Monday, March 25, 2013

Fear Is Beneath Me: My Favorite Basements In Horror

Those who are regular readers of this blog (there are some out there, right?) know that I have a great love of lists. A penchant to categorize in every way imaginable. A need to sort, classify, and arrange. So it shouldn't be a surprise to find another list jumping out from the blog pages.

Basements to me, are the scariest damn places on earth.  Whereas some folks cringe to go up to their attic (and I'll admit that has to be the second scariest), I feel tension and anxiety when I'm forced to tread into what is really no more than a hole in the ground with some walls holding it up.  I'm not really afraid of my own basement (as I have a killer cat down there that protects me and makes sure no monsters are hiding there), but when I was a kid, my grandparent's basement scared the living hell out of me.  It was dark, had random light bulbs hanging down like the cellar in Psycho, a dreadful little bathroom stall tucked away in one corner, boasted the creepiest "root" cellar (yeah, my grandparents called it a root cellar instead of fruit cellar. Either way it's ominous.) in the lower 48 - with red walls like the goddamned Amityville Horror house, and last but not least, the room had an old table with dragon's heads for feet and I thought for sure someday they would come to life and attack me.  I read a lot of Stephen King as kid.

The basement in my parents house frightened the shit out of me too.  The furnace was a noisy monster all on its own, but there was a room off the one side that was a dirt-floor coal room (back when the house would have been heated by a coal furnace) and it looked like a good place for John Wayne Gacy to stash bodies. When it rained there would be water in one corner, and I could always imagine a body rising from the murky waters, hair plastered to their face, their eyes inhumanly blank and their mouths open in a silent scream. Yes, I really thought that every time I saw it. Still do. 

Furthermore, as a teen my friends and I used to go haunted house hunting and many times entered dilapidated old houses out in the woods through the basement.  Don't even think of telling me that wasn't the freakiest thing ever. A house with no electric - hence, no lights - isolated out in the woods, with a rickety set up cellar steps up into the house and a dirt floor more often than not.  Very Evil Dead-ish, if I do say so myself. Suffice it to say we always brought extra flashlights! (And plenty of alcohol, truth be told.)

So there have been some very shuddersome basements in my past. Thankfully, I don't think any of them were quite as sinister as most of the basements on this list.  And with the new Evil Dead film coming out in just a few weeks, I couldn't resist a little list of cellars that spooked me most.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I'm not sure there is a more expansive basement in horror than here at Jame Gumb's home. There are an unbeliveable amount of rooms, all filled with palpable creepiness.  A dead body in a bathtub (most likely the former owner of the house), a dry well in which Gumb holds his captives, his sewing room where he stitches together pieces of human skin...the list goes on.

The Cellar Door (2007)
Herman likes to drug and kidnap women and hold them in his basement until he sees fit to kill them.  But look at the really nice wooden cage he's built for them! If you have to be locked up in a basement, you might as well have a nice place to be caged up.

Spider Baby (1968)
When a crazy family keeps even crazier relatives in the basement to unleash on unsuspecting visitors, all hell breaks loose.  A chamber of horrors to be sure, this basement is host to apparent cannibals - all from the same demented family.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A cellar that seemed to promise a refuge from man-eating zombies turned out to host one of its own.  This basement is as close to a "normal" basement as I've found.  And it would have been Ben's saving grace - had he not ventured outside to see if the zombie apocalypse is over.

The House by the Cemetery (1981)
When you move in a house and the cellar door is locked and even nailed shut, that should be your first clue that it's not the best choice of living space.  One of the most gruesome basements in horror, this one boasts a living-dead Victorian doctor,  his ghastly surgical lab, and hoards of dead bodies used to rejuvenate said surgeon. One of the best atmospheric cellars I've seen.

House on Haunted Hill (1999)
Because the actual House is an asylum, it's friggin' huge, making the basement a vast underworld of creepy cells, medical labs, and evil chambers.  Great stuff!

A Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
Your best bet, when picking a house to rent that happens to have crazy-low rent, is to ask if anything unusual happened in the, was it a former funeral home with a madcap owner practicing necromancy? And would you really choose the basement bedroom after you found out it was the embalming room?  Um....

Fritt Vilt (2006)
An abandoned ski lodge seems the perfect place for a group of snowboarders to hole up until they can get help for their injured friend.  Unfortunately it isn't as abandoned as they think.  Deep in the dark bowels of the hotel lives a man who was buried alive in the snow, decades ago. And he's pissed.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The ultimate 'basement ghoul', child murderer Freddy Krueger lived in the boiler room, stalking teens in their dreams and bringing them into his reality. That steamy boiler room was as scary as any dank cellar I've seen.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark (2011)
While this remake of a 1973 Made-for-TV movie was a real disappointment, it certainly had the most amazing basement I've ever seen, with the highest damn ceilings.  Too bad there were sinister little creatures hiding in the fireplace ready to attack.  Honestly one of the worst remakes I've seen in years. But damn, that awesome cellar!

Don't Look in the Cellar (2008)
 Possessing a ridiculous premise we've seen a thousand times before, a group of college kids spend the night in a supposedly haunted asylum on Halloween night.  Gah!  Worse yet, the killer's name here is Smiley. I'm not actually sure I finished this one but felt it should get a mention due to the obvious title.

Don't Look in the Basement (1973)
A.K.A "The Forgotten", this tale set in a supposed sanitarium isn't exactly the best film on this list, but who can resist another tale of an experimental mental hospital with a creepy lower level? Besides, like the film above, the title just begs to be included here.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Though this basement isn't exactly the creepiest one on the list, it's the one that holds the biggest impact for me. The first time I saw TBWP it scared the living shit out of me - the ending was just so unnerving. For days I'd close my eyes and see Mike standing in the corner.

The Amityville Horror (1979)
After the family dog just won't leave one of the basement walls alone, George Lutz finally breaks through the wall to find a secret room with the walls painted red.  Never a good sign.

American Horror Story (2011)
In the basement of the Murder House, a nutso surgeon performed illegal abortions and later tried to reanimate his dead child with animal parts. (...the hell???)  Also adding to the basement's malevolent allure is the fact that one of the main characters is found dead in the crawlspace.  Definitely high on the "basements of doom" list.

Signs (2002)
Hiding from malicious aliens hell bent on killing them, the Hess family holes up in the basement of the family home, only to have the young son in the family nearly die of an asthma attack.  A typical cellar, even it becomes menacing when the lights go out and they can hear the alien intruders closing in.

The Evil Dead (1981)
My favorite basement in horror that holds all kinds of ill will and bad karma. Not only does Ash & Co. find the evil Book of the Dead, but they eventually throw Cheryl down there when she becomes a "deadite". In this basement, the walls bleed and the light bulbs fill with blood. You just don't see that everyday.

Stir of Echoes (1999)
When Kevin Bacon undergoes a hypnotism that steers off course, he is compelled to dig up his entire backyard and basement until he finds a decomposed body.  Even worse, the house is a rental. Try getting that security deposit back.

The Innkeepers (2011)
The ghost of one Madeline O'Malley draws two employees of the Yankee Pedlar Inn to investigate the basement of the inn to try and drum up some spirit activity.  They get more than they asked for in the end though, when Madeline herself decides to make her presence known.

Hell Night (1981)
Seemingly up from the floor itself comes one of the disfigured, insane Garth family members to give Linda Blair & Peter Barton a fright.  They soon find out that the floor has a trap door that opens up into a vast catacomb under the house, leading to dead bodies and more surprises from the Garth boys.

The Resurrected (1992)
This expansive basement holds a ghastly home laboratory used for attempts at raising the dead.  Full of tunnels that lead all around the area and empty into a nearby river, the catacombs even holds an old well, used as a pit for the rejects of a madman's atrocious experiments.

Psycho (1960)
The cellar to beat all cellars, the basement in the Bates house - the fruit cellar in particular - is the most famous in horror, or at least boasts the most recognizable scene.  When Norman busts into the cellar after Lila Crane discovers Mother in all her glory, it's an iconic and fantastic moment in horror.  Long live the Bates fruit cellar!



Craig S. said...

Great post! I am more of a 'creeped out by things looking in windows' sort of guy, but basements are a good creepy second. I was surprised you didn't mention the trailer to the upcoming film THE CONJOURING! I don't pee my pants often, but when I do....... *hahahaha*

Madelon H said...

Great post; wondering whether there is room for a followup (attics, bedrooms)?

Sidenote: you might be interested in Gaston Bachelard's book The Poetics of Space. Bachelard approaches (primarily) the domestic space in a philosophical manner, discussing the associations culture has with specific spaces and rooms (including basements)...

Pixel Pixie said...

When I saw the title, I was hoping you'd mention Evil Dead!

I was definitely afraid of the basement in the first house we had when I was a kid. There was a old coal furnace, it was cold and damp, the ceiling was very low, and it just had a very ominous air to it. I think the light switch was at the bottom of the stairs, so you had to go all the way down in the dark. Pretty scary when you're five.

Franco Macabro said...

Cool post, I love that basement in The Amytiville Horror, that voice that comes out from the depths...spooky stuff!

Also, that very scene in The Blair Witch Project is so freaking the bone!

I wish more people would see The Resurrected, such an underrated flick!

Strange Kid said...

What an awesome idea for a list! It's been awhile since I've been around this haunt, but you never cease to impress Christine! :)

Christine Hadden said...

Craig: I too, am freaked out by the window thing. And also if there is something creepy standing in the background or at a distance, that is unnerving as well. I actually did a post on mirrors and windows - I think it's under "Bringing on the Fear" in the side column. And oh HELL yeah, that trailer for The Conjuring is a downright jump-scare!

Madelon: You know, there really should be a follow up, and I am absolutely going to take that into consideration. Attics are a given. Bedrooms can be scary as hell too- and I already have several in mind just thinking about it! Thanks for the thought, and for the book suggestion - sounds very interesting!

Pixie: But of course I HAD to mention the Evil Dead. It was actually the film that gave me the entire idea. Even when I finished the post, other film basements kept popping into my head!
And WTH? You had to go to the bottom of the stairs to turn on the light? I'd have been dead meat. I never could have managed it. (And that's a fracture waiting to happen if I've ever heard of it!)

Francisco: I keep trying to introduce people to The Resurrected. Fans of Lovecraft or Dan O'Bannon meander their way to it, but others have no idea. It's so atmospheric and spooky.
And I'm also glad I'm not the only sissy regarding The Blair Witch - damn that film made me fear my own basement for a week!

Rondal: Thanks, I had fun with this one! And thanks for the compliment. Glad you stopped by. Don't be a strange.... Wait...never mind :)

Doug Brunell said...

Another fantastic post. I should tell you my Amityville connection sometime.

Marie said...

AWESOME LIST CHRISTINE!!!! I am so excited for the new Evil Dead. Fun fact, since basements have a lot of electrical equipment (washers, dryers, heaters, etc) they give of a lot of electro magnetic energy. A large amount of electro magnetic energy causes a side effect of paranoia and the feeling of being watched! Thats usually why people get the creeps in basements!

James Gracey said...

I loved this post - sadly though, there aren't that many basements in my neck of the woods, though when I lived in Wales, the last house I stayed in had a basement. Many a horror film was watched down there while doing laundry and drinking wine. #goodtimes
I loved Marie's suggestion about the effect of electrical appliances and electro magnetic energy influencing how we think when in basements - and I'm also intrigued by Madelon's book suggestion. All thought provoking stuff.
Hope you do a follow up on attics... I still turn the light on as quickly as possible when venturing up into mine.

PS The basement Rose tip-toes into in Dario Argento's Inferno is probably my favourite basement in horror. So beautifully lit!

Christine Hadden said...

Doug: Thanks! And do tell...

Marie: Thanks, love. Seems like I've been writing that one for weeks! And regarding the electrical equipment, that must be why I was so freaked in my grandparents basement. In addition to the washer, dryer, and furnace, my grandpap had all his woodworking machinery down there. Yikes!

James: Thanks! :)
Yes, I suppose when you dig deep enough over there you hit water a little sooner than over here, eh? Kudos to you for being able to watch horror films in a basement, that's quite a feat! I'd love to sit through something like Evil Dead while underground!

I can't believe I forgot the Inferno basement. I've thought of so many more since I wrote this post, perhaps there will be a part two of this one!

And I am already thinking of attics for the follow up post!