A loud thump penetrates the silence as you sit upright in bed, quietly scrolling through your feed. Instantly, your eyes dart towards your closet as your senses become heightened and engaged. As you try to convince yourself it’s nothing, the sound repeats loud and deliberately. Butterflies begin to swell in the bottom of your gut as you peel back the comforter and slowly place one foot after the other on the cold carpet beside your bed. As you creep towards the door, fighting thoughts of demons and monsters, the sound makes itself known again. Hangers knock delicately against one another. There’s something in there.
As you reach your hand towards the handle, you notice it shaking as if it has a mind of its own. The metal feels cold and foreign beneath your skin as your fingers wrap around it firmly. You gather your courage, take a deep breath and rip open the door to face whatever danger lurks inside. In that same moment, you see it. Fuzzball, that pesky neighborhood cat. Somehow he’s trapped himself inside the closet, finding endless amusement batting at the drawstring of your favorite windbreaker. This is why you’re a dog person.
“For centuries, tales have been told of dangers that can lurk within the dark and shadowy recesses of our homes. When invaded, these familiar spaces take on whole other personas and the violation strikes a specific fear unlike any other.”
Unlike many familiar horror film locations, closets are unique in the absence of one specific trait: Space. By their very definition, closets are meant to be used for storage and are often small in square footage. It is due to this lack of space that their terror quotient is automatically increased when utilized properly. A closet can be both a refuge or a hideout. A chance at escape…or a final resting place. Sometimes a closet is the quickest chance at evading danger, but they’re never without risk. The catch lies in the fact that the majority of closets have one door. One way in, one way out. And a closet never discriminates; they offer concealment to victims and killers alike.
For centuries, tales have been told of dangers that can lurk within the dark and shadowy recesses of our homes. When invaded, these familiar spaces take on whole other personas and the violation strikes a specific fear unlike any other. The fact that our own belongings, our own safe spaces could obscure danger or be used against us is primal and visceral. It’s a supremely relatable type of fear and therefore, it’s perfect fodder for horror films. Over the years, we’ve seen closets used in a variety of ways on film, and here are 10 of the best.
10. Boogeyman (2005)
Tagline: You thought it was a just a story… but it’s real.
Here we see one of the most prevalent creepy children’s tales translated into a horror film. As Tim (Barry Watson) simultaneously searches for the Boogeyman and answers, he inevitably finds himself drawn to a closet by a flickering light. Once inside, Tim makes one crucial mistake; he lingers. When hunting a mysterious, supernatural creature, one probably shouldn’t willingly hang out in small confined spaces. Although he clumsily escapes with nothing but a few scratches and a hanger, odds are he won’t be venturing into any coat closets any time soon.
9. Carrie (1976)
Tagline: If The Exorcist made you shudder, Carrie will make you scream.
Similar to the opening scene in Carrie, the terror in her closet scene lies in the real world-ness of it. There are no supernatural forces at play here in this moment. There are no creatures or serial killers after her. However, there is most certainly a monster outside that closet door. Carrie‘s mom uses the closet as a form of punishment, a form of forced reflection and truly, a form of abuse. For long stretches of time, she’s confined to that small closet and she is certainly not a willing participant. This is horror perpetrated by the one she loves most, in what is supposed to be a safe, loving space.
8. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Tagline: Houses don’t have memories.
That poor babysitter. All she was trying to do was get the Lutz kids to bed and ends up trapped in the closet by an unknown force. What’s interesting about this scene is the slow, natural build of the babysitter’s reaction. At first, she thinks it’s just Amy being difficult and her first reaction is frustration. Quickly, this evolves into anger…and then fear. When Amy refuses to help or assist her in any way, that fear becomes terror. As we watch her emotions shifting, our breathing and anxiety keeps pace with hers. It’s a quite simple scene, but more effective because of it.
7. House (1985)
Tagline: HORROR has found a new HOME.
Strange things are going on at Roger Cobb‘s newly inherited house. While his Aunt Elizabeth always claimed it was haunted, Roger initially assumed it was just haunted with bad memories. However, he soon realizes there’s much more going on in this house than repressed emotions. Hearing voices coming from the closet, Roger approaches it and at first tries to brush it off as nothing. Ultimately he gives in to his own curiosity, throwing the door open with his anxiety clearly present. As the clock strikes midnight, he discovers the once empty closet now holds a creature unlike any he’s ever encountered. And it is certainly not friendly.
6. The Faculty (1998)
Tagline: Six students are about to find out their teachers really are from another planet.
Here we see a prime example of a closet used as refuge. While Casey and Delilah investigate the teacher’s lounge, they are forced to hide in the closet to avoid detection. Yes, it’s a school closet and not a home closet, but much like a domestic dwelling it’s a familiar place where youth spend a lot of their time. Here, our fictional pair are able to spy through the door slats and soon learn a bit more about what their teachers are up to. And yet, they soon reveal themselves thanks to a precariously balanced corpse that was residing in the closet along with them all along. It’s only by quick thinking and a decent broom handle that the two are able to escape that deadly lounge.
5. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Tagline: When a grudge from the dead passes to the living – Who is safe?
There’s a couple different closet scenes in this film and honestly, both are effectively frightening. In one, we discover a mysterious little boy, perhaps chilling, perhaps confined to the closet. In another, while investigating some strange noises, Kazumi finds not only a path to the attic, but one of the many secrets that the house has been keeping. Due to their importance in this original version of the film, we also see these scenes replicated in the 2004 American version of The Grudge as well.
4. The Ring (2002)
Tagline: Before you die, you see… the ring.
The Ring is one of those films filled with iconic imagery. Between the creepy montages, the well, TV screens and Samara herself, there’s plenty to haunt your dreams at night. However, I remember watching this film for the first time and the scene that really got me, really caught me off guard and set the stage for what was truly to come took place in the closet. When Rachel (Naomi Watts) begins to investigate her niece Katie‘s death, Katie‘s mom describes how she discovered her. While the image of Katie, frozen and terrified in the corner is quick, it’s a graphic, frightening and iconic moment in film.
3. Saw (2004)
Tagline: Live or die. Make your choice.
James Wan certainly knows how to build a scare. As Adam develops film in his small apartment, he quickly discovers he is not alone. As the lights go out, Adam utilizes his camera’s flash to simultaneously intimidate and flush out the intruder. The lack of score coupled with the camera’s building flash adds heavy layers of tension to the situation. As he creeps to the closet with an added bat in hand, Adam is hesitant but tough. And then, perfectly timed with a mere second of light, our hidden closet creep is revealed in dramatic fashion.
2. Poltergeist (1982)
Tagline: From a dimension beyond the living, a terror to scare you to death.
It’s hard to know where to even start when it comes to the closet in Carol Anne‘s bedroom. The first main closet scene is one of the most effective and visually stunning scenes in the entire movie. While her parents are outside battling a tree to save her brother, everything in Carol Anne‘s room (including Carol Anne) begins to get sucked into the portal that has opened up inside her closet. The practical effects in this scene are truly incredible and a testament to the creative minds working behind the scenes. Then, of course, the story returns to the closet in an effort to retrieve Carol Anne from wherever she has gone too. Again, we are blessed with some incredible visual effects, incredible storytelling and one of the most famous closets in all of film.
1. Halloween (1978)
Tagline: The Night HE Came Home!
This is certainly the most famous and most terrifying closet scene in all of horror. As Laurie strives to evade the determined Michael Myers, she seeks refuge in a bedroom closet. With quick thinking, she’s able to lock up the flimsy shutter-style doors, but it’s only a mild deterrent for a killer like Michael. While she initially tries to melt into the corner of the closet, her survival instincts soon kick in allowing her to momentarily gain the upper hand and facilitate her escape. In this scene we see Laurie‘s vulnerability, her emotions and simultaneously, her strength, courage and intelligence. On the flip-side, we also see Michael‘s determination, his strength, the terror he is capable of…and his vulnerability. He can be subdued, if only for a moment. It’s a pivotal character establishing scene that firmly roots Michael Myers as one of the ultimate slashers and simultaneously, Laurie as one of the most iconic Final Girls of all time.
Need more reasons to keep your closet door cracked open a smidge at night? Horror certainly has more examples of things lurking behind those winter sweaters. Here are a few more Honorable Mentions that definitely deserve a storage room-sized shout out:
- You’re Next
- The Conjuring (wardrobe closet)
- Halloween (2018)
- The Haunting of Winchester House
- Case 39
- Signs (pantry)
- Paranormal Activity 4
- Black Christmas
Which closet scenes have you plugging in that night light? Have some other storage style scenes that top your list of faves? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!