A slasher is on the loose, whipping out a razor blade and slicing helpless bystanders without motive or provocation. Flames shoot out of manholes on one of the city’s busiest streets just steps away from bustling businesses. Thousands of live crickets are unleashed on a packed subway train, terrifying passengers who are stalled on a bridge above the water.
Are these the freakiest scenes from “Halloween 2”?
No, they are completely real news stories that took place in New York City in recent years. Despite there being significantly less violent crime here than during the 1980s and ’90s, there’s still plenty to keep New Yorkers paranoid and constantly on edge. But horror movies rarely seize upon the unique emotional and psychological hellscape that is the five boroughs.
Just look at “Greta,” which opened earlier this month. The dreadful film is about twenty-something Brooklynite Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), who finds a lost handbag on a 6 train. She returns the bag to its owner, a French woman named Greta (Isabelle Huppert) who lives in Manhattan, and they became fast friends. But Frances soon discovers that Greta is really a nefarious stalker with a dangerous, completely unpredictable mental state.
Savvy city dwellers will spot inconsistencies with their way of life: Moronic Frances not only touches a random purse on a train (see something, say something!) but trudges it to the home of a stranger across the river and brings it inside. I know people who won’t date beyond their borough, let alone make free deliveries. That home, by the way, is a freestanding house in Manhattan. Where can I get one of those?
Movies like “Greta” ignore the very real horrors of New York that are evident everywhere you look. Next time you’re on the FDR, take a gander at Roosevelt Island in the middle of the river. It used to be home to the New York Lunatic Asylum. Head farther uptown and you’ll find Randall’s Island, where once stood the New York City Asylum for the Insane. The city is overrun with haunted houses, possessed churches, ghoul-hosting fire stations, you name it.
We’ve got everyday terrors, too. At least four people have been killed by falling air-conditioner units here since 2006. Commuters being pushed onto subway tracks is a common occurrence. A person could even plummet through a dreaded sidewalk cellar door to his death (it happened in 2015).
Movies like “Greta” ignore the very real horrors of New York that are evident everywhere you look.
Good modern horror films, for the most part, skip NYC and instead set their films in secluded rural houses (“A Quiet Place,” “Bird Box”) or suburbia (“It,” “The Clovehitch Killer”). But even though crime is down in New York from prior decades, you’re more likely to be offed crossing the street here than being mutilated by an escaped convict at a Catskills Airbnb.
There was a time when New York inspired great thrillers, when trains were covered in graffiti, and on Eighth Avenue you might get a knife in your back instead of a burger from Shake Shack. Those dark decades produced horror classics such as “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “Wait Until Dark” (1967), “Maniac” (1980) and the comedy-horror “Ghostbusters” (1984).
A few scary movies from the 21st century have used New York as a backdrop — the apocalyptic film “I Am Legend” (2007), the monster movie “Cloverfield” (2008) and “The First Purge” (2018) — but they weren’t so much starting a trend as bucking one.
Today, for simple-minded Hollywood, sleek and shiny new New York just doesn’t inspire horror. Gotham is associated with luxury, fun and Dylan’s Candy Bar. “Crazy Rich Asians” kicks off in Manhattan. Rebel Wilson’s new movie “Isn’t It Romantic,” a satire of the rom-com genre, is entirely set in the city. “Second Act” has Jennifer Lopez become a Madison Avenue executive. Even Sky in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is off doing business in the Big Apple. Spoiler alert: Nobody is brutally murdered in any of those films.
Hollywood, please see my city for what it really is: a filthy island packed to the gills with angry, mean paranoiacs capable of heinous acts, who live in dangerous, decrepit buildings that they share with rats and cockroaches. Now that’s scary. And it will only get worse. There are still two years left in Mayor de Blasio’s second term.