Indoor Exploration In The Horror Genre – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Indoor settings in the horror genre

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about an awesome type of horror fiction, films, games, comics etc… which I don’t think that I’ve written before. I am, of course, talking about horror stories that revolve around exploring large indoor locations.

This article was prompted by a really interesting old horror game from the 1990s called “Realms Of The Haunting” that I’ve been playing recently (expect a full review sometime in the future). This game mostly takes place in a large mansion that is vaguely similar to the location of other classic ’90s horror games like “Alone In The Dark“, “Resident Evil” etc..

In fact, some of the scariest horror movies from the 1990s/early 2000s use a similar theme of indoor exploration. Whether it’s the lost spacecraft in “Event Horizon”, the mysterious setting of the “Cube” films or the abandoned hospital in the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill” – large, complex indoor settings can be absolutely perfect for the horror genre.

So, why is indoor exploration so important in the horror genre? The first reason is that, by it’s very nature, it’s a lot more claustrophobic. Having your characters traverse the narrow corridors of an old mansion, an abandoned prison, an underground crypt etc… is significantly more suspenseful than having your characters exploring a large open field where they can see everything for miles around.

Not only that, getting lost in an unfamiliar indoor location is considerably more confusing and scary than getting lost in an unfamiliar outdoor location. If you are outdoors, you can see distant landmarks, you can find other people (and ask directions) more easily etc… However, getting lost in a complex indoor area – with narrow corridors, unmarked doors etc.. can be a lot more confusing.

Another reason why indoor exploration is scarier and more dramatic than outdoor exploration is for the simple reason that indoor settings, by their very nature, have to have been built by someone. If your indoor setting is sufficiently creepy and “evil” enough, then it will be scarier than a similar outdoor setting for the simple reason that -on some subconscious level – your audience will realise that someone actually had to design that evil building. Someone had to design somewhere that was meant to be mysteriously, hostile and terrifying.

In other words, it’s easier to make the setting itself an adversary (or perhaps even a monster) in stories, comics etc… set in indoor locations than it is for stories that mostly take place either outdoors or in a mixture of indoor and outdoor settings. Yes, outdoor settings can be turned into an adversary, but indoor settings have more “personality” (and therefore are creepier).

In addition to this, you can use a lot of additional visual storytelling in indoor settings than you can in many outdoor settings. Since most indoor locations have originally been designed to be lived in, worked in etc… when your characters end up exploring abandoned versions of these locations, they will be able to see subtle traces of the people who have gone before them. This can be used to great effect when adding subtle horror to your story.

For example, if you show a room with a few small scratches on the inside of a door, then this could imply that someone or something has been locked in that room before. If you show a few faded dark stains on a pale carpet, then this could show that someone has suffered an injury there. There are lots of really subtle ways that you can use the design of indoor settings to make your comic, story etc… scarier.

Finally, people often expect outdoor areas to be large and expansive. However, many indoor areas are somewhat smaller – so, a gigantic indoor setting will have a certain level of novelty value to it. In other words, it’ll be at least mildly fascinating. This creates a fascinating tension between the audience’s curiosity and the fear that they’re feeling because of the scarier parts of your story.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂


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