Many filmmakers have taken to slashing the suburbs. While the slasher genre is prevalent in the suburbs, there are many other themes at work. Outcasting the outsider is one of the most recurring themes. Horror writers often create outsiders that look like monsters. But the same can be said for anyone who simply looks and acts differently from the majority. Cannibalism is also commonplace in suburban horror, bringing such a taboo subject to an environment so ordinary. Human blood splatters on otherwise pristine aprons creating a beautiful juxtaposition, as does Ghostface or a werewolf in a small quiet suburb.
Like a dysfunctional family, these dark themes have found a home in the suburbs. Then again, it isn’t all fiction. Some people really do have cannibals and killers for neighbors. Do you? Above all, the suburbs are unprotected and vulnerable… a horror villain’s two favorite things. Yet, many suburban families don’t even lock their doors. Maybe that’s because the true horror remains within the home. What lies behind the unlocked doors of suburbia? Keep reading to find out.
Best Suburban Horror Films
Joanna (Katharine Ross) and her family move to a town where a sinister secret hides in plain sight: the suburb of Stepford deceives all who enter. Saturated colors, sparkly clean houses, and bright light. All signals that you will be happy here. However, this is contentment brought about by violent force. Stepford’s misogynistic men’s association act as overlords of the neighborhood wherein women are robbed of their soul. Within them dwells a replacement, their sole desire to serve their families. This horror lies close to our reality but is based on Ira Levin’s dystopian novel.
Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium 15 years after killing his sister. Returning to his home in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night, he continues his murderous rampage. Like most suburbs, this one is wrapped in Halloween lore and legends. Legends that make you wonder, who lurks behind the mask of the trick-or-treater at your door? Screenplay writer Deborah Hill talks about finding evil where you least expect it: “What’s so interesting to me about horror movies is they take place in small towns where they don’t have a huge police force. You put the story in a sleepy town…it seems safe.”
Horror needs vulnerability to exploit. That’s why it thrives in the suburbs. This film takes us to an even more vulnerable state – sleep. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) terrorizes the dreams of suburban teens. Having been burned alive by their parents, he seeks retribution in bloodshed. Even in our reality, predators hide behind the unassuming security of suburbia. Those people never truly die, they live on in the subconscious of generations to come.
Ray (Tom Hanks) is excited about a relaxing staycation in his suburban neighborhood. Unfortunately for him, his week will be more scary than soothing. A series of strange events make him suspicious of his mysterious neighbors. Ray’s clumsy investigation leads to a lot of humor among the horrific findings. The film makes you realize that vacationing in suburbia may be a bad idea, let alone living in the ‘burbs. In the book The Films of Tom Hanks, the screenwriter of The ‘Burbs, Dana Olsen, talks about the hidden horror of growing up in suburbia: “Every once in a while, you’d pick up the local paper and read something like LIBRARIAN KILLS FAMILY, SELF.”
In a 1950’s suburban home, a boy fears his parents and the suspicious meat they feed him. There is so much honest horror within this absurdist film. It’s the mystery of adult life seen from the eyes of a child. Cooking out the blood from our meals. As Michael witnesses his parents’ and grandparents’ grotesque actions, he feels doomed. For, it seems all adult life must be infested with the same depressing depraved secrets. The same secrets that make up every family. And every suburban home.
From cooking to killing, this housewife will do anything for her family. Beverly (Kathleen Turner) takes propriety very seriously, both in her family and community. Using creative and violent methods, she keeps everything in its proper place. “Accidents” befall any who seek to sabotage Beverly’s perfect family, even in the most minor ways. Hilariously disturbing phone calls gaslight any who might suspect her wrongdoings. This mother slashes through the suburban mom stereotype. It may even make you wonder about your own mom.
Within a quiet suburb of Woodsboro, California lurks a horror-film-loving serial killer. The killer “Ghostface” terrorizes and torments a group of suburban teens. Being a horror fan, Ghostface uses film references to tease his victims before slaying them. This Wes Craven meta slasher draws inspiration from the real-life convicted serial killer Danny Rolling, aka The Gainesville Ripper. Rolling abused and killed suburban women somewhat creatively. Ghostface says in Scream that movies don’t create psychos, they just make them more creative. However, there are multiple copycat killers who used this film as a blueprint.
Outcast sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) make a pact: leave the suburbs or die by the age of 16. Before this deadline arrives, Ginger has her first period. Simultaneously, another metamorphosis takes place. She is turning into a werewolf. All of a sudden, Ginger becomes more sexually dominant and violent. She also begins to shape-shift. This is dangerous in suburbia, where uniformity is key. Screenwriter Karen Walton talks about growing up in Suburbia: “How do I get out of here? How do I survive until I can escape?” She continues, “that’s truly what I remember about being 15.”
The Rosenblads are a seemingly average family. They argue, raise their daughter, and have dinner parties. This otherwise bland family has a cannibalistic twist, however. At their dinner parties, the guest plays an important role – on the plate. Constant arguments, blood, and other strange happenings take over the Rosenblad household. Just like “where there is smoke, there is fire,” all puddles of blood lead back to a big heart. The Rosenblads really do love each other. This film will make you think there is hidden blood splattered in every suburban home.
Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) find themselves trapped in a suburban home. A labyrinth of identical houses sprawls endlessly around them. Eventually, a delivery comes that offers false hope: a child-shaped creature which demands to be raised. Tom uses physical power in an attempt to dig an escape tunnel. Gemma uses emotional power, thinking that raising the child-creature is the key to escape. However, that is the scariest part of suburbia. There is no escaping. Writer/ director Lorcan Finnegan talks about the horror at the center of the film: “‘What is it that young people are afraid of these days on a more existential level?’ Are they afraid of big weird winged creatures or are they afraid of their lives becoming repetitive and boring, and all their hopes and dreams getting sucked away by making a couple of wrong choices?”
More Suburban Horror
- Carrie (1976) – A teenage girl releases her telekinetic powers on her bullies and religious mother.
- The Stepfather (1987) – A murderous man marries into a new family after slaying his last one.
- Child’s Play 2 (1990) – After surviving the attacks of the killer doll known as Chucky in Chicago, young Andy Barclay moves in with a foster family in the suburbs. Chucky, however, is quick to follow.
- Mikey (1992) – A young boy is the source of terror (and murder) in this suburban slasher movie.
- When a Stranger Calls (2006) – While babysitting, a teenager receives calls from an unknown number. The calls become increasingly threatening.
- Disturbia (2007) – A teenager on house arrest believes his neighbor is a dangerous serial killer.
- Paranormal Activity (2007) – A couple realizes their home must be haunted. They set up cameras in their house to capture whatever lurks in the darkness in this found-footage hit.
- The Purge (2013) – Murder becomes a form of population control when the government sanctions one day a year where all criminal activity is legal.