One of the first films I saw that really brought attention to the dread of walking down hallways by yourself was in The Shining. Little Danny Torrence would pedal along on his toy bike and you would get accustomed to the drumming of the wheels as it moved from wood to carpet to wood again. At first in the film it seems like a cute way for the kid to pass the time. But then as the film progresses, and Danny starts to experience the supernatural activity of the Overlook, that’s when each turn in the hallway makes your heartrate speed up.
This weekend while doing research on a cruise ship, my family would help to point out particularly disturbing corridors. That is of course one of the benefits of telling your fellow travelers that you are doing research for a horror book. “Oh, Lena, you’ve got to get a picture of that one!” I would hear as they point down a cramped two flights of stairs shoved into a corner of a hallway. Or “Okay, this place just feels like a horror movie,” when we went to find a restroom in a large concrete stairwell complete with exposed ceiling pipes and wiring. I loved it of course, and snapped pictures like crazy. It got me wondering though, what is it about these places that really puts us on edge? Why do we instantly think that these places are ideal for horror scenes?
The first obvious answer is that there’s limited sight. Stairwells are particularly bad about this, and you could easily have someone several floors up following or watching you if the middle of the stairwell is open. In The Shining, little Danny Torrence turns each corner, not sure what he’s going to encounter each time. The tension increases throughout the film even though it’s literally just a kid on his bike.
The second answer is how cramped they are. That tiny stairwell down to the next floor that almost looks like it was forgotten? There isn’t much space to move there, and if you got partway down the steps and saw someone wielding a chainsaw running toward you, there would be little time to get out of the way. When you’re on a ship as well, there’s a very real sense when you’re out on the ocean of how isolated you are. The only way to leave the ship in a hurry is with the lifeboats on board, which is both exciting and frightening.
Finally, the longer the hallway, the fewer places to run. The first time I went on a cruise I was daunted by how long the halls were for rooms. Staring down the hallway and seeing the length of space you would have to walk just to get to the main section of the ship was surprising. I’d seen ship cabins in videos before, but rarely those long halls. You get a real sense that there’s very little space to run there. There’s either forwards or backwards because every door you pass is locked. Again not only are you isolated, but you’re also very visible.
Writers and film directors have recognized the innate fear that these spaces carry and have been exploiting them for decades. That stairwell with the exposed pipes and wires that we found could have easily been a filming location for the Nostromo ship from Alien. On the ship it was built for utility, but in the world of writing, it’s a perfect place for an ambush. These hallways don’t have to apply to ships either. I’ve seen plenty of buildings with halls so narrow that turning that right corner could have you running into someone if you’re not careful. Danny Torrence found that out the hard way.
What kind of hallways or stairwells have you found particularly creepy? Do you have any pictures? I would love to see them!