Cemeteries are a staple of horror movies new and old, and when it comes to setting a suitably horrific tone, the creepier the better. These 10 creepy cinema cemeteries pull out all the stops, featuring choking undergrowth, tilted headstones and a general malevolent air of disrepair. Best of all, most are easily accessed via DVD, YouTube and television: same tomb, same channel.
They’re heeeere… The plot of the 1982 modern horror classic film Poltergeist revolved around a suburban California housing development built over an old cemetery. The usual practice in such cases was to relocate both the gravestones and those buried below, but as film daddy Steve Freeling discovered to his shock, “You moved the cemetery, but ya left the bodies, didn’t you? You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!”
Though the overgrown cemetery depicted in the film was merely a matte painting, the story behind it is factual: Mount Prospect cemetery in Denver, Colorado, was converted to a public park in the late 1890s and removal operations commenced. The undertaker put in charge of the relocation was paid $1.90 per body but pocketed most of the cash – up to 5,000 unclaimed bodies were left in situ. Residents living nearby have long reported moaning sounds and other odd manifestations occurring at night, blamed on lost and confused spirits looking for the light.
Here’s the finale to Poltergeist, complete with the evil clown, erupting coffins and one imploding house:
Gangs Of New York
Gangs Of New York is Martin Scorcese’s 2002 film of 19th century New York and the characters – both savory and unsavory – who brought the gritty, grubby Five Points neighborhood to vibrant life. The film featured tour de force acting by Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and especially Daniel Day-Lewis (as Bill the Butcher).
(image via: Gangs of New York video clip)
The cemetery where the DiCaprio character’s father, Priest Vallon, is buried doesn’t make an appearance until the final scene of the 167 minute epic but it’s one of the film’s most powerful scenes, masterfully wrapping the long and convoluted storyline. Unlike many movie cemeteries, this one actually exists: it’s Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Here’s that final scene, still emotionally moving whether or not one watches the film from the beginning:
Whether you love or hate Nicholas Cage – and he has his haters to be sure – the National Treasure franchise has proven to be an ideal showcase for his acting talents. The first film in the series dates from 2004 and offers viewers a veritable smorgasbord of history, action, adventure and even a few laughs (mainly provided by nervous tech expert Riley Poole). National Treasure is included in this listing by virtue of a notable chase scene through a cemetery: Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not quite Tomb Raider but for a moment at least; tomb dodger.
(image via: Blu-ray.com)
Dating from 1719, Christ Church Burial Ground hosts a number of historically noteworthy Americans including Benjamin Franklin. Oh, those headstones damaged and destroyed by gunfire during the movie chase scene? Merely dummies, not to worry!
Here’s the trailer for National Treasure, a money-maker at the box office that helped revive Cage’s career and reputation.
“I don’t want to be buried, in Pet Sematary.” So sang The Ramones and if you saw the film I’m sure you’ll agree. One of Stephen King’s more successful screen efforts, 1989’s Pet Sematary also brought Fred Gwynne (The Munsters) favorable reviews that may have helped him land the part of Judge Haller in 1992’s My Cousin Vinnie.
Pet Sematary is pure horror, however, and that includes Stephen King’s bit part playing a priest. The whole idea of pet cemeteries is, well, kinda creepy to begin with and Pet Sematary builds on that disturbing premise. Animal zombies? Get your tickets here.
The trailer for Pet Sematary offers a chilling glimpse into what makes this film tick – and just might make you want to flea:
Army Of Darkness
Known by some as Evil Dead 3, 1992’s Army Of Darkness stars perennial alternative action hero Bruce Campbell as Ash, a “boomstick”-wielding discount-store clerk transported back to the year 1300 AD. Between slaying monsters and getting a girl who was beautiful once (“Honey, you got reeeal ugly!”), Ash steals the Necronomicon from a stereotypical spooky cemetery and all Hell breaks loose… one demon at a time.
(image via: High-Def Disc News)
Check out Ash flubbing his lines just when it counts the most, followed by a bunch of skeletons channeling Curly of The Three Stooges:
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Next time you’re in the proverbial doghouse and want to make it up to your significant other, tell her you’ll take her to a Susan Sarandon movie… and make sure it’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for both your sakes. Long before there was Tim Robbins, there was Barry Bostwick and, of course, Tim Curry chewing the scenery for all he’s worth. Rocky Horror was pretty hot for 1975 and it’s aged well… not unlike the aforementioned Ms. Sarandon.
(image via: NIN Forum)
Dammit Janet, who puts billboards in cemeteries?!? The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s big cemetery scene occurs early in the film, and watch out for Tim Curry doing double duty as a very un-Frankenfurter-like priest.
Here’s the trailer from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Go ahead, I see you shiver with antici… pation!:
Plan 9 from Outer Space
“When it came to making bad movies, Ed Wood was the best.” So went the tagline from Ed Wood, the 1994 biopic of the flamboyant director played with gusto by Johnny Depp. Wood’s best bad movie was undoubtedly 1958’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, a low-budget, high comedic (though not intentionally) flick that raised the bar for cinematic cheesiness.
Plan 9 from Outer Space could serve as an instructional video for film-makers as it offered up just about every error possible. Boom mike shadows, exceptionally poor special effects (a string holding up a flying saucer catches on fire at one point), the use of footage of an actor (Bela Lugosi) who had died 2 years earlier, and cardboard tombstones that wobbled or fell over were part & parcel of this celluloid travesty.
Here’s a short video compendium of the movie’s worst bits of dialog; the long version being the uncut film itself:
Overlooked in its time but emerging as a true cult classic, 1985’s Fandango starred Kevin Costner and Judd Nelson – but don’t hold that against it. Fandango is a road trip film with a message, a last waltz through the American southwest for 5 college pals calling themselves The Groovers.
(images via: Ultimate Fandango)
With Vietnam on the horizon, The Groovers decide to live it up while they can. Their final fandango includes skydiving, train-surfing and an apocryphal fireworks fight in a cemetery that eerily foreshadows the ultimately inescapable war overseas. The cemetery used in the film actually exists and is located in the town of Marfa, Texas.
The trailer for Fandango showcases the fireworks fire-fight scene among others. Rent this DVD while Blockbuster’s still in business.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
The film that gave “spaghetti westerns” a good name, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was trashed by most critics upon its release in 1966 but is now rated among the best films of all time. OF ALL TIME (thanks, Kanye). The story follows three very different men who reluctantly work together in search of the same goal: $200,000 in stolen Confederate gold buried in a Civil War cemetery.
Filmed on location in Spain, the film’s epic climax is a three-sided Mexican standoff between Blondie (The Good, played by Clint Eastwood), Angel Eyes (The Bad, played by Lee Van Cleef) and Tuco (The Ugly, played by Eli Wallach) in the center of Sad Hill cemetery. The winner of the gunfight would be able to read the name of the grave in which the gold was to be found. Director Sergio Leone wasn’t able to find an actual cemetery to suit his needs so his chief of pyrotechnics paid 250 Spanish Army soldiers to construct one – it took them just 2 days. Almost 50 years later, the basic layout of the cemetery can still be seen at Carazo near Salas De Los Infantes.
Here is the finale (though not the final scene) from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that begins with Tuco excitedly (though mistakenly) digging up the grave of Arch Stanton in Sad Hill cemetery:
Stephen King makes our list once again with Carrie, the 1976 shocker directed by Brian DePalma. The film features a number of rising stars including Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Amy Irving, William Katt and Piper Laurie (as Carrie’s deranged mother). Movie buffs will note several homages to the late Alfred Hitchcock’s classic chiller Psycho including naming Carrie’s high school Bates High.
Though the film doesn’t feature a cemetery in the true sense of the word, the final scene does depict Carrie’s final resting place complete with a desecrated cross – and a single mourner who attempts to leave a bouquet of flowers. Bad idea, Sue, VERY bad idea.
(image via: Sydney Morning Herald)
Real cemeteries, though certainly places of sadness and loss, still best their reel counterparts when it comes to manicured good looks and a peaceful atmosphere. Then again, who visits the cemetery on bleak, moonlit nights when the mist creeps in on tiny cat feet… er, that WAS the mist, wasn’t it?