In the recent British sci-fi film High-Rise, an artful apartment building becomes both the setting, and cause, of social breakdown, as scores of residents rebel against the enforced social order and stifling setting. Director Ben Wheatley and set designer Mark Tildesley created the apartment out of a mishmash of exaggerated Brutalist influences, including Corbusian towers and oppressive concrete interiors, as well as a Danish hotel Wheatley stayed in that he derided for having a pillar in the center of the room.
It’s evil, uncomfortable, and menacing, one of the latest examples of architecture as not just a key setting but a malicious character.
Movies and set designers have constantly used buildings and architecture to convey emotion, heighten tension, or reveal a character’s true nature (see the way modernist structures were shorthand for evil genius in the Bond franchise). While haunted houses and palatial mansions are all too common, structures that aren't just evil-looking or the homes of villains, but truly evil themselves, make things a little more interesting. Here are some examples of cinema’s truly evil architecture; let us know your favorites of what we missed in the comments.
Overlook Hotel (The Shining)
"Some places are like people: some shine and some don't." The setting of Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic has become so iconic, the fictional structure that caused writer Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, to go mad has become the subject of its own feature-length documentary. Initially, the Stanley Hotel in Estes Colorado served as the inspiration for the building, which inspired author Stephen King to pen the original book after a solitary stay. Kubrick based the movie version of the building on the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon, but built a set at EMI Elstree Studios, a British soundstage, large enough to accommodate interior and exterior shots.
Freeling Family Home (Poltergeist)
Created mostly on a soundstage in Hollywood, with a few exterior shots filmed in nearby Agoura Hills, California, this evil mock Tudor fit in well with director Steven Spielberg’s preference for everyman suburban settings. Of the numerous special effects shots needed to portray the possessed home, the best may have been the closing shot, when the home appears to be sucked into a void. Set designers created a model home that was attached to strings and pulled through a funnel via a vacuum cleaner.
Hill House (The Haunting)
This 1963 film adaptation of the book The Haunting of Hill House captures author Shirley Jackson's attempt to make the home itself, not merely demons or ghosts, a character in the story. The four characters who enter the mansion, built by the late Hugh Crain, experience supernatural phenomena, but it's unclear whether otherworldly forces, mental distress, or the home itself is the culprit.
Cabin (Evil Dead)
A key setting in Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror flick, this remote backwoods shack burned down, with only a chimney remaining. That hasn’t deterred loyal fans from paying their respects; they set up a Facebook page for the remains of the structure. Raimi played up the home’s actual haunted nature during the film’s premiere, handing out flyers saying that numerous inhabitants had been struck by lightning.
Modern Home (The House Next Door)
Maybe your hatred of open plans isn’t so far-fetched. Perhaps the most obscure building on the list, this spooky residence is also the most unique, in that it plays against horror tropes by making a modern home haunted. As Keith Eggener notes in his essay about evil buildings in fiction and film, this obscure Lifetime TV movie casts contemporary design—a house that’s so organic it feels alive—as the evil, corrupting influence that seeks to destroy those who visit and dwell within.
An Elevator (The Lift)
"Deep inside this vertical city, a machine has come to life." So begins a vintage, corny ‘80s Dutch horror movie that revolves around a haunted elevator (and a priceless, synth-heavy soundtrack). While it seems like a malfunctioning elevator would be an easy fix, it turns out this particular machine features a rogue microprocessor that’s malfunctioning, self-programming, and setting out to kill. As the trailer says: "Take the stairs. Take the stairs. For God’s sake, take the stairs."