The “Ghost Town” Trope in Horror, Explained

While it makes sense that horror fans often get frustrated with tropes because it can feel like the same stories are being told over and over again, some tropes actually work really well. One of the best is the “Ghost Town” trope, as it creates a spooky, isolated setting where no one wants to hang out. The characters know they have to get out of here and fast because they can just tell something awful is on the way.

What is the “Ghost Town” trope and its similar trope, the “Ghost City”? Are there films that use this concept well and are better off?


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According TV tropes, the “Ghost Town” horror trope features towns that are no longer crowded. These are the best horror movie sets because they are immediately scary and gruesome. The trope is often used when the main characters are driving somewhere and they come across a random town that makes them think something is seriously wrong. A ghost town is not on a map. A good example is the city of silent Hill film because it is clear that it is abandoned.

There’s also the similar “Ghost City” trope and TV tropes mentions that sometimes there is only one character still living there or around and this is proof of its loneliness and isolation (and therefore of the setting). While Ghost Town might be more visually affecting since a town is bigger than a town, both are still spooky settings that work over and over again. TV tropes also notes that when the characters intend to end up in this kind of place, they have quite an ordeal to arrive at their destination.

The “Ghost Town” trope has been used in several films. A good example is the 1977 Wes Craven film The hills Have Eyes, as well as the 2006 remake. Mutants live in a place that was once a nuclear test site and now they’ve decided to call it home. The setting is really effective and packs a punch. The trope is used in a typical way: the main characters are driving, they end up at a scary gas station, and then they encounter dangerous people chasing them. While there are many necessary slasher movie tropes, focusing on where the characters are is always a good idea. A “ghost town” is never a place where people want to spend five minutes, much less where they want to be trapped for an extended period where they have to fight to survive.

The trope is also present in wax house (2005), which is often considered one of the best horror film remakes. The main characters find themselves in a town called Ambrose, located near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Sinclair Wax Museum was once a must-see attraction, but after a fire it is in disrepair. The town is made up of a few houses, a town hall, a gas station, a cinema, and a few other places. wax house is an underrated 2000s horror movie and the setting has a lot to do with it.

by Netflix Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t get the initial point, but it’s fair to say that the ghost town the main characters go to is on point. Melody (Sarah Yarkin), Melody’s sister Lila (Elsie Fisher), Ruth (Nell Hudson), and Ruth’s boyfriend Dante (Jacob Latimore) travel to Harlow, Texas, and believe they can gentrify it. They want to sell old houses to make money and be at the forefront of a cool movement. Unfortunately for them, Leatherface and his chainsaw return, ruining this plan.

The final scene of the 2022 remake is definitely awful and gruesome, and not every horror fan loves this movie. But the movie makes perfect use of the “Ghost Town” trope. The four main characters show up in town, want to do something about it, and fight Leatherface. Melody and Lila give their all to fight and it looks like they will be able to escape, but Leatherface murders Melody. It makes sense with the horror trope, because the whole point of being stuck in a ghost town is realizing that getting out seems less and less likely over time. It’s a heartbreaking ending, though, as Melody and Lila are both compelling characters who fought back, so it’s a shame either of them didn’t make it.

Horror fans don’t mind seeing the “Ghost Town” trope because it’s a sure sign that something terrifying is on the way and the characters will have to make some tough choices to survive until the end of the film.

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