Northern California is a filmmaker’s dream. With beautiful landscapes, unique locations, and a close proximity to Hollywood, it’s hard to say no to a NorCal movie shoot. Over the course of Hollywood filmmaking, different NorCal locations have been used in every way possible.
The region is also popular for movie plots, with the cityscape of San Francisco and the surrounding wilderness especially primed for horror flicks. From your typical slasher film to paranormal fright nights, every type of horror movie has been set in NorCal.
Here are 20 horror movies for you to watch that take place in Northern California:
In this Alfred Hitchcock classic, a former San Francisco police detective juggles wrestling with his personal demons and becoming obsessed with the hauntingly beautiful woman he has been hired to trail, who may be deeply disturbed. This film is a San Francisco classic, with the rolling hills of the city being used to invoke the dizziness implied in the title.
The Birds (1963)
Another San Francisco classic and Alfred Hitchcock gem, The Birds features a wealthy San Francisco socialite who pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people. The film was set throughout the Bay Area and was filmed almost entirely in Bodega Bay. It was also inspired by a true story of birds in Capitola who ate toxic algae and began ramming into buildings in an apparent act of rage.
The Fog (1980)
Starring horror film juggernaut Jamie Lee-Curtis (who will make another appearance later on this list), this film features an unearthly fog that rolls into a coastal Northern California town exactly 100 years after a ship mysteriously sank in its waters. The fictional town, called Antonio Bay, was depicted by filming most of the scenes around the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Night of the Demon (1983)
The legend of Bigfoot sits at the center of this film, where a woman who suspects her father was killed by the beast enlists the help of a professor to find it in Northern California. They end up disturbing a Black Magic ritual and eventually uncover the truth about Bigfoot, and his offspring. As with most Bigfoot movies, this film follows the group through the wilderness of NorCal and Southern Oregon.
The Forest (1982)
Another film showing the lush wilderness of Northern California, The Forest features two campers who are terrorized in the deep dark woods by a cannibalistic knife-wielding madman and child ghosts. Filmed almost entirely in Sequoia National Park, the massive trees serve as a sinister character in the movie, giving any outdoor adventurers something else to think about in the wilderness.
The Lost Boys (1987)
After moving to a small, coastal Northern California town, two brothers find out that the area is a haven for vampires. The fictional town of San Carla was brought to life by filming in Santa Cruz, with much of the boardwalk heavily featured in the movie. The Joel Schumacher classic led the way for teen horror classics that became so popular in the 1990’s and 2000’s.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
When a small Northern California town is invaded by aliens from outer space who are capturing and killing the townspeople, no one takes them seriously. Why? The aliens all look like circus clowns, use weapons that look clown like, and all have painted on smiles. That’s the weird plot for this film set in a fictional NorCal town and filmed around Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Watsonville.
In 1995, Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman race to a small Northern California town to stop a deadly virus from infecting the entire planet. While Outbreak isn’t remembered as one of the great movies of the 90’s, its popularity carried significance during a time when people were insanely fearful of quick-moving viruses (sound familiar?). The film was shot mostly in Humboldt County, specifically Arcata, Eureka and Ferndale. You can see the giant Redwoods during scenes of the movie but they are certainly outshined by a riveting performance by Hoffman.
Scream 1-4 (1996-2011)
Four horror movies for the price of one! The Scream franchise might be the most successful to feature Northern California, with the plot taking place in the fictional town of Woodsboro and filmed all around the Santa Rosa and Napa areas. In fact, the school featured in the film is actually Santa Rosa High School. The first four Scream films have grossed over $600 million worldwide, with Scream 5 recently released in 2022, also set in Woodsboro, California.
Laurie Strode and her psychopathic brother Michael Myers have a less-than-heartwarming family reunion in Northern California, where Myers tracks down his sister to finally finish what he started 20 years earlier. Looking to hide from her past, Strode (played by Jamie Lee-Curtis) becomes the dean of a private school in NorCal, which Myers terrorizes for one Halloween night. This is one of the decent sequels to John Carpenter’s original Halloween, which is largely considered the greatest horror film ever.
In the fifth installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise, a new family moves into a Santa Rosa home to find a mysterious video camera that can see spirits in the house. You can imagine what transpires in this wildly profitable horror film series. The Ghost Dimension was not received well by the public or critics, but continued to stack money for the studio.
This award-winning film from David Fincher follows the true story of the Zodiac killer, who murdered at least five victims between 1968 and 1983 in Northern California in what is considered the most famous unsolved murder case in American history. This film follows the investigators and reporters as they search for the murderer, becoming obsessed with the case. The plot takes place mostly in San Francisco and around the Bay Area, being filmed in the locations where the real-life crime case took place 25 years prior.
Babysitter Wanted (2008)
A teenager moves to a small Northern California college town near the Oregon border to study Art History when she encounters a mysterious evil entity that torments her through the night. That’s the plot of this low-budget horror flick which was shot all around Siskiyou County, including Lake Shastina, Montague, Yreka, and Weed.
Willow Creek (2013)
Here’s another horror movie with Bigfoot at the centerpiece as aÂ man and his girlfriend camp in the Northern California woods to capture firsthand evidence of Bigfoot. The movie, set and filmed in Willow Creek (location of the famed Patterson-Gimlin film), is shot in a self-documentary style like the famed Blair Witch Project. It starts out as a harmless search for Sasquatch but turns into a serious investigation after a woman goes missing.
The Love Witch (2016)
A beautiful witch distraught over her dead husband moves to Arcata, California for a fresh start. She begins to terrorize the Humboldt County town when she uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, before killing them. The movie is filmed throughout Arcata and Eureka, playing on the area’s mystical feel and appearance.
Bird Box (2018)
Netflix’s smash hit took film lovers by surprise in 2018, depicting a woman and her two children searching for refuge from an invisible evil entity in the wilderness of Northern California. The movie was filmed throughout California, with the crucial river scenes set and filmed on the Smith River, deep in the Klamath Mountains. If you’re one of the 45 million people that watched it on Netflix, you probably got excited to see some NorCal references.
You’ve likely heard of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, a weird home built in 1886 and under construction for nearly 40 years with many architectural curiosities. This film follows the life of firearm heiress Sarah Winchester, whose belief that she was haunted by the souls of people killed by the Winchester repeating rifle inspired her to build the architectural mystery. The movie was filmed at the famed house in San Jose, which has become a popular tourist destination for Bay Area visitors.