The horror movies of old used to take place in faraway lands and old Victorian manors. Nowadays, the silver screen seems to lean towards an Anytown, USA approach, as if to imply “This could happen to you if you’re not careful!” Ohio is the sixth deadliest state in horror movies, according to a new study from CableTV, with four of Rotten Tomatoes’s “best horror movies of all time” taking place in the Buckeye State. But there’s countless more set in Ohio that aren’t so critically acclaimed, and a surprising amount that take place in our very own Queen City. Ready to get your scare on?
Scream 2 (1997)
You might not have caught it on first watch, but one of the best horror sequels of all time is set in the Queen City. After Sidney and her friends survive the Woodsboro massacre, they escape the fame and attention by relocating to the fictional Windsor College—which is offhandedly revealed to be in our very own Cincinnati, Ohio. Of course, another killer takes up the mantle of Ghostface to slice up the gang once again. This goofy slasher definitely won’t win any realism points—the sprawling, gigantic campus is clearly not in Cincinnati and looks more like Miami University, if anything—but the most unrealistic thing about it is that a hotly-anticipated Hollywood blockbuster would have its world premiere in the Queen City. If only…
Scream 2 is streaming on Paramount+ and Showtime and is available for rent everywhere.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
The rare movie to both be filmed in and take place in Cincinnati, this insanely creepy thriller follows a heart surgeon (Colin Farrell) who has a chance encounter with Martin (Barry Keoghan), who tells the doctor that a surgery mishap killed his father and now he must choose a member of his family to die, or all three will perish. Cincinnati is on full display here, with most of the scenes taking place at The Christ Hospital, and several regional landmarks big and small on display, like the Roebling Bridge and the Red Fox Grill. Fun character development that only Cincinnatians would understand: Farrell’s surgeon, a rich asshole, is an Indian Hill resident who describes Martin’s home as being in a “run-down” neighborhood. (Martin lives in Hyde Park.)
Killing of a Sacred Deer is streaming on Fubo, Showtime, and Kanopy and is available for rent everywhere.
This black-comedy horror with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater is well-known as one of the best coming-of-age flicks and one of the funniest scary movies ever made. But you might’ve missed that it takes place right here in Hamilton County. The film revolves around four teenage girls (three named Heather) at Westerburg High School living ordinary lives until someone starts killing their classmates and staging all the deaths as suicides. Westerburg High School is fictional, yes, but Sherwood is a very real town in Hamilton County, in between Mt. Washington and Forestville. Of course, there are other Sherwoods in Ohio, but who’s to say it’s not this one?
Heathers is streaming on Prime Video and Tubi and is available for rent everywhere.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The only horror film to ever snag a Best Picture win at the Oscars, Silence of the Lambs and its villain Hannibal Lecter likely need no introduction. You probably knew that both the heroine, Clarice Sterling, and the film’s antagonist, Buffalo Bill, are both from Ohio. In fact, the movie even mentions Belvedere, a town way up in Jefferson County. But that doesn’t match a detail given later on; Clarice mentions that it’s around 400 miles from Chicago, which would be too far away for the real Belvedere, and that it’s underneath U.S. Route 22, which starts at its westmost point in Cincinnati before going through Pittsburgh and ending at New York. Given those details, it’s much more likely that the killer lives somewhere in Adams County.
Silence of the Lambs is streaming on Prime Video, Showtime, and Tubi and is available for rent everywhere.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
This cult classic anthology horror follows various residents of a fictional town (“Warren Valley” in south OH, so we’re assuming Warren County for the purposes of this article) on Halloween night. All six segments are interconnected and revolve around Sam, a small child wearing a burlap sack, who appears with a vengeance each time a character breaks a rule of Halloween. If you’re only going to watch one segment, skip to the end for the tour-de-force performance from Brian Cox, best known for playing Logan Roy on HBO’s hit drama Succession. It’s certainly no real depiction of Ohio, though—the woods and coyote noises (or are they werewolves?) are accurate for the area, but you won’t find as many cliffs and crevices in any Warren County towns.
Trick ‘r Treat is streaming on Kanopy, Fubo, and AMC+ and is available for rent everywhere.
Super 8 (2011)
This more family-friendly horror also takes place in a fictional Ohio town, and revolves around a group of kids making a home movie that accidentally captures an alien on video in the process. An on-screen map establishes that the real-life town of West Alexandria is to the north, so we can assume it’s somewhere in northern Butler County. It’s also produced by Cincinnati’s own Steven Spielberg, and is a clear homage to some of his most famous films (namely E.T. and The Goonies.)
Super 8 is not streaming but is available for rent.
Nightmare on Elm Street Series and Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Okay, bear with us here for a moment. Sure, they never say where exactly in Ohio the Nightmare on Elm Street movies take place, only that the town of Springwood, where Freddy Krueger invades the dreams of children, is somewhere in the Buckeye State. In Freddy vs. Jason, though, the kids drive from Springwood, Ohio, to the home of Jason Voorhees (Camp Crystal Lake, New Jersey) in a matter of a few hours. There’s nowhere in the Buckeye State where you could get to New Jersey in that short of time, which means it could be anywhere…so why not here?
The entire Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is streaming on HBO Max and is available for rent everywhere else.
The Faculty (1998)
This incredibly ’90s sci-fi horror revolves around a bunch of teens who realize their high school teachers might actually be killer aliens. It takes place in the fictional Herrington High School in Ohio, which is yet another “nowhere-so-it-could-be-anywhere.” This campy flick is a real hoot, mostly for the cast (Salma Hayek as the school nurse? Jon Stewart as the science teacher? Usher and Elijah Wood as high school students, and we’re supposed to believe they’re the same age? Or even in high school?) and the quirky script from Scream writer Kevin Williamson. But is it believable as Ohio? Kind of. Director Robert Rodriguez shoots most of his movies in Texas (as he did here) but most of The Faculty takes place inside the high school. We give this one a “maybe.”
The Faculty is streaming on HBO Max and is available for rent everywhere else.
Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)
This little-seen low-budget exploitation flick mostly takes place in (and is filmed in!) Dayton, although it does have a few Cincinnati scenes and references throughout. In this action-thriller, a man named Goose wants to take out a rival gang after they killed his girlfriend. The effects are cheap, the acting student-theater level, and yet this one is so sick it’s garnered a legion of adoring midnight-movie fans. It’s kind of like if they made The Outsiders gross and slightly scary, and on a budget of, like, $5. (This is intended as a compliment.) Definitely needs a “for genre diehards” only label, but for fans of raw, indie filmmaking, it’s hard to top this cult favorite.
Deadbeat at Dawn is streaming on Tubi and Arrow and is available for rent on Amazon.