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Ohio is horror-ific: why so many horror films are set here

The silhouette of Freddy Kreuger's and his knifed gloves stands in a blue mist.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street is just one of the horror movie classics filmed in the Buckeye state.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Scream 2” — these frightening films might cause you to sleep with your lights on. And they all share the same setting: Ohio.

The Buckeye state is the backdrop for many American horror films. More often than not, these scary movies are based in sleepy small towns across the state that don’t actually exist, sometimes invented by Ohio natives themselves, like Cleveland-born Wes Craven.

Hope Madden, a Columbus-based filmmaker, movie critic and "Fright Club" podcast host, joined The Ohio Newsroom to explain why the state is so inviting for stories about monsters, serial killers and slashers.

On Ohio’s horror appeal

“(Ohio) feels so normal and maybe even wholesome. So it makes it easy … If you go to a small college, in the heart of Ohio, it seems like your kids are going to be safe, you're going to be safe, and then all of a sudden, you're not. So it really I think plays into the idea of, ‘You're not really safe anywhere.’ Also, you can be very isolated in Ohio. I think it's probably the farms and, for me, the cornfields. Cornfields are terrifying. And you know, we have a lot of them here. And then just the irony of villainy popping up in these places that you're expecting to be sort of safe.

“There are big cities in Ohio. There are sports teams in Ohio. People are familiar with Ohio, no matter where you're from. (If) you set something in like, Kansas, people struggle to think of a big city in Kansas. So you can set almost any kind of horror movie someplace in Ohio.”

"It really I think plays into the idea of, ‘You're not really safe anywhere,'"
Hope Madden, horror filmmaker and critic

On creating horror in Ohio

“For me, being fond of horror, being drawn to horror I write about, which I think a lot of people do, I write about what scares me. And for most people, that's rooted in your childhood, and my childhood was in rural Ohio.

“So, that's where I set things, because to write something scary I think a lot of times you have to start from your own sort of vulnerability. And that's when you are the most vulnerable … as a child. And it's easier, I think, for me to tap into fear if I go back to when I was a little kid and was afraid of everything.”

On scary movie recommendations

“‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ which is, for me, the best movie ever made. It's not entirely set here, but we get a good section of it when they go to the small town looking for Jame Gumb — that's here. So we can be proud of that.

“There's a great one called ‘Tragedy Girls,’ which I think kind of flew under the radar. It's a very savvy high school horror. And that’s set here in Ohio. As is, from the '90s, ‘The Faculty,’ which is another great high school horror movie.

“Then there's one called ‘Take Shelter’, and it's set and shot in Elyria and that section of Ohio. It's just a genius movie, and it's very unnerving. If you're sort of not ready to dive headlong into like gore and slashers, it's kind of probably more of a psychological thriller type of horror. And it's an amazing, brilliant film.”

If you need more Ohio horror movie recommendations for this spooky season, check out this list from

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.