Between the paper thin walls, lack of space, lousy roommates, questionable maintenance, and more often than not you end up having weird neighbors, apartment living can seem like a horror movie. That’s also why apartments make the ideal setting for a horror movie.
With the recent announcement of Netflix’s The Woman in the Window, set for release on May 14, I thought it would be a perfect time to take a look back at some other apartment horror movies that have defined the apartment sub-genre.
Apartment Horror Movies We Love
At one time or another, we’ve all been guilty of spying on our neighbors. As the nurse in Rear Window would say, we’ve all become a race of peeping toms . But it’s true; we have, and Rear Window shows us the dangers of not minding our business.
This grand-daddy of apartment horror movies tells the story of a photographer, L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart), who is recuperating and confined to a wheelchair. What’s a man to do? Spy on his neighbors of course!
Jefferies watches the private lives of his neighbors play out across the courtyard until, late one night, he believes he witnesses the neighbor across the way murder his wife and dispose of her body. No one believes him except for his nurse (Thelma Whitter) and his girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly). The three of them must solve the crime before they become the next victims.
Alfred Hitchcock manages to create suspense and fear inside one location. He explored the theme of voyeurism, which was taboo for its time , but it works beautifully. In fact, over 70 years later, Rear Window voyeuristic approach still influences filmmakers across genres. Don’t believe me? Check out What Lies Beneath, Disturbia, and Netflix’s upcoming thriller The Woman in the Window.
Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) are newlyweds that move into their new apartment only to find themselves living next to some peculiar neighbors. When Rosemary suddenly becomes pregnant, paranoia consumes her, especially after those neighbors begin to control every aspect of her life. As tensions mount, the safety of her unborn baby becomes her main priority.
This quintessential apartment horror film is not about the apartment being scary as much as it is the neighbors. However, the building is a character of its own in Rosemary’s Baby. It is terrifying and beautiful with its Gothic architecture, gargoyles, long narrow hallways, and secret passageways that enhance the film’s satanic cult theme.
This terrifying follow-up to Demons finds a group of tenants and their visitors trapped in a 10-story high-rise apartment during a demonic invasion.
Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) is throwing herself a birthday party. As part of the festivities, she watches a horror film that features teens waking up the demon from the previous film. Suddenly, the creature crawls through the TV, possesses Sally, and turns her into a monster. The night turns deadly as the building soon becomes infested with demons and survivors fighting for their lives.
What it lacks in story, it makes up for in nonstop gore with body mutilations, blood-thirsty demons, hellish dogs and a Gremlin-like creature. Demons 2 makes good use of the high-rise setting and delivers some chilling sequences as the horde of hell-spawn run rampant throughout the building hunting down the remaining survivors.
They found her…again! These spirits have gone from haunting suburban homes to terrorizing entire high-rises!
In the climactic finale of the original Poltergeist trilogy, Carol Anne (Heather O’ Rourke) has been sent to live with her Uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt) and Aunt Pat (Nancy Allen) in a Chicago high rise. Unfortunately, Carol Anne hasn’t escaped the malevolent spirits in her past. They are lurking behind every reflection.
There’s no doubt that Poltergeist III is mediocre compared to the first two films, but they earn an A for effort for trying to do something new with the franchise by having the ghosts invade the high-rise through mirrors.
Poltergeist III doesn’t just limit the haunting to one apartment, however. Ghosts invade the entire building. The film’s more frightening sequences involve state-of-the-art scare gags that take place throughout the high-rise as the spirits terrorize elevator shafts, a parking garage and a nail-biting finale involving a window-washer lift.
The 4th Floor
Something evil is happening on the fourth floor.
The 4th Floor revolves around Jane Emlin (Juliette Lewis) who has never lived on her own before. After her aunt mysteriously dies, Jane inherits her rent-controlled apartment, and instead of moving in with her boyfriend, Greg Harrison (William Hurt), Jane takes over the lease. At first the apartment is a dream. It’s beautiful, spacious and in a perfect neighborhood.
Jane’s happy home soon becomes a nightmare when she is besieged with threatening letters by the neighbor on the fourth floor. Things only escalate from there as Jane disregards the warnings and soon finds her house flooded with massive infestations of rodents, flies and maggots. Still, Jane refuses to leave and has to discover what’s really happening on the fourth floor before it kills her.
The 4th Floor keeps audiences engaged, piling on the suspense and fear by leaning into the idea that what you don’t see can be far scarier than what you do. In the vein of Rear Window and Pacific Heights, the film stands out for its suspense, and its weird cast of characters including Shelley Duvall and a pre-Saw Tobin Bell. It will keep you guessing throughout about what could be happening on the fourth floor.
Tobe Hooper first scared us with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Then he trapped us inside a Funhouse, redefined the haunted house genre with Poltergeist, and in 2004, he tackled the apartment horror sub-genre with Toolbox Murders.
A remake of 1978’s The Toolbox Murders, the movie centers around Nell (Angela Bettis) and her husband Steven (Brent Roam) who have recently relocated to Los Angeles for Steven’s job. The couple move into an apartment complex called the Lusman Arms that’s the opposite of luxurious. Their first night in their new apartment is anything but welcoming.
The neighbors are loud; there’s endless construction. And, unbeknownst to them, a masked killer stalks the hallways with his handy toolbox, murdering the tenants of the building with the tools of his trade: claw hammers, power drills, and a deadly nail gun.
The Toolbox Murders echoes Tobe Hooper’s earlier films with its gritty, grimy cinematography and the over-the-top violent kills. He create an ominous setting in Lusman Arms, where the tenants are dying to get out.
Dark Water (2002)
Hideo Nakata weaves a supernatural ghost story about a mother and daughter who are haunted by the previous tenants in their new apartment.
After a bitter divorce, a newly-single mother, Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki), is struggling to keep custody of her daughter and is looking to start a new chapter in their lives. Yoshimi and her daughter move into a dilapidated apartment and quickly begin to experience strange occurrences, including a mysterious water leak from the apartment above. Gradually, these experience lead to Yoshimi and her daughter seeing a spirit of a young girl.
Dripping in moody atmosphere, Dark Water is an eerie supernatural ghost story dealing with themes of loss, grief, and parental abandonment that gives the film strong emotional depth while also delivering some chilling moments. The apartment reflects those themes and as the film progresses it begins to fall apart much like the characters in the film.
Rec focuses on television reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman on assignment to follow a group of firemen who are on a call to an apartment building. What seems like a routine call becomes a night of survival when police declare that the building is under quarantine because of an infection that spreads like a virus and turns the tenants into rabid zombies. As the building becomes overrun by the infected tenants, Angela and her cameraman must find a way to escape before they also end up infected.
This found footage film traps you inside the complex, immersing you in the experience. The scares grow organically from its confined location, scaring the audience as characters are chased by infected tenants through dark corridors. The chaotic shots of the infected running up the spiraling staircase is right out of someone’s nightmare.
Insidious Chapter 3
Insidious: Chapter 3 takes place three years before the Lamberts encounter Elise (Lin Shaye). The psychic medium finds herself, instead, attempting to protect Quinn Brenner (Stephanie Scott) from an insidious evil that’s dead set on taking the young girl’s soul.
Similar to Poltergeist III, the film shifted its setting from a haunted house to a haunted apartment building. Writer/Director Leigh Whannell uses haunted house tropes: whispers from inside the vents, knocking on walls, noises coming from the apartment above when no one is there. The building itself is creepy without the ghosts with its long, narrow hallways reminiscent of The Shining. Then, Whannell takes it a step further and transforms the entire building into the hellish realm of The Further-a purgatory for the dead.
Unlike Poltergeist III, this film successfully pulls off apartment horror with some effective frightening sequences, a creepy villain with the “Man Who Can’t Breathe,” and an emotionally driven story line.
The latest in apartment horror, movies, 1BR finds Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) new to Los Angeles and on the hunt for her new home. She finds the perfect apartment at the Asilo Del Mar Apartments. There’s only one rule: No Pets! Sarah lies and says she doesn’t own a pet when in reality she has a cat. Sarah finds herself tormented by strange noises and receives threatening notes about breaking the complex’s one rule.
By the time Sarah realizes what’s happening it’s too late, and she soon finds out the consequences for breaking the rules are much more than she could have imagined.
1BR takes apartment horror to another level by creating a disturbing Utopian community led by psychologist Charles D. Ellerby (Curtis Webster) which pushes their tenants to their breaking point. The film is more than just your standard cult movie; it packs a punch.1BR is filled with twists and turns, and just when you think you have everything figured out, the film hits you with a curve ball.
When it comes down to it, 1BR is combination between Midsommar and The Invitation that’ll make you think twice before signing a new lease.