When it comes to creating atmosphere, there is no greater factor than the location of the story. It’s impossible to make a beach in summer terrifying, whereas it is much easier to create atmosphere in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. However some films, and stories can be exceptions. For example Jurassic Park (the 1990 novel) has a paradise like beach on the coast of Costa Rica as a setting in it’s opening, where a young girl is swiftly attacked by a poisonous Compy (1). An example for a classic horror setting is Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft. The graphic novel follows a family move into an old, grand house in the town of Lovecraft after a tragic death of a loved one. “Memo to the Locke family: You want to rebuild your lives, you sure as hell do NOT retreat to a town called Lovecraft.”(2)
Psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”(3) In plain English, psychogeography is the way in which our location affects our emotions and behavior. If we are reading a story based in a home, surrounded by mundane things, and we are in that setting, the story becomes much more real. For example ‘The Bowmen’ by Arthur Machen uses the setting of the Trenches in World War 2 to set the scene for a ghost story. If reading this in a field, or outside in cloudy weather, then the narrative may become more realistic and atmospheric (4).
Some horror locations can still be visited in the modern day, like the Monroeville Mall from the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco, otherwise known as Camp Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th films, and even the UK’s very own Oakly Court Hotel which featured in The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Plague of Zombie (1966), Now the Screaming Starts (1973) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) (5). By visiting these spooky places some writers may become inspired, and audiences may feel the emotions that their favourite characters felt.
It is often quite popular to create horror in plain, everyday settings; a house, a suburb, a camp, hotels, etc. These can be used in a realistic way to make it relatable and personal to the general reader, or viewer. Alternatively it could be done in a surreal setting, to warp our realities and make the audience feel discomfort. Authors often take advantage of the uncanny as it takes the audiences memory “of something long forgotten and repressed, something superseded in our psychic life”, and uses it to make them feel uncomfortable (6).
The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker is an exceptional piece of literature that portrays a surreal, fantasy like world in a horror setting. With a large portion of the book-taking place in hell itself, he uses the idea of hell to set up an expectation, and then builds upon it. He builds on the lore of our own ideas, and makes it real, despite no one having been there before. Barker uses familiar things such as ‘asphalt’ to fill in the gaps, bringing it closer to reality for the reader (7).
Whether set in the outback of Australia or the little house around the corner, horror all begins in the location. The connotations that a single setting can have guides our minds to pre-determined conclusions and expectations. It is up to the writer as to whether they subvert those thoughts or abuse them.
For full article links are embedded in the post.
(1) Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park. England: Heinemann, 1996.
(2) Hill, Joe, and Gabriel Rodriguez. Locke & key. San Diego: IDW Pub., 2010.
(3) “Psychogeography.” Mapping Weird Stuff. November 02, 2014. Accessed February 21, 2018. https://mappingweirdstuff.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/mapping-weird-stuff-psychogeography/.
(4) Haining, Peter. The Mammoth book of modern ghost stories. London: Robinson, 2007.
(5) Kelly, Erin. “16 Horror Film Locations You Can Still Visit.” All Thats Interesting. December 01, 2017. Accessed February 21, 2018. http://allthatsinteresting.com/horror-film-locations.
(6) Freud, “The Uncanny”. Accessed February 21, 2018. http://courses.washington.edu/freudlit/Uncanny.Notes.html.
(7) Barker, Clive. Scarlet gospels. Pan Books, 2016.