Frankenstorm threatening to ruin your Halloween this year? No problem! Why not stay in, pop some corn, turn off the lights (if the storm hasn’t already taken care of that for you), and settle in with a horror movie set in New York City?
I’ve been writing and revising this list for the past two three four years, and I think it’s nearing completion. 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. If you feel I’ve forgotten any, please let me know!
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. Produced by horror impresario Val Lewton, this one has a rare less-than-uplifting finale in a time when most movies ended with over-the-top happiness.
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. This is from the height of Brian DePalma’s borrowing-from-Hitchcock phase and you’ll probably see all the twists coming a mile down the turnpike, but it’s still a fun, if campy, horror film.
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, so titled as to confuse Italians into thinking they were seeing the sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was there called 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 animated corpse, but idiotically bring a bitten officer to the city morgue. Actually, 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.
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. One of the most easily quotable movies to be released in the past few decades, I’d write a little more about it, but I’ve got reservations at Dorsia (full guide to the American Psycho NY locations here).
Tagline: It can catch up to you.
Synopsis: In what has been described as one of the most realistic vampire movies ever made, 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. But it’s all subtle, possibly just an extension of the surreality of his alcoholism. As Roger Ebert writes, “Of all the recent vampire movies, this is the only one to suggest that the powerful symbolism of vampirism could create results even in the absence of causes. You could be killed by vampires even if they do not exist.”
MURDER AT THE COCKPIT…AND THE RAMROD…AND THE…
Tagline: Al Pacino is cruising for a killer.
Synopsis: A serial killer is loose in New York City who seems to be targeting gay man, dumping their body parts in the Hudson. Pacino, a cop, fits the description of the killer’s victims and is sent undercover to the leather and S&M clubs of the Meatpacking District to seek him out. There were tremendous protests from gay rights groups when this was shooting in the city – people were encouraged to blow air horns and use mirrors to disrupt filming. Probably closer to psychological thriller than horror movie (though there are some scares), the film ultimately flopped.
Notable NYC Location: leather and S&M clubs of the Meatpacking District
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. As she rehearses for the role, she finds herself struggling to meet the demands of an overbearing director while competing with a talented understudy.
Not exactly the description you expect to read on the back of a DVD shelved in the horror section, but Black Swan is 100% a horror movie. Sure, it’s a bit gussied up in artistry so the NPR crowd can sing its praises without guilt, but all the genre standards are there, from jump scares to gore to doppelgangers to supernatural murder and more.
Notable NYC Location: the hallway featuring this very creepy statue on the ground floor of the Customs building.
THE CHRYSLER BUILDING GETS ITS DUE
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…
For my money, the Castevets are easily the most original and realistic Satanists every portrayed on the big screen. Thankfully avoiding the black-robes-and-eyeliner cliche, Rosemary’s Baby instead imagines what it would be like if your nutty uncle and aunt suddenly decided to bring about the rebirth of the devil. In a way, this makes it far more frightening, as even at the end of the movie, I don’t believe they fully realize what they’ve done.
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: …It’s the CHUD’s you’ve gotta watch out for! A schlocky but charming B-movie about the result of dumping toxic waste in New York City sewers. 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.
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 (I’m looking at you, Cloverfield). 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: If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and rent Cat People. 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 may lose some of you on this one, but I’m not a Wait Until Dark fan. Based on a play, it’s always felt like filmed theater to me. In fact, during many scenes, the camera is plunked down literally in a fourth wall position to shoot the proceedings, which at times are distractingly theatrical. 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, it loses most of its impact. 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. One of these days, I’m going to have to do a careful viewing to see exactly what real NYC locations were used in the film.
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!
Sure, the geography makes NO sense (they skip the Williamsburg bridge AND the Manhattan Bridge to escape via Brooklyn Bridge, then 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.
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. Two remakes were made – one in 1976, culminating in Kong climbing the World Trade Center, and Peter Jackson’s cgi-heavy version – but neither holds a candle to the original.
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 trip. 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 (because there’s 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 – 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.
The best thing about Jacob’s Ladder are the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bizarro moments – “Wait – did that nurse have a bone protruding from her skull?! Rewind the DVD!”
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.
Besides the terrible script, silly plot twists, and dismal ending, what absolutely kills the movie for me is the fake-looking, cartoony CGI. With zero weight or reality to the monsters, Will Smith appears to be trapped in the horror movie version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and at no time do you ever feel he is in danger. An extra with some make-up goes a long way…
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.
The first Gremlins is dark. I can’t believe so many of us children of the 80’s managed to get our parents to let us watch it (in fact, Gremlins is one of two movies that led to the creation of the PG-13 rating). For Gremlins II, the filmmakers clearly eased up on the evil stuff, substituting it with Looney Tunes zaniness. One or two people die, but for the most part, it’s a silly though occasionally enjoyable romp with some added New York satire.
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 (as one of my readers points out, “it’s pretty boring by today’s standards, certainly, but oh baby it was hot for 1983. Not least because of who was in it”).
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.
I actually really enjoyed this movie despite its many bizarre faults, and showed it this year at my annual Halloween party. 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.”
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