Cat’s Cradle: Ode to the Horror Movie in a Bottle


The horror genre is a versatile category, with everyone finding a favorite by extracting the essence of what scares humans from audiences on an individual level. At this individual level, there is a form of horror that is often overlooked.

Horror movies often focus on particular elements in their creation. It may be the music that can specifically disturb or confront the senses with unconventionality. Gore is part of our culture from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to the French Grand Guignol. However, one of the most interesting and often overlooked aspects of horror is the single-location film.

A single-location film refers to a type of film shot in a general location. Movies such as “12 Angry Men” and “Rope” dedicate a single space to all the action. Called “bottle movies”, these movies are usually contained in a single location, often allowing the characters to be in the same location, such as bad weather.

For horror, bottled movies have been an inexpensive alternative to classic sets, as the low costs allow low-budget horror films to explore their concepts. For example, the independent thriller “Cube”.

“Cube” follows a group of people who wake up in a cube-shaped maze and try to escape while figuring out how they got there and why. The number of cores often fluctuates due to other people’s rare discoveries in the cube’s structure and the loss of limbs in hidden traps.

The premise of “Cube” should seem prescient since the idea inspired the “Saw” franchise. The first film in the series opened with a similar one-room location.

What makes “Cube” and “Saw” so unique is the rigid nature of their pitches. In the case of “Cube”, this comes in the form of no outside interaction. No person, object, or item enters the cube that was not placed there initially.

The art of a film in a bottle is its restraint. There’s no excess to the murder horror that becomes numbed with foreshadowing, but the elements of the movie are there from the start. Tension is often formed by the escalation of a central element.

This is seen in movies like John Carpenter’s “The Thing” where arctic researchers are attacked by a shape-shifting alien they found in the ice. Keeping it extraterrestrial, “Alien” shows a simple AI ship path that brings a crew into contact with a hostile alien lifeform.

Films like “Buried” take the unique location to the extreme and remove any hope that there is an outside world, instead using the roughly 90-minute runtime to explore the folk tale of being buried alive.

Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” established the lonely cabin horror movie, pitting lonely teenagers against horrifying monsters. The Lonely Shack plays on the horror of helplessness and the unknown, a trope that has been recreated and parodied ever since.

The unique element of a single location horror movie is the variety of stories that can be told. For every “Jane Doe Autopsy”, there is a “Night of the Living Dead”. Horror is not tied to any budget or location, rather it is a concept that can be extracted and placed in multiple contexts.

Bottle-Horror is a unique subset of budget-driven horror movies. They maintain tension by placing the threat in constant contact with the protagonist. It’s an unwavering terror that makes these single-slot features a Halloween mainstay.

Benjamin Ervin is studying English Literature and Writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him at [email protected]