As you pull the cord dangling from the ceiling, the attic stairs creak and resist as they fold out from their nest. A light cloud of dust shimmers in the hall light as stale, cool air lightly brushes your cheek. Slowly, you ascend the ladder, a box of old yearbooks delicately balanced on one hip. Before you fully climb through the opening, you slide the box of fading memories in with a substantial push. As a line of dust clears before you, the floorboards simultaneously strain and whine beneath your feet as you enter the attic.
Everything here feels old and abandoned despite the constant bustle of life beneath it. It’s been months, maybe even years since you’ve ventured into this space and the strangeness of it leaves you unsettled and tense. Light from the uppermost house window shines a single, golden beam of radiance across the space. And then you hear it. A scurrying, scratching noise coming from the dark corner behind you. Quicker than you’d like to admit, you descend the ladder, fold it with gusto and thrust the contraption back into it’s resting place. ‘Not today,‘ you mutter to yourself. ‘Not today.‘
“Similar to the way we can bury thoughts and memories in the recesses of our minds, attics are the perfect staging space for such items (or beings) to exist with little to any disturbance. But just because something has been relegated to the physical or mental attic, it doesn’t mean those issues are gone.”
Similar to basements, attics are locations we see utilized in horror films time and time again. But what is it about them that makes them so inherently spooky? Well for one, attics are typically dark, dusty and poorly maintained. Another reason is the physical location in relation to the rest of the house. While basements are the lower extremity of a home, attics are the uppermost. They’re often used for storage, rarely visited and often uninhabited. This is where we store things, both literally and figuratively, that are simply too difficult to part with.
Every day, these contents loom over a home’s inhabitants with little thought to their presence. Similar to the way we can bury thoughts and memories in the recesses of our minds, attics are the perfect staging space for such items (or beings) to exist with little to any disturbance. But just because something has been relegated to the physical or mental attic, it doesn’t mean those issues are gone. There will come a time when these items, these issues, will need to be addressed. Whether by choice or by force, if movies have taught us anything it’s that those times are not always pleasant. Climb the stairs with us as we check out 10 of the best attics in horror:
10. Beetlejuice (1988)
Tagline: In This House… If You’ve Seen One Ghost… You Haven’t Seen Them All.
The topic of haunted houses is certainly not a new one, but here in Beetlejuice we are given a slightly different spin on the age-old subject. As an audience, we are generally guided to experience this scenario from the perspective of the living. But here, we are given a glimpse into Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara‘s (Gina Davis) experience as a loving, deceased couple taken far too soon. When their home becomes invaded by the Deetz family, the two find themselves pushed up into the attic. Even though their attic is not very creepy, through their conversations with Lydia here, we are allowed to sympathize with their plight. The sad fact of the matter is, they really are dead and unless they fight for the rest of their house, that attic will quickly become their prison.
9. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Tagline: Some secrets will haunt you forever.
While vacationing at a cozy island retreat, Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and friends quickly realize they are not alone. While running from their hooked pursuer, the three remaining girls find themselves climbing a ladder into the small hotel’s attic. And here we see several problems with this train of thought. Attics often have only one exit. Even if there is a small window or two, they generally only lead to the roof. Plus, attics are often unfinished and that can mean less than reliable footing (which Brandy finds out the hard way). For all these reasons and more, if you’re going to go toe-to-toe with a determined killer in an attic, you better bring your A-game.
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8. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Tagline: The citizens of Haddonfield are about to endure the revenge of Michael Myers.
The attic that poor little Jamie (Danielle Harris) finds herself in here is no joke. Aside from extreme fire hazard amount of lit candles and old furniture, she discovers the murdered bodies of Max the dog, Mike and Rachel. That’s enough to traumatize anyone for life. But Jamie can’t grieve for too long as she slowly hears the creaking stairs and plodding steps of Uncle Mike approaching. While laying down in a coffin might not have been the obvious choice, it’s the one Jamie decided to make. Attempting to appeal to his humanity, Jamie is able to throw Michael off guard just long enough to make her escape and evades the fate of her family and friends.
7. The Changeling (1980)
Tagline: Whatever you do…DON’T GO INTO THE ATTIC.
Some folks encounter a haunted house and immediately vacate, but composer John Russell (George C. Scott) becomes more curious than scared. In an effort to solve the mystery of his rented mansion, John uncovers not only one of the quintessential attics in all of horror, but the sad and tragic tale that took place there as well. What becomes a cobweb-infested dust magnet, was once the scene for poor Joseph Carmichael‘s death. From the story itself, to that terrifying and cruel wheelchair, this is an attic filled with secrets, terror and iconic imagery.
6. Sinister (2012)
Tagline: Once you see him, nothing can save you.
Safe to say, moving your family into a known murder house is probably not the best decision a father can make. And yet, this is exactly what writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) did. However, he soon discovers just how poor that decision was when he discovers a box of Super 8 film footage being stored in the home’s attic. Once the literal and figurative box has been opened, secrets and scares begin to surround Ellison and his family. With multiple attic focused scenes and scares, Sinister is a film that can give anyone pause before ascending those steps.
5. Suspiria (1977)
Tagline: The Only Thing More Terrifying Than The Last 12 Minutes Of This Film. Are The First 80.
The attic of the school in Suspiria is certainly one of the largest, most elaborate and beautifully shot attics on this list. (And that score!) Plus, we are blessed with not one, but two pretty amazing scenes that take place in the giant recesses above the school. In one, we see poor Sara chased throughout the halls until she finds herself climbing up as far as she can go. Gathering her wits, she attempts to escape through a small upper window utilizing a stack of random suitcases. However, she failed to remember the school’s barb wire collection housed in the room adjacent. Then, there’s the infamous maggot scene. After a veritable downpour of maggots begins to fall on the girls below, Miss Tanner investigates finding the attic infested with creepy crawlies. Whichever scene you prefer, they both offer reason enough to keep that ceiling door hatch closed.
4. Krampus (2015)
Tagline: Will you survive this Christmas?
The attic scene in Krampus takes everything we’ve come to know about attics in horror movies and then turns it up a notch. From the poor lighting to the old furniture and abandoned belongings, all the makings for a traditional scene are there. And then we’re hit with the true gift of murderous toys come to life. Watching Toni Collette, Allison Tolman and Adam Scott battle raging robots, brutal bears and deadly dolls is a blessing. It’s the attic scene we never knew we needed, but are now forever grateful that it exists.
3. The House on Sorority Row (1983)
Tagline: Welcome Home…to the Sorority of your nightmares.
Throughout the course of the film we see the sisters of Theta Pi plagued by secrets, mystery and of course, a killer. After nearly every room in the house has been ravaged, it’s not surprising that the final scene ends up in the attic. Here we see Katie‘s top notch Final Girl survival skills really start to kick in as she attempts to lure her pursuer up into the attic for an ambush. However, she fails to notice the giant life-size clown standing right next to her. (Easy to do in a super creepy attic dominated by clown everything) Thanks to her incredibly quick thinking and resourceful doll use, Katie manages to subdue her assailant and push him out of the attic ladder opening. The fall to the floor below is certainly not a small one and the attic is rendered safe…for now.
2. Hereditary (2018)
Tagline: Evil runs in the family.
Oof. This attic. The film is relatively new so to avoid spoilers, we’re going to stay away from too much detail. However, here we see the ideas of secrets and memories being stashed away taken to a whole new level. An attic is a place that while it’s ever present, it’s a space that is often overlooked or generally forgotten about. So many things, so many items are literally hanging over a home’s residents every day and here in Hereditary that idea carries extra weight. The events that were transpiring here in this attic were never far from reach, never really inaccessible or cleverly disguised. The clues were always there hidden in plain sight. And yet, once the full scope of the mystery becomes revealed, it creates a scene and a moment that will haunt both us and the characters for years to come.
1. Black Christmas (1974)
Tagline: He knows when you’re sleeping, he knows if you’re awake, HE KNOWS…
The incredibly scary part about the attic in Black Christmas is the background role it plays throughout the entire course of the film. Early on, we see Billy enter the house through the attic window and from there on out it becomes his hideout. As the events play out throughout the entirety of the film, we follow our characters as they navigate their personal lives as well as the ones surrounding their circle of friends. After young Clare disappears, her friends and family wonder, worry and search for her, but never thoroughly enough. All while this is happening, and without their knowledge, Billy is there. Watching. Lurking. The attic becomes Billy‘s safe space and it gets overlooked again and again. The icky feeling that we as an audience get from knowing where Billy is, where Clare and Mrs. Mac are is a supremely unsettling experience. The sad fact of the matter is that Clare was there all along, her face frozen in terror, screaming out in silence for help.
Another relevant note in relation to our ‘Home Is Where The Horror Is‘ month is that Black Christmas may hold the title as the overall champion for the domestic horror location series we’ve embarked on. It’s got it all. Terrifying basement scene? Check. Infamous, iconic and frightening closet scene? Check. And finally, the attic. Bottom to top, this film has got it all.
Think you know what’s in your attic? If these 10 films alone don’t have you scheduling some attic spring cleaning next year, here are a few more films with killer attic scenes to help motivate you:
- Red Dragon
- Basket Case 2
- Crimson Peak
- The Curse of La Llorona
- The Birds
- Pet Sematary (upper bedroom)
- Hellraiser (upper bedroom)
- The Taking of Deborah Logan
- Idle Hands
- Flowers in the Attic
Which domestic location tends to creep you out the most? Attic, basement or closet? Have a favorite we’ve failed to mention? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!