Location can be a major obstacle to movie completion, as Terry Gilliam found when trying to shoot The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The setting is as important for a movie as a stage is for a play – it sets the atmosphere, grounds the plot and provides the look and feel. For a horror movie, surroundings need to be bizarre, mysterious, unsettling or chilling. The following destinations would be worthy locations for a horror movie to rival any Wes Craven classic.
10. Karni Mata Temple, Bikaner, India
In stark contrast with this temple’s ornate marble floors and shrines decorated with gold and silver, there are over 20,000 scabby brown rats which leapfrog over one another on the ground, run along ledges and cram themselves into holes in the walls. Caretakers put out food for them, believing they are reincarnations of followers of Karni Mata, the rat goddess. Rare white rodents are considered to be manifestations of the goddess herself.
The sweet vegetarian food and proximity to each other make the rats prone to diseases such as diabetes and stomach disorders, although they have never infected a human being in the temple.
Barefooted tourists walk gingerly, trying to avoid the excrement and urine, although regularly cleaned up. Local pilgrims share their food with the rodents, hoping they will run over their feet, a sign of good luck. Devotees prostrate themselves before statues of deities, next to rats sipping milk from a large bowl.
9. Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia
In the nineteenth century, Port Arthur, now a historic site, was a harsh penal colony where convicts sentenced for non-violent crimes such as “stealing five pigs,” were flogged for even the smallest misdemeanours.
Separate Prison, built in 1848, housed prisoners who severely infringed regulations. They were kept in cells on their own in darkness and forbidden to speak. Guards wore slippers so prisoners could not hear their footsteps. In 1864, an on-site asylum was constructed next to the prison to house the many inmates who became mentally ill. Spree killer Martin Bryant murdered 35 tourists and staff in the Broad Arrow Café with a semi-automatic rifle in 1996. The cafe is now a memorial to victims of the massacre.
The prison, asylum, and café are open to tourists as well as the ruins of other buildings: an informative museum and extensive grounds containing gardens, lawns and staff quarters. Visitors who have been on the evening ghost tour have found it unsettling, which is not surprising in a place with such a turbulent history.
8. Ilha de Queimada Grande, Brazil
One problem with using this site as a horror movie location is access. The Brazilian government has forbidden visitors as the island is home to between 2,000 and 4,000 of the world’s most venomous and endangered snakes, golden lancehead vipers. Only scientists are permitted to visit the island if they take a doctor with them, and have found the snake’s venom could help cure heart disease.
With no major predators and a plentiful diet of migratory birds, the viper, which grows to over half a metre long, lives in densities of roughly one snake per square metre. However, it is listed as critically endangered in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, as the Brazilian Navy burns its habitat when maintaining the island’s lighthouse.
The viper’s venom melts the flesh around the bite and causes death in seven percent of cases. People who do not die can suffer from kidney failure, muscular necrosis or brain injuries.
7. Temple of Hathor, Dendera, Egypt
Covering an area of around 40,000 square metres, this ancient temple dedicated to Hathor, goddess of healing, music and dance, is full of mysteries. There are underground crypts, a Hippostyle Hall with pillars topped with Hathor’s head and an astrological calendar comprising the ceiling of a room on the roof.
Painted blue, the zodiac was used in occult rites glorifying the resurrection of Osiris, god of the underworld. The original is now in the Louvre in Paris, France, and has been replaced by a replica. Visitors may recognise some astrological signs such as those for Aries and Taurus, but not a hippopotamus goddess representing the constellation of the dragon or a bull’s foreleg indicating the presence of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
The temple was probably used as a healing center – an inscription on one statue implies that after water had been poured on sacred texts, it became a miracle cure. It was visited by Cleopatra – there is a carving of her on an outer wall.
6. Chauchilla Cemetery, Nazca, Peru
Chauchilla Cemetery covers a vast area of Peruvian desert strewn with smashed skulls, human bones and pottery shards that were left behind by grave robbers who stole valuable textiles and jewellery. People from the Nazca culture were buried here between 200 and 900 AD.
Twelve excavated graves contain mummies with remains of their skin and hair. They are propped upright, clutching their knees in the fetal position, and wrapped in their original funerary robes. The bodies are well preserved due to the desert’s dry climate and the mummification process used – corpses were painted with resin to protect them from deterioration, then placed in mud brick tombs.
Facing east, in conformity with Nazca burial rites, the mummies are surrounded by ceramic pots, braided hair bands and fragments of jewellery.
There are also mummified heads with holes in their skulls, some with remains of rope in them, indicating they were worn as a ceremonial ornament.
5. Beelitz Military Hospital, Berlin, Germany
Built as a luxury sanitorium for the wealthy in 1898 and standing in 200 acres of woodland, Beelitz became a military hospital during the First World War. Hitler was a patient here in 1916 after being hit by shrapnel during the Battle of the Somme.
The 60-building complex continued as a hospital until its owners went bankrupt in 2001. The war criminal Honecker was treated here in 1990 for liver cancer before escaping to Chile, where he died in 1993.
Serial killer Wolfgang Schmidt, known as the Beast of Beelitz or the Pink Giant because of his size and fascination for pink underwear, roamed the complex between 1989 and 1991 until his arrest. He stabbed or strangled five female sanitorium workers and killed a three-month-old child.
This unsettling place is popular with ghost hunters and thrill seekers.
4. Alcatraz, San Francisco, USA
Many people know that the island of Alcatraz, surrounded by freezing shark-infested seas, was the site of a harsh maximum security prison from 1934 to 1963. Less well-known is that there was a military prison there from the 1850s to 1933, which housed deserters, murderers and those convicted of larceny or assault. Inmates were soldiers from the American Civil War (1861–65) and Spanish American War (1898), American Indians contesting land rights (1895), and civilian prisoners (1906) after the San Francisco earthquake.
Prisoners were separated into classes based on their crimes, with those in the lowest class not allowed to speak, read books, receive letters or have visitors.
In 1971, American Indian representatives who wanted Alcatraz returned to the American Indian people were forcibly removed from the island by the Nixon government after a 19-month occupation. The government had cut off supplies of fresh water and electricity, and the representatives had very little food.
3. Volcano of Erta Ale, Afar region, Ethiopia
Erta Ale is one of the world’s most active basaltic shield volcanoes. Unimpeded by barriers or other safety features, visitors can go as near the edge of the caldera as the heat will permit, and gaze at molten lava heaving, bubbling and exploding 20 metres below. It is like looking at the surface of Mars, and the lava show beats any fireworks display.
Only 613 metres high, the caldera is accessed by a rocky trail across a hot desert and is best visited at night when temperatures fall to around 34 degrees celsius or 93.2 fahrenheit. There is no vehicle access: people must walk for three hours or ride a camel, and are accompanied by several armed guards as the region is vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
In January 2012, five visitors were killed and four were kidnapped in a pre-dawn attack. The Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, who claimed responsibility for the raid, released two German abductees in March 2012.
2. Gulliver’s Travels Theme Park site, Japan
Gulliver’s Travels Theme Park opened in 1997, its bizarre features including a 45-metre-long statue of a reclining Gulliver being tied down by miniature Lilliputians, and a bobsleigh run. Located on the site of Aum Shinrikyo, where a terrorist organisation flooded Tokyo’s subway system with sarin gas in 1995 and killed 12 people, it was hoped the theme park could dispel the area’s negative image and attract tourists.
Visitors, however, were few, maybe because people feared contamination from the residues of Aum Shinrikyo’s nerve gas production facility, which was decommissioned by police in 1995. The site is also near Aokigahara Forest, the world’s second most popular suicide spot, a vast area extending over 35 square metres (14 square miles). In 2010, 54 people committed suicide in the forest, with hanging the most popular method.
The theme park closed in 2001, and was demolished in 2007. All that remains is a slab of concrete being slowly covered by sand and dust.
1. Choueung Ek, Cambodia
The “killing fields” of Cambodia, 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh, were where the Kmer Rouge tortured and killed thousands of their fellow Cambodians in the 1970s. Between a few dozen and 300 people were murdered here daily. Victims were clubbed to death with farming implements or wooden clubs, or stabbed with knives as bullets were considered too expensive. Babies were battered against trees. Bodies were then thrown into mass graves.
Between 1979 and 1980, 86 mass graves were excavated, one containing 450 corpses. In all, 8,985 corpses were disinterred. A memorial building stands in the centre of the former slaughter site, and contains 8,000 skulls and bones from the excavated graves.
The fields, on which cattle now graze, are still riddled with mass burial sites. The ground around them is littered wtih fragments of bone and cloth. In wet weather, human bones can poke up from beneath the soil. Now a major attraction, over 30 percent of tourists to Cambodia visit this tragic place.