Seven (Lesser Known) Horror Films That Are More Like Plays

While the idea behind this list may seem strange upon first glance, what about me ISN’T strange? Please allow me to explain my perimeters for entry on the list, and it should make more sense. The idea here is that these films all take place in one or two primary locations, with a limited number of  actors and actresses. It is also the idea that these films tell their story with dialogue more than they do set-pieces and big scares.

Generally, if I feel like the film could be recreated on a stage, it will be on this list. I specifically decided to go with horror because you wouldn’t equate the horror genre with live theater even though, in some of these cases, a few of these horror films were adapted from stage shows. Who would’ve thought? I say in 2013, more horror theater. Grand Giugnol, anyone? Honestly, without theater, we would have no horror. Time for us to acknowledge that.


A great deal of people found this movie dull, but I found it wholly unsettling.

Had to get this out of the way right off the jump because Bug was based around the play written by Tracy Letts. The funny part is I did not know that when I came up with the concept for this piece. Once I began doing research, this mildly blew my mind. And for the few of you who have seen the film, you can understand how that works. Bug all takes place in a hotel room, showing us the growing sense of paranoia in these two lonely souls who pair up and only seem to compound one another’s problems. While other characters make brief appearances, it is mainly the two people, locked in their hotel room, going crazy. The whole thing is very voyeuristic, in the worst ways possible.

To some, the film may be slow and plodding, but to me, it is palpably tense. You can FEEL the contagious insanity in the Peter character (played by the always-brilliant Michael Shannon), and though that insanity is apparent to the viewer from the get-go, it is not so apparent to Agnes, played by Ashley Judd.  We then witness a downward spiral shared by two people, and in many ways, their interactions, matched with the claustrophobic setting, make for a disturbing story that you won’t soon forget. While more of a psychological character study than an actual horror film, what ends up happening is horrifying, regardless.


Having worked on a radio show for two years, and being madly loving end of the world/zombie movies, Pontypool has a real soft spot in my heart.

If you are not aware of just how amazing this movie is, stop whatever it is you are doing now and order it. Pontypool might be my favorite take on the zombie genre I have experienced in a long while. And if you pay close attention, you realize, it is a film with one location, and three people. While eventually you do see the hordes of infected, they are just hands smashing on a door, and any play could easily do that with cardboard cutouts or a painted backdrop. And maybe it’s just me, but does anyone else realize how great this film would work as live theater?

For those unaware, Pontypool is a “zombie” film, though not really. It is more of a outbreak film that uses some zombie tropes to great effect. It all takes place in a radio station, with us getting small quips of what is going on outside the radio station from callers and reporters. You NEVER actually see what is going on outside of the studio, other than a short, near-escape scene. The film relies heavily on the radio station angle, and for that reason, we get a cast of only three people, with all the emotions and subtleties of the story explained through them. And once you find out what is actually causing the outbreak, your mind gets blown. I would love to be in a theater, seeing this as a live show, and look around at other people during that reveal. I want to SEE people’s minds get blown.


” Sir, if your #2 pencil is bloody, you cannot take the test today.”

Exam is a wonderfully interesting premise, and being a huge fan of Pollyanna McIntosh, from The Woman, I was drawn to the film initially, met the urge to see what else she could do. Exam is about a group of eight people, all vying for the same position, who get placed in a windowless room, where they are forced to take an exam with one question. They are each given specific rules they have to follow, and then when they turn the exam over you see that…well, I won’t ruin it for you. Suffice it to say, this is not what these people expected, and this may not be as easy as it sounds. And again, much like Pontypool, you have a great premise, delivered by solid performances, and all easily recreated on a stage. Granted, toward the end, recreating some of this could be a challenge, this film is noteworthy because it gives you this sense of a massive, foreboding future, yet it does so in words, and through no visuals. Which is ultimately what makes Exam so memorable.

Also, it confirmed to me that Polly McIntosh is pure awesome.


I know recommending a Stephen Dorff movie may cause me to catch some heat, and I respect that.

Before I say ANYTHING about Brake, I need to issue a small disclaimer. Brake is a thoroughly entertaining film, right up until the reveal. While I shall not say anymore than that, in fear I may have already ruined it, the ending of Brake left me enraged, and filled with far more questions than answers. While it may seem odd to recommend a movie that I hated the ending to, I also have to give it some props for being original, and being far more watchable than you think 90 minutes of Stephen Dorff in a trunk could possibly be. Yes, that’s right. This entire film is one set, one person. And that set is a trunk, and that person is Stephen Dorff. If you are still reading, I respect you so hard right now.

So, Stephen Dorff wakes up in the trunk of a car, with a cell phone. He is in a clear box, in a trunk, and someone on the other end of the line has some serious demands for him. To tell you anything more than that would ruin the story, which has some great pacing. So how easy would it be to make a “trunk” set, put it on a stage, hire a great actor as your lead, and then just let the magic happen. Other actors could be cast as voice actors, and bam, you have a perfect “horror” play. I am using the word “horror” here in the loosest possible way, and I apologize for that. You may need some extras for the ending, but it is still doable.


Man, the sequel to One Crazy Summer traversed some real dark territory.

Okay, this one is not lesser known, which is why I altered the list from it’s original six and into seven. I am making up for this one, just in case you all hate it, by adding another one. So just hear me out for a second.

I know some people may want to cry foul on this one (how would you make the scares work on stage?) but to anyone familiar with theater, you know that is a silly question. Since the inception of theater, there have been some brilliant special effects techniques used to convey certain horrors. Using colored fabric and fans to look like flowing blood and flames and such. While you would not be able to film all the movie scares, subtle things could be done to the room to convey Mike Enslin’s ebbing sanity. Shift a painting just so. Have certain walls not attached to the floor, so they could be lifted and moved from the other side to really mess with the audience’s perception. You do that, and you cast your lead correctly, and you have a badass horror play, based on a great Stephen King story, that even the most hardened theater hater would want to see.

This one is such a great idea, I am sad it doesn’t exist. I have now disappointed myself. That can’t be a good sign for my waning mental state.


In the one film where not wearing a shirt made sense, Ryan f*cking Reynolds decided to suddenly wear a shirt. Canadian logic.

See the Brake movie above? Well, replace “Stepen Dorff” with Ryan Reynolds, and “car trunk” for coffin, and you have pretty much the same thing, with some subtle, key differences. Namely, Canadian in place of American, and coffin in place of trunk.

Also, this could be a terrible play, causing panic attacks in the audience. But for that very reason, it could also be the best play ever.

The Divide

Does this picture make you uncomfortable? Well, notch that discomfort up to eleven, and for almost two hours, and you have The Divide.

I loved loved loved this movie. And I don’t think you have a stronger contender for “most traumatizing yet watchable play ever”.

The Divide is about a group of  eight residents in a high rise in New York who retreat to a bomb shelter in the basement of their building in the wake of a massive tragedy we never really fully learn about, which only heightens the suspense of the whole story. Is it nuclear? Is it natural? You are never really sure. As you can tell from that photo, things go south really quickly with thsi group. With it’s small cast, and simple set, this  is really a story about how quickly we lose the human side of us in situations of great stress and peril. It gets molesty, and it gets violent, and it gets very troubling, but it gets troubling in a way that feels very real and believable. I felt the story greatly mirrored this story, which I love and have loved for quite some time now, though The Divide has less supernatural tones, and more honest horror.

And yes, that “last shot” in the film would be hard to recreate on stage, people also would’ve thought that about The Lion King at one point, and look at us now. Also, one more thing about The Divide that really stays with me. Believe it or not, Milo Ventimiglia, from Heroes. Just look and try not to be intrigued.

That is not special effects, people. That is called “committing to your art.”

Honorable Mentions

Woman in Black: While it does  not meet all my silly prerequisites to be a stage show, it was a stage show, so I felt I had to include it.

Killing Floor: Another one of those “wake up in strange room, with strange people, and forced to do strange shit” movies. Again, small scope and small cast means this could easily be recreated on stage.

Unknown: No, not the Liam Neeson flick. This is another one of those “wake up in strange room, with strange people, and forced to do strange shit” movies. Again, small scope and small cast means this could easily be recreated on stage.

Fermat’s Room: Another one of those “wake up in strange room, with strange people, and forced to do strange shit” movies. Again, small scope and small cast means this could easily be recreated on stage. Oh, shit, I am in a loop. Someone call JGL.

Alright, we get it. Enough with the “wake up in a strange room with strangers” movies.

Hunger: So these people wake up, all strangers, and they are in a strange room, and they, ah, fuck it. Also, go read about my television show of the year. My choice, though almost Adventure Time, was actually…

Also, Sara and I are buckling down to do another He Said/ She Said, and we wanted you guys thoughts on what it should be about? Exploitation horror? Females in video games? You guys have better ideas than us sometimes, so we wanted to know what you all thought.


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  1. I unsubscribed from Unreality today. Sadly. It’s just not enjoyable to follow using Google Reader because the posts are only partially syndicated which makes it very hard to skim (can’t see any images) and thus takes too much time.
    I think partial rss feeds are a mistake, and I know I’m not the only reader who feels this way. Hope this changes.

  2. Nice idea. I didn’t really like Pontypool, Buried and 1408, but I get what you mean. Bug and Exam were pretty good movies; probably won’t watch Brake, but I am downloading…khm, sorry, looking to rent or buy The Divide.

    It’s not a horror movie, but The Man From Earth would be awesome on stage or anywhere else. I don’t know, I really like that movie.

  3. 1408 was an amazing short story written by one of my most favorite author’s, Stephen King. He is such an amazing writer, he makes very chilling books that just intrigue me… just like his book/movie “Thinner”. Do you remember ‘Thinner’? That was another lesser known film as well, if only he had made the movie for his book ‘Gerald’s Game’, but don’t think he could. But great choices in films indeed 🙂 John Cusack played an amazing part playing the lead role character, Mike Enslin btw 🙂 Gotta give it to ya again Remy, great job 😉

  4. Loved 1408, however it would fail as a play due to all the craziness that would need to go on.

    I was pleasantly susrised by buried. The ending was amazing.

    I recently saw brake. It happened to be on, about 15 minutes in, when I turned on the TV and was immediately interested (I love the idea of a movie that all takes place in one location). The ending did enrage me as we’ll. what a cop out piece of shit. The whole thing was just so retarded, I can’t believe I wasted 2 hours of my life on it.

    Another one that could work, for the most part, is the first Saw. There are a few outside scenes, but overall you could get the same effect from just the bathroom scenes.

  5. ^ I had Cube on this, initially (most of these ‘wake up in a room” movies would not exist without Cube) but think the traps would be really hard to pull off on stage, and the traps were such a huge part of the story.

  6. Another movie to add to lists like this is Lo. i saw it on Netflix. No scenery. Just actors being introduced through illumination. Really good movie.

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