The Gothic Industrial
December 6, 2013 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend movies, books and video games that feature broken-down factories, derelict space-age laboratories, and modern ruins of all kinds as a primary setting. If there's something supernatural going on in there, so much the better. Examples within.

This question was equally inspired by the basement of Aperture Science as seen in Portal 2, and the wonderfully past its prime Venture compound from the Venture Bros. Other examples include the novel Roadside Picnic, which has spun-off into all kinds of media, and the Metro from the Metro series of video games. China Mieville's Bas-Lag novels also scratch this itch.

What I'm asking for is different than the grim, blown-out cities in apocalyptic fiction. I'm less interested in that. I know it's a narrow genre, but I want to read about (or watch, or play) something fantastic happening in abandoned boiler rooms, and things along those lines.
posted by Rinku to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
That would be the Half-Life series.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:08 PM on December 6, 2013


It's a take on gothic romance set in a post-industrial steeltown in 21st century PA. It's dark, moody, WEIRD, and has all kinds of smart genre references. Also, the Byronic hero is a brooding rape-y asshole instead of someone's true love, just like the Bronte sisters always suspected. There's a werewolf, an upir, and a (black, lesbian, science-loving) warrior of the church.

The book is weirdly detached in tone, but the webcomic and the Netflix show is awesome.

Here's the link to the webcomic:

The Bessemer converter in the old factory is a major plot element in the TV series.
posted by spunweb at 4:10 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Clive Barker's Cabal, maybe? (The movie Nightbreed was based on Cabal, but I remember the story having a much more vivid sense of place, an enormous cemetery in an abandoned Canadian mining town.)
posted by usonian at 4:11 PM on December 6, 2013

Are you thinking of the Urban Gothic genre?
posted by thomas j wise at 4:18 PM on December 6, 2013

You absolutely 100% want to watch the movie Session 9, set inside the old Danvers Insane asylum. If that works for you, you may also wish to try out the second season of American Horror Story.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:38 PM on December 6, 2013

Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are full of this (albeit with a tongue-in-cheek 1950s "Age of the Atom" vibe), and are great games to boot (especially the latter). There's nothing explicitly supernatural in either, although there are ghouls (technically, living human victims of radiation poisoning, but they're basically zombies).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:40 PM on December 6, 2013

Half-Life is the obvious answer when it comes to video games, but you might also enjoy the F.E.A.R. series, as well as a ton of locations in the Fallout franchise.

+1 for Session 9.
posted by jbickers at 4:40 PM on December 6, 2013

Response by poster: I've played through the Half-Life series more times than I can count; maybe I didn't think to include it in the question because it's what got me started in this weird micro-genre. Thanks for the answers so far.
posted by Rinku at 4:44 PM on December 6, 2013

This list (warning: TV Tropes) might be worth a look.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:46 PM on December 6, 2013

I've never played it, but S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is probably up your alley.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:53 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have only got time for a little bit of something try Salad Fingers. There are ten of them (from 2004 to present) and they get increasingly dark and surreal.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:14 PM on December 6, 2013

The Last of Us. The game offers an extended, gorgeously-rendered tour of the ruins of modern America. With fungus zombies. It will scare the pants right off you at the same time that it takes your heart and smashes it into tiny bits.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:06 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Very old, but I like LTC Rolt's Sleep No More, short ghost and horror stories based on long-obsolete industrial infrastructure of England (the Canal system, etc.). First published in 1948.

Another short story, Michael Chabon's "In the Black Mill" -- a Lovecraftian story set in a dying rust belt town, seems like it'd fit. It's available in his "Werewolves in Their Youth."

Quick edit: Also, might look at Fritz Leiber's "Smoke Ghost."
posted by LucretiusJones at 7:52 PM on December 6, 2013

12 Monkeys takes place in a bombed out post apocalypse that matches your definition.

Brazil, also by Gilliam, isn't a ruin per se, but does have a dilapidated urban feel to it.

If you wanted to go high-cheese, you could also check out The Postman and Waterworld.

Dishonored takes place in a vaguely turn of the century fantasy setting, but you're definitely in the ruins of a modernish civilization which is in the process of falling apart. Your quest takes you to places that have been abandoned (factories among them) or have been repurposed and militarized to fight against the plague. It's quite a beautiful game.

RAGE is another post-apoc game with some pretty good combat (although I got sick of it after a while) and very well rendered ruins of a futuristic civilization.

If you wanted to go 16 bit, both Crono Trigger and Final Fantasy III/VI have post apocalyptic worlds (Crono Trigger's is high futuristic and Final Fantasy's is Steam Punkish). Both feature only partially in the game, however.

I am Legend (both the film and the novel) take place in a ruined city.

The Gunslinger Series by King also takes place in a world that's been struck by a great catastrophe (partial spoiler: multiple worlds!) with varying levels of technology throughout, and in various settings. For that matter, The Stand is set amid a variety of abandoned modern settings.
posted by codacorolla at 8:59 PM on December 6, 2013

Oh yeah, Blood 1 (GOG has a version) featured a lot of turn of the century ruins. It's one of my favorite FPSes, largely because of the crumbling Gothic atmosphere. It's everything from occult temples, bombed out cities, abandoned factories, haunted steel mills... really an impressive accomplishment for a 2.5D engine.

Of course, there's Silent Hill, which I'd assume you know about, but crumbling modern ruin is pretty much its core aesthetic.

There's also a Russian game called Pathologic, which I've only ever watched playthroughs of, but it does this look excellently, despite apparently being a convoluted nightmare to play:
Gameplay video

Most immersive simulation games set in the modern day (both Deus Exes and Vampire the Masquerade) have urban decay, as well as straight up ruins. Vampire probably more-so, given the fact that it's what would probably be termed Urban Gothic.
posted by codacorolla at 9:16 PM on December 6, 2013

Also worth noting that the guy who did a lot of the design work for Half-Life (that would be Viktor Antonov) went to work on Dishonored afterwards, so even though it's the near past instead of the near future, there's a lot of commonality in the atmosphere and look.
posted by codacorolla at 9:18 PM on December 6, 2013

There are a large amount of ruins in Divergent by Veronica Roth (and sequels), though you don't get into why there are ruins until the later books. There will also be a movie next year, but as with most movies made from books, it's anyone's guess whether it'll be well done or not. (So far, it looks really pretty, and watching them on a derelict Ferris wheel is awesome; also a high point in the books.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:56 PM on December 6, 2013

Limbo. Utterly arresting art design. How do these screenshots strike your fancy?

EDIT: Inexpensive

FURTHER EDIT: In some of the scenes, your term "Gothic Industrial" is a perfect description.
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:37 PM on December 6, 2013

Daybreak 2250 AD by Andre Norton; Classic example of the genre, including one of my favourite scenes of exploring a ruined city.
posted by Canageek at 10:48 PM on December 6, 2013

Hmm, "broken-down factories, derelict space-age laboratories, and modern ruins of all kinds" but not "grim, blown-out cities in apocalyptic fiction". Seems like a pretty fine distinction there. Perhaps you could elaborate?

My suggestions are the movies Hardware and Six String Samurai, and the books of Paolo Bacigalupi, especially The Windup Girl and Ship Breaker. I'm sure I've read/watched/etc more of what you're looking for, but I don't remember titles too well.
posted by the big lizard at 12:33 AM on December 7, 2013

American Horror Story: Asylum
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 2:13 AM on December 7, 2013

This makes me think of the latter half of Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan. A team of people end up exploring a long-abandoned alien spaceship.
posted by neushoorn at 6:06 AM on December 7, 2013

I'm not sure if this would fit the bill, but it's close, and I loved the game, so here goes - Dead Space. The second one was fine, I haven't played the third, but the first one, which takes place entirely on a derelict (albeit recently derelict) mining vessel, knocked it out of the park in the eerie ambiance department. Sure there are lots of shrieking roaring horrid monsters, but the near-palpable menace from the dark/cold/hostile/industrial environment maintained an awesome sense of unease throughout.
posted by rhooke at 9:44 AM on December 7, 2013

The first three or four books in Steven King's Dark Tower series would fit the bill rather nicely.

Also, the British TV show Red Dwarf has some of this vibe, only in British comedy form.
posted by evil otto at 4:04 AM on December 8, 2013

These films are largely based in such environments. They might be kind of obvious but I didn't see mention of them anywhere:

city of lost children
super mario bros (full movie here)

To one degree or another, the Tim Burton Batman films as well as the more recent Chris Nolan Batman films.
posted by ofchambers at 4:03 PM on December 10, 2013

For that matter, the NES Batman games (despite not being very good) have a pretty cool lo-fi 8bit aesthetic with this feel to it:
here, here and here.

With a few examples from within those links, 1, 2, 3.
posted by codacorolla at 4:42 PM on December 10, 2013

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