Before ‘Scream VI’ – 6 of the Best Horror Movies Set in New York City

You can only tell the same old slasher story so many times before it gets stale, and that’s why so many horror franchises eventually find the need to escape the confines of their original small-town settings and have their villains invade larger urban centers. And if you’re going to set your story in a big city, why not the most recognizable metropolis of all, New York?

Urban horror might not be as common as scary movies about Transylvanian castles and cursed cabins in the middle of nowhere, but we’ve seen a plethora of NYC-set horror flicks over the years. And in honor of Scream VI also choosing to relocate the action to the city that never sleeps, we’ve come up with this list celebrating six of the best horror movies set in NYC.

As usual, this list is based on personal opinion, but we’ll be selecting entries according to the flicks’ overall fun factor and how important the big city setting is to the plot. We’ll also be excluding horror movies that supposedly feature New York City but actually spend much of their runtime outside of the big apple – that means no Jason Takes Manhattan!

With that out of the way, don’t forget to comment below with your own personal favorite big city horror flicks if you think we missed an important one.

Now, onto the list of New York City horror gems…

6. 1408 (2007)


While the story initially reads like a “Greatest Hits” compilation of Stephen King’s most popular ideas (from the writer protagonist to the haunted hotel setup), 1408’s urban setting actually makes it one of author’s most unsettling tales, with Mikael Håfström’s 2007 movie ranking high among King adaptations. After all, what’s scarier than being trapped among millions of other people but still being completely and utterly alone?

Following a skeptic writer (John Cusack) as he books a supposedly haunted room in one of New York’s most prominent hotels, chaos ensues as he discovers that he’s in (as Samuel L. Jackson puts it) “an evil fucking room”. While the action here is mostly relegated to the titular hotel room, the lonely skyline of New York plays a key part in the story, which is why the film makes it onto this list.

5. Frankenhooker (1990)

A modern-day retelling of Frankenstein that also happens to satirize NYC’s sex work industry doesn’t exactly sound like a great idea on paper, but leave it to Frank Henenlotter to craft a solid horror comedy out of what should have been unwatchable schlock. Following a med school drop-out as he attempts to rebuild his deceased girlfriend out of body-parts “borrowed” from drug-addicted sex workers, this raunchy monster movie is way funnier than it sounds.

Frankenhooker may not be Henenlotter’s only New-York-set feature, but it definitely does a commendable job of capturing the city’s gritty underbelly, especially during that iconic Times Square sequence that remains one of the greatest examples of guerilla filmmaking in low-budget horror history.

4. Maniac Cop (1988)

horror new york city maniac cop

While killer cops have become something of a controversial idea in mainstream media, William Lustig and Larry Cohen’s Maniac Cop remains just as thrilling now as it was in the 80s precisely because of its inflammatory subject matter. Telling the story of a homicidal police officer out for revenge, this is a classic slasher with plenty of entertaining kills.

Of course, the big city setting also makes the film a fascinating time capsule for ’80s New York, where it’s easy to understand why so many writers thought that this was the city that needed superheroes the most. As if that wasn’t enough, the movie also features the ever-lovable Bruce Campbell hamming it up alongside genre veteran Tom Atkins! What’s not to love?

3. Midnight Meat Train (2007)

horror new york city midnight meat train

One of the best Books of Blood adaptations, Ryuhei Kitamura’s Midnight Meat Train is a refreshingly grim slasher that makes its home among dingy subway tunnels and dirty alleyways. Starring a pre-Academy-Award Bradley Cooper and Vinnie friggin’ Jones, the movie chronicles a paranoid photographer as he uncovers a city-wide conspiracy regarding a brutal serial killer.

While the film never explicitly states that it takes place in New York, the lonely subway rides and unfazed locals make it quite clear that the story is meant to be set in a rotten version of the Big Apple. Of course, after watching this disturbing yet stylish horror flick, it’s likely that you’ll be uncomfortable riding late night public transport anywhere.

2. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

horror new york city

Shot on location in New York City, Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder is one of the most influential horror films of the ’90s, even going on to inspire Konami’s Silent Hill franchise. While the movie tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who becomes split between two different versions of his life while dealing with demonic apparitions, the heart of the film remains in its nightmarish depiction of New York.

Inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin came up with the film after a nightmare about being trapped on the subway, which is what led to the movie’s plentiful urban hallucinations as Jacob navigates a world where spiritual reality bleeds into the physical one. Featuring haunting metro shots and even creepy dance clubs, there’s plenty of New York DNA in this fascinating picture.

1. Mimic (1997)


Guillermo Del Toro’s first feature in the United States, Mimic is a strange little sci-fi horror flick that takes New York’s infamous cockroach problem and turns it into an all-out battle for survival. Taking advantage of the city’s grimy underworld, the movie tells the story of a couple of scientists who are forced to confront a hybrid species of arthropod that may be responsible for a series of unexplained disappearances.

As is usually the case with a Del Toro movie, Mimic is much more than an urban creature feature, with the film exploring existential themes while also serving as the future-Oscar-winning director’s blockbuster film school.

Just be sure to pick up the infinitely better Director’s Cut if you decide to check this one out.

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