This week, I’m writing about underground horror films. And I’m not using “underground” as a term to describe obscure indie horror films — I mean it literally. All of these films focus on horrors in subterranean locations for at least one-third of their runtimes.

Let’s dig (heh!) in…

Button linking to patreon.com/horrorfam (opens in a new tab)

The Mole People (1956)

The Mole People 1956 retro underground horror films

First movie I thought of! The Mole People (1956) follows archeologist John Agar (who turns up again later on this list – can you guess which movie?) and his pals as they descend into the unexplored caverns deep within our hollow earth. They end up meeting Sumarian albinos — whose decedents fled underground to escape the flooding of ancient Mesopotamia — and discover the horrors of, uh, racism. (Not sure how else to say it!).

1950’s hottie Cynthia Patrick plays Adad, a white lady who isn’t quite as white as everyone else and is therefore shunned by her people because of her “darkness.” And then, of course, there’s the actual mole people — who evolved to be perfectly adapted for subterranean living with their awesome eyeballs, durable skin, powerful mole-like claws, and digging prowess — who are enslaved and treated absolutely horribly!

Much like our fishy friend in The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the mole people in The Mole People are victims rather than monsters. Seriously. The mole people are essentially used as truffle hogs – rooting around for mushrooms (the main food source for the underground society) – and spend most of their screen time being whipped.

That said, The Mole People is worth checking out at least to see the mole people/mole man in action. I recommend the MST3K version since it not only includes the intro by Dr. Frank Baxter (which is sometimes removed from edited versions of the film), but the jokes from Mike Nelson and the ‘bots help to liven up some of the more slowly-paced segments.

The Decent (2005)

The Decent 2005 cave diving horror film

Speaking of descending deep underground and making wild discoveries in previously unexplored caverns, The Decent (2005) is a movie I love watching but don’t want to talk about much, in terms of plot. It’s so fun to go into cold with zero clue what you’re about to experience. I know that’s harder and harder to achieve as time goes by — as it stands, The Decent is 19 years old and most horror fans have probably already seen it — but on the slim chance you’re the person who hasn’t seen it yet: Just watch it.

The Decent has an all-female cast, some of the most claustrophobic moments ever put on film, and gives you a zillion reasons to never become a spelunker.

The Cave also came out in 2005 but even though I know I watched it, I can’t remember anything about it other than the poster. The Decent, on the other hand? Unforgettable.

Day of the Dead (1985)

Day of the Dead underground facility

Speaking of horror films with a strong female lead, Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) is the protagonist of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead — a scientist looking for answers to the zombie problem seen in the previous “of the Dead” movies.

Other than the opening scene (with the memorable zombie affectionately nicknamed “Dr. Tongue”), Day of the Dead takes place almost entirely underground.

Deep underneath Florida’s everglades, Dr. Sarah and her small team of scientists search for answers (and survivors) and butt heads with the military dudes who were assigned to protect them. Much like 28 Days Later, it’s civilians vs. zombies vs. the military!

Day of the Dead is also notable for being one of my husband’s favorite movies.

Resident Evil (2002)

Resident Evil 2002 umbrella underground

Speaking of underground zombies, Resident Evil (2002) might not be the best adaptation of the video games, but it’s a fun watch. It’s a very early 2000’s take on the genre and, most importantly, a significant portion of the film takes place exploring the Hive — the secret underground facility where the Umbrella Corporation is creating the zombie-makin’ T-virus!

I was seventeen when Resident Evil (2002) was released and the games had been a part of our family for a little over half a decade — we were fans! And, as such, I was confused and a bit disgruntled when the movie came out and it didn’t follow any of the beloved, established characters from the games and instead focused on an entirely new protagonist (Alice, played by Milla Jovovich) who would have to be nerfed immediately for being far too overpowered if she were actually put into video game.

As a teen girl who dabbled in writing fan fictions, I knew all-too-well the allure of creating a gal character who was an amalgamation of all of your favorite characters (Alice is a combination of Jill, Claire, and Ada) who is the most special (she’s the protagonist), the most cool (she has a dark back story linked to the series’ villains), and has ALL the powers (is there anything Alice can’t do?!) — but I was aghast that what could’ve been my own 14-year-old fan fiction got made into a movie. I genuinely felt a sense of second-hand embarrassment/shame, like it was somehow my fault! Hahaha.

Now, 22 years later, I’m more appreciative of the little touches Paul W.S. Anderson put into Resident Evil in order to make an original film set in the games’ universe. Plus, it’s better to have a decent, fun film set in a favorite game’s universe with unknown characters rather than seeing your favorite characters ruined, right? (What sequels? La la la! I can’t hear you!!). We can always play the games for the true Resident Evil experience!

As for the movie, it has a ton of awesome action sequences and has a lot of fun playing with the subterranean setting. Having a crowd of zombies race after you in cramped quarters with your only escape route hundreds of miles above you? Yikes!

AVP: Alien Vs. Predator (2004)

AVP Alien Vs Predator underground temple

Speaking of Paul W.S. Anderson adaptations, AVP: Alien Vs. Predator (2004) is an underground horror movie loosely based on a Dark Horse comic book series. It’s the third film in the Predator franchise and the fifth film in the Alien franchise and it’s a lot of fun!

Certified rich dude Charles Weyland learns of a pyramid 2000 feet beneath an island off the coast of Antarctica and he thinks it would be pretty cool to go check that out. So, he uses his vast wealth to hire a group of folks with various skill sets (mercenaries, linguists, archeologists, a mountain-focused tour guide) and they all head underneath the snow-covered middle-of-nowhere to be taken out one-by-one by monsters from outer space.

I would say that it’s humans versus aliens versus predators, but… come on. The humans react pretty much exactly how most of us would if we were trapped 2000 feet below the surface in an every-changing pyramid (think the cube from the Cube franchise, or even the moving staircases within Hogwarts) with xenomorphs and predators: They’re fodder. And it’s great.

Button linking to patreon.com/horrorfam (opens in a new tab)

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 Cloverfield Lane bunker horror movie

Speaking of sequel films from franchises about large monsters, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) is a sequel to Cloverfield (2008) that has nothing to do with anything from Cloverfield — or does it?!

10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense horror mystery that loves to keep you guessing.

After an argument with her fiancé, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) drives off in her car, gets into an accident, and wakes up chained to a wall in an underground bunker. What exactly happened? According to her captor (or is he her savior?), Howard (John Goodman), and his assistant Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), “Russians or Martians” have attacked. The air is now poison, everyone else is dead, and Michelle definitely shouldn’t ever go up to the surface for at least two years or so. Soooooo… Howard’s insane, right? OR IS HE?!?

Much like Crawl (2019) and Pontypool (2008), I love that 10 Cloverfield Lane is able to tell a thrilling story while simultaneously having an incredibly small cast to keep track of. You get to know each of the three characters who’re stuck underground, the actors playing them each give absolutely stellar performances, and it manages to keep you on your toes. It feels a bit like A Quiet Place (2018) if none of the characters went outside and, perhaps, one or more of the family members might be a crazed killer.

Fun Fact: 10 Cloverfield Lane features a voice cameo from Bradley Cooper as Michelle’s fiancé Ben.

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

The Midnight Meat Train underground train

Speaking of Bradley Cooper (not pictured – that’s Vinnie Jones in the screenshot!), The Midnight Meat Train (2008) takes place primarily on subway cars, zipping along in underground tunnels. And then, later on, the characters go much deeper into the earth.

Based on a story in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, The Midnight Meat Train follows photographer Leon Kaufman (Bradley Cooper), a man obsessed with taking pics of the darkest elements of New York City. He’s also a great example of ol’ Proverbs 11:27 (“evil comes to he who seeks it out” aka “if you go looking for trouble, you’re gonna find it!“) and his photography preferences lead to him uncovering a serial killer (Vinnie Jones) who preys upon subway passengers… and butchers them as if they were not but meat? WHY?!

It’s a disturbing, oftentimes gross, psychological thriller with a very weird mystery at its core.

Nightbreed (1990)

Nightbreed Clive Barker Cabal

Speaking of underground horror films based on Clive Barker stories originally featured in the Books of Blood, Nightbreed is about this guy named Boone (Craig Sheffer) who’s having messed-up dreams about a place called Midian, where cool but misunderstood monster folks called nightbreed live. Boone’s therapist, the deviously manipulative Dr. Decker (David Chronenberg) convinces Boone that he’s a serial killer because of these dreams.

Plot Twist! It turns out Midian’s real, and it’s an enormous underground city. That’s where most of the action happens. Boone teams up with the nightbreed to protect them from humans — including Dr. Decker! It’s a wild ride of acceptance, identity, and facing fears, set in a dark and mysterious subterranean world.

Unfortunately, depending on which version you watch, Nightbreed (1990) can be a bit of a confusing mess. I was lucky enough to watch the Shout!/Scream Factory Director’s Cut Blu-ray, overseen by Clive Barker, back in 2014. It has a TON of footage that makes Nightbreed, well, make sense. If you watch the theatrical cut, expect to be wow’d be the monsters and Dr. Decker and the underground city central to this horror-fantasy tale, but don’t expect to walk away with any sense of clarity about what the heck you just watched.

Oh! And did you guess that Nightbreed was the other underground horror film that features The Mole People‘s John Agar? If so: Gold star!

Hercules in the Haunted World AKA Ercole al centro della Terra (1961)

Hercules in the Haunted World 1961 Christopher Lee

Speaking of horror fantasy movies with heavy mythology ties, this is right around when my dad walked in and asked me what I was working on. When I told him I was compiling a hefty list of underground horror films that quite literally take place in a subterranean setting for at least one-third of their runtime (rather than horror films about underground monsters coming up to the surface, like Tremors or The Black Scorpion), he suggested adding Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) to my list!

Hercules in the Haunted World is the tale of the legendary Hercules (Reg Park) on a quest to save his lady love from the clutches of the Underworld — a cavernous dominion filled with all sorts of spooky creatures and dark magic.

Christopher Lee plays the villainous King Lico, who has an evil plan to obtain control of the surface world by plunging it into eternal darkness via blocking out the sun, not unlike Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. It’s a little unintentionally goofy at times, but Christopher Lee always gave his all to any role he accepted and was known for adding his own brand of sinister flair to movies, and Hercules in the Haunted World is no exception. Christopher Lee’s presence alone makes it more than “just” a typical 1960’s adventure flick and firmly plants it in the horror-fantasy genre.

Additionally, the creepy atmosphere, the monsters Hercules faces, and the overall sense of danger lurking in the shadows make it a fun watch for horror fans. Plus, Dad recommends it as a good/safe horror film for kids (especially grade schoolers who’re learning about mythology stories! Do they still do that in schools? Lemme know!).

Raw Meat AKA Death Line (1972)

Raw Meat Death Line

Speaking of movies featuring Christopher Lee, my dad said he watched this one for the first time recently and that it’s worthy of inclusion. Unlike Hercules and the Haunted World, I haven’t watched Death Line/Raw Meat personally, but I’m choosing to take Dad’s word for it!

Here’s a lil summary based on Dad’s descriptions and my own research/reading: Death Line AKA Raw Meat (1972), is a British horror film set predominantly in the underground subway system of London. The story revolves around a series of mysterious disappearances in Russell Square station, leading to an investigation that uncovers a group of cannibalistic descendants of Victorian-era railway workers trapped underground after a cave-in.

Led by “The Man,” played hauntingly by Hugh Armstrong, these underground dwellers survive by hunting and consuming unsuspecting victims who wander into their domain.

Death Line‘s exploration of urban decay, social neglect, and the eerie underworld (both literally and otherwise) beneath a bustling city creates a chilling, claustrophobic atmosphere and stands out for its gritty portrayal of dark themes and memorable performances, including Halloween‘s Donald Pleasence in the the lead role of Inspector Calhoun.

Mimic (1997)

Mimic 1997 underground subway

Speaking of my dad and abandoned sections of subterranean subway tunnels, Dad was a special FX painter for the movie Mimic (1997) — the absolute finest film about giant cockroaches ever made. [And, before I get any objections/contradictions, I would like to remind everyone that the roaches in Joe’s Apartment (1996) were normal-sized, not giant; also, Joe’s Apartment is supposedly not a horror movie].

And if I’m counting The Midnight Meat Train and Death Line as underground horror films, then I’ve gotta count Mimic! I mean, come on!

Helmed by Guillermo del Toro, Mimic is a sci-fi horror film where giant genetically engineered cockroaches (known as the Judas Breed) were initially created to eradicate a disease spread by regular run-of-the-mill cockroaches, and it was a total success! Unfortunately, the Judas Breed has since evolved further (rather than dying off, as anticipated) and they now mimic their new prey — humans — thus becoming a bigger threat than the disease they were originally meant to combat!

As Mimic progresses, much of the action unfolds underground as a team of scientists and officials, led by entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino), descend into the dark NY subway tunnels to confront the deadly creatures. The claustrophobic tunnels add to the suspense and danger, as the characters navigate the dimly lit passages while being stalked by friggin’ GIANT COCKROACHES. (I know it’s not just me! Cockroaches are bleaauuughhhhh).

Anyway, Mimic effectively utilizes its underground setting to create some genuinely tense scenes. And it was Norman Reedus’ film debut! It’s a lot of fun. Check it out.

What Are YOUR Favorite Underground Horror Films?

Now that you’ve read my stream-of-consciousness rambles about 11 (literally) underground horror films, I wanna know which ones YOU love! Were there any I missed? Let me know!

As I said in the trailer video for this week’s article, I considered Crawl (2019) and People Under the Stairs (1991) as potential candidates but… they just don’t go deep enough underground. I wanted to only spotlight truly subterranean horror movies!

Can ya dig it?

Images purchased via MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial.

About the Author

Lauren Spear (née Tharp) is the owner of LittleZotz.com, a formerly super-respectable multiple award-winning website for freelance writers that's now just a wacky place where she tries to cheer people up any way she can. Lauren's also HorrorFam.com's primary founder/owner! Lauren grew up in the horror industry (her parents did practical special FX work for many of the horror movies you love from the '80s and '90s) and she basically created this site so she could freely gas on about creepy stuff and stop having to pretend to be normal. o_O

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Related Posts