I received another question the other day from a fan of my horror symbolism articles. He wondered why it is that there are so many horror movies and horror stories that take place in small towns. A small town is one of the quintessential horror settings for many reasons.
When first talking about a small town as a horror setting, one must think about the fact that small towns are viewed as being safer than big cities. One might expect that a big city would have hold a raging serial killer, not a small town (though in reality the jury is out as to who really has more serial killers – but the mindset still holds). By placing the protagonist of a horror movie or horror story in the middle of a small town breaks this wall down of expected safety.
Closer Ties to Superstition
I have stated in many of my articles about horror symbolism that groups that hold closer to the old ties of superstition usually make great sub-characters in horror movies and horror stories. A small town is more likely to have the clichéd characters of the ultra religious farmer, the town witch (you know, the little old lady that has a talisman for everything), and the town sage that knows way too much about the creatures that may live in the woods.
Cities have long been looked upon as areas where the, “old ways,” are laughed at. Cities are areas where progress is taken, not a slow lifestyle that stays roughly the same for decades on end. Cities are the places that, “scientific logic,” takes over. Small towns are looked upon as the exact opposite of this. Remember, that a suspension of logic is one of the keys to any successful horror movie or horror story. Why not base the horror setting in an area that is considered to be a place that does not appear to worry about scientific logic?
Mysterious Natural Locations
Many small towns in horror movies or horror stories are built near mysterious natural locations. A city is not usually going to have easy access to a forest that, “the Native Americans in the area have avoided for centuries.” A small town might be located near, “that marchland that people enter but never come out.” There might even be a lake where, “the fish just don’t seam to be normal.” This makes a small town a great place as a horror setting.
Mysterious Man-Made Locations
How many times have you been to a large city that had a creaky old abandoned mine? How many metropolises have an abandoned camp where dozens of teen have been murdered within walking distance? A small town is more likely to be near a hollow where strange standing stones have been found that appear to be older than humanity. Mysterious man-made locations add more of a sense of dread, hence, making a small town a great horror setting.
Have you ever noticed that small towns in horror movies and horror stories usually only have two or three police officers? Have you ever noticed that at least one of them is a useless bumbling idiot? This cliché of horror symbolism points out that small towns are usually not going to have the means on hand to deal with a major safety concern. Their police forces will not have the ability to deal with a crazed chainsaw-wielding maniac that is on the hunt for body parts.
When appealing to an audience of a horror movie or horror story, a small town makes more sense than a large city since more people will be able to relate to this type of horror setting. Remember, a large number of the population (at least in the United States) lives outside of big city areas. Also, most people who live in cities have at least been to a small town at some point in their lives. The opposite cannot always be true, though. Why not make a horror setting that a majority of people can have some kind of connection to?
When taking all of this points into account, it is easy to understand why small towns are one of the most popular horror settings. Not only should you keep these point of horror symbolism in the forefront of your mind when you see a horror movie or read a horror story, you should keep them in mind the next time you enter a small town. You never know what might be lurking there.