The horror, the horror: frightful travel destinations from scary movies

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Do you love scary movies? Ever experience a subtle yearning to summon Tubular Bells from the iPod as you descend the steps down which Father Damien Karras somersaults to his doom at the end of The Exorcist? Well, you’ll find them linking Prospect and M Street in Georgetown, one of Washington’s more upscale neighbourhoods.

At its best, the horror genre has a peculiar power to imprint a place on the mind. So if, like me, you’re a footloose fan of horror, film and travel who would gladly undertake a pilgrimage to the ‘Academy of Freiburg’ dance school from Dario Argento’s lurid Suspiria, or charter a pedalo for a spin off the beaches of Amity Island (the fictional stalking ground of Jaws), read on.

From behind the sofa, perhaps...

The North York Moors, England (from An American Werewolf in London)

A road snaking across the lonesome yet lovely North York Moors. Image by LatitudeStock TTL / Gallo Images / Getty Images.

A road snaking across the lonesome yet lovely North York Moors. Image by LatitudeStock TTL / Gallo Images / Getty Images.

English moorland hasn’t seemed this sinister since a spectral hound tested the nerves of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson down in dear old Devon.

Yorkshire is widely acknowledged as a country unto itself, even within the confines of the UK. But seldom have the locals looked stranger than they do in John Landis’s 1981 cult classic, in which a pair of American students come gorily unstuck at the hands (or perhaps paws) of a werewolf in the North York Moors National Park (www.northyorkmoors.org.uk).

In fact, the key scenes were shot in the also tempting Black Mountains of Wales, but for visitors I’d argue Yorkshire’s evocative landscape trumps them with world-class walking, picturesque villages, a restored steam railway (www.nymr.co.uk), and, as an added bonus, Whitby, the setting for part of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and de facto Goth capital of these shores.

To experience this bleakly beautiful area - but hopefully not have your lungs ripped out - head to Danby, home of the Moors Centre. And remember, folks: if you hear howling, stay on the road.

The Isle of Skye and Plockton, Scotland (from The Wicker Man)

The shores of Loch Carron as seen from Plockton, which isn't much like The Wicker Man's curiously semi-tropical Summerisle, but is well worth a visit nonetheless. Image by James Kay / Lonely Planet.

This trippy tale of intrigue on a remote Hebridean isle was filmed in numerous locations around Scotland. Edward Woodward’s starchy sergeant investigates the disappearance of a schoolgirl - and gets sucked into a vortex of pagan weirdness - in scenes shot mainly around Newton Stewart (www.newtonstewart.org), the gateway to some good walking in Dumfries and Galloway.

But travellers in search of The Wicker Man’s Summerisle - there is in fact a small, intriguing archipelago of that name further north (www.summer-isles.com) - might want to aim for Skye or Plockton, footage of which feature in the film’s opening third. The former boasts some of Scotland’s spikiest mountains - the Black Cuillin - and numerous other attractions, while the latter occupies an irresistibly filmic spot at the mouth of Loch Carron.

The Stanley Hotel, USA (from The Shining)

The historic Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for the infamous Overlook in Stephen King's novel The Shining. Image courtesy of The Stanley Hotel.

Nobody in their right mind would want to stay at the Overlook Hotel; but then again, The Shining’s Jack Torrance wasn’t in his right mind, was he? No, sir. Not on your chinny-chin-chin.

Director Stanley Kubrick filmed much of this epic of eyeball-rolling in the UK, but the exterior of the Overlook, where Torrance runs amok under the influence of malevolent ghosts (or just gets a serious case of cabin fever, depending on your interpretation), is a real place called Timberline Lodge (www.timberlinelodge.com) near Portland, Oregon.

It’s a popular spot for skiing and snow sports, but those hoping for gouts of blood pouring from elevator shafts might want to head for the inspiration behind the quite different Overlook in Stephen King’s original story, The Stanley Hotel (www.stanleyhotel.com) in Colorado. King stayed there in 1973 and this historic pile is proud of its creepy rep, organising a range of ghost tours and even ‘paranormal investigations’. And if the shine begins to fade, you’re on the doorstep of the magnificent Rocky Mountain National Park.

Venice, Italy (from Don't Look Now)

Gondolas in off-season Venice under suitably threatening skies. Image by Matt Munro / Lonely Planet.

Provided you have toes impervious to cold water and a decent windcheater, winter is a terrific time to visit Venice. Yes, the acqua alta - literally ‘high water’ - often floods the streets, but the reward is a chance to explore this hallucinatory city minus the scrums of summer.

Hallucinations, of course, don’t do anyone any good in Nic Roeg’s influential shocker, which sees a grieving Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie glimpse the ghost of their drowned daughter amid the off-season, mist-shrouded maze of La Serenissima.

You don’t have to go anywhere specific in Venice to invoke the spirit of Don’t Look Now, as Roeg’s camera roves widely in pursuit of his lost souls, both living and dead. But diehards on a generous budget might wish to check out the Hotel Gabrielli (www.hotelgabrielli.it) or the Bauer Il Palazzo (www.ilpalazzovenezia.com), two swish establishments near Piazza San Marco that doubled as the exterior and interior of the film’s fictional Europa Hotel.

Whatever you do, beware of short people wearing red raincoats.

Antarctica (from The Thing)

A scientist climbing out of a steam cave near Mount Erebus, Antarctica. Image by Alisdair Turner Photography / Flickr / Getty Images.

A scientist climbing out of a steam cave near Mount Erebus, Antarctica. Image by Alisdair Turner Photography / Flickr / Getty Images.

Okay, okay: this is a stretch. But in the spirit of both extreme fandom and extreme travel, someone might - just might - want to roleplay Kurt Russell’s last stand from John Carpenter’s unimprovable 1982 creature feature.

They’ll need to start saving now. Antarctica is the most inhospitable place on earth, even without the attentions of a homicidal, shape-shifting alien being. As such, it’s an expensive place to visit and your options are limited. Most tourists come on a cruise, and the majority of cruises embark from Ushuaia, Argentina.

Some tours do include visits to scientific research stations a bit similar to the US base in The Thing, where huskies mysteriously explode in the dead of night and severed heads sprout spidery legs and scuttle under chairs. But you’re unlikely to see anything like that: on the agenda instead are world-class wildlife watching, scenery that exists nowhere else, and expert insight into the importance and fragility of this fascinating polar region. So leave the flamethrower at home.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (iaato.org) is the authority on what to expect from a visit to the Great White Continent - and has no information at all about spaceships buried in the ice.