Let’s face it: most of us haven’t traveled as much as we would have liked in the past few years. But even during times of travel restrictions and flight cancellations, movies have the power to transport us to far-flung lands, show us the sights, and give us a taste of the local culture—no passport required. Horror movies are no exception. The only difference is, they rarely drop us off safely at the airport at the end of our trip.
Of course, many destination horrors are actually shot on Hollywood backlots or else try to pass off tax-friendly film hubs as exotic locales. So when you find a shot-on-location flick that really makes the most of its setting, that’s something to send a postcard home about.
Ready to take the vacation of your nightmares? Pack the sunscreen and pepper spray, and join me for a round-the-world terror tour.
- The Wicker Man (1973) - Scotland
Let’s start our trip in my beloved homeland, Scotland, to keep our appointment with The Wicker Man. Sadly, the idyllic Summerisle is not a real place (though the Summer Isles are), but it is constructed from several small towns across Scotland, with the ill-fated Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) roaming through the ruins of Anworth Church in Dumfries and Galloway, Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, and the harbor town of Kirkcudbright, among other locations that you can still visit today.
2. 28 Days Later (2002) - England
What’s better than walking along Westminster Bridge, looking out at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben? How about doing it without any pesky tourists blocking your view? Danny Boyle treats us to a stroll through a blissfully uncrowded London in 28 Days Later, before heading out into the countryside for stops at Waverly Abbey, Trafalgar Park, and the Lake District. Minus the rage zombies, this is the perfect way to see England.
3. Trollhunter (2010) - Norway
Shot in the mountains and forests of Western Norway, with a lot of the filming taking place at night, Trollhunter (Trolljegeren) was an exhausting experience for its cast and crew, but the results are striking. Standing amongst the snow-covered peaks, the trolls look like a natural part of this ancient, mystical landscape.
4. Reptilicus (1961) - Denmark
Did you know there’s a kaiju movie set in Denmark? To date, the only giant monster movie filmed in the country, Reptilicus is a Danish-American production that sees a giant reptile laying waste to Copenhagen, Sjælland, and Jylland. Catch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode if you don’t want to sit through the film unlocked.
5. Afflicted (2013) - Spain, France, and Italy
A year-long trip around the world gets cut short by a nasty case of vampirism in Afflicted. Luckily, before our Canadian travel vloggers get sidetracked by their bloodlust, they take us through the streets of Barcelona and Paris and up into the hills of rural Italy. Derek (Derek Lee) is even kind enough to give us a closer look at the architecture as he climbs the walls.
6. Don’t Look Now (1973) - Italy
Before we leave Italy, let’s take a gondola over to Venice with Don’t Look Now. Director Nicolas Roeg gives us a tour of some of the Floating City’s most romantic, definitely-not-haunted-by-your-dead-daughter sights, from the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli that John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) is helping to restore to the Calle di Mezzo where he chases the mysterious figure in the red coat.
7. Possession (1981) - former West Germany
Some films are especially interesting to revisit because their settings have since been demolished by the bulldozer of time. Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession is one such film: a time capsule of West Germany with the Berlin Wall looming gray and oppressive in the background, casting an unshakeable shadow over the gooey proceedings.
8. A Cure for Wellness (2016) - Germany and Switzerland
Let’s stay in Germany for a moment and head up into the Alps to find A Cure for Wellness. Admire the mountain views from Hohenzollern Castle and soak up the spa vibes in the gently decomposing Beelitz-Heilstätten sanatorium, which has welcomed such… notable… guests as Adolf Hitler. As an added bonus, you’ll take a train ride along Switzerland’s stunning Landwasser Viaduct as you breathe in that pure mountain air.
9. Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985) - the Czech Republic / former Czechoslovakia
Okay, technically, Christopher Lee’s character says they’re heading to Transylvania in this absurd Howling sequel that was shot behind the Iron Curtain in then-Czechoslovakia, with the KGB watching the cast and crew’s every move. But since several iconic Prague landmarks—including the Astronomical Clock and Mělník ossuary—are featured prominently, I like to think they got lost on the way. That would certainly be the least weird thing to happen in this very weird and horny film.
10. Watcher (2022) - Romania
Maika Monroe’s Julia spends much of Watcher nervously staring out of her apartment window, but when she does step outside, the film nicely captures the feeling of being alone in an unfamiliar city (in this case, Bucharest) where you don’t know the language—yelled at for entering a building you weren’t supposed to? We’ve all been there. Retreating to a movie theater for comfort? Relatable.
11. JeruZalem (2015) - Israel
Told almost entirely through the perspective of a pair of Google Glass smart glasses (remember those?), JeruZalem invites us to step into the shoes of an American tourist as she explores the ancient streets of Jerusalem. Moving from marketplaces to holy places, rooftops to caves, the film’s vast array of locations would make for a compelling tourism commercial if you shut it off before the demons start attacking.
12. Zibahkhana (2007) - Pakistan
If you’ve ever wondered what the woods of Islamabad look like, look no further than Zibahkhana (aka Hell’s Ground). Billed as “Pakistan’s first extreme horror film” and directed by the owner of an ice cream shop chain who clearly possesses a deep love for The Evil Dead, Zibahkhana was shot in the middle of monsoon season, making for a sweaty, bloody visit.
13. Tumbbad (2018) - India
Set in the remote village of Tumbbad in the Konkan region, Tumbbad was partially shot on sets in Mumbai, but also made great use of various locations around Maharashtra, including the Sardar Purandare Wada, a fort in Saswad, and villages and temples in the Satara district. To nail the period feel, cinematographer Pankaj Kumar spent years doing extensive scouting throughout the state to find large landscapes that weren’t cluttered with modern structures.
14. The Medium (2021) - Thailand
The sparsely populated Loei province of Thailand is the setting of director Banjong Pisanthanakun’s chilling The Medium. Surrounded by mountains and lush forests, the location feels remote and spiritual, setting the tone for the film’s rich exploration of shamanistic beliefs and practices.
15. The Sadness (2021) - Taiwan
Is there a better way to experience the streets of Taiwan than while fleeing for your life? Probably. But writer-director Rob Jabbaz sure makes them look pretty, even as utter carnage breaks out on them. The scenes of Jim (Berant Zhu) riding down foliage-flanked roads would almost be peaceful if it weren’t for the butchered bodies littering the asphalt.
16. The Wailing (2016) - South Korea
The Wailing spent 96 of its 121 shooting days on location in various towns and cities across South Korea—including Gokseong, where it’s set—adding to the intense naturalism of the film. Climb up into the mountains where the filmmakers had to lug their gear, let the rush of the waterfall soothe you, then walk through the gate of a traditional Korean home where something evil lurks…
17. Ringu (1998) - Japan
When you think of locations in Ringu, you probably think of a clearing with a creepy well, or maybe a room in a contemporary Japanese home with a flickering TV set in the corner. But the film also takes us on a boat ride to the Izu Pacific Land Resort, where we check into a lovely cabin with an excellent selection of videotapes. If the phone rings, answer it. What’s the worst that can happen?
18. Wolf Creek (2005) - Australia
Poisonous beasties will be the least of your worries when you backpack across the sun-scorched outback in Wolf Creek. The rugged Flinders Ranges in South Australia serves as a key shooting location, and the film also features aerial shots of the actual Wolfe Creek Crater.
19. Black Sheep (2006) - New Zealand
Besides Hobbits and rugby, what’s more Kiwi than rolling green hills and an abundance of sheep? Black Sheep offers both in spades, splattering six farms across New Zealand’s North Island with enough blood and entrails to make Peter Jackson proud.
20. Dust Devil (1992) - Namibia
After Hardware (1990), South African-born director Richard Stanley headed over to Namibia to film Dust Devil, which reinterprets the story of a local serial killer, Nhadiep. Shot entirely on location shortly after Namibia gained independence from South Africa, the heat of the desert practically radiates from the screen.
21. The Dead (2010) - Ghana and Burkina Faso
With many of its scenes taking place in broad daylight, zombie movie The Dead really allows you to admire the sun-bleached expanses of West Africa, though it’s the dazzling sunrises and sunsets that will stay with you. Just watch out for mosquitos, as actor Rob Freeman caught malaria and almost died in the middle of filming.
22. Gaia (2021) - South Africa
Leaving the desert behind us, wipe your brow and fight your way into the dense Tsitsikamma forest in Gaia. The film balances beauty and ugliness, stillness with sinewy, creeping movement to capture the full gamut of South Africa’s natural wonders. Mushrooms, anyone?
23. South of Sanity (2012) - Antarctica
Need to cool down after visiting those hot climes? Pull on your parka for South of Sanity, the first-ever (and perhaps only) horror film to be shot entirely in Antarctica. The bored British Antarctic Survey workers who made the film risked hypothermia to play dead in the snow, so it seems unlikely that many other filmmakers will follow in their frozen footsteps.
24. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - Haiti
Wes Craven intended to spend 30 days shooting The Serpent and the Rainbow in Haiti. In reality, the crew lasted 11 days in the country before fleeing to the Dominican Republic to finish up. But those 11 days, spent during a particularly volatile period in Haiti’s history, no doubt contributed to the film’s unrelentingly sweaty, nervous energy.
25. Juan of the Dead (2011) - Cuba
Cuba’s first zombie movie, Juan of the Dead, makes use of several Havana landmarks, including the Malecón esplanade, which the filmmakers had free run of for three days while shooting. More importantly, it infuses a well-trod genre with a refreshing Caribbean flavor. After all, you can’t plan your next move during the zombie apocalypse without a little rum first.
26. Turistas (2006) - Brazil
One of those films that locals weren’t too happy about (see also: Hostel, 2005), Turistas might not be a tourism board’s best friend, but it does spotlight the beauty of Brazil between the evisceration. The first American film shot exclusively in Brazil, Turistas’ titular tourists get to sunbathe on white-sand beaches and swim in spectacular underwater cave systems. Sure, the water was filled with guano and an actress almost drowned, but every vacation has its ups and downs, right?
27. Luz: The Flower of Evil (2019) - Columbia
The breathtaking Columbian mountains provide the backdrop for culty arthouse horror flick Luz: The Flower of Evil. Cinematographer Nicolás Caballero Arenas shoots the landscape in a surreal and otherworldly way, the vibrant pinks and purples of the clouds contrasting with the impossibly green grass, the stars too bright in the endless sky.
28. Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017) - Mexico
Far from the tourist resorts, Tigers Are Not Afraid (Vuelven) runs through the streets and across the rooftops of the Azcapotzalco and Colonia Guerrero neighborhoods of Mexico City. Sheltering in abandoned buildings where nature creeps back to reclaim our human spaces, fantasy meets gritty realism, making for an unforgettable visit.
29. Dawn of the Dead (1978) - the United States
With the U.S. boasting a thriving horror film industry, choosing just one movie to represent what it’s like to visit the country is a tall order. But at the end of the day, what says America more than guns and the mall? Bonus points for the Monroeville Mall (where the film was shot) becoming a popular destination for horror fans.
30. Blood Quantum (2019) - Canada
Let’s wrap up our horror holiday by paying a visit to America’s friendly neighbor to the north. Filmed primarily in Quebec’s Kahnawake and Listuguj reserves, with scenes shot on the J.C. Van Horne Bridge, Blood Quantum uses its setting to enhance its poignant commentary on Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people, all while showing us a side of the country we don’t often see on film. Sadly, writer-director Jeff Barnaby passed away recently at a young age, but his legacy lives on in this sharp, socially conscious gore-fest.
Maybe these grisly destination horrors didn’t make you want to call your travel agent, but since they immersed you in their locations, you don’t have to. Stay home, watch horror, and save on flight costs.