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The 10 Best San Francisco Horror Movies, Ranked

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With Halloween coming up, and the weather likely to be terrible all week, it’s a great time to catch up on old horror movies you maybe haven’t seen. Some of the all-time greats were shot right here in San Francisco! Here’s a list of the best, all-time scariest horror movies shot in San Francisco, and their trailers to give you some homegrown heerbie-jeebies for the spooky season. Mot of these are available through your favorite screaming service.

1. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1979)

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Shot entirely in San Francisco, the shockingly intelligent script and insanely creepy premise of the 1978 Body Snatchers makes it one the most underrated SF movies of all time. Donald Sutherland smolders in his hunky 1970s sex symbol heyday, a young Jeff Goldblum is hilarious in comic relief, and Leonard Nimoy is sublime as a villainous, gaslighting cult leader.

2. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)

Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas was also shot entirely in San Francisco, but starring 5 to 12 inch puppets filmed in stop-motion animation at the former Skellington Productions studio at 375 7th Street Street. They also produced James and the Giant Peach (1996) there, but Disney shut the studio down shortly thereafter. It is now the Bessie Carmichael Elementary School.

3. INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (1996)

Anne Rice lived at Fell and Divisadero Streets when she wrote the original Interview with a Vampire novel in 1973, and Western Addition residents routinely spotted Brad Pitt at nearby New Star-Ell Liquor when the 1990s Tom Cruise movie version was shooting there. Interview With a Vampire is not just a San Francisco movie, it mostly takes place in New Orleans, London, and Paris. But the opening and closing scenes were shot here (the Christian Slater scenes), with a terrifying climax filmed at an iconic SF cinematic location.

4. ZODIAC (2007)

Much of this true story of a still-unsolved SF murder spree takes place at the Chonicle building at Fifth and Mission, and it has fabulous 1970s apparel and terrifying serial killer murder scenes. The all-star cast Zodiac features Bryan Cox (Logan Roy from Succession!) plus Robert Downey, Jr., Jake Gyllenhall, Mark Ruffalo, and Chloe Sevigny.

5. EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962)

It’s mind blowing to see just what San Francisco looked like back in the 1960s, in old-time brilliant black & whote noir in Blake Edward’s Experiment in Terror. A ruthless murderer and rapist has a scheme to force an innocent woman into robbing a bank for him, but hot on his trial is a cunning FBI agent (Glenn Ford) who just happens to be a single, attractive chain-smoking bachelor too.

6. VERTIGO (1958)

Hitchcock’s suspense thriller Vertigo is widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. It has iconic San Francisco shots at Mission Dolores and the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. But a reconsideration of Hitchcock’s treatment of women makes us not comfortable placing his work in the Top 5.

7. THE GAME (1997)

A crackerjack suspense thriller that keeps you guessing the whole time, The Game puts Michael Douglas and Sean Penn in a high-price interactive game that starts looking more and more like a plot to murder them. Or maybe it isn’t? The movie takes place in rich-people neighborhoods, but the rich people are mostly fearing for their lives so it’s cool.

8. COPYCAT (1995)

Harry Connick Jr. does a devious departure as a serial killer who impersonates other serial killers, while investigators Sigourey Weaver and Holly Hunter try to figure out how he appears to be doing this while still in prison. It’s a tense and relentless thriller, but the hilariously bad 1990s hairdos and outfits manage to inadvertently lighten the tone.

9. IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

Featuring 1950s stop-motion animation of a humongous killer octopus eating San Francisco, It Came From Beneath the Sea was the first Hollywood movie to destroy the Golden Gate Bridge. (There would be many more!) The octopus also obliterates the Embarcadero clock tower in magnificent fashion.

10. ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978)

Cult-hit Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is not a good movie, in fact, it is a historically and quintessentially bad movie. But those of us raised by a third parent of HBO and Cinemax have a certain fondness for it. And many of its scenes were filmed in San Francisco, though we are incorrectly identified as “New York.” 

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Joe Kukura- Millionaire in Training

Joe Kukura is a two-bit marketing writer who excels at the homoerotic double-entendre. He is training to run a full marathon completely drunk and high, and his work has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on days when their editors made particularly curious decisions.

5 Comments

  1. Thiel Graham
    October 25, 2021 at 2:30 pm — Reply

    Hi,

    Great list and tiny type-o:
    “Mark Euffalo” is spelled with an R for Ruffalo.

    Thank you!
    – Graham

  2. Jose smith
    October 25, 2021 at 6:31 pm — Reply

    How DO YOU NOT have 48 Hours with Nick Nollte & Eddie Murphy on this list ?!

  3. Francis
    October 28, 2021 at 12:40 pm — Reply

    Though it’s a made-for-TV movie (and probably devotes more screen time to scenes shot in Big Sur and Carmel) I’d add 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘕𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘪𝘴𝘴 𝘛𝘢𝘱𝘦𝘴 to this list. Doesn’t age as well as some of the other entries on this list, but has some genuinely creepy moments.

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