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Top 10 Isolated Horror Films

March 28, 2020 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Night of the Living Dead A Bloody Good Time

I’m still here. My state is on lockdown, what do you expect me to do, go out and party?

The feeling of isolation isn’t a good one. Technically, I can go out for essential things, but, I’m still losing my mind from boredom and loneliness. And say what you will about chatting with people online, it isn’t the same as having a living, breathing person in the room with you. Or even a particularly lively corpse.

Perhaps that’s why some of the greatest horror films of all time isolate their main characters away from everybody else and force them to deal with the scary thing alone. The counselors at Camp Crystal Lake always have to deal with Jason alone. Sure, something happening in broad daylight and in a crowded area can be scary too, but at least then there’s the option for help. But the true terror happens when we’re alone, in the dark, with no contact to the outside world.

It was really difficult cutting this thing down to ten, so I had to institute some criteria for what even qualifies as an ‘isolated’ horror film. This is all my opinion, so feel free to disagree and bash me in the comments (please don’t) if your favorite movie gets excluded. I think an isolated horror film has to do three things

1) Spend 90-95% of its running time in a single location.
2) Remove all options of escape or contact with the outside world until the very end.
3) Limit the amount of people at the location to a few.

So, that takes out things like Saw, where we go to other locations and spend time with other people. It takes out something like Dawn of the Dead, where again, the movie focuses on others as well as the main cast. Technically the folks in Dawn chose to hole up in that mall. A more apt example would be The Strangers, which follows one couple in one location terrorized through the entire movie by masked killers. That movie doesn’t make the list, because I’m not a fan, but it’s a good example.

Even narrowing the list down with that criteria, this was still hard. So here’s the best ten that I could think of.

#10: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

This is almost the perfect movie. Almost. If the shoehorned ending to fit it into the Cloverfield universe didn’t exist, it might be higher up. But if we ignore that, we get a great little horror movie that traps three people underground and is tense as hell. National treasure John Goodman plays the villain here. He’s not supernatural or alien or anything, he’s just a very bad man.

The gist is that two men are in an underground bunker and when a woman joins them, they inform her the surface is no longer safe. Of course something’s amiss, as things often are, and it turns out Goodman may have been lying to them the whole time. He also may be violent and crazy. Or maybe he’s just doing what he has to to avoid dying. We’ll let you be the judge of that. It’s one of Goodman’s greatest performances and that’s saying a lot. Considering how iffy the Cloverfield franchise is as a whole, this is without a doubt the best one.

#9: Splinter (2008)

I can’t believe this movie has been out twelve years and it’s still as underrated as it is. I never hear anyone talking about it. I tend to think that when it comes to movies about people being isolated, the tinier the location, the scarier it is. After all, with less space to move around, you’re in even more danger. So it makes sense to set a movie like this in a gas station in the middle of nowhere, with a small group battling some type of parasite that can take over people and reanimate the dead.

Splinter is a disgusting body horror film that kind of came and went in a year that was full of great movies (2008 also gave us Martyrs and Eden Lake). If you’re into gore, this has plenty of it. It borrows elements from better movies like The Thing and Night of the Living Dead to create something new, and something very entertaining. If you haven’t had the chance to check this out, do so immediately.

#8: Buried (2010)

If the smaller the space, the scarier the experience, just imagine how scary it’d be to be buried alive. That happens to poor Ryan Reynolds in Buried, a movie where he wakes up trapped inside of a box six feet (or more) beneath the earth. Buried alive stories date all the way to the days of Edgar Allan Poe, maybe even earlier, and it’s not hard to pull off portraying the terror one would have to be in if they found themselves in that situation.

Reynolds deals with the fact that his oxygen levels will drop, he may end up without a source of light and even if he breaks out of the box, dirt will pour in and suffocate him. Unless somebody finds him, it’s unlikely he’ll escape. It’s a very dire situation and for ninety minutes. This movie is a tense, depressing sit, so it’ll take the spot of our ‘not-fun’ movie for the week.

#7: Cube (1997)

Okay so the location is much bigger, but it’s also a sprawling death trap and we don’t know where it’s actually located. Cube arrived five years before Saw and I think that movie owes a lot to this one. A small group of people wake up in various rooms of the titular location, only to discover that they can’t just freely move around. In any given location, there could be razor wire, flamethrowers, you name it. It’s not a good way to die no matter what happens.

On top of that, it’s extremely difficult to figure out how to get out, because the rooms shift and the entire place is impossibly huge. You’d have to be some sort of mathematical genius or an idiot savant. And if you make one mistake, you could end up missing your chance and have to traverse the whole thing again…or starve to death. Cube may have the biggest location on the list, but its characters are even more isolated because there is very little chance any of them will see the outside world ever again.

#6: Hush (2016)

The lead in this movie is in a remote location and there’s no one around for miles. Not only that, but she’s isolated in a different way. She’s deaf, and so the stranger stalking her can do so without worrying about making noise. That leads to one of the more unique games of cat and mouse in horror history, as she has to defend on her other four senses and her wits to survive.

I’ve praised Hush before, and it even made my top ten list for the year it came out. It’s just a tremendous movie that doesn’t seem to let up, even in the quieter moments. It’s a movie that could have very easily turned out poorly in the wrong hands, but Mike Flanagan is a great director who expertly sets up the various moments of tension in a mostly realistic way. Hush is tremendous, and it’s on Netflix. Go watch it.

#5: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

I said that Dawn of the Dead doesn’t fit my very strict rules, but Night of the Living Dead very much does. Outside of the opening in the cemetery, we end up stuck in a house for the entire movie, with zombies everywhere to prevent any exit. Oh sure, you could try and fight them off long enough to get to the truck, but you might also accidentally blow up that truck and kill two of you. These things happen.

What makes things worse is that the people in the house aren’t getting along at all and can barely work together to get basics things accomplished. With the threat on the outside and the growing hostilities inside, something will eventually have to give. Thanks to the beauty of this movie being in the public domain, you can watch it right now!

#4: The Descent (2005)

This movie, like Buried, bothers me a lot personally because I’m claustrophobic. Extremely tight spaces bother me and if they’re enclosed, I’ll wig out. The scariest scene in this movie actually has nothing to do with the monsters, but a moment when one of the characters finds themselves wedged in a narrow space inside a cave. Gives me the chills just to imagine myself in that situation.

The Descent is a tightly-paced, incredibly tense monster movie that sees our cast trapped in a cave that is off the map with bizarre, carnivorous mutants waiting to eat them. Like Night, there’s also a lot of tension between the women, which does not help their situation any. You’d think people would learn to put petty differences inside when faced with a common threat, but apparently that’s something that even happens in real life. At least we’re not all trapped in a cave, right?

#3: Alien (1979)

Well, it’s hard to get more isolated than in the middle of space. Sure, the space station is presumably big, but it’s also cramped and falling apart. Plus there’s this alien on board that likes to plunge its second mouth right into your head. And did I mention the evil android? There’s an evil android. There’s a lot of threats plaguing the crew of the Nostromo, and where would they go if they could escape? There’s nothing to go to!

The Alien series would basically turn into a series of action-horror movies starting with the very next film, but the original is pure horror. You don’t know what this creature is, you don’t really know why it’s doing what it’s doing. All you know is that it’s deadly and you don’t have a lot of room to get away from it. You think your weapons are gonna stop something that can kill you just from bleeding on you? It’s one thing to be trapped so far away from civilization, it’s another to be trapped with the ultimate killing machine hunting you.

#2: The Shining (1980)

Kind of hard to beat this movie, in which being isolated is the entire point. A small three-person family is stuck in a remote hotel for the winter, because Jack Torrence is the new caretaker. Well, he’s always been the caretaker, but that’s a different story. And by winter, we don’t just mean some flurries. The place gets trapped in snow in a hurry, and someone has mysteriously wrecked the means of communicating with the outside world! The only means of escape won’t work!

Of course then comes the threats, which honestly seem like a comedy of ‘what else can go wrong?’ Not only is the hotel haunted, but the ghosts can harm you. Not only can they harm you, but they can possess you. Oh and they just so happened to possess the strongest one of three, making him go literally ax-crazy. The book actually added another threat in the form of a boiler that was in danger of exploding. Stephen King really seems to hate his own characters.

#1: The Thing (1982)

There’s just something about snow and winter that seems to be a perfect setting for a movie like this. I’m just saying, you don’t see too many horror films set in the desert during the middle of July. The Thing takes us all the way to the Arctic, where a small group of people are forced to deal with an alien menace that can be anything and anyone.

So unlike Alien, the monster in this movie isn’t as apparently. You know what you’re dealing with there, as deadly as it may be. In this case, what you’re dealing with could have already taken the form of your dog or your best friend. This leads to the added layer of paranoia in addition to everything else going on. These guys are going crazy from threats of sub-zero temperatures, an alien that wants to kill them and get to civilization and the fact they might accidentally kill each other.

It basically combines the best elements of other movies on this list. It’s a little Night of the Living Dead, it’s a little The Shining, it’s a little Alien. But it doesn’t outright copy any of these movies or even really owes anything to them. It’s just one of the best horror movies ever made, one that still holds up 38 years later. It will probably always hold up.

I’m keeping this thing going for at least two more weeks, but definitely as long as we’re all isolated and quarantined. I know at least some of you enjoy this column and I like doing what I can to provide some brief distraction in the middle of all this awfulness.

If you have any topics you’d like me to cover, let me know in the comments. If I haven’t covered it already, I’ll try to get to it. Thanks for reading and stay safe out there.