The Settings of Horror in Film and Novel

Where would many of our most loved books and films be without the perfectly chosen effects of their surroundings?

Is atmosphere such a common thing that it's overlooked a bit too much, unappreciated for how much sheer and raw power it really has? Do you ever find yourself more drawn towards certain environment in a book or movie because in the past another you enjoyed was in a similar location that affected you strongly?

Can this article's opening sound any more like the beginning of some sort of sales ad???

But all joking and melodrama aside, the setting in horror is of monumental importance. The people behind the pen and camera pay attention to all the minuscule details that go into the working of a book or the production of a picture, but the reader and moviegoer is just wanting to kill some time and may not pay as much attention. But since its such a crucial part of the story, specifically horror, it definitely deserves the credit its due.


Book Cover art for Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles

One of the most extreme examples is Outer Space. The big unknown - the wide, open, vast and empty sea of mystery that has always fascinated mankind. And as mankind advances in its own world, he never has the common sense to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground. The ground of Earth, that is...and sometimes this can result in disaster.

One of the key elements is that the victims are so cut off from outside aide. This is true in many effective horror scenarios but not many are as isolated as here. When the enemy is aboard the claustrophobic space vessel, their little area that they made as a "home away from home" becomes a small flying prison instead.

Another situation is where the characters are placed on another planet. Similar to what happens when one country invades another and the defending troops have the advantage of being familiar with their territory and using that military tactic to full advantage, the planet is an unknown area where many threats await, and not as many solutions are available.

The best example I can think of is Alien and every spawned sequel, and The Martian Chronicles. Injecting moral lessons of depending too much upon technology and how doing this will ultimately lead to the demise of man, Sigourney Weaver is a woman caught in one of the worst situations I could ever think of as one by one her crew members fall prey to the meticulous, ruthless alien predator.

The tagline for Alien was "In space, no one can hear you scream."

How right they are.



The forest is commonly used, especially in campy type slashes such as Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp, and while is does use isolation to its benefit, it also uses the camouflage of nature.

The trees do seem almost alive at night, and they offer great shielding for any stalking maniacs or creatures to run around. They're also an enemy themselves if a victim tries to fun through them in a burst of blind panic, as the heroine in the film Texas Chainsaw Massacre knows firsthand as she is cut by several twigs and branches running from the terrifying Leatherface. In 'Evil Dead', an evil force is present; as the audience we not only see the girl raped by a freaking tree (!), we see how cut off Ash and the gang have become since the area is overall a secluded one.

Jason used the area surrounding Camp Crystal Lake as his home and pity any campers who chose to vacation there. A similar tactic when Angela decided to get down and bloody in the Sleepaway Camp trilogy.

There are plenty of horror stories where animals are involved - numerous killer bear sprees, werewolves in The Howling, Ticks, etc.

Whatever the killer, it's impossible to deny that the woods don't exactly look welcoming once the sun sets.


I'm going to venture out into another environment that scares me personally - water. I have a little theory that perhaps we shouldn't swim in the oceans and lakes that are full of sharp-teethed blood thirsty critters, but they, that's just me. The DVD of Jaws 2 delivers a great quote in the Shark Fact Extras: In water, man is the clumsiest prey.

The cool blue liquid is a dangerous threat; beneath the calm facade an entirely different world exists. We don't know what's down there - thousands of life form species are yet to be discovered. In "Meg", Steve Alten explored that along the Mirena trench, perhaps even long-thought dead Jurassic species may have actually survived. In the ocean or the murky lake where the bottoms are pretty far down, there's no telling what can sneak up on you when you're turned the other way and literally bite you in the ass! Our vision is limited, hearing almost non-existent, our reactions and reflexes awkward.

Sometimes the boat offers a relatively safe haven but boats DO sink. Sometimes the threat is on the boat itself, the case with the movies Virus and Ghost Ship. Tim Curran's epic novel Dead Sea shows that the entirety of the water can be a creepy fog that will eventually silence even the most brave soldiers.


Art from John Carpenter's Movie Adaption of 'The Thing'
Without question the most intimate invasion is the human mind and body itself. Sometimes the horrors invade what should be the safest area in the first place. Body Snatchers, The Thing, and to a point In the Mouth of Madness. The ticket for Freddy Krueger was human dreams, and Candyman was really kept alive by human fear, legend and memory.

Not being able to escape from someone who comes out of us is the worst invasion and fear of all. Possession stories like The Exorcist are numerous.

This article points out that horror is everywhere for stories - lurking below deceptively calm surfaces, hidden in wide open blackness, enshrouded with the wildlife that has been around before we have, or right in the backyard of our heavily mortgaged homes with security systems.

There's little point in trying to hide, as can be shown through the talented pens and behind the creative directing talents that bring legends to life in book and movie form.