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Interstitial Scares: Real Horror Lies in the Spaces In Between

What's growing in the shadows? 

crawl space film
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  • Photo Credit: SP Media Group

Crawlspaces. Closets. Basements. Attics. In every dwelling, there are spaces we don’t think about, we forget about. And sometimes, malevolent things inhabit those spaces.

One of this fall’s biggest horror hits, Barbarian, focuses on—to put it in the most spoiler-free terms possible, since this one is best seen with fresh eyes—a basement, and what comes creeping out of it at night. In no particular order, here are a few more films about the places we don’t think about, and what else might be dwelling there.

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

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The horror classic from famed director Wes Craven is perhaps the film most synonymous with the topic of this list. Weaving commentary on class and society into its thriller plot, Stairs focuses on Poindexter “Fool” Williams, a young man who’s struggling to help his family pay rent.

Fool teams with two adult burglars to break into a house owned by his eccentric landlords. Once inside, Fool finds a bevy of mutilated cannibal boys secreted under the stairs, a kidnapped girl named Alice, and a heaping helping of terror. Will Fool and Alice survive the attentions of incestuous sickos Mommy and Daddy? Rife with social commentary, it’s no surprise there’s talk of a Jordan Peele remake on the horizon.

Flowers in the Attic (1987)

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From the stairs to the attic, and just as disturbing, this adaptation of the V.C. Andrews gothic novel—and megahit—stars future vampire slayer Kristy Swanson in an early role.

After the death of their father, the four Dollanganger children and their mother Corrine return to Corrine’s ancestral home. Grandmother Olivia sequesters the children in an upstairs bedroom with a staircase leading to the attic, where they only see glimpses of the outside world. When one of the children is poisoned, their circumstances become much more desperate, and they must find a way out before they all meet the same fate as their sibling.

The Resident (2011)

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Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star in this harrowing commentary on urban living. Swank plays a doctor, Juliet, who’s in search of a new place to live after a relationship sours. She finds a gorgeous loft in a building managed by Morgan, who seems charming and offbeat. But she quickly becomes uncomfortable in her new home. Is something watching her through the walls? Or is she just paranoid?

Black Christmas (1974)

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Since it’s the Christmas season, this list wouldn’t be complete without the proto-slasher Black Christmas. Based on an urban legend, Christmas concerns a group of sorority sisters who receive a series of increasingly-threatening phone calls. Over the course of the evening, girls go missing and paranoia rises. Will the police figure out where the calls are coming from before everyone winds up dead? And even if they do, will it be too late?

Crawlspace (2022)

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E.T. and Haunting of Hill House star Henry Thomas play a mild-mannered plumber who finds himself in a claustrophobic, low-rent version of Die Hard when he accidentally witnesses a murder. Thomas’ everyman Robert is both dogged and inventive, thwarting two backwoods goons who are clearly in over their heads at every turn. But not without a cost, either. With time running short and his semi-captors growing increasingly more desperate, will he make it out of the titular crawlspace and back to his wife and young daughter?

The Skeleton Key (2005)

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This satisfying slice of southern gothic stars Kate Hudson as Caroline Ellis, a hospice nurse summoned to a remote Louisiana plantation to help care for its owner, the elderly Benjamin Deveraux, who suffered a stroke in the building’s attic. Hudson’s Ellis is reluctant at first but is talked into accepting the position by the family lawyer (Peter Sarsgaard).

While exploring the attic where Deveraux had his stroke, Ellis finds a secret room that simultaneously reveals the plantation’s ugly racist history and unleashes supernatural forces. The film’s conceit of rooms-within-rooms works brilliantly on a thematic level, and the hoodoo-soaked scares keep coming. What’s going on in Terrebonne Parish, and will Caroline Ellis make it out with both her life and her sanity?

I See You (2019)

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Starring Academy Award winner Helen Hunt and written by Devon Graye (who played teenage Dexter on Dexter), this twisty thriller tests a married couple’s relationship after a local boy disappears.

Detective Greg Harper (The Closer’s Jon Tenney) quickly realizes the crime is connected to some similar abductions committed years before, while his wife Jackie (Hunt) begins noticing strange things happening around the house. What’s the connection between the missing boy and the seemingly-supernatural occurrences in the Harper household? And who or what is watching Greg and Jackie from the secret spaces of their own home?

Stay Out of the F*cking Attic (2020)

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Ex-cons Imani (Morgan Alexandria) and Carlos (Bryce Fernelius) are trying to turn over a new leaf working for a moving company, but unfortunately, they’ve booked exactly the wrong gig. Offered a generous wage to pull an all-nighter for eccentric Vern Mueller at his mansion, the pair quickly realizes they’ve entered a bizarre nightmare filled with traps and genetic experiments. Will they make it out alive? And what exactly is in that f*cking attic, anyway?