7 scariest amusement parks in horror

Amusement parks are built to get visitors' hearts pumping, and horror movies have drawn on that setting for exciting set pieces and terrifying breakdowns between fiction and reality.
Eid al-Adha in Iraqi capital
Eid al-Adha in Iraqi capital / Anadolu/GettyImages

Summer is often considered a nostalgic season, thanks to time off from school and trips to the swimming pool, though it has become less exciting for most people as they enter adulthood because there is no summer break in the "real world." But horror fans know that summertime can be just as terrifying as All Hallows Eve.

One of the more exciting summer activities is going to amusement parks. Whether you enjoy the thrill of the rollercoasters or the variety of fried foods, there's something for everyone. But the horror genre has shown that it can also be a place where terrible accidents happen and deranged killers hunt their victims.

Final Destination 3 (2006)

These kinds of movies are great to watch during the summer, because we can see ourselves there. Will the rides turn against us? Will there be monsters among the crowds of strangers? Here are seven of the scariest amusement parks and attractions in horror, featuring hauntings, evil carnival workers, and more.

The Park (2003)

The Park is a Hong Kong horror film by director Andrew Lau. It follows a young woman named Yen who visits an abandoned amusement park searching for her missing brother. The park had been shut down after a child died there, and the owner hanged himself out of guilt. However, Yen and her friends soon learn that the dead are rarely truly gone.

The Park is terrifying on multiple levels. First, there is the mundane horror of a girl dying while the park was operating normally. This tugs on the very real fear that something will go wrong when we enter a space full of gravity-defying machines. What goes up must come down… and not always the way we’d hope.

However, the park is much more frightening after it was shut down. It fits all the standard tropes of a haunting, including the haunted location being built atop a former cemetery, but the use of the location amplifies that. The spirits use the park to dispatch the trespassers, which will make viewers wary of carousels and wax figures in their own lives.

While reviewers largely argue that The Park failed to live up to its potential, the concept is genuinely terrifying, and the movie can be a lot of fun if you take it for what it is: a cheesy, supernatural slasher.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Believe it or not, the next park on this list was brought to life by Disney in 1983. Something Wicked This Way Comes is adapted from the book by Ray Bradbury, and while it’s technically a dark fantasy, there’s definitely some horror to reckon with here.

The movie stars two boys who attend a traveling carnival that includes attractions that can theoretically restore youth and health to those who engage with it. However, that youth comes at a terrible cost, and those who desire it can’t see the dangers it brings. The boys end up targeted by the carnival’s leader, Mr. Dark, who turns the entire town against them.

While it may not be the most overtly terrifying amusement park on this list, it plays into the fear that everyone you love could betray you without explanation. This fear is woven well into the sinister park, as the adolescent heroes try to maintain their relationships with one another.

Roger Ebert captured the soul of the movie best when he said, “In its descriptions of autumn days, in its heartfelt conversations between a father and a son, in the unabashed romanticism of its evil carnival and even in the perfect rhythm of its title, this is a horror movie with elegance.”

Dark Ride (2006)

Dark Ride is a pretty classic slasher, with all the tropes and unlikable characters that that subgenre often includes. However, it did a great job with building on the setting, which is huge when looking at amusement park horror.

The movie focuses on a dark ride in Asbury Park, where twin girls were murdered. Ten years later, a group of young adults decides to spend the night at the attraction, only to come face to face with the original killer. They engage in the usual sex and drugs of the slasher genre and are punished with gruesome deaths.

Dark rides are classic parts of theme parks, allowing the ride engineers to completely control the environment without having to worry about weather, visitors, or excessive upkeep. The problem with that is that, once the riders go in, nobody can see what they encounter until they come back out. This provides the perfect setting for mundane and deadly thrills alike.

While the story only focuses on one attraction, limiting the effect of the carnival/amusement park setting, there are still plenty of eerie setpieces to enjoy. It might not go into much nuance, but it’s a fun ride for those who love 80s slashers and 2000s gore.

The Funhouse Massacre (2015)

Just because a movie is cheesy doesn’t mean it can’t have a scary concept, and that’s a pretty important idea when it comes to The Funhouse Massacre. This movie plays heavily into the question of what is and isn’t real at theme parks, but with plenty of deviations.

The concept is relatively simple. A woman (who is a pretty obvious Harley Quinn knock-off) convinces a theme park owner to design the Land of Illusions Haunted Scream Park around a group of themed serial killers. This goes terribly wrong when said serial killers break out of their asylum and use the park as their playground.

While the standard cast of slasher victims shows up at the park, it breaks from the standard formula by introducing the police as more than bumbling fools. This provides the opportunity to see more than one killer versus one young woman, as it turns into large group face-offs. The killers are quite good at what they do, unlike some horror villains, and that makes it much more terrifying to imagine that crowds of people think they’re putting on a show.

The horror here is pretty straightforward, but the movie does a good job playing up the setting and style. When the victims are eager fans of serial killer urban legends, they end up getting attacked by a world of their own imagination. The idea that people pulled strings to build that world adds a layer of conspiracy that only amplifies the threat.

Hell Fest (2018)

The movie Hell Fest focuses on a horror-themed amusement park, which creates plenty of opportunities to play with reality. When someone sees a corpse, are they props for the guests’ amusement or the reckless litter of a serial killer?

When the main characters arrive at the park on Halloween night, they witness a murder right in front of them, but think it’s all part of the festivities. At another point, however, they discover that employees are dressed in the killer’s outfit, making it impossible to know when a threat is real and when it isn’t.

This isn’t exactly a summer movie, but it still plays into many of the common tropes of amusement park horror. There are unique set pieces for the characters to run around, a sense of paranoia built in the characters and audience, and an uncanny sense that people can get away with literal murder in a place so displaced from real life.

Audiences are split on whether the narrative is effective or not, but it’s hard to deny the production value, which has even prompted hard-core fans to suggest a similar park be made in real life.

The Devil's Carnival (2012)

The horror genre has a lot of different twists, but this one has to be one of the most interesting, as it’s actually a musical. From the creators of Repo! The Genetic Opera comes The Devil’s Carnival, an exploration of Hell as an amusement park for the Devil [and his demons].

The story follows three people who have been sent to Hell after their deaths. They are invited to come to the carnival, where they are expected to follow the 666 rules. Breaking the rules comes with “consequences, bloody consequences.” Each character is led into traps guided by Aesop’s fables, where their own weaknesses and insecurities are twisted against them to send them to their doom.

The carnival setting makes this especially intriguing, because it questions who is actually getting the benefit of the carnival. Is it the visitors or the carnies, who get to torture them when they misstep? Or is it actually Heaven, who condemned them to this fate to begin with?

There's no question that it's an unusual film, but the horrors of this version of Hell are easy to see and hard to shake off. Rather than settling for jump scares and typical amusement horror, The Devil's Carnival creates a deep sense of dread, even in its comedic moments, which can make audiences question their own world as much as the movie's.

Houses October Built (2014)

Admittedly, this is more of a haunted house movie than an amusement park one, but the existence of attractions and the question of what is and isn’t real means it fits the sub-genre pretty well. Houses October Built is a found footage horror movie about a group of friends visiting Halloween attractions around America.

Houses October Built begins by showcasing realistic horrifying aspects of these houses, including reckless casting practices and inherently dangerous set-ups that might get people hurt, not scared. This works with some of the same ideas as documentaries about extreme haunts, like Haunters: The Art of the Scare and Monster Inside: America's Most Extreme Haunted House.

But things get more sinister when the group starts to be followed and harassed. They are hoping to get invited to the ultimate rave haunt, Blue Skeleton, but they are being tested and tormented before they can get there. Ultimately, they don’t know whether they are being hunted or recruited, and that dread builds throughout.

What is the ultimate horror-themed amusement park? Is it the slasher horrors in some of the other movies? Is it monsters and jump scares? Or is it what normal humans will do to each other, and what people will ask to be done to them? This is one of the scariest attractions in horror because it is so possible. With no ghosts and zombies to remind us that this world is fictional, it feels like the footage may actually be for a documentary instead of a movie.

dark. Next. 6 folk horror movies that will put you in the summer mood. 6 folk horror movies that will put you in the summer mood