Nobody wants to go to prison—or spend any amount of time locked in a tiny cell with no privacy, surrounded by a nightmare cast of characters looking for a fight. And where there’s fear, there’s a perfect setting for a horror film, at least according to Hollywood producers.
Some of the most incredible horror movies are set in jails, the perfect settings to prey on our collective terror of small spaces, historical horrors, and deadly violence.
If you love the suspense and thrills of truly great horror, you’ll want to see this list of the best horror movies that take place inside prison walls.
The first film on this list goes by the simple name of Prison. Shot inside an abandoned prison in Wyoming, USA, the filming location adds to the overall believability of the movie. The building was scheduled to be demolished, which meant that the cast and crew could adapt and wreck it as much as they needed to make the motion picture come to life.
This film follows the story of Charlie Forsythe, who was executed using an electric chair despite being innocent. The movie centres around his return from the afterlife. Seeking vengeance on those who killed him, Charlie haunts the halls of the prison, leaving the prisoners and staff fighting to escape by any means necessary.
Alien 3 (1992)
Prison is also the setting for the 1992 film Alien 3, the third instalment in the thrilling franchise starring Sigourney Weaver as the alien-slashing heroine Ripley. Although initially not very popular among moviegoers, the Assembly Cut, released in 2003, garnered the film much higher praise.
The movie follows Ripley, who crash lands on a planet operated as a penal colony. After she makes contact with the warden, things quickly degenerate into a murderous melee as an incoming attack by the Xenomorphs keeps everyone on edge.
Last Shift (2014)
While seemingly not as scary as prisons, Last Shift (2014) makes a compelling argument that police station holding cells can be just as terrifying. Between being stuck in a cell with people who may have committed heinous crimes, the thought of being trapped overnight awaiting your verdict is enough to psych anyone out.
Last Shift makes perfect use of this scenario as it follows rookie officer Jessica Loren on a night she won’t soon forget. Jessica is tasked with overseeing the final shift at a police station before it is decommissioned. The story quickly takes a dive into danger as supernatural forces begin moving things in the station and bloody bodies start coming out of the woodwork.
The Platform (2019)
Released by Netflix in 2019, The Platform reimagines prisons into a social experiment that seeks to identify how people protect their limited resources, knowing that what they leave behind will be passed onto others. The film is set in a multi-story prison complex that consists of “floors” that are primarily just gaping holes leading to the levels below.
Goreng, who is convicted and sentenced to spend his punishment on the 48th level, sees that there is no way to escape. Trying to climb down the hole leads only to a nasty fall or being crushed by the elevator that traverses it. However, things quickly escalate as he realises that the only sustenance he will receive is whatever is passed down from higher levels. He quickly realises that prison will be more of a fight for survival than he thought.
Released in 1997, Cube focuses on a group of prisoners and their macabre fight for freedom. In this film, prisoners are given the chance to win their freedom by navigating their way through an ever-evolving prison filled with an assortment of horrors.
Along the way, they are met with deadly, torturous traps that lead to gruesome deaths—inspiring the future Saw movie franchise. While each prisoner fights to be the first one out, the group faces horrors at every turn—all set in rooms based on real-life prisons from around the world.
Haunting of Cell Block 11 (2014)
In Haunting of Cell Block 11, a ghost-hunting team shooting a TV series decides that a decommissioned prison would be the perfect setting to boost their ratings and avoid their show being canceled.
Unfortunately for the group, the prison they chose was not as empty as they thought. Filled with souls that had been tortured and met with untimely deaths in the facility’s heyday, the prison quickly turns out to be a place nobody should ever go.
The Task (2011)
Another film set in an abandoned prison, The Task is filled with terrifying twists to place it far above your regular horror show.
Six hostages are locked in the decommissioned prison and left to fight for their lives to find a way out. Without their knowledge, they are being recorded for a live-streaming series. To spice things up, a sadistic warden and ex-cons are also present to torture the hostages as they are forced to complete horrendous tasks to secure their passage to freedom.
The Experiment (2010)
The Experiment (2010) is a psychological thriller based on the famous social study that took place at Stanford in the early 1970s. Offered a large payout to participate, innocent citizens are given the chance to take part in an experiment that removes their civil rights and sentences them to live under the watchful eye of correctional officers in an expansive prison.
Things deteriorate as guards begin abusing their power, and those taking part in the experiment find themselves mistreated and in real danger. As the prisoners struggle to find a way out, a complete breakdown of the system leads to extensive violence among the participants.
Horror fans will want to know that prison-based stories go far beyond the silver screen. Thanks to video games and casino games based on creepy prisons, you can experience the pulse-pounding rush of escaping the horror yourself. Don’t miss out on the action: if you’ve never played The Suffering—or if you don’t know that Folsom Prison can payout up to 75,000x the bet you play—it’s time to find out for yourself.