Horror and sci-fi stories love to take root in small towns—the more isolated the better, considering their quaint streets and picturesque views are always hiding very dark secrets. Sometimes, these towns are still reasonably safe for outsiders. But for every Twin Peaks, there are countless more to avoid. Including these!
The first episodes of HBO’s Lovecraft Country took us on a road trip that proved perilous for its Black travelers thanks to all the real-world racism they encountered along the way. But once Atticus (Jonathan Majors), Leti (Jurnee Smollett), and George (Courtney B. Vance) arrived at their destination—a place so secretive it’s not even on the map—they found a small village serving a massive mansion, with menacing humans (all racist; some magical) and vicious monsters roaming around. Ardham’s so full of ill will it keeps itself well protected with supernatural means, so it’s likely, and also very fortunate, that anyone just passing by wouldn’t even know it was there.
Do we even need to tell you why you should stay the hell away from this hotbed of Stephen King-spawned nightmares? While you’re at it, take a hard pass on Derry (sewer clown central), Salem’s Lot (vampires), Chester’s Mill (domes), Chamberlain (telekenetic prom queens), Bridgton (killer mist)...you know what, just stay out of Maine entirely, as well as Gatlin, Nebraska (cornfields), Arnette, Texas (Captain Trips), and anyplace King ever wrote about.
What’s more dangerous than a sinister small town hidden in the woods? How about a sinister small town located on an island, making it very difficult to escape once you suss out the awful truth that parents have been offering up their rowdy offspring for Stepford Wives-type “upgrades”? That is the plot of Disturbing Behavior, in which a new arrival (James Marsden) correctly deduces something’s very off about his high-school classmates—beyond just being 1990s teen-movie stereotypes—in the otherwise postcard-perfect Cradle Bay.
The town doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the adjacent summer camp, but noted boogeyman Jason Voorhees has been known to emerge from the woods and chop up locals, too. Crystal Lake doesn’t have many amenities—the selection varies depending on which Friday the 13th you’re watching, but it generally features a gas station, a convenience store, a bar, and not much else—so there’s really no reason whatsoever for you to pull over. Just keep driving and take your bathroom break in the next town over, where presumably there’s no hulking dude in a hockey mask waiting to machete you into his body count.
George A. Romero made The Crazies a few years after Night of the Living Dead, and there’s a similar vibe of highly contagious horror afoot. (The 2010 remake is actually pretty decent, too.) After a government plane crashes and infects their water supply with a dubiously useful biological weapon—if it doesn’t kill you outright, it turns you into a violent fiend—the citizens of Evans City find themselves fighting each other and the U.S. military, who’re called in to forcibly contain the damage (while covering up their own terrible blunder). If you find yourself trapped in Evans City, the survival outlook is pretty bleak from any angle; you’d definitely have better odds against a pack of slow-moving zombies.
Michael Myers’ favorite killing ground is a generally safe place 364 days out of the year, but you want to make sure you’re nowhere near its wide sidewalks and tidy hedges on October 31. As long as we’re talking John Carpenter movies, here’s another travel tip: do not schedule your coastal getaway in Antonio Bay, California to coincide with any celebrations involving the town’s history, unless you’re in the mood to be chased through the fog by vengeful, ghostly lepers. And if you’re ever offered an intriguing gig to track down a best-selling author who’s mysteriously gone missing in the peculiar environs of Hobbs End, New Hampshire, turn it down immediately—unless you fancy a different sort of visit to Lovecraft Country.
The setting for the iconic 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Santa Mira looks like a pretty unremarkable American town unless you start poking around its alien-pod-infested basements and greenhouses and questioning the curiously emotionless residents.
No list of “small towns you do not want to visit” would be complete without the eponymous setting for this long-running survival horror video game—so enduringly popular it has launched comic books, genuinely scary movies, and a range of other media. Silent Hill is really adept at luring specific characters into its midst, especially people searching for missing loved ones, but if you happen to accidentally pass within its borders, don’t expect to simply turn around in the Waffle House parking lot and take the next on-ramp to resume your journey. You’re probably going to be stuck there awhile...if not forever.
While Freddy Krueger generally selects his victims based on their proximity to his beloved Elm Street, he’s really in the business of snaring as many souls as possible. So if you must visit Springwood, make sure it’s a day trip, because you definitely don’t want to be falling asleep anywhere near that place.
With Scream 5 on the way, we can’t help but think of the town where the whole Ghostface/prank-caller/two-killers/horror-trivia sensation began: upscale Woodsboro, where even the presence of a ruthless slasher probably didn’t cause a dip in real estate prices. That said—and even though the series changed locations a bit, following its characters to college and Hollywood throughout the saga—we’d still steer clear of its stately homes and leafy lawns. If the events of Scream 4 taught us anything, it’s that the chances of encountering a copycat killer in Woodsboro have only increased with the passage of time.
OK, armchair travelers—it’s your turn! What are your favorite small towns from horror movies and TV shows, and why? (And by favorite, we mean no way in hell would you ever want to go there!)
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