A great horror movie does more than just scare you. It gets under your skin, seeps into your psyche, and makes you think twice about shadows in the corner and bumps in the night.
Now, what qualifies as a great horror movie is in the eye of the beholder. Some of us love realistic gross-outs, monsters, or haunted houses. Others prefer a solid psychological thriller. But a truly memorable scary movie needs to have a more than a few thrills; it has to have an amazing story from beginning to end, too.
Unfortunately, some potentially great horror movies are completely undone by a less-than-stellar twist. If it’s too unbelievable, a late-stage change or reveal of crucial information makes us, the viewers, feel cheated. And it makes an otherwise interesting movie become one we’d prefer to forget we ever saw. Here are five of the worst twist endings in horror movie history.
1. The Boy
From Child’s Play to Annabelle, creepy dolls have proven to be some of the scariest villains in horror. So when The Boy hit theaters earlier this year, it seemed like another potentially awesome thriller. And there is definitely something unsettling in watching Greta (The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan) care for the porcelain likeness of Brahms, a young boy who’d perished in a house far some years back — especially when it starts to seem like maybe the doll is moving around on its own.
But The Boy falls apart in the movie’s final moments, thanks to a not entirely unexpected but still poorly conceived twist in the story. We learn that Brahms has been alive all this time, hiding in the walls and slowly driving his parents crazy. And instead of having to fight off a ghost or learning to make peace with a deranged doll, Greta has to fend off not only the abusive boyfriend that tracked her down, but another slimy, disheveled dude with a chip on his shoulder. It’s a disappointing turn of events for a movie that seemed rife with supernatural promise.
2. The Village
When The Sixth Sense hit theaters in 1999, it became a worldwide sensation faster than Haley Joel Osment could say, “I see dead people.” And director M. Night Shyamalan became known for being a master of twist endings. Unfortunately, much of his later work tried to capitalize on this tricky plot device with far less success.
One of his most frustrating efforts was The Village, a moody horror about a small group of people that are trying to keep murderous monsters out of their homes. With captivating performances from Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Pitt and Adrien Brody, the movie seemed like it was shaping up to be one of Shyamalan’s better efforts. That’s until the last act, when Howard’s character Ivy, a blind and adventurous teenager, travels beyond the village limits in search of help. And we, the audience, learn something she doesn’t — that she and the other villagers aren’t living in the 19th century, like we’d been led to believe, but rather in a modern day wildlife preserve. There’s some hastily created exposition about how her father created the community as a means to escape the trauma in his life, and that a few of the other elders are in on the ruse.
It’s a revelation that demolishes the carefully constructed tension and momentum that Shyamalan spent nearly two hours creating. And it serves less as a startling twist of events that gives the story more weight, and more as a “gotcha” moment that we didn’t want or need.
3. High Tension
When done well, horror movies can get a lot of mileage out of making the protagonist into the villain. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with High Tension, a French horror film that made waves both here and abroad. And so much of it is great — from the inventive use of gore to the way it builds and maintains suspense as the two main characters, Marie (Cecile de France) and Alex (Maiwenn), try to outrun the relentless serial killer that’s chasing them.
Then, we learn in High Tension‘s final moments that the burly, merciless man who’s been pursuing them is actually Marie. Or, rather, an alternate personality she’s invented as a means of coping with her homicidal tendencies. And somehow, it allows her to be in two places at once.
While this twist ending certainly serves the purpose of shocking viewers, the holes that it leaves in the plot are so mind-bending that it makes the entire movie feel like a gigantic waste of time.
4. Scream 2
Wes Craven‘s Scream was notable not only for its clever script and countless references to the horror genre, but for its thrilling and surprising ending — which revealed that Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) was behind the killing spree. To up the ante for the sequel, writer Kevin Williamson had to come up with yet another plausible but shocking villain. This time, though, he took it a bit too far.
Like in the first installment, Scream 2 has two killers — Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), an unstable horror movie buff, and his partner in crime, Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf), a highly competitive local news anchor. Except, she’s not really Debbie at all – she’s Billy’s mother!
Since Sidney barely knows either of the characters that have been pursuing her, it just doesn’t have the same emotional resonance Given the sheer number of intriguing characters introduced in Scream 2 — and those still left standing from the original — it’s a surprising but unsatisfying conclusion to the campus bloodbath.
Whether they’re being terrorized, or they’re the ones doing the terrorizing, kids always add some extra fear factor to horror movies. So the premise of Orphan was undoubtedly intriguing — Esther (Isabella Fuhrman), a Russian child, is taken in by foster parents and welcomed by her community, but turns out to have a seriously insidious side. As the story progresses, Esther’s new mother Kate (Vera Farmiga) starts to become suspicious of the child, and tries to uncover secrets about her past — and why bad things seem to happen whenever she’s around.
There is a reason, by the way. It’s just a completely ridiculous one — that Esther isn’t a child at all, but rather a murderous and incredibly short adult woman who’s spent most of her adult life posing as a child so she can be adopted. Also, she wants to sleep with Kate’s husband. While this surprising reveal definitely adds an ick factor to Orphan, it also makes the whole “creepy kid” premise feel like a lie — and raises some serious questions about each and every character’s ability to think critically or do a background check.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
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