I’d argue that some of the best horror is horror that’s tied to place. You can fight a monster or a serial killer, but you can’t fight the land you live on. And escape from where we were born, or where we went, or where we ended up can be a remote possibility sometimes, which is its own kind of terror.
In this vein, over the past decade or so, the internet has embraced “regional gothic,” and people created lists and moodboards and stories about the unsettling things that lurk wherever they live. This content isn’t exclusive to the US, but the concept really took off in the states. My guess is this has to do with the identity crisis America is constantly in the midst of: our history books usually start when Columbus landed, but the ground beneath us has a longer memory, and we feel its unease.
The recommendations below span different kinds of media and are chosen and categorized based on my experience. I’ve called five different states home for varying amounts of time, and I lived and worked on a travel expo for a bit, so I know know some places better than others (thus the amount of recommended media is a bit unbalanced). As of now, I live in Ireland, so expect some Irish horror recs soon!
Arguably the most well-known genre of regional horror, southern gothic is made up of unquiet ghosts. Spanish moss hangs from bayou tress, evoking a ghostliness. Small towns look askance at outsiders. All the while, a very real, violent history remains–how could it not?
Move into the deserts of the southwest, and odd lights in the sky, tumbleweeds, Area 51, and the still, hot nights have stories, too.
- Gil’s All Fright Diner written by A. Lee. Martinez
- Wise Blood written by Flannery O’Connor
- Sharp Objects written by Gillian Flynn
- “A Rose For Emily” written by William Faulkner
- Welcome to Nightvale created by Jeffery Cranor and Joseph Fink
- “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters” written by by N.K. Jemisin
New England is just that—it’s where European settlers first landed. They brought some of what haunted them in the old world with them, and the atrocities they committed against the indigenous people (which would continue to spread across the continent) gives the place a history with plenty to draw from, like the Roanoke Colony and the Salem Witch Trials. New England evokes a feeling of being untethered, adrift, and, having reached new, strange shores, a desire to draw closer to the community you know, or at least think you do.
Land in Boston and you’ll soon make your way into Lovecraftian territory, finding Arkham, Massachusetts and Miskatonic University. Head north and you could stumble into the estate where Merricat Blackwood and her sister Constance live, in the woods of Vermont. Go further, and you might just end up in Derry, Maine, a place to mind yourself and avoid sewer grates and drains.
- The Winter People written by Jennifer McMahon
- IT written by Stephen King
- “Herbert West—Reanimator” written by H.P. Lovecraft
- “The Summer People” written by Shirley Jackson
- Session 9 directed by Brad Anderson
- The Lighthouse directed by Robert Eggers
- The VVitch directed by Robert Eggers
Lying amidst the skeleton of industrialism in America, the Rust Belt combines the rural darkness of the Midwest with the close-knit, mysterious nature of New England and adds a sort of wistfulness all of its own.
The small towns that you’d blink as you drove through and end up missing have their own long, sometimes dark histories, which the locals all know and might tell, if they’re in the right mood. Nothing new seems to be able to take root in these places, and the old never seems to die off.
- Winesberg, Ohio written by Sherwood Anderson
- Tales from the Gas Station written by Jack Townsend (in fairness, we never quite know where the gas station is, but because it reminded me so strongly of the town I grew up in, I’m listing it here.)
- Sleepy Hollow directed by Tim Burton
With placenames like Hell Fer Certain Creek, you might expect some dark twists and turns in the Appalachian mountains. Often seeming unknowable to strangers, this area is home to beings of folklore like Mothman, Bigfoot, and other cryptids. Here in the mountains, there are plenty of stories, and who knows which ones are true?
- The Devil All the Time directed by Antonio Campos
Windswept, dangerously cold in the north, full of empty plains that carry the scars of manifest destiny—the Midwest is conceptually eerie. Often deemed “flyover states,” the land here seems content enough to keep its secrets.
Midwesterners themselves are a hardy people, and beneath the “Minnesota Nice” of their potlucks and neighborliness, there’s teeth. Cross them at your peril. And in the darkness of winter, draw your curtains and gather around your fire, because whatever lives in the corn and wheat fields is bolder during the winter months.
- “Children of the Corn” written by Stephen King (the first movie is good, but I can’t speak for the rest of the franchise)
- Fargo directed by the Coen Brothers
- In the Tall Grass directed by Vincenzo Natali
I left this entry ‘til last because it’s the one I know the least about. I’ve lived all over, but never farther west than Minnesota, and the wilds of the Pacific Ocean have always both intrigued and frightened me a little. The northern corner of the country is misty and mysterious, a place with deep forests that remain untamed. Who knows what might lurk there? And who knows what might blend in with the bright crowds of California, lurking unnoticed in broad daylight?
- “You Know They Got One Hell of a Band” written by Stephen King
- Us directed by Jordan Peele
Drop the scariest stories about where you live in the comments!