Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Horror's Best Graveyards

It's not a big deal for a scene in a horror movie to be based in a graveyard. Hell, some movies revolve around the premise of being in a graveyard. But not all cinematic graveyards are created equal. Most are pretty standard, bland offerings of granite tombstones and boring backgrounds. But every so often, you get a truly spectacular collection of mausoleums, an ossuary or two, and wonderful headstones. Or maybe it just happens to be placed in a great setting. In any event, here are some really wonderful examples of what a graveyard should look like:

Night of the Living Dead (1968): This cemetery really isn't anything spectacular in the terms of the actual headstones or structures, but the scenery around it is very nice. A serene, hilly setting makes for the perfect dichotomy of peaceful, resting dead and shambling, restless undead. The actual cemetery is known as Evans City Cemetery and is located in Pennsylvania (as everything Romero practically is). There is actually a great site showing the scenes from the movie next to what it looks like today.

Cemetery Man (1994):

The cemetery in this flick is pretty much the quintessential horror movie resting place: gothic statues of angels and death, ornate mausoleums, strange people tending to it, and zombies. I really like this movie and have watched it many times, but the cemetery scenery never ceases to amaze me. I love watching it over and over again to find some new building or bit of scenery every time. A nice contrast to the simple NOTLD cemetery mentioned previously.

Pet Sematary (1989):

The "sematary" in question is deep in the woods, the entrance is marked by creepy rock formations, and is mired by the loss of beloved family friends. It doesn't get much sadder or freakier than this folks. The movie itself is very good and has so many creepy things going for it anyway, but the set design of the cemetery itself just makes it all the better. And that little kid. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.

The Omen (1976):

One the most classic graveyard scenes of all time is the dog attack from the original Omen movie. The fog hangs thick, the walls are huge, and the scare factor is a 10. Gregory Peck goes searching for his child's true mother to discover the grave is inhabited by a decaying dog corpse. With brambles and eerie trees jutting out from every corner, The Omen's graveyard might have easily overdone the ominous scenery, but instead finds a nice balance and makes for a picturesque horror cemetery.

Sleepy Hollow (1999):

I am a sucker for anything Tim Burton, but I can't help it. Everything about his movies reeks of style and thought. I love this particular graveyard because of the New England cottages behind and the creepy woods surrounding it. On the one hand, you get this serene village, on the other, a foggy, desolate wood. Tim Burton could make a DMV look stylistic and I would love every minute of it.

Some honorable mentions: Dead Alive, Dead Silence, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and Zombie.

These are the ones that I could come up with, so now I open up the comments for my readers' suggestions.


  1. Best looking Cemeteries:
    NIGHTBREED – Clive Barker’s follow up to HELLRAISER, there is a large city-like cemetery underneath which is Midian, city of monsters. Haven’t seen it in a long time, but remember striking visuals from the mausoleums, etc
    PHANTASM 1, 2 – from the wastelands of open graves, to the dream sequences in the headstones, to the huge catacomb like mortuary where the Tall Man hangs out…the cemetery is a HUGE part of these films.
    CREEPSHOW – “Father’s Day” story…family plot in a forboding cemetery, with a gigantic memorial headstone that kicks the action off with a resounding squish
    Subtle Cemeteries:
    SALEM’S LOT and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS : both are almost non-descript, simple collections of plots in the forest, which give them both a disarmingly simple quality, but are also inherently creepy in their simplicity. Hell doesn’t have to be unleashed with a bang….
    Cemeteries as characters, or the plot revolves around the plots:
    I BURY THE LIVING – caretaker begins to suspect that as he sticks pins into a map of plots, he is causing patrons’ deaths
    TIL DEATH – a movie I haven’t seen since my childhood…a man visits the mausoleum of his wife, killed in a car accident on their wedding night (?) gets locked inside overnight, and is tormented by her ghost
    Honorable Mentions, great scenes in the graveyard:
    RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD – punkers rave among the graves on the wrong night. The emergence of the dead in the muddy rain is awesome
    DRAG ME TO HELL – final showdown in a rainy cemetery plot is exciting, Gothic, funny…classic
    CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD/GATES OF HELL – Dunwich cemetery, where priest hangs himself, is creepy on its own, but there are seemingly miles of tunnels and catacombs beneath where the climax of the movie takes place that add an epic feel to the film
    FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 6: JASON LIVES – opening scene where Jason is dug up and accidentally brought back to life is a great set piece in and of itself, but what makes it that much better is that it has Horshack getting his heart ripped out

  2. Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. Wow, haven't heard of that movie in a while...

  3. Burned into my brain during it last summer. Low low budget, but surprisingly effective.

  4. Return of the Living Dead is probably my favorite and most memorable cemetery, and not just cause Linnea Quigley dances around nude in it!

    Good call also on Jason Lives, KZ. I've always loved that opening scene.

    Omen ranks up there too.

    How bout Texas Chainsaw? The cemetery in the opening scenes. Always creeped me out!

  5. Yeah...TCM...don't remember much of the cemetery, but the strung up corpse is creepy as hell. Of course, that juxtaposed with the disturbing sound effect of the camera makes it completely unnerving....thanks for putting THAT in my brain before bed!!!

  6. Ooh...thought of another one!

    One of my favorite Hammer films is BRIDES OF features a great scene of a woman who has been bitten and buried in a graveyard. The female "Renfield" character is spied lying in the small church graveyard whispering and talking to the grave. Suddenly the ground starts to move as a hand begins poking up through the dirt. Renfield is laughing with excitement, as the woman slowly emerges from the ground and sits up out of her a vampire....lots of style, and very creepy