The Scariest Rooms in Horror Subvert Sanctuary and Leave Nowhere to Hide

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The Scariest Rooms in Horror Subvert Sanctuary and Leave Nowhere to Hide

Your bedroom. Your bathroom. Your garage. Even your annoying crawl space where the idiot who built your home decided to stow the water heater, which makes it one of the most agonizing fixes when the shower runs cold. All of those spaces make up a place where you can hang your hat, crack open a cold one, kick up your smelly feet. It’s your home, and it’s yours. So when some horror movie comes along and subverts the very idea of sanctuary by giving an unassuming bedroom (or bathroom, or garage, or crawl space) a really terrifying touch of evil, well, that makes for some of the most unsettling settings in the genre.

Humans are territorial and we don’t take kindly to seeing our spaces messed with, which makes it an easy horror tactic to get under our skin. It’s hard to say what’s truly scarier, the slow-burn of a home being slowly infected with sickening awareness and dread—the culprit of which usually being a supernatural entity—or a similarly familiar space ravaged by an immediately visible yet elusive evil of human origin. There’s something specifically terrifying about a singular sacred space being desecrated—with temporary asylum sometimes simply in the next room—so haunted houses as a whole don’t exactly have the same effect. When the whole building is tampered with, you’re screwed from the start. Narrowing the scope to a single room raises the stakes by scratching our natural human tendencies to break free from whatever our cages may be. And whether the supernatural or the human method is at play, there’s no denying that both have proven equally terrifying within the vast horror canon over the years.

Take, for instance, 2004’s torturous hallmark Saw. When Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes wake up in that bathroom, it’s clearly seen better days. But worse than that, it’s covered in excrement and grime, cracked and broken at the seams, utterly unusable…you’d rush the hell out if you were forced to use a public restroom that looked like that. Before you’re even thrust into the complications of the situation at hand, the film makes sure you are deeply unsettled by your surroundings. Then there are the places like Regan’s bedroom from The Exorcist. The preteen subject of a demon’s interest has an incredibly tame and childlike room—but the evil that grows as she becomes confined to the space seeps into the surroundings and spoils it. As proven in Saw, it doesn’t need to be your own personal space for this concept to rear its ugly head—it will come to bite you in the ass in your moments of external respite, too, as evidenced in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1408. An otherwise normal hotel room can get rather uninviting pretty quickly. When we check into hotel rooms for work or play—or whatever the occasion—we make a covenant with hospitality in which they agree that your stay will mimic the comforts of your personal residence. But when you settle into your hotel room during any regular trip, does your clock radio start menacingly counting down? Does the front desk clerk tell you they’ve killed all your friends when you call down for a late check-out? Does the bedroom window close harshly on your fingers by itself?

The source of the terror, supernatural or man-made, really doesn’t matter. Any way you slice it, an evil room can pack a harsh punch when it comes to knocking horrorhounds on their asses. The utter betrayal of security in these spaces messes with us psychologically, forcing us into a vulnerable spot before the true evil even begins. Being that mentally unprepared for the fight—with absolutely nowhere to hide—is a surefire way to give an antagonistic force the upper hand and set the stakes high.

Here are some of the freakiest rooms in horror:

Room 1408 in 1408


In the film adaptation of the King short story, John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a paranormal writer who convinces a New York City hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson) to let him stay in a notoriously haunted (or…something) suite. That suite has a plan for Mr. Enslin and won’t cease until it’s fulfilled—and the dwelling uses some pretty messed up methods to attempt to force him into participating, including materializing a noose in the bathroom and spilling the ocean out of one of the bedroom paintings into the real world with a tidal wave. The camerawork is dizzying, anxiety-ridden—purposeful in its chaos. Packed tightly into an unassuming container, the most terrifying thing about rooms like 1408 is that you don’t know what’s coming, and that you’re forced to follow along as normalcy bleeds out. This room reneges on its promise to make things comfy cozy and sweet during your stay, and it has no shame in that. This is another case of creeping supernatural trepidation transforming a space. If you’ve seen this film, you know it’s a bit of a slow burn, but once it ramps up, it goes hard. The supernatural room structure tends to play out this way whenever it is used: Zero for a while, then 60 mph, just like that.

Could You Spend a Night?

Considering the room’s whole gag is to force you to relive the first hour of your stay over and over until you commit suicide, no. You’re just not gonna make it on principle. But if the room stopped being so goddamn evil, I could probably stomach a quick stay. It’s terribly generic and gaudy in the way that higher-end hotels usually are, and it would probably have stiff sheets, but it would be passable and, most importantly, pretty harmless.

Room 237’s Bathroom in The Shining


Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s novel is known for many things, and the incredibly ‘70s bathroom in The Overlook Hotel’s Room 237 is one of them. It exudes the stylings of its era and generally stands out from a design perspective—but it’s the history of the room that truly proceeds it. The hotel’s cook, Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), warns of the room’s sinister background…but how could one room hold so much hell? It certainly piques one’s curiosity, which is at the heart of the characters’ interactions with the room and its lavatory. But curiosity has been known to kill cats. 237’s bathroom is just a few degrees away from normal. Despite its impeccable style, we can sense there is something hidden in the shadows. We can feel the presence of a sinister being, but we can’t tell where or how or what. Not at first glance, anyway. When the audience is first introduced to the restroom, the wide shot of the space seems too good to be true. It’s a gorgeous room, but at the same time, there is a strange invisible barrier between us and the room that feels like it would be a bad idea to cross. Something isn’t quite right—isn’t that almost scarier than things being entirely wrong?

Could You Spend a Night?

When Jack Torrance, the film’s protagonist and antagonist, decides to do a bit of investigating in the off-limits room, he comes face to face with a decaying demonic entity posing as a beautiful naked woman emerging from the bathtub. If all signs of shine-sucking entities were clear, I would actually want to spend a night in this room. We don’t get to see much of the sleeping area of the space, but the hotel is seriously vintage chic…and the glorious green bathroom probably would have fairly nice complimentary toiletries.

The Bathroom in Saw


The 2004 gorefest is known for its mostly-single location premise and thanks to the film’s popularity, the decrepit bathroom is instantly recognizable to most folks with their finger on the zeitgeist’s pulse. The disgusting restroom/prison cell would have been a fine communal bathroom—if it weren’t for the human excrement and crumbling toilets and shattered mirrors. It’s terrifying because it exists just an arm’s length away from reality; it doesn’t feel like it could be a real place—or maybe it’s just that you would never expect to find yourself in that scenario.
By using a location known for being a refuge—I mean, hello, where else can you let it all hang out?—in such a sinister way, the viewer is forced to rifle through all the possibilities as to how the space changed. The myriad unknown variables lead the mind to wander and, as a beloved theatrical strategy has proven over the years, sometimes the mind’s speculation is worse than knowing what actually happened. The space is really just a few steps from its normal state, and that alone can be jarring. Add a dead man on the floor and being chained to the wall, and you’ve got yourself a scenario that’s nearly impossible to wrap your head around. In James Wan’s feature debut, the inescapability of subverted sanctuary is too much to bear: Not only can we not break free, but we’re forced to endure in a place that is so close yet so far from normalcy. And that’s before the film’s game begins.

Could You Spend a Night?

If I wasn’t part of one of Jigsaw’s games and was just…stuck in that bathroom for some reason, yes, I could. Would I want to? Absolutely not.

The Tilted Room in I Am Sophie


A month before lockdown hit, a spoiled brat of a millionaire’s daughter decided she wanted to be YouTube famous and I Am Sophie, a channel about said spoiled brat of a millionaire’s daughter’s life, was born. Convinced they were legit, the first videos were absolutely roasted online by vloggers—until people started to notice glitches and hidden images in the uploads, a telltale sign of an ARG or alternate reality game. Later released and shopped in film festivals as a feature presentation, the project forces viewers down a dark path in which Sophie connects with one of her crazy fans named Lara. The fangirl leads Sophie down the rabbit hole—avoiding spoilers here, because if you haven’t seen it, you should!—during which a room viewers come to know as “the Tilted Room” emerges as part of the content creator’s reality. The space is decrepit, gritty, unkempt and abandoned, but it seems to have once been part of a home. All that’s left among the soot and mess is a camera on a tripod and a chair seated in front of it. This is another room where our minds are wandering terrified about what happened here—but interestingly enough, both methods (supernatural and man-made horror) are at play here. In an effort to keep the content pure, let’s just say this: Fates are met in this room, so ultimately, the fear is justified. Our instincts tend to know.

Could You Spend a Night?

Big fat “no” on this one, folks. Grime, dirt, weird lone camera/tripod and a dirty chair? Yeah, it’s a bit trope-y, but for good reason. You don’t want to be there. Not for a minute, and certainly not overnight.

Regan’s Bedroom in The Exorcist


In the 1973 classic, a child’s bedroom goes from boring and bland to a hotbed for demonic activity. The special space, which would otherwise be a little girl’s place to play and grow, is quickly tainted by the entity inhabiting Reagan’s (Linda Blair) body, making it prime real estate for this list. It isn’t the room that’s scary on its own, but the fact that it’s been invaded. Regan’s bedroom is a container for the contained—the contained, of course, being a hellish being set on ravaging her body and soul—and the container looks like any old Tupperware…but something’s off. See a pattern with these rooms? Throughout the latter half of the film, Regan’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) keeps her locked up in her bedroom while the rest of the house remains unscathed. Over the course of the film, the room itself becomes a refuge for the demonic energy, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Aside from the physical decay of the girl being used as a host, her space exists unharmed until the titular exorcism, which is when things get hardcore between possessed Regan, the room and the priests who attempt to save her. Even though the room remains plain and typical, we can sense that it has been infiltrated and tarnished; it feels unsettling and altogether wrong. Knowing what might happen in there is enough to profoundly spook—again, sometimes the mind’s speculation is worse. When the room begins to show its true colors, flying furniture and a turbulent bed are just some of the ways the space incites violence on its inhabitants.

Could You Spend a Night?

All in all, Reagan’s bedroom is pretty basic, no frills, standard bedroom stuff. I could probably make it—and even in the beginnings of a possible possession, I would wager that a night or two would be fairly easy just based on the atmosphere. But, honestly, let’s not risk it, you know?

The White Room in Alantutorial


A product of Adult Swim strange brain Alan Resinick, Alantutorial tells the tale of a fictional version of Alan, a reclusive man who is obsessed with making tutorial videos. When he gets locked out of his home, where he shoots his videos, he is forced to attempt to survive as a houseless person—before he is shockingly kidnapped. At the behest of his captors, he is relocated to a small white room which is locked from the outside. He is fed dollar bills from under the door every time he completes and uploads a tutorial, but doesn’t appear to be sustained in any other fashion. As his videos progress, the room spirals into a filthy abyss, a tomb of his own making, but of someone else’s insistence. It’s hard to say who is causing Alan harm, which allows both supernatural and man-made horror elements to play out nicely here: Like others, this space is nearly normal but altogether strange, with its stark white paint job, red table, locked door, and not much else. The pacing of the story—as well as the fine details of the bizarre circumstances Alan finds himself—aids in making the space come off as violated by something unseen yet terrible, and when things start to get crazy, they just don’t stop. A surreal horror mindfuck in 65 videos that span over two and a half hours, this project plays out like the most bizarre and tortured found footage film you’ve ever watched.

Could You Spend a Night?

Just one. And on the condition that no one will force me to make videos or keep me held hostage…but something tells me no one would agree with those terms.

Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer with bylines at Life & Style, In Touch Weekly, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. She spends too much time thinking about One Direction and the leftover moments writing poetry, fiction and screenplays. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET only on KPISSFM. She tweets @nikonamerica.