CATEGORIES Features, Video


Suffering from claustrophobia? Well, you might want to avoid the following upcoming movies: 'Devil' (which opens Friday), about a group of people (one of whom happens to be Satan) trapped in an elevator; 'Buried,' in which poor Ryan Reynolds is entombed alive; and '127 Hours,' about a hiker (James Franco) who's forced to cut off his own arm after being hopelessly pinned under a rock.

Filmmakers love a challenge, and shooting in one location is a surefire way to ramp up the tension. Set all (or a major chunk) of your action in a jury room, a lifeboat, or a police interrogation chamber and it's just a matter of time before the characters turn on each other -- with dramatic results.

How about a deep, dark cave? A haunted hotel room? Or an apartment where the previous tenant just happened to kill herself? When the locations are so limited, madness, paranoia, and great cinema often follow.

Suffering from claustrophobia? Well, you might want to avoid the following upcoming movies: 'Devil' (which opens Friday), about a group of people (one of whom happens to be Satan) trapped in an elevator; 'Buried,' in which poor Ryan Reynolds is entombed alive; and '127 Hours,' about a hiker (James Franco) who's forced to cut off his own arm after being hopelessly pinned under a rock.

Filmmakers love a challenge, and shooting in one location is a surefire way to ramp up the tension. Set all (or a major chunk) of your action in a jury room, a lifeboat, or a police interrogation chamber and it's just a matter of time before the characters turn on each other -- with dramatic results.

How about a deep, dark cave? A haunted hotel room? Or an apartment where the previous tenant just happened to kill herself? When the locations are so limited, madness, paranoia, and, yes, great cinema often follow.

'Lifeboat' (1944)
You've just survived a shipwreck and now your only hope for survival might be the very U-boat commander who sunk you. That's the dicey ethical conundrum behind Alfred Hitchcock's exercise in one-location moviemaking. (Trivia: Unable to do his usual cameo with a simple walk-on, the director appears briefly in a newspaper ad.) The master of suspense revisited the challenge with the much-better known 'Rear Window' and, later, 'Rope,' in which two murderers host a party with the corpse of their victim still on the premises.


'Obsession'
(aka 'The Hidden Room') (1949)
In this little-known noir, a man takes elaborate revenge on his wife's lover by kidnapping him and chaining him up in an underground bunker. His evil plan: Kill his rival, then dissolve his body in a bathtub full of acid. The prisoner has to use his wits -- and his trusty dog -- to survive. American director Edward Dymtryk (one of the infamous "Hollywood 10") made this film in Britain after being blacklisted back home: Perhaps the plight of a trapped man resonated with him.

'12 Angry Men' (1957)
Henry Fonda stars in this classic as the head of a jury that has just heard the case of a teenager accused of murder. He's the only holdout against a guilty verdict, and bit by bit, he argues away the circumstantial evidence and makes a case for reasonable doubt. Most of the men don't want to hear it: They're anxious to get home and out of the stifling hot jury room.


'The Night of the Living Dead' (1968)
George Romero's first film is not only the daddy of all zombie movies, it made deserted farmhouses just as terrifying as the Bates motel. The movie also became the blueprint for every "trapped in the house" horror film that followed, like 'Signs' (aliens!) and 'The Strangers' (masked psychos!). Because is there anything more horrifying than trying to barricade yourself in against deadly creatures, only to realize they're already inside? Arrrgh!!


'The Tenant' (1976)
At the beginning of his exile in Paris, Roman Polanski directed this thriller, in which he also stars as a man who starts to lose his mind after moving into an apartment where the previous tenant committed suicide. (Talk about location as character.) It plays almost as a sequel to his earlier psychological art film, 'Repulsion,' in which gorgeous Catherine Deneuve goes slowly, bizarrely mad in the confines of her Paris apartment.


'Closet Land' (1991)
It doesn't get much more minimalist than this: Just two people in one room as interrogator Alan Rickman tries to get Madeleine Stowe to confess to being an anarchist, in this one-sided cat and mouse game. Prefer your interrogators to be good-guy cops and the person fielding the questions to be a possible murderer? Then rent 'Under Suspicion' or 'Deceiver,' acting showcases for, respectively, Gene Hackman and Tim Roth.


'Cube' (1998)
Six strangers find themselves trapped in a diabolically constructed set of rooms, each of which is rigged with deadly devices in this first feature from 'Splice' director Vincenzo Natali. He's definitely got a thing for small spaces: One of his first films is a suspenseful short called 'Elevated,' in which a bloodied security guard warns two elevator passengers that they've "got a situation." (Full movie is online, but language is NSFW.)


'Phone Booth' (2001)
A public phone in the middle of Times Square is hardly isolated, unless you're the only one who knows that if you leave the booth, the sniper on the other end of the phone will kill you. That's Colin Farrell's dilemma as he spends a few unhappy hours of his life caught between the cops -- who thinks he's the one doing the shooting -- and the guy who has him in his cross-hairs.


'The Descent' (2006)
Here's a very strong argument for never, ever going spelunking: You might run out of food or get trapped in a narrow crevasse, but mainly, you really, really don't want to find out what's lurking in the dark this far underground.

'1408' (2007)
A skeptical author of a series of "10 Most Haunted..." books checks into a hotel's notorious room 1408, undeterred by the manager's plea not to enter the accursed suite and the fact that 56 people have died there under very unusual circumstances. Stephen King, who's always gotten great mileage out of haunted real estate, sketched an eerie tale of a room where you can't ever check out, except through the window, a razor blade, or a noose.

'Paranormal Activity' (2009)
Proof that you can set a movie almost entirely in a suburban couple's perfectly ordinary bedroom and still do boffo box-office. A husband decides to document the strange late night phenomena his wife has been reporting. Even if you yawned your way through this indie, we don't advise watching at home just before bedtime.