds a case of 60 year old Tenafly Viper wine in his basement and decides to sell it to some local homeless guys. Bad news for New York oenophiles – the wine makes anyone who drinks it melt to death! Pure unadulterated schlock at its schlockiest.
Watch for: shots of 1987 Greenpoint and Maspeth, including a scene shot at the supermarket on Driggs.
THE LAST MAN IN NUKED YORK
Title: The World, The Flesh And The Devil
Tagline: The most unusual story ever told!
Synopsis: A man trapped in a Pennsylvania mine manages to escape, only to find that everyone in the world has vanished in an unexplained nuclear apocalypse. He makes his way to a deserted New York, where he learns he might not be so alone after all. Not only do you get to see tons of shots of 1959 New York, you get to see an eerily empty New York years before movies like Vanilla Sky and I Am Legend would make it commonplace.
DONALD DUCK STALKS NEW YORK
Tagline: Slashing up women was his pleasure!
Synopsis: A serial killer with a Donald Duck voice is brutally killing women in New York City, and a burnt out cop is put on the case. The 1982 tour of the city goes from Columbia University to the Staten Island Ferry. Fair warning – according to one critic, New York Ripper “is to police mysteries what Gigli is to mafia sagas.”
If you enjoyed reading this post, would you consider making a donation to help me make my first movie? Just $5 or $10 can make a difference - AND you get this snazzy Scouting NY sticker/magnet as a Thank-You gift! Click here to donate today!