There are two fundamental ways in which the victims could develop the feeling of there being nowhere to hide from the villain: either they're trapped in a location with him, or they are free to roam from one location to another, but always being relentlessly stalked and pursued by him, so that he could strike at any time and place.
Different types of villain are best adapted to those two choices of setting. When the victims are free to move around various locations, they are like game animals that must be tracked by a hunter, and the villain is a hot-blooded type who is in his element being out and about, constantly on the move. When the victims are confined inside a single location, they are like trapped insects in a spider's web that can be played around with at the trapper's leisure, and the villain is more of a cold-blooded type who is a clinical control freak.
Still, that is not to say that the two types are equally frightening, only in their own distinct ways. It is more unsettling to be pursued like a game animal because there are no external constraints on our movement, eliminating one of our potential hopes -- maybe we'll just out-run it, or flee its domain, and be rid of it. As the victim tries out that option, and fails, we cannot hold out hope for anything other than confrontation, which we are hardly guaranteed to win.
If the victim is only trapped, we can never know for sure how well the "flight" option would work against the villain, if only they could break free from the constraints imposed by their location. Perhaps the villain isn't that powerful on his own -- maybe he has merely cheated and tipped the scales in his favor before the attacks even began. He's just shooting fish in a barrel. The victims, and the audience, do not fear the villain himself so much as the dungeon-like location that prevents them from simply fleeing, or from directly confronting a villain that may not be very dangerous in a mano-a-mano scenario.
This key distinction in location, and in the method the villain uses to attack his victims, helps to clarify types of horror fiction, such as the slasher movie. Early on, academics referred to this genre not as "slasher" but "stalker," which is more accurate. All sorts of villains may attack by slashing, even in serial fashion, but not necessarily by relentlessly tracking and pursuing their victims across a range of locations.
The heyday of the slasher movie was the first half of the 1980s, with Halloween from 1978 serving as a lone harbinger of a broad phenomenon soon to explode. Michael Myers, like the prototypical slasher, stalks his victims around multiple residences, inside and outside of the houses themselves, not to mention the local school, and other places around the neighborhood.
This rules out The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from being another early harbinger, since the villains abduct their victims and trap them inside a single isolated house that they themselves control, and their behavior is more like leisurely torture than determined hunting. They give off a playful sadism, because they know the victims cannot get away -- unlike the relatively more serious and determined persona of the slasher villain, who could very well lose track of his prey if he isn't focused on them.
That movie came out in 1974, too early to be seamlessly incorporated into a phenomenon that exploded during the first half of the '80s. Rather, its setting and villains place it more within the mainstream of other '70s horror films, where the single focal location is cursed, haunted, or controlled by psychos -- the dance academy of Suspiria, the suburban home of The Amityville Horror, the remote hideout of the rape gang in The Last House on the Left, the high school gym that Carrie seals off during her attack, and so on.
Likewise, Black Christmas is less a forerunner of the slasher / stalker genre, and more of a "haunted house" movie typical of the '70s, taking place entirely within a single sorority house, whose villain is more of a leisurely torturer than a focused hunter.
Finally, we can exclude 1960's Psycho from being an "early slasher" since the attacks take place entirely within the isolated Bates Motel, which is controlled by a torturer rather than a hunter.
Cycles in the stalker type
Other than the slasher phenomenon of the early '80s, when else have horror movies featured villains that stalked their victims, rather than a dangerous location? We're looking for trends or broad phenomena, not lone examples.
There was the slasher revival of the second half of the '90s -- Scream and Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, etc. This is the stand-out trend of its time. The Blair Witch Project also had a villain that stalked its targets across a variety of locations (around open wooded areas as well as inside houses).
During the first half of the 2010s, the dominant trend was the paranormal haunting -- Paranormal Activity (a forerunner from 2009, with the series continuing into the 2010s), Insidious, The Conjuring, and so on. In a unique spin on the haunted house formula, these three iconic movies emphasized that it was not the location itself that was dangerous. Rather, there was a demonic stalker that would follow the targets from one location to another once it had initially locked onto them, making flight a pointless option.
This fixes the basic weakness of the haunted house formula -- why don't they just fucking leave? "Because they've been trapped inside" reduces the action to the villain shooting fish in a barrel, and the tension reduces to the uncertainty over when -- not if -- the villain will kill off the next victim. And "they're too emotionally or financially invested in remaining in place" is unconvincing, when they're in imminent danger of brutal murder.
It Follows also featured a villain that relentlessly stalks its victims in serial fashion across a wide range of environments. The villains of Let Me In are hunters who track their prey all over the place. And in The Babadook, the demon that cannot be gotten rid of pursues its victim once they have read about it and become aware of its existence.
These periods of stalker villains -- the early '80s, late '90s, and early 2010s -- all lie within the manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. When people feel excited and invincible, they don't resonate with horror victims who are trapped inside a single location and get picked off with no real way to challenge the villain. They also don't want to see a villain who is cold and leisurely -- he too must be on the move, making the plot more action-packed.
With their higher free-floating level of arousal, audiences during this phase are more inclined toward harnessing their manic energy toward a confrontation with the villain, rather than withdrawing from direct conflict due to concerns of over-stimulation.
Cycles in the torturer type
During the proceeding vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle, after energy levels have peaked, they go into a refractory state where they want to avoid over-stimulation at all costs. In horror movies, this leads to agoraphobic characters who are not roaming all around while being stalked. Action taking place all over the place would be too much social stimulation for audiences in a refractory state, so the characters with whom the audiences are trying to empathize must be set in a single isolated location.
And because these audiences are in a vulnerable rather than invincible mood, the victims they're watching must also be more powerless than taking decisive action against the villain. Vulnerable people feel like they're being tortured by something with immensely greater powers, unlike the manic people who feel like they're only being outmatched in a contest against someone who they could conceivably defeat.
We've already covered this trend in movies of the '70s, the first half of which was a vulnerable phase, after the manic late '60s, and was more akin to torture porn than to the slasher genre.
After the manic early '80s, the trend of horror movies of the late '80s was no longer a stalking slasher but various evil forces confined to a single cursed location, such as Hellraiser, Pet Sematary, and House. There was also the evil toy trend, such as Dolls and Puppet Master, whose attackers haunt only one house, and behave more as sadistic torturers than hunters.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, from '87, is more of its own time than it is of the early '80s zeitgeist of the original, set entirely within a single mental asylum in which Freddy Krueger tortures the victims in highly elaborate ways, which pre-figures the elaborate traps of the Saw franchise during the next wave of torture porn.
The most prominent period of torture porn was the 2000s, kicking off in the first half's vulnerable phase with The Cell, Cabin Fever, House of 1000 Corpses, and Saw, as well as endless remakes of '70s torture porn like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When slasher movies were inevitably re-made, they were transformed into torture porn.
The early 2000s also saw a revival of atmospheric haunted house movies that were light on gore compared to torture porn, beginning with The Grudge.
One major exception was The Ring, whose villain relentlessly stalks its victims across multiple locations, not just within its own lair.
As the vulnerable phase has returned in the late 2010s, so too have the stalker-hunters been retired in favor of leisurely tormentors whose victims are confined within a single locked-down location.
The Saw franchise has been revived with Jigsaw, Don't Breathe is set in a home whose psycho owner operates a sex torture dungeon in the basement, Get Out also relies on a single household and its creepy domestic dungeon, Krampus features a demon that terrorizes the Christmas guests of a single family's home, The Belko Experiment is set in a sealed office building, the victims in The Witch are a single nuclear household tormented within their homestead, Hush is set entirely within one victim's home, the evil in Hereditary is localized within the protagonist's household, and although we never encounter an external villain in It Comes at Night, it is still set within one agoraphobic household being shared by two nuclear families, whose distrust tears them apart.
The Conjuring 2, unlike the original from the early 2010s, does not develop the theme of demons that can stalk their targets no matter where they move to. It's more of a standard haunted house movie, where they make no attempt to flee, and even worse, where they are not trapped in place by the evil force.
The major exception is A Quiet Place, where the victims are stalked by hunters across a variety of environments, and where the deaths are not elaborate gimmicks designed by a sadist as a leisure activity.
Cycles in the transitional stage
As the cycle shifts out of vulnerable and into the neutral baseline energy level of the warm-up phase, there's a mix of both types, with the torture type continuing on from the last phase, while a few experiment with the stalker type again, now that they are no longer avoiding stimulation at all costs.
The late '70s were mainly a continuation of the early '70s, as described earlier. But Halloween was a clear signal of a new stalker type of horror movie, and even Alien hinted at this. Although the movie is set within a single spaceship, the different areas look and feel so distinct that it feels more like a variety of locations. We would only feel like the spaceship were a single gestalt setting if the frame of reference were the rest of space, other planets, other ships, and so on. But it feels like a self-contained community with a diverse mix of discrete locations.
The early '90s mostly continued the trends of the late '80s. Demonic Toys joined the torture toys trend, and Bram Stoker's Dracula continued the haunted house trend set by Hellraiser and others. Gremlins 2 is also set entirely within a single haunted location, in which the villains deploy an array of specific attacks akin to the gimmicky traps of torture porn. The original movie from the manic phase had the villains terrorizing people all around the town, and with less specific and less elaborate attacks -- reflecting their greater sense of urgency, since they might lose track of their prey.
More naturalistic movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Misery still featured psychos who did all their torture within their home lair, even if they ventured out to lure in unsuspecting victims.
The two harbingers of the late '90s slasher revival were Candyman and Wes Craven's New Nightmare, both of which also set the template for drawing explicit comparisons between slasher movies and urban legends.
The late 2000s generally continued the torture porn trends of the early 2000s, whether sequels to Saw and Hostel, further re-makes of '70s torture porn, or new entries like The Human Centipede. (Cabin in the Woods was made in this period, although shelved for release until 2012.) Building on The Grudge, the atmospheric haunted house trend caught on with The Grudge 2, An American Haunting, The Haunting in Connecticut, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The Descent moved the cursed single location from a house to a cave into which the victims have fallen.
As mentioned earlier, Paranormal Activity was more of a harbinger of the early 2010s, since the threat was not from a house or other single location, but from a demon that had been following its victim for most of her life, across multiple changes of residence. This novel variation on the haunted house theme is not elaborated on much in this first barebones example, which would have to wait until Insidious, where the family does move out of the haunted house, and the demons follow their victims to their new home anyway.
In Paranormal Activity, the concept of stalker demons is only there to tell the audience why they're not taking the obvious decision to simply move out of a haunted house. The tone is naturalistic and documentarian, so they could not have the characters stupidly and suicidally staying in a haunted house. And since they're aiming to create a sense of fear in our everyday settings, the characters cannot be trapped in the house by a malevolent superior being -- they have to be going about their quotidian routine, able to leave if they felt like it.