Watch where you step. In a cemetery you can’t always be certain what lays just beneath your feet. As death is one of society’s greatest overall fears it makes sense that so many of our favorite horror films would call upon a cemetery as a backdrop. Imbued with an innate air of reverence and other-worldliness, a cemetery offers a ready-made nightmare fuel scenario. Whether the overarching focus for an entire film, or merely a few select scenes, cemeteries are a tried and true place for the creepy and the macabre. What really goes on there is a mystery to many and often open for interpretation. Here are 10 films that have dared to hop over the gate, step off the path, and utilize the cemetery to its full terror potential. Let’s dig in shall we:
10. THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981)
Safe to say, if you’re an out-of-town family looking to Airbnb a house for a bit, it’s probably best to avoid houses surrounded by a cemetery. Unfortunately, the Boyle family in this Fulci classic did not follow this logic. There are many mysterious, dangerous and evil things lurking in this house by the cemetery. And while the headstones may be covered in brush, branches and leaves, don’t for one second think that what lies beneath is stagnant and still…or even there at all…
9. RAWHEAD REX (1986)
Leave it to the brilliant, endlessly creative of Clive Barker to embody the unrestrained male ego as the rampaging creature known as Rawhead Rex. While most run in terror from the uncontrollable beast, one Pastor aligns himself with Rex and gets ‘baptized’ in the cemetery. A scene that’s sure to elicit reactions from first time viewers, and therefore we shall remain spoiler-free in this discussion. But let it be known…he IS God!
8. CEMETERY MAN (1994)
This film has it all. Crypts, zombies, a love story, even the Grim Reaper! The story follows cemetery caretaker Francesco Dellamorte as he routinely keeps the cemetery’s zombie problem under control. A comedy-horror directed by Bava and Argento associate Michele Soavi, this fun romp through the tombs is one to check out if cemeteries are your thing.
7. THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1991)
Cara Mia! Not one but two great cemetery scenes! The first one comes as Morticia and Gomez exchange passionate dialogue and loving discussions of casket placement. Surrounded by headstones and fog, the sexual tension is palpable and prime fodder for every hopeless romantic with a slight dark side. Next, leave it to the Addams family to take the idea of waking the dead and turn it into a heartwarming family activity. As the family darts to and fro among the headstones, calling for family members long gone to wake up and rise once more, one can’t help but be touched by the sentiment. And don’t forget to get in on the digging! According to Fester, that’s the best part!
6. POLTERGEIST (1982)
It should go without saying that relocating a cemetery in order to build more houses is probably a bad idea. Unfortunately for the Freeling family, they unwittingly became complicit in this exact scenario. While the restless spirits initially come across innocent enough, the stakes quickly get raised with the abduction of Carol Anne. A lesson in proper inspections and full disclosure home buying to be certain.
5. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
One of the most iconic lines in horror cinema comes early on is this quintessential horror classic; “They’re coming to get you Barbra.” Not only that, but through this introductory cemetery scene, the world is introduced to Romero’s vision of a zombie; a vision that would come to be role model for nearly all zombies to follow. As Barbra flees in horror, crouching behind the headstones as Johnny meets his unfortunate end we get classic shot after classic shot. This just might be one of the most influential cemeteries ever to be on film.
4. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)
Both main cemetery scenes in this movie belong to Trash (Linnea Quigley). The first, a harmless party while waiting for a friend to get off work, complete with a tantalizing tombstone dance forever burned into the minds of young impressionable 80’s youths. The second, a muddy good romp with a killer soundtrack and an ever more killer call-back death for our beloved Trash. All the tropes, stereotypes and images that horror fans love are here.
3. ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)
There’s no question that the cemetery scene in Army of Darkness is undoubtedly groovy. In the third installment of the Evil Dead franchise, Ash finds himself in quite a pickle and is sent to retrieve the fabled Necronomicon. Which, of course, he messes up. However, it does result in one of the most entertaining, humorous and enjoyable dead-rising-from-the-grave scenes out there.
2. PET SEMATARY (1989)
Not one, but two cemeteries anchor the story of Pet Sematary. While there is of course, the pet cemetery, there’s also the Micmac burial ground. Full of mystery, power it also offers a temptation that few in need can ignore. Unlike many of the cemeteries on this list, visually, this cemetery is much different. Due to its unique appearance, an air of uneasiness is inherent upon viewing the scene where Jud introduces Louis to the site. Will this cemetery retain its iconic creepiness in the new remake? Only time will tell…
1. PHANTASM (1979)
There’s few cemeteries more haunting, mysterious and downright creepy than the one present at Morningside Mortuary. While the lawns are crisply mowed, the trees, flowers and pathways nicely manicured, it’s the events that happen there that imbue the area with a sense of terror and a fear of the unknown. Nothing is quite what it seems and mysteries abound. Oh, and the Tall Man. Certainly can’t forget about him. A sci-fi/horror twist on the usual cemetery happenings, Phantasm offers a unique and iconic perspective on a scenario that’s proved itself tried and true.
What are some of your favorite cemeteries in horror? Which graveyards haunt your dreams at night? Let us know on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!