Casinos and gambling have long existed, but their popularity remains at an all-time high. In 2021, casinos and mobile gambling apps raked in $53 million in revenue, and those numbers may continue to rise in the coming years. Considering the glitz and glam associated with them now, it may seem unlikely for horror to stem from something like a poker game.
However, the history of poker in the US begs to differ. Most accounts agree that poker made its way to America thanks to European immigrants, gaining mainstream popularity in the 19th century as the game made its way through small-town saloons and on Mississippi River boats. Poker and its players gained notoriety for cheating, where high-stakes games often lead to threats, violence, and even suicide attempts. Card game players often felt fear or dread, knowing what they put on the line — and makes for ripe source material in horror films. Listed here are a few horror flicks featuring poker and casinos:
Post-apocalyptic horror movies aren’t anything new, but this, in particular, is set in a casino in Reno. During an event meant to eliminate the entire world’s nuclear weapon supply, an accident causes a blast that turns most of the human population into zombies except for a few, including some casino employees. The survivors band together in search of an escape but are met with violence and tragedy along the way.
As the title suggests, the film revolves around a haunted casino located on the outskirts of Las Vegas. After Matthew Dragna inherits the property from his uncle, he and his friends decide to check it out one night. They soon discover that the casino is haunted by the ghosts of dead mobsters from the 1940s looking to settle scores with the descendants of former owners. The friends have to play for their lives, and to make it out alive, they need to win. This film features games like poker and slots, taking advantage of suspense to add to the horror factor. The film is also known as Dead Man’s Hand, which is poker slang for a bad hand. A dead man's hand consists of the black aces and the black eights, which were allegedly the cards Wild Bill Hicock had in his hand when he was murdered.
Leprechauns and their search for their gold have long been used as casino symbols and imagery, so setting the third movie of the Leprechaun franchise in one such casino is very fitting. This slasher film is set in the streets of Las Vegas, following a group of people who try to find the Leprechaun’s wish-granting gold coin with the hopes of making their dreams come true. However, these wishes for fame, riches, and beauty come with a hefty price: their lives.
In this British comedy-horror flick, protagonist Max Taylor wins an unusual prize in a poker game: Callum Chance’s ancestral home. Ignoring the warnings, Taylor and his family move in almost immediately. He spins a wheel in the house, which awakens a creature known as the Funny Man, who had been living in the soil of their new home. As the Funny Man directly addresses the audience, the family members are killed off in gruesome and imaginative ways. When a group of hitchhikers led by Max’s brother John finds their way into the mansion, the scenes only get more bizarre.
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