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The High Stakes of High-Rise Horror Stories

By Gina Freitag

High-rise horror is a subgenre where paranoia, alienation, isolation, and confinement intersect against a backdrop of modern architecture. Within this structure, social satire and classist terror run rampant alongside contagion and creatures that simultaneously force quarantine and threaten infiltration. Inhabitants from all floors and all social levels, so closely linked by the walls they share, are so foreign to one another – that is, until they are united by horror.

Those strange sounds in the middle of the night may very well be a slick-haired psychotic, hacking up women and rival businessmen (American Psycho, 2000, dir. Mary Harron). Perhaps it’s time to investigate the cause of that sinister and ever-worsening water stain or questionable leak in the ceiling (Dark Water, 2002, dir. Hideo Nakata; 2005, dir. Walter Salles). Be careful: a raucous pool party on the ground floor could expose you to an infectious, sex-crazed parasite (Shivers, 1975, dir. David Cronenberg). Then again, the very neighbours you party with might suspiciously be conspiring against you, guided by occult-like intentions (Rosemary’s Baby, 1968, dir. Roman Polanski; Inferno, 1980, dir. Dario Argento).

It’s understandable why some may seek solace in the high-rise, as a pillar of protection and a symbol of status, however illusory that sense of security is against a bloody outbreak of mass neuroses (Dys-, 2011, dir. Maude Michaud). But let’s face it: heights won’t actually stop critters or creeps, or even zombies, from claiming fresh meat (28 Days Later, 2002, dir. Danny Boyle; La Horde, 2009, dir. Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher). For the higher you climb to escape their reach, the closer you may come to the threat. Mysterious portals perched on high could open into the vast unknown and expel hell beasties and levitating demon women from their depths (Ghostbusters, 1984, dir. Ivan Reitman). And on the way up or down between floors, you could even become trapped in the elevator with the Devil himself (Devil, 2010, dir. John Erick Dowdle).

While the phallic tower looms over the city, penetrating the sky with a presumption of class and prosperity, its inner womb-like enclosures only serve to subvert domestic safety, level social structures, and enhance the unthinkable terrors that amble below in the streets, hide out on rooftops, scramble up cement stairways, give chase down narrow hallways, or appear in nightmares. Suddenly, it’s not really even about the entrapment of your surroundings: the mind itself falters, and claustrophobic confinement causes interiority and environment to bend, meld, and warp. But, then again, it’s entirely possible that the forces toying with your mind exist beyond you – after all, you’re just as likely to be haunted in an apartment as you are in a suburban homestead (Poltergeist III, dir. Gary Sherman). The forces of fear will find you, and they always come back…

Black Museum’s GARY SHERMAN MASTERCLASS on POLTERGESIT III is on March 28, 2018.

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