Wanted: Agoraphobic Horror

Claustrophobia is a common theme in horror, especially horror film, and there’s an abundance of horror set in tight places, winding hallways, etc. But what about the opposite?

A few years ago, I was in a major NFL sports stadium when it was completely empty of crowd, staff, or players; likewise, a few nights ago, I was in an enormous empty warehouse. Both elicited the same feeling of slight dread - just being in something so HUGE and dead rather than something tight and constrained. It’s like being next to Godzilla or a Lovecraftian God that just hasn’t looked in your direction yet. Huge, looming, oblivious to tiny you.

Have there been any horror movies, or other horror media, to really capture or play up this “agoraphobic” rather than claustrophobic dread?

Uhh… tall order-- I guess that Hitchcock’s “The birds” had the characters afraid of going outside. Speaking of Hitchcock, the plane scene in North by Northwest, that’s a good one.

“Tremors”, of course. Nothing scarier than being on the open with giant man-eating worms. “Pitch Black” too.

Copycat was an OK movie. With bonus hottie Harry Connick, Jr.

Good question! I don’t think there’s much out there that plays on agoraphobia primarily, although it figures in a lot of types of stories in which the characters are under attack by Mother Nature on PMS, survivors on a depopulated Earth, astronauts in space or on an alien planet, scientists on a polar base, settlers/explorers/traders, etc. in a wilderness area, on the run as fugitives or prey, and so on. [Post-] modern fugitive stories often tap into fear of our digital updating of old-fashioned prison panoptic surveillance, in the form of ubiquitous CC cameras, satellite imaging, govt. or corporate telecom data mining, and any other trappings of a police state they can think of. In such a society, you might not have privacy within your own home, but you definitely don’t enjoy it anywhere outside it.

The nuclear apocalypse story On the Beach taps into both agoraphobia and claustrophobia. The American submarine crew sees a vacant San Francisco (where one of them went ashore to die in his hometown), knowing that an invisible killer (radiation) was lurking there and everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. On the other hand, the people of Australia suffered a weird kind of claustrophobia, as they could roughly track the inevitable penetration of deadly radiation levels into the Southern Hemisphere… and ever closer to their shores.

Some of the imagery in Tarkovsky’s *Solyaris *play upon this fear, I think. Hopefully someone will make a movie of The Stars Our Destination, which would owe a lot to this if it were done right.

28 Days Later - a great example of this. In my opinion, the movie is scariest at the beginning, when the main character (Jim?) is wandering through a completely deserted hospital and then stumbles outside - he’s right downtown in a major metropolitan area but it’s totally deserted, there’s nobody to be seen anywhere, and there are a bunch of abandoned cars all over the place. He bumps into one of them by accident, sets off the alarm, and the sound of it cutting through the eerie dead silence is the most startling part of the movie.

That, to me, is scarier even than a city filled with zombies. At least zombies are something.

They’re not horror, but if memory serves, agoraphobia plays a role in Isaac Asimov’s novels The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun.

I’ve never read it, but apparently agoraphobia plays a role in Dean R Koontz’s False Memory.

The back cover of my version of one of those books says, “The Agoraphobic Bailey and the Positronic Cop.” It’s so dang catchy I’ve never forgotten it.