Good horror is all about atmosphere, which is why setting is so important. Your setting is, in itself, the most important character. It should be memorable, unique, and terrifying -- which is why my new sci-fi/horror novel, The Unnoticeables, takes place in ... New York City and Los Angeles.
Well, here are five places that actually would make for excellent horror settings -- all you need is a monster and a handful of nubile young teens making aggressively terrible decisions, and you're all set.
#5. Fort Alexander, The Rave Spot That Used To Be A 19th-Century Experimental Plague Lab
Fort Alexander is a Russian military base from the 1800s, sitting on a man-made island just off the coast of St. Petersburg. At first, it was your normal run-of-the-mill military installation, until lack of use compelled Russia to repurpose the place into a storehouse, like one does. Then, it was repurposed again, into a plague research center, like one does -- when you're intentionally trying to taunt the universe into cursing you and everything you touch.
The Institute of Experimental Medicine messed around with cholera, tetanus, and, holy shit, even the bubonic plague. They primarily experimented on horses -- which you may recognize as the official disturbing animal mascot of everything from The Godfather to The Ring -- with the end goal of producing serums from their blood. And, of course, several of the researchers themselves contacted said plague.
The universe? She does not enjoy being taunted.
The Institute of Experimental Medicine was run by a Russian veterinarian named Tartakovsky who, of course, was also one of the folks to contract the plague. So, we've got mad scientists, tortured animals, and plague victims all wrapped up in one perfect supernatural package. Oh, and all the corpses of said plague victims were burned right there at the fort, because history is the best horror author in existence. The only thing that could make this a more perfect setup for a horror flick is if the fort had been abandoned, and, now, a bunch of stupid teenagers were holding parties there.
Which is, of course, entirely true. You can rent the place for $1,000 a night, and, due to the auditorium-like setup, it's apparently a hot spot for semi-legal raves.
What did we just learn about taunting the universe, teenagers?
#4. The Dark Matter Labs Buried 5,000 Feet Underground
Sci-fi/horror is easily my favorite subgenre (hey, that's probably why I wrote a sci-fi/horror novel that Publisher's Weekly says is "like Hunter S. Thompson went drinking with Stephen King." S-sorry about the ambush-plugs, but the scariest horror setting to me is the unemployment line). You just can't beat the settings of sci-fi/horror: isolated research centers in Antarctica, derelict spaceships lost in other dimensions, dark matter labs buried 5,000 feet beneath the mountains of South Dakota ...
Did you get all those references? The first one was The Thing, the second was Event Horizon, and the third was reality. You know, that thing that you live in?
There are some pacing problems with reality, but you can't beat the set pieces ...
Sanford Lab is buried so far underground because its research needs to be shielded from ambient radiation, and not because what comes out of the portal must never make it to the world of man. But, while the subject of its research might be a bit benign, the researchers, at least, had the decency to name the place like a bunch of John Carpenters. Sanford is divided into three levels called: the shallow lab (ominous), the mid-level (not so ominous), and the deep campus (dun dun duuuuun). The deep campus is the lowest section, located 8,000 feet underground, and experiments are set to begin in 2016. So, live it up, folks: You got maybe a year before we, like the dwarves, delve too deep and unleash the Science-Balrogs.
#3. The Isolated Cave Of 4-Million-Year-Old Immortal Super-Bugs
It's 1984. You and your plucky gang of ethnically-diverse traveling companions are in a creaky cabin, on the eve of your big spelunking expedition. All of the following is being slurred to you by a sinister old man with one eye:
"There's a cave out yonder -- out there by Carlsbad -- that's been sealed for millions of years. The perfect prison: Nothing got in, nothing got out. Nothing living, at any rate. Even water took 10-thousand years just to leak on in. And that cave? It was sealed for a reason: Inside that pitch-black cavern live creatures that have never seen the sun. Creatures that can be found nowhere else on God's green Earth. Creatures that all of your precious modern technology cannot stop. That cave ... it must never be opened."
And because the human race is the horny frat bro in the horror movie that is the universe, obviously we opened the shit out of that cave.
Everything I just said about that horror cavern -- Lechuguilla Cave -- is entirely true. It had been sealed for millions of years, so tightly that even water took 10 millennium to get through. And it is full of nigh-immortal creatures that we've never seen before.
National Park Service
"H-hello? Huh. Nothing here. Welp, time to take a shower next to my unattended knife collection!"
It's just that they don't have barbed tongues or knife-cocks; in fact, they pose no threat to us at all. They're just a bunch of benign bacteria that happen to be immune to all modern antibiotics. That would still be a terrifying scenario, if said bacteria liquefied your organs or reanimated your corpse to attack the ones you love or something. Sadly, they are utterly and boringly harmless ... but everything up to the whole "they don't actually kill anybody" bit is practically tailor-made for a The-Descent-meets-The-Strain horror mash-up.