- Boarding schools
- Circuses and carnivals
- Dude ranches
- Labor and logging camps
- Hospitals, medical and psychiatric
- Managed-care facilities and nursing homes
- Military and certain other government installations
- Monasteries and nunneries
- Museums and art galleries
- Prisons and reform schools
- Religious cult facilities
- Religious retreats
- Ships and submarines
- Spaceships or space stations
- Summer camps
These locations supply much of their own casts of characters. A boarding school will be populated by administrators, students, support staff, and teachers. They may be visited, occasionally, by parents. Dude ranches will feature administrators, guests, riding instructors, and support staff. Hotels will include managers, desk clerks, bellhops and other support staff, including cooks and bartenders, and, of course, guests. Managed-care facilities and nursing homes will be peopled with an activities director, nurses, orderlies, managers, and patients. Family members, doctors, and government officials may visit such facilities on occasion. Military installations will include officers and enlisted personnel and some civilian support staff and may be visited on occasion by other military and civilian personnel, such as government officials, media personnel, and scientists or other experts. Prisons include guards, prisoners, support staff (such as a doctor and nurses), and wardens. Resorts include many of the same personnel as are featured at such other total institutions as hotels and dude ranches. Summer camps feature administrators, camp counselors, support staff, and campers. Parents may visit the camps as well, usually at the beginning and the end of the season. Universities are populated by administrators, professors, students, and a variety of support personnel such as secretaries, cooks, custodians, maintenance personnel, landscapers, and security and police forces. Such personnel can become characters in a horror story that takes place in a total institution.
A total institution can be remote from the rest of civilization. Even those that are in or near cities are, by their very nature as total institutions, set off from the larger community. In most cases, their isolation cuts them--and their residents and workers--off from the organizations and systems of the larger world, such as large-scale medical support, firefighting capabilities, law enforcement and military forces, educational institutions, power companies, repair services, grocery stores, gasoline supplies, and so forth, making them, over time, vulnerable on many levels. These institutions also cut off their residents and workers from the cultural belief system that supports daily life. Over a long period of time, the people in such places could revert to a primitive state or set up a society of their own that is based on values and beliefs that are alien to those of the larger world. Such institutions can also lead to the brainwashing of their residents and workers, especially when their isolation cuts them off from other views and perspectives against which to measure the ideas and statements of the institution’s leaders, creating an “us against them” mentality. Isolated total institutions can be vulnerable from both within and without.
Finally, the use of a total institution as a setting makes escape difficult or impossible once the horrors begin and puts the courage and resources of the characters to the ultimate test, the penalty for the failing of which is death, and the reward for passing is survival.
A few of the many stories (novels and movies) in which the action takes place in a total institution are:
- Alien (movie, by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, et. al.): The crew of the spaceship Nostromo investigates a signal from the moon of a nearby planet. On the moon, they discover a ruined and abandoned spaceship populated with monstrous aliens, one of which implants a fetus inside a Nostromo crew member, which is born aboard the crew’s vessel, where it rapidly attains adulthood. Total institution = spaceships.
- The Butterfly Revolution (novel, by William Butler): Winston Weyn maintains a diary in which he recounts the experiences he has at High Pines, a summer camp. The boys rebel against the camp leader, Mr. Warren, when he insists that they undertake a butterfly hunt. Taking over, they then also take over Low Pines, the nearby girls’ summer camp. Totalitarianism, serious crimes, and brutality ensue. Total institution = tropical island
- The Green Mile (novel, by Stephen King): A healer is convicted of sexually assaulting and killing two young girls whom he’d tried to cure and is sentenced to death. In the prison, he is tormented by a sadistic guard who ensures that the healer experiences a hideous death in the electric chair. Total institution = prison (and, later, a nursing home).
- It, the Terror From Beyond Space (movie, by Jerome Bixby): In rescuing the sole survivor from an expedition to Mars, a ship picks up a stowaway--the monstrous alien that killed the explorers. Now, it attacks the rescuers, picking them off one by one. Total institution: spaceship.
- Jurassic Park (novel, by Michael Crichton): Scientists use DNA recovered from the blood inside a mosquito preserved in amber to create dinosaurs, which they install in an island resort, but things go hideously wrong. Total institution = island resort.
- The Lord of the Flies (novel, by William Golding): Boys being evacuated during a war are stranded on a tropical island after the airplane that is transporting them is shot down. In an effort to institute order, a conflict arises that causes death and destruction among the boys. Total institution: tropical island. (Note: Stephen King often speaks of how he admires this novel and wishes he had written it.)
- The Relic (Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child): A scientist undergoes a horrific transformation as a result of eating a strange jungle plant and terrorizes the employees and guests of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Total institution = museum.
- The Resort (Bentley Little): A haunted resort offers more fear and horror than fun in the sun for a vacationing family. Total institution = resort.
- The Shining (novel, by Stephen King) and 1048 (movie based on a short story by Stephen King): Hotels are the scenes for ghostly and demonic terror in this novel and this short story, respectively. Total institution = hotels.
- Something Wicked This Way Comes (novel, by Ray Bradbury): What’s coming is a carnival of horrible secrets and dark powers. Total institution = carnival
- Taps (movie, by Devery Freeman, Robert Mark Kamen, James Lineberger, and Darryl Ponicsan): Rather than allow their military school to be razed and replaced by condominiums, a team of cadets takes over the academy, fighting for their alma mater and its leader’s honor. Total institution = military boarding school.
- The Terror (novel, by Dan Simmons): A pair of ships become icebound in the Atlantic and are harassed by a strange creature that lives among the icebergs. Total institution: ships.
- University (novel, by Bentley Little): A Grecian god returns, wrecking havoc at an American university campus. Total institution = university.
- The Thing from Another World (movie, by Charles Lederer, based on a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr.): An alien shape shifter is discovered in a block of arctic ice; thawed out by scientists, it attacks and kills the staff of a remote research station. Total instution: arctic research station.