During the first half of the 20th Century, horror movies typically took place in exotic or foreign locations. That all changed by the 1970s, and horror films increasingly came to focus on suburban and small town settings. This attention on the “horror next door” brought iconic monsters and serial killers to the Midwest. At Mysterious Heartland, we love a good horror movie, and in honour of Halloween, we bring you our list of the Top 10 Horror Movies Set in the Midwest. Which one is the scariest of them all?
10. Leprechaun (1993)
Set in: North Dakota
This campy, horror comedy was filmed on a budget of $900,000, grossing $8,556,940 at the box office. Directed by Mark Jones and starring Warwick Davis as the leprechaun and Jennifer Aniston as Tory Redding, the film takes place at a North Dakota farmhouse where a leprechaun had become trapped in the basement after losing his pot of gold. Ten years after the farmer who stole the gold died, the Redding family rents the farmhouse for the summer and accidentally unleashes the leprechaun. The creature torments the family until he is ultimately destroyed by the power of a four leaf clover. Leprechaun currents holds a 33% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com and was widely panned by critics.
9. Near Dark (1987)
Set in: Kansas & Oklahoma
Near Dark is a Western-style vampire film set in Kansas and Oklahoma staring Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright. It was filmed on a budget of $5 million and grossed $3,369,307. The movie is a gritty look at a pack of nomadic vampires who reluctantly adopt a young man named Caleb Colton after one of their members turns him into a vampire. When the group kidnaps Caleb’s sister, he must fight against his vampiric inclinations to rescue her. The film ends on a positive note, with Caleb and Mae (the vampire who turned him) cured by blood transfusions. They watch the sunrise together as the credits roll. Near Dark did not perform well when it was released, but later developed a cult following. It currently holds a 75% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com.
8. Red Dragon (2002)
Set in: St. Louis, Missouri
Based on a novel by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Like Silence of the Lambs, this movie also features an imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter helping an FBI agent track down another serial killer. It stars Edward Norton as FBI agent Will Graham and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Lecter, and cost $78 million and grossed $209,196,298 at the box office. Nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy,” the killer in this movie works for a film editing company in St. Louis and believes he is possessed by “The Great Red Dragon.” Each killing brings him closer to transforming into the beast. Ultimately, good prevails as the Tooth Fairy is shot and killed as he attempts to murder Agent Graham’s family. Red Dragon currently holds a 74% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com.
7. Child’s Play (1988)
Set in: Chicago, Illinois
Child’s Play, the original film that spawned a massive horror franchise, was set in Chicago and filmed on location in the Windy City. It starred Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, and Brad Dourif, and was filmed on a budget of $9 million and grossed $44,196,684. Critic Roger Ebert uncharacteristically praised this movie, calling it a “cheerfully energetic horror film.” Its premise is fairly straightforward. Charles Lee Ray, a serial killer and practitioner of voodoo, manages to transfer his soul to a doll before dying in a police shootout. The possessed doll then finds its way into the hands of a young boy named Andy Barclay. It then begins to terrorise his family and friends. Ultimately, they manage to destroy the doll with the help of Detective Mike Norris. The Chucky doll, based on Cabbage Patch Kids, became an iconic image. Child’s Play currently holds a 62% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com.
6. The Crazies (2010)
Set in: Iowa
A remake of the 1973 George A. Romero film, this version of The Crazies was much better received by fans and critics alike. The premise of the movie remained virtually unchanged, but the 2010 version had a budget of $20 million, as opposed to the $275,000 budget of the original. The remake starred Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell and took place in the fictional town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. This sleepy town was accidentally infected with the “Trixie” virus, which caused its inhabitants to slowly lose their minds and turn violent. The US military arrives to quarantine the area and have orders to shoot anyone suspected of being infected with the virus. David and his wife Judy must somehow escape both the infected townspeople and the military. Ty Burr of the Boston Globe said The Crazies was “extremely solid stuff – about as good as you could hope from a B-movie retread,” and it currently has a 56% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com.
5. Candyman (1992)
Set in: Chicago, Illinois
Based on a short story by Clive Barker, Candyman stars Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, and Xander Berkeley. It was filmed on a budget of $8 million and grossed $25,792,310 at the box office. Candyman was set and filmed on Chicago’s north side, including the notorious Cabrini–Green housing project. This adds a gritty realism to the film that other horror movies lack. Filmmakers actually had to make a deal with local gang members to film there. In this intelligent horror movie, Helen Lyle, a graduate student writing a thesis on urban legends, is drawn to the legend of Candyman, a hook-handed killer who is summoned by repeating his name five times while looking in the mirror. Candyman, as it turns out, is real, and has been feeding off the fears of Cabrini–Green’s residents. In the end, Helen Lyle sacrifices herself to destroy Candyman in a bonfire, but becomes an urban legend herself. Candyman currently holds a 61% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com.
4. Children of the Corn (2009)
Set in: Nebraska
This version of Children of the Corn aired on the Syfy Channel and was a made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s short story of the same name. Shot on a budget of $4.5 million, it was much closer to the source material than the 1984 version starring Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton. The film follows Burt and Vicky, who become lost on the back roads of Nebraska and discover the village of Gatlin, which has been taken over by a group of children who worship an ancient fertility god. At some point in the past, the children of Gatlin murdered their parents at the command of a boy preacher in order to survive a severe drought. From then on, anyone over the age of 19 must be sacrificed to “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Burt and Vicky are forced to fight off this child cult to escape. With its powerful themes of ancient paganism and religious fundamentalism set in the cornfields of the Midwest, the Syfy Channel’s Children of the Corn was much more frightening and realistic than its corny (pardon the pun) predecessors.
3. Halloween (1978)
Set in: Illinois
The film that set off a new wave of horror films and launched Jamie Lee Curtis to stardom was produced on a merger budget of $325,000. Set in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois, Halloween grossed $70 million at the box office worldwide and defined the slasher genre. The plot follows Michael Myers, a psychopath who has been confined to a mental hospital for more than a decade after murdering his older sister. One Halloween night, he escapes and makes his way back to Haddonfield, where he stalks and murders a group of teenage girls. Laurie Strode manages to fight off Myers, but he ultimately escapes into the night. This was one of the few horror films where the antagonist never dies—leading to several sequels. Considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time, Halloween currently holds an 89% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com.
2. The Crow (1994)
Set in: Detroit, Michigan
Based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, The Crow stars Brandon Lee in his final performance before his untimely death. Lee was killed on set when a .44 Magnum accidentally fired a dummy round that had been lodged in the barrel. The film was set in Detroit, and that city’s notorious annual arson spree known as Devil’s Night served as its backdrop. During Devil’s Night, a musician named Eric Draven and his fiancé are murdered by thugs led by a man named Top Dollar. On the anniversary of their death, the spirit of a crow awakens Draven and gives him the power to exact revenge. Filmed with a budget of $23 million, The Crow was a huge commercial success, generating $144,693,129 at the box office and attracting a large cult following. The urban dystopia of Detroit served as the perfect backdrop to this Gothic revenge tale. The Crow currently holds a 91% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Set in: Ohio
There are few horror movie villains as iconic as Freddy Krueger, a scarred child murderer who wears a dirty red and green sweater and a leather glove outfitted with razors. The character has appeared in no less than nine slasher films. Wes Craven’s 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street started it all. Set in a quaint Midwestern suburb populated by average teenagers called Springwood, Ohio, Freddy Krueger invaded one place that seemed secure: dreams. The idea of a child killer that lives in dreams is particularly terrifying, because there is nothing the adults in the movie can do to protect their children. Initially, the protagonist, teenager Nancy Thompson, believes she can destroy Freddy by dragging him out of her dreams and into the real world, but the end of the film proves otherwise. A Nightmare on Elm Street played with reality and imagination, and its audience was never quite sure which was which. It currently holds an 83% viewer rating on Rottentomatoes.com.