High Rise Horror

EVIL DEAD RISE has gotten me thinking about all the great horror movies set in skyscrapers and buildings so it seemed like a good time to compile a good old fashioned horror list. These are the flicks that immediately sprung to my mind but as always I’m sure to have missed a few so please add any I missed in the comments section!

We may as well start off with one of the most famous filming locations in horror history, ROSEMARY’S BABY’s gothic ground zero New York’s Bramford building! I’m not above using the cliche that this oppressive structure operates as its own character in Roman Polanski’s satanic classic based on the equally stunning Ira Levin novel.

DEMONS 2 (1986)
A year earlier, Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS (1985) displayed the horrifying results of demonic entities infesting a cinema, this time out, the horde of possessed creatures take over an entire building and turn a birthday party into a living nightmare.

Billy (Zach Galligan) & Kate (Phoebe Cates) find employment working for corporate blowhard Daniel Clamp (frequent baddie John Glover) in a spectacular skyscraper in New York City. Fate insures they’re soon joined by their adorable pal Gizmo who inadvertently spawns trouble in a multitude of new ways.

They’re baaaack again. Little Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke) is ghosted by her parents and sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle (horror royalty Nancy Allen & Tom Skerritt) in a Chicago skyscraper (John Hancock center). Of course, the pre-teen brings heavy baggage in the form of vengeful spirit Reverend Kane and pint-sized well-meaning psychic Tangina (the great Zelda Rubinstein). What more could be said about this underrated sequel that wasn’t mentioned in THIS epic post from years ago?

SHIVERS (1975)
Starliner Towers is a luxury high-rise that has everything! I’m talking a restaurant, a variety store, an olympic-size swimming pool AND an outbreak of parasitic pickle-sized creatures that turn people into crazed orgy loving perverts with violent tendencies. This extravaganza of non-stop body horror could only be an early calling card from Canadian creep-meister David Cronenberg.

THE FACE OF FEAR (1990) I read the book this made for TV movie is based on as a teenager when it was credited to author Brian Coffey. Turns out Coffey was really Dean Koontz who went on to take credit for his work and even co-write the screenplay for this production. Get this: Lee Horsley plays a psychic, former mountain climber with a fear of heights who is stalked by a killer in a high rise with his fiancé Pam Dawber. Where is Mork from Ork when you need him?

CANDYMAN (1992) & (2021)
Supernatural revenge phantom Candyman (The great Tony Todd) is certainly scary but is he as terrifying as Chicago housing project Cabrini-Green? My love for this film is best expressed HERE but in the interest of saving space let’s just say if your bathroom mirror can be removed for access to the apartment next door it’s time to look for some new digs. Note: Don't sleep on this flick's impressive 2021 re-boot sequel which feature's one of cinema's greatest long shot into a building's window death scenes.

Directed by horror legends Freddie Francis (THE SKULL, THE PSYCHOPATH, TORTURE GARDEN et. al.) & Ken Wiederhorn (SHOCK WAVES, EYES OF A STRANGER), 1987’s DARK TOWER has nothing to do with Stephen King and everything to do with a Building in Barcelona with a Bad attitude. As if window washing wasn’t a challenging enough job, this petulant premises promises to push you down to the pavement! Don’t believe me? Just ask Jenny Agutter (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), Larry Cohen muse Michael Moriarty ( Q, THE STUFF, IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE, RETURN TO SALEM'S LOT) or Anne Lockhart (John Carpenter’s first choice to play Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN)

Speaking of HALLOWEEN, this made for television thriller was written and directed by John Carpenter and filmed immediately prior to his trick or treat masterpiece. Originally titled HIGH RISE, this suspense tale features Lauren Hutton being terrorized by an unknown pursuer in her luxury LA apartment building. Playing a supportive co-worker and neighbor is future Carpenter wife, MAUDE alumni and irrefutable horror royalty, Adrienne Barbeau.

CANNIBAL MAN (1972) This surprisingly moving horror character study (and notorious video nasty) directed by Eloy de la Iglesis features zero cannibalism and is sometimes known as the more appropriate title APARTMENT ON THE 13TH FLOOR. Professional butcher Marcos (Vicente Parra) accidentally kills a taxi driver (it happens) and soon finds himself offing anyone who enters his orbit to cover his earlier crime. 

THE LIFT (1983) & THE SHAFT (aka DOWN, 2001)
Dick Maas is your go-to guy if you’re looking for a movie about an elevator who becomes sentient and decides to kill people. He directed both the 1983 Dutch science fiction horror film THE LIFT and its 2001 American remake starring Aussie THE RING survivor Naomi Watts!

DEVIL (2001)
Speaking of elevators on the fritz, how you like to be stuck in one (in Philadelphia no less) with infamous nogoodnik Satan himself? Would it make you even more unnerved to know what happens next is based on a story by renown brain-twister M. Night Shyamalan?

Well, the whole country has been overtaken by murderous corpses but don’t worry, the wealthy are living it up in a luxury high rise known as Fiddler’s Green. And who better to be in control of what’s left of society than wild-eyed live-wire Dennis Hopper? Comeuppance ensues.

CITADEL (2012)
This highly underrated psychological thriller taps into your every urban paranoia while also triggering the parental fear of protecting the vulnerable. Aneurin Barnard stars as agoraphobic Tommy who grieves his wife who died due to a violent gang assault and must protect his infant daughter from hoodie heathens that surround his rundown building. If you’ve ever been mugged this flick is an incessant fountain of nerve-jangling stress.

Monstrous aliens with super cool glowing teeth take on a gang of young street thugs (including John Boyega) in a Council estate in south London. There’s more action, humor and pure awesomeness on display here than you can shake a stick at!

HIGH RISE (2015)
It’s not exactly a horror movie but this opulent adaptation of the novel by J.G. Ballard novel sports a whirlwind DAY OF THE LOCUST scorched earth conclusion that distresses to the core. Featuring a stacked cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, Sienna Miller and directed by Ben Wheatley (KILL LIST), this visually stunning, seventies-set, apartment complex as ant farm look at society’s self destructive nature has one too many dog endangerment scenes to become a favorite but is a highly memorable experience all the same.

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4 months ago

This is a unique sub genre of horror that I am a big fan of. There’s something about a high rise setting that lends itself to really great, tension filled horror. Demons 2 is a particular favorite and I watch it often.

4 months ago

I don't know exactly what measure we're using in order for a building to constitute being a high rise (hopefully it doesn't necessarily have to be a skyscraper) but I will be somewhat lenient and use a fairly nebulous working definition of "a fairly big building". Also, how much of the film needs to take place in a big building for it to qualify? only a scene or two or the entire thing? I don't know, I'll leave you to answer all of that for yourself. That being said, a few films which I feel feature a big building prominently, almost as if it is a character in itself or which lends inestimably to the ambiance of the film and that I feel are enjoyable (titles in bold, particularly so) that I will add are:

Night of the Juggler (1980)
Eyes of a Stranger (1981)
Madhouse (1981)
Tattoo (1981)
The Naked Face (1984)
Tenement (1985)
Lucker: The Necrophagus (1986)
Enemy Territory (1987)
Lady Beware (1987)
Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
Hide and Go Shriek (1988)
The 13th Floor (1988)
Trapped (1989)
Nightmare on the 13th Floor (1990)
Lisa (1990)
Scissors (1991)
Critters 3 (1991)
Guilty as Sin (1993)
Psycho Cop Returns (1993)
Sliver (1993)

Last edited 4 months ago by Ghastly1
Dr. Future
4 months ago

I was going to add Tenement myself (they had me with the refrigerator pushed down the steps!), until someone beat me to it. You shouldn't forget X-Ray/Hospital Massacre (1982) – I think that it was a high-rise, or the similar Visiting Hours of the same year. If you voyage out to related waters, like horror in malls and shopping centers, please don't forget the neglected 1973 MOTW "Trapped," with James Brolin, a true unforgettable "kindertrauma" of my childhood – try surviving the night with hungry Dobermans chasing you through the sporting goods department!

4 months ago

There's a lot of high rise horror in anthologies like Cat's Eye, Nightmares & Dreamscapes and Trilogy of Terror.

4 months ago

Me too. I think it's a great setting for a film and it works for multiple genres; Die Hard is a prime example.
Dr. Future,
I think Tenement is kind of a forgotten film, I don't hear it get talked about at all. You are absolutely right about X-Ray/Visiting Hours; I especially like X-Ray. I was thinking about including them but wasn't sure if hospitals should count, but the hell with it, I think they should; I guess that would also make Halloween II a high rise horror film.
Night of the Juggler is a film I think is quite good and kind of obscure/forgotten (along with Tenement). It is one of those films that is like seeing a vanished world; I caught the tail end of that era of burned down, dilapidated buildings in NYC, but I never saw it at it's peak in real life, so movies that showcase that stuff hold a special place in my heart. As for The Sentinel, I would say it is a large brownstone, not a highrise; I really want it to be, because I love that film, plus then you could also include a film like Straight On till Morning (1972) in the list, but I think a building has to be a bit bigger for it to qualify as a highrise. If either of those did qualify, I wonder if something like A Stranger is Watching (1982) would? Grand Central is after all a fairly large building.
Also, if you liked The Face of Fear, I highly recommend Trapped (1989); very similar plot and just a very cool little film.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ghastly1
Dr. Future
4 months ago

You know, over the years, I have been privileged to produce and host multiple radio shows, give a talk on religion at the United Nations, be a subject of shows on PBS and CNN, produce three feature length movies, and countless conference speaking gigs (i.e., I've had more than what I deserve in public attention), but after these many decades, the PEAK of my heartwarming encouragement is the reliable and edifying acknowledgement Uncle Lancifer is never delinquent in generously and faithfully applying to my lame and marginally-contributing comments here (and others far more deserving here too) – I am serious, in that it means so much more to me than what generals, company presidents or celebrities have ever said to me. Unc has built a remarkable house of love and respect here, with much reflective commentary, and has attracted many interesting people worthy to spend time with and listen to, and I feel lucky to hang out on the porch and listen in to what is going on inside. The culture you create here, and your hard work in producing content, is much appreciated here, Uncle.

4 months ago

I love Demons 2. As much as I enjoyed Evil Dead Rise, I felt it didn't take advantage of the entire building as a set – most of the action takes place on one floor, and in the garage. Demons 2, on the other hand, ranges throughout the whole building.

Count me in as an unapologetic admirer of Poltergeist III. The movie does have huge flaws, the biggest being that it probably shouldn't have been made, given Heather O'Rourke's visibly noticeable health problems. But Gary Sherman really delivered the assignment. The mirror and water effects and imagery are uncanny and unnerving.