Batophobia – the fear of being in or close to tall buildings. It’s no question that tall buildings can be terrifying. For many of us it’s a simple fear of heights. For others, it’s irrational fears installed in us from the films of our youth. Long before the real-world tragedy, high-rise terrors were a Hollywood go-to for adventure films. From The Towering Inferno to Die Hard, skyscrapers have been inflicting claustrophobic terrors in film audiences for over forty years.
The Disaster epics of the 1970s and action films of the 1980s might be at the forefront of your mind when you think about high-rise cinema, but the horror genre as tapped into these skyscraping nightmares more than you might remember throughout the years. Whether it be for laughs or batophobia inducing nightmares, this horror sub-genre brought fans some of the best uses of tall buildings in cinema history. Below are the Top 10 High-Rise Horror Films. From horrific to laugh-out-loud funny, these high-rise terrors are guaranteed to trigger your batophobia.
10. The Dark Tower (1989)
This is not The Dark Tower you might be thinking. Filmed in 1987 and released in 1989, The Dark Tower is a true hidden-gem of high-rise horror. Starring frequent Larry Cohen leading man Michael Moriarty, The Dark Tower tells the story of a haunted high-rise in Barcelona that is terrorizing an architect after she witnesses the death of a window washer during the films opening minutes. With cheesy dialogue and many scenes which rip off Poltergeist, The Dark Tower makes for perfect party viewing, especially if paired with Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent (1982).
9. Land of the Dead (2005)
George A. Romero never shied away from social commentary in his films, and Land of the Dead is no different. It features an incredibly on the nose portrayal of the political climate at the time, with the rich and powerful living in Fiddler’s Green, a luxury high-rise, while the rest of the population are left to fend for themselves in the slums below. Fiddler’s Green eventually becomes the target of not only the zombies but also the working class below in a thrilling climax that mixes horror with satirical humor. Land of the Dead may not be remembered as fondly as Romero’s genre-changing dead trilogy, but the film’s timely social commentary on American life is still worth your time.
8. High-Rise (2015)
Like Land of the Dead, High-Rise (2015) uses its tall building setting to focus on social commentary. The film begins with a lengthy intro set three months after the events of the film. Dr. Robert Laing moves into a state-of-the-art high-rise outside of London and, after a series of odd problems including power-outages and laundry chute blockages, this high-class society begins to breakdown. High-Rise is a darkly comic look at our class system that is bleak and at times unnerving to watch. If you are looking for a social commentary that does not involve zombies, I recommend giving High-Rise a shot. The visuals, score, and performances are all excellent.
7. The Lift (1985)
The Lift made its way to U.S. theaters in 1985 and is exactly what you would expect from the “technology-gone-crazy” films of that era. After a lightning storm mysteriously brings an elevator to life, the evil lift nearly suffocates a cart full of party-goers and decapitates a janitor. Featuring bonkers kills and over-the-top-performances, The Lift would fit perfectly in a double bill with Maximum Overdrive (1986) or John Carpenters Christine (1983). The film was also remade in 2001 as Down, which I do not recommend.
6. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ivan Reitman‘s 1984 horror/comedy masterpiece was my (and I’m sure an entire generation’s) first taste of High-Rise horror. The plot of Ghostbusters might not be contained in Dana Barrett’s apartment building located at 550 Central Park West, but that does not disqualify this classic from this list. From the final battle that takes place on the rooftop, to the incredible effects of Dana and Lewis turning into Hell Hounds, and my favorite shot of Zuul sitting in front of the gorgeous New York skyline, thirty-five years later Ghostbusters still features one of the coolest uses of a tall building in any genre.
5. Demons 2 (1986)
After the events of Demons (1985), which in this sequel have been made into a film, a group of teens enter a walled-in ‘forbidden zone” only to unleash the demon plague. Demons 2 does suffer from the “more of the same” syndrome, with the only difference being the location from a movie theater to a high-rise apartment building. Once again, it’s the effects that make this a must-watch for gore-fans, with director Lamberto Bava and producer Dario Argento making the most of the rushed shooting schedule and requested lowered violence. I highly recommend Demons 2, even if you have never watched the original film.
4. 1408 (2007)
1408 is one of my all-time favorite Stephen King short stories and, thankfully, the film does not disappoint. First off, yes, the film does change things from the story, but the changes are warranted and make for a better page to film translation. The film, starring John Cusack as Mike Enslin, an author who investigates and debunks haunted houses, books room 1408 at the infamous Dolphin hotel after receiving a postcard warning him not to book the haunted room. Enslin’s night begins with the clock radio suddenly playing The Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” (which should be a future Top 10 – Creepiest Uses of The Carpenters in Horror). What follows is a creepy descent in madness, as the room tortures and teases Mike throughout the night. I highly recommend 1408. Twelve-years later and it is still one of my favorite King adaptations.
3. Shivers (1975)
It was difficult not putting David Cronenberg’s first theatrical feature film, Shivers, number one on this list. Cronenberg’s creepy “STD awareness film” is easily my favorite movie featured here. Shivers is a claustrophobic nightmare at its finest when the residents of a Candian high-rise apartment building become infected with a parasite that turns them into sex-crazed zombies with one goal; to spread the infection. Shivers is not a film for everyone, but if a movie with a working script titled “Orgy of the Blood Parasite” sounds like your bag, do not pass Shivers up.
2. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
In my opinion, you cannot have a high-rise horror list and not include Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2. We all love Gremlins, but to be completely honest, that film kinda feels like Dante impersonating Steven Spielberg, whereas Gremlins 2 is pure Dante. Despite originally turning down the opportunity to direct a sequel to Gremlins, Dante eventually returned to the franchise in 1990. However, what he delivered was far from what fans were expecting, Gremlins 2 not only spoofs the original film, it also incorporates many of the horror tropes found in the early Hammer films. Gremlins 2 features everything from a mad scientist, freaky mutated Gremlins, Looney Tunes characters, hilarious dialogue, and all set in Clamp Center (another spoof that I’ll let you figure out), a futuristic high-rise building. If it’s been a while since you last watched Gremlins 2, I highly recommend revisiting this gold standard of horror spoofs.
1. Poltergeist III (1988)
Poltergeist III is an overlooked diamond in the rough. After the events of the previous films, Carol Anne is sent to stay with her aunt in a high-rise building, only to be tracked down by supernatural forces lead by the sinister Reverend Kane. Poltergeist III is completely bonkers fun, with an amazing cast that features Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Lara Flynn Boyle, with the returning Heather O’Rourke (who passed away before the film’s release), and Zelda Rubinstein. Poltergeist III is the perfect B movie, that was somehow released as a big-budget feature. I highly recommend watching this one with friends or in a group. Also, do not play drinking games that involve how many times Carol Anne is mentioned – it’s around 130 for those wondering.