Candyman (1992): The Boogeyman in the Big City
Poltergeist confirmed that ghost stories could work in the American suburbs. Candyman accomplished much the same using Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public housing development as its backdrop. The eponymous supernatural killer (chillingly played by Tony Todd) draws power from the fear he conjures in Cabrini-Green residents who already feel like they have no escape from the poverty and crime surrounding them.
Paranormal Activity (2009): All Mod Ghouls
Poltergeist inspired several sequels and a remake, but it’s the Paranormal Activity films that take its baton and run with it, making newly constructed housing feel as unsafe as an old dark mansion. Cannily sensing it was time for found-footage horror to get a second chance after the burst of imitators that followed The Blair Witch Project, writer/director Oren Peli brought a similar approach to this story of a San Diego couple name Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) whose sparkling modern home becomes a playground for a vengeful demon. Technically it’s not the house’s fault, but the setting makes the film. Instead of the wild whip pans and frenzed motion of Blair Witch, Peli leans heavily on stillness, quiet, and creeping dread — until the arrival of supernatural threats disrupts everything. Katie and Micah live in a place filled with clean surfaces and modern technology but find neither offers any kind of protection against creatures from the beyond.
Under the Shadow (2016): The One About the Horror of War
British-Iranian director Babak Anvari sets this tale of supernatural terror against another unexpected backdrop, this time a Tehran apartment building rattled by the escalation of the 1980s war between Iran and Iraq. Declining to leave against the advice of her husband, a doctor who’s seen the worst of the war from the frontlines, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) stays behind as the city becomes a war zone, her daughter becomes ill, and it becomes increasingly clear that a malicious djinn has moved into the building. The film seamlessly blends observations about the oppressiveness of the Iranian regime — which has sidelined Shideh’s work as an activist and an aspiring doctor — with unsettling moments of supernatural forces determined to finish what the war started.
His House (2020): The One Where the Ghosts Travel With You
A similar mix of history, politics, and freaky imagery can be found in Remi Weekes’ His House, set largely within the walls of a public housing unit assigned to Bol (Sopé Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), a pair of refugees from war-torn South Sudan seeking asylum in England. As they attempt to fix up their dilapidated new home they start to suspect they’ve been followed by an apeth, a night witch determined to haunt their present as it reminds them of their traumatic past. Weekes mixes pointed commentary — like a scene where Rial seeks directions from some Black teenagers only to be mocked for her accent — with affecting drama and some truly ghoulish imagery. It’s an old-fashioned haunted house story, but one drawn directly from the alarming headlines of today.