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The creepiest basements in horror movies

Even in the most banal of situations, basements lend themselves to being creepy. They are underground, calling to mind a grave, and often don't have windows, adding to the claustrophobia factor. A lot of time they don't have proper ventilation, so it smells musty even if it's kept spotlessly clean. You can't always hear what's going on in a basement in the rest of the house like you can in other rooms, and the fact that there might only be one exit makes it a troubling place to find yourself in case of an emergency. 

But since the creepy factor of basements tends to win over the positive ones like space for storage, a home gym, or game room, basements are a key location in many horror movies where some truly heinous things go down, pun intended. From science experiments and portals to hell to ghosts and murder shrines, these creepy horror movie basements aren't just terrifying because of what happens in them, some are scary all on their own merits. Bring your flashlight. We're deep diving into the creepiest ones. 

Martyrs

In Pascal Laugier's 2008 French philosophical horror movie Martyrs, young Lucie escapes from an abandoned building where she's been tortured for months. Years later, Lucie hunts down Gabrielle Belfond, one of the people she believes is responsible, and kills her and her whole family. But Lucie's trauma and grief overwhelm her. She kills herself as her best friend Anna tries to help, even though Anna isn't sure if anything Lucie told her was actually true. That is, until she accidentally uncovers a secret door to the Belfonds' basement. Anna discovers not only was Lucie correct about Gabrielle, Gabrielle had another victim trapped, and Anna quickly receives the same treatment.

The basement has been repurposed as a torture chamber and laboratory where a group of French extremist transcendentalists have experimented on young women in order to catch a glimpse into what happens after death. The space is part gallery of pained faces, part medical station, and part grotto where victims are beaten and worse. If the martyrs make it to the end of the grueling process, they are skinned alive. That such a horrific site could exist underneath the Belfonds' picture-perfect French countryside home only highlights this basement's creepiness.

Silence of the Lambs

There are two serial killers featured in Silence of the Lambs, but only one of them has the honor of keeping one of the creepiest basements in horror movie history. Buffalo Bill, a.k.a. Jame Gumb, kidnaps women, starves them, and then skins them with the ultimate goal of making himself a woman suit out of real women. As if that's not gross enough, all of this takes place in Gumb's cavernous basement, which features a number of disturbing aspects. 

The first is the deep, empty stone well where he stores the women he kidnaps before killing them. The second is the black-lighted room where Gumb raises exotic insects like beetles and death's head moths, the grown ones he allows to fly about as they please. And finally, we have Gumb's "dressing room" with the half-finished woman suit on display as well as a number of other disturbing adornments like Nazi flags and mannequins in strange poses and outfits. Even without the serial killing aspect, this basement is extremely creepy; knowing what Buffalo Bill does down there only makes it worse.

The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror is based on the true story of Ronald DeFeo Jr., who murdered his whole family in their home in Amityville, New York — and the Lutz family, who later moved in and claimed the home was haunted by ghosts as well as a demonic presence. First a book by Jay Anson, the story has spawned more than 20 movies, all with varying explanations as to the house's evil, but all of which center that evil in the basement. 

One of the popular versions, depicted in the 1979 James Brolin-led original feature as well as the 2005 remake starring Ryan Reynolds, includes a subplot about a former owner of the home, John Ketchum, who was a Satanist performing a variety of rituals in the basement. The home was also built over a Native American cemetery, adding to the cornucopia of bad going on down below. After George Lutz discovers a secret room down there, all hell breaks loose — quite literally, since the room is a portal to hell opened by Ketchum. As if all that wasn't creepy enough, the Amityville basement incites George Lutz to try and murder his own family before they finally escape.

The Evil Dead

Let's go for a weekend at our cabin, they said. It'll be fun, they said. But for Ash and his friends in The Evil Dead, a weekend in the woods turns into a gory fight for survival after they find a Necronomicon in the cabin's basement and a tape-recorded message that releases a contagious demon entity who's been trapped down there for a long, long time. 

The basement itself is as gross and creepy as the demon housed there, with lots of cobwebs and hanging tools that quickly turn into weapons as the friends are forced to battle each other after being "infected" by the demon spirit. The fact that the basement is locked up with an elaborate system of rusted chains just waiting to give someone tetanus only hints at the grossness that's eventually uncovered. A 2013 remake changed some of the backstory as to why the group are at the cabin — this time around, they're detoxing their heroin-addicted friend — but the basement and the demons that follow are just as creepy as the original.

Get Out

Jordan Peele's directorial debut Get Out has been hailed as a masterpiece of social justice horror, with a sly commentary on race relations in America that also features one of the most disturbing basements ever put to screen. Chris thinks he's simply going for a weekend away to meet his long-term girlfriend Rose's family. Since they are white and Chris is the first African-American man Rose claims to have dated, he thinks his biggest problem will be navigating the casual racism that people of color are often forced to deal with. 

Things aboveground get creepy when Rose's mother hypnotizes Chris without his consent to help him quit smoking. But it isn't until we go down into the basement that the true horror is revealed: The family has been kidnapping young black folks, lobotomizing them, and inserting the brains of older white people into them so they can live longer. The basement is a fully operating medical theater where this horrifying procedure takes place. Watch it, and you'll never look at a teacup the same way again.

The Cabin in the Woods

Unlike most horror movies that feature one creepy basement, The Cabin in the Woods features an entire smorgasbord of them as it makes pointed commentary about horror movie tropes. The film begins in an open homage to The Evil Dead, but instead of finding just one Necronomicon in the cluttered basement, there is an entire host of strange objects that Dana and her friends play with before she reads from Patience Buckner's diary, invoking the zombies who attack the group. 

But below the basement in the cabin is an entire underground facility where the events above are orchestrated by a team of scientists who are taking bets on which monster(s) the guileless kids above will awaken. When the events up top don't go as planned, the two survivors Dana and Marty discover yet another level below the laboratory where hundreds of creatures are kept housed for a yearly ritual to appease ancient gods. By the end, yet another basement is revealed as the old gods break through, raging that their tribute wasn't properly offered. The meta is deep with Cabin in the Woods, pun intended.

Don't Breathe

Set in a largely abandoned Detroit, Don't Breathe follows three thieves who find out a blind man might be sitting on a pile of cash in his run-down home after winning an unlawful death settlement for his daughter. What Rocky, Alex, and Money don't realize until after breaking in is that Norman Nordstrom is ex-special ops military, and his blindness has only heightened his other senses, complemented by the fact he's also extremely strong and agile. After killing Money, Nordstrom quickly realizes Rocky and Alex are also trapped somewhere in his house. 

As Rocky and Alex look for an escape, they end up in Nordstrom's creepy basement with its walls covered with couch cushions and pillows. There is also a woman being held there, chained and begging for help. The woman is Cindy Roberts, the one who killed Nordstrom's daughter in a car crash; she is now pregnant with Nordstrom's baby, a replacement pregnancy for the child she took from him. When Nordstrom accidentally kills Cindy, he tries to impregnate Rocky using a turkey baster before she's able to escape. Nordstrom's entire house is creepy and run-down, but none of the mess upstairs is a match for the horror of that basement.

The Conjuring

Based on the real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren's own lives and experiences, The Conjuring franchise begins and ends with the Warrens' creepy museum-grade basement. Because the pair travel all over the world where supernatural events happen, they often come across evil or haunted objects that need to be kept safely, so they repurpose their basement in the home where their children also live to store these dangerous things. 

One of the key items, which is so wicked it needs to be kept in a glass case blessed by a priest, is the possessed doll Annabelle, which of course finds its way out of the cage, spawning multiple movies about her demonic antics. But what's arguably creepiest about the Warrens' curio-packed basement is all the objects we know absolutely nothing about. Masks, statues, books — even the instruments and furniture must have super creepy histories to have landed them in the Warren home, but we only really know about Annabelle. Fans of paranormal investigation can, though, look through the real Ed and Lorraine's inventory safely from their homes online.

Stir of Echoes

Renting a home is a special kind of hell, and Stir of Echoes takes it to another level. Tom Witzky is a blue-collar Chicagoan played by everyman Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes. He doesn't have time for nonsense. Unfortunately, his son Jake and his sister-in-law Lisa have "the gift" of second sight and Jake in particular is struggling to handle seeing ghosts everywhere. One night on a lark, Tom bullies Lisa into hypnotizing him, and while he's under, she suggests that he should open his mind. 

By the next day, Tom is having visions of a disappeared girl and quickly becoming obsessed with the idea that something is buried on their property. As he digs out their yard, he accidentally knocks a hole in the basement revealing the rotted corpse of a girl who had been sealed into the walls, Edgar Allen Poe style. As it turns out, she hadn't just disappeared — she'd been lured to the basement by the homeowner's sons, who planned to sexually assault her but ended up murdering her instead. The Witzkys totally got their security deposit back. 

The Harvest

After the tragic death of her parents, Maryann moves in with her grandparents and is having a hard time adjusting to her new reality until she meets wheelchair-bound Andy, who she befriends and encourages to embrace life. But Andy's mother Katherine, a nurse who is fiercely protective and controlling of her son, quickly forbids Maryann from spending time with him. She doesn't know that Maryann has discovered the medical theater down in the basement... and the young boy hooked up to a whole host of machines. 

Intrepid Maryann finds out a baby named Jason was abducted from the local hospital, and she thinks Andy might be him. As Katherine's abusive behavior escalates, we find out that the boy in the converted basement is actually Katherine's real child, and Andy above was the kidnapped baby who she has been using for organ transplants on her terminally ill kid for over a decade. What's extra creepy about this torture basement is how they've designed it to look like a perfectly normal hospital room. Sometimes the banal is the horror.

The People Under the Stairs

In Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs, Fool is a young African-American boy whose family is about to be kicked out of their home by Mother and Father Robeson, the owners of their building. In retaliation, Fool and his dad Leroy try to break into the Robesons' house to rob them, but in the process discover their basement is filled with deformed people who reveal themselves to be cannibals. 

Worse, it turns out that the Robesons had been kidnapping children and making them psychotic through imprisonment, torturing them if they don't follow all the rules. Fool is saved by the Robesons' newest victim, Alice, who he then saves in turn — but not before finding out that "Mother" and "Father" are actually brother and sister, coming from a long line of incest as well as economically exploitative behavior. While the Robeson basement is filthy and gross, what's happening inside is what makes this space one of the all-time creepiest horror movie basements.

Psycho

After her sister Marion goes missing, with her last known appearance at the Bates Motel, Lila goes looking for her there, with Marion's boyfriend Sam in tow. The motel owner, Norman Bates, is a funny fellow — not funny "ha ha" but funny creepy — and Lila immediately suspects he had something to do with Marion's disappearance. As Lila and Sam snoop around the Bates house up the hill from the motel trying to find clues, Lila discovers Mrs. Bates' body in the basement just as Norman — dressed as his mother — attacks her before Sam is able to subdue him. 

This is another case where the basement really isn't anything special at all. In fact, it's quite average and even cleaner than most. It's the upstairs of the house, with all of Norman's taxidermied animals, that's properly shudder-worthy. But what makes Psycho's cellar so creepy is the fact that it houses Norma Bates' mummified corpse in a grotesque murder shrine, allowing her son Norman to pretend that she's still alive.

Night of the Living Dead

After Barbara's brother is attacked and killed by a strange, lurching man while visiting their uncle's grave, she finds shelter in a nearby farmhouse as more of these ghastly slow-walking figures follow her. In shock, Barbra is grateful when Ben shows up with a high-powered rifle, shoots a number of the humanoid creatures, and takes charge of barricading the house. In the meantime, Harry and Helen emerge from the basement, claiming their daughter, who had been bitten by one of the things, is resting. The group finds out that these attacks of mass murder are happening all over America, and the perpetrators appear to be the dead resurrected with a taste for living flesh. 

Young Karen in the basement succumbs to her injuries, and comes back to life to eat her father. In one of the most chilling moments ever put to screen, a zombie Karen stabs her mother with a trowel before eating her. This is one of the creepiest basements in horror movies for its trope reversal: usually it's children being hurt by adults in basements, not the other way around.

The Babadook

The horror movie creepy basement trope almost always serves as a metaphor for terrible things hidden under the surface, and these things usually have a familial context that makes them even scarier. But Jennifer Kent's The Babadook is a rare film where the basement is absolutely perfectly normal — no ghosts, dead bodies, medical experiments, or ghouls. What's creepy about this basement is the fact it is representative of the enormous grief, post-partum depression, and post-traumatic stress Amelia and her son Samuel are going through after the unexpected and tragic loss of husband and father Oskar. 

When a scary children's book called The Babadook appears, strange things begin to happen to both Amelia and Samuel that suggest the Babadook has manifested in their home. The film culminates in a horrifying sequence in the basement during which Amelia tries to kill her son and he is forced to tie her up for both of their safety. There in the cellar, a kind of womb metaphor, Amelia is forced to confront her grief and move forward. The basement eventually becomes Amelia's sanctuary where she leaves offerings for her trauma, helping her heal. The Babadook is also one of the only creepy basements to redeem its creepiness by the end of the film.

Split

Most horror movie basements are located in an actual house where people live. But M. Night Shyamalan's Split is an exception. Kevin Wendell Crumb suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID) after surviving horrific childhood abuse at the hands of his mother. To survive, he created a number of distinct personalities that now battle to control his body. Four of them, called the Horde — Patricia, Hedwig, Dennis, and the Beast — are working together to kidnap young girls that will eventually be fed to the inhuman alter the Beast. 

The basement where the Horde keep the girls is strange; some of the rooms almost look like converted cages. We eventually find out that Kevin works for the Philadelphia Zoo and he lives in the basement of one of its lesser-used sectors. The news of the kidnapped girls was public knowledge, making you wonder just how many people — including security guards, janitors, and others — walked right above them, clueless that a horrific crime was taking place in a basement under their feet.