Horror movies have been making audiences hide behind their hands for over a century – creating one of the most enduring and popular genres in film history.
The roots of horror cinema can be traced back to the silent film era. Georges Méliès’ Le Manoir du Diable, ‘The Devil’s Mansion’, of 1896 is usually considered the world’s first horror film.
Later German 1920s films like Nosferatu helped create the visual language of horror we still enjoy. The 1930s and 1940s introduced classic monster movies, featuring characters like Frankenstein or Doctor Jekyll.
The 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, known for thrillers like Psycho. Then the 1970s brought a new wave of gory horror with The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Supernatural horror was the 1990’s favourite, with films like The Sixth Sense. And the 21st century saw the rise of ‘found-footage’ horror like The Blair Witch Project.
The flexibility of the genre means it has always been a staple of popular culture, influencing literature, art, and even fashion. Iconic characters like Count Dracula and Freddy Krueger have become cultural symbols.
Casinos in horror films
Scenes of gambling and casinos have always been popular staples of classic horror movies.
Directors like to involve supernatural elements tied to gambling or chance. This can include cursed games, demonic entities associated with gambling, or characters facing supernatural consequences due to their actions in a casino.
At the same time horror stories set in haunted or abandoned casinos, horror can create eerie atmospheres involving malevolent spirits seeking revenge or redemption.
Casinos, with their high-stakes environments can be used to create tension. Stories may explore the paranoia, anxiety, and fear that can arise when characters are caught up in the uncertainty of casino games.
Some horror stories may involve cursed or malevolent objects associated with casinos, such as haunted slot machines or cursed decks of cards. The idea that inanimate objects in a casino can harbour supernatural forces adds an extra layer of horror.
And finally, vampire lore has often been tied to casinos. Vampires may be portrayed as using casinos as hunting grounds.
Here are some of the best examples of casinos in horror movies:
The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s classic adaptation of Stephen King’s novel features a haunted hotel with a casino. The film explores supernatural elements, psychological horror, and the disintegration of a family in this eerie environment.
This neo-noir thriller is set in the world of casinos and follows a struggling writer who takes a job as a croupier. As he becomes entangled in a web of crime and deceit, the film focuses on dark themes of risk and morality.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Terry Gilliam’s version of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel incorporates scary surreal and hallucinatory elements. Journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney embark on a drug-fuelled trip to Las Vegas facing bizarre and nightmarish situations on the way.
The Cooler (2003)
This dark drama involves a ‘cooler’ – a man whose luck is so bad that he can cool other players’ winning streaks at a casino. The film explores the darker side of the gambling world.
Casino Royale (2006)
More spy thriller than horror movie, but this is the darkest James Bond film with its very intense casino gambling scenes bursting with almost unbearable tension and risk.
13 Tzameti (2005)
This French thriller involves a young man who stumbles upon a mysterious and potentially deadly game of chance.
Gaming in horror films
It’s interesting how the reception of the gaming element in horror films varies among audiences.
For some viewers the incorporation of gambling adds a unique setting to the horror narrative. The combination of horror and the high-stakes world of casinos can create a distinct atmosphere.
That’s why filmmakers often use gambling as a metaphor for risk, fate, and the unpredictable nature of life. Playing a poker game online can often be full of tension, skilled filmmakers use these same emotions to their advantage and when integrated effectively, these themes can enhance the horror experience, providing deeper layers of symbolism.
The tension and suspense associated with gambling can complement horror movies too. High-stakes situations, whether in a poker game or a casino heist, contribute to heightened suspense.
The choices characters make in a gambling setting may reveal aspects of their personality, motivations, or moral dilemmas.
Casino elements in horror films can really enhance the atmosphere. Filmmakers find that the gambling elements can contribute meaningfully to a thrilling narrative without overshadowing the primary horror themes.
When successfully executed, the combination of casinos and horror can create some of the most engaging cinematic experiences.