Horror isn’t exactly known for being a genre full of sunshine and rainbows.
It can be depressing. Grimy. Morbid. And sure, a lot of horror films have (reasonably) happy endings. Our heroes may lose friends or loved ones, and even lose a limb or two themselves along the way, but in the end, they usually manage to beat whatever’s chasing them and live to see another sunrise.
Until they’re slaughtered in the opening minutes of the sequel, that is.
But some horror movies opt to take the low road to this approach, and torture their unlucky protagonists until the credits roll. There’s no ‘happily ever after’ for these characters, only misery and pain. These are the kinds of movies that leave you speechless, staring blankly at the screen in utter shock. The kind that makes you want to watch a Disney movie afterwards as a palate cleanser.
You know, real messed up stuff.
Let’s take a look at some of the most depressing, downer endings in horror.
Spoilers ahead. Obviously.
Based on the Stephen King short story of the same name, The Mist is the story of a strange fog that descends upon a small town, bringing with it a cavalcade of monsters and creepy-crawlies eager for a meal. Our main characters are Thomas Jane and his young son, who find themselves trapped in a grocery store as the mist blankets the world outside. The survive all kinds of peril in the store, including a mutiny led by a religious nutcase and a multitude of creature attacks, only to have their escape hindered by the seemingly unending wall of mist that extends for seemingly no end in sight. Hopeless and certain that a horrific death looms close, Jane’s character opts to put his sleeping son and their two traveling companions out of their misery, shooting them in the head. With no more rounds left for himself, he wails in grief as the military suddenly arrives to clear away the fog and defeat the hordes of extra-dimensional monsters that surround them. If he had just waited another minute, they would have all been saved. I saw this when it first came out, and at the time, it was the darkest thing I’d ever seen. It’s soul-crushing, and ballsy as hell. You know you did something twisted as a filmmaker when Kind himself says he prefers your ending, as was the case with The Mist.
A pastiche of clichés and tropes from all sorts of other, more successful films, The Lodge apes everything from The Shining to Hereditary in crafting a story centered on a group of children snowed inside with their soon-to-be stepmother. Their biological mother had recently committed suicide, and they blame their father’s new woman (a former cult member played by the terrifying Riley Keough) for her death. This tense, mostly successful thriller weaves an intricate narrative that has you questioning at every turn the sanity of each character. Are they dead? Is this limbo? Are they being haunted? Nope, none of the above. It turns out, the entire plot was just the kids playing a cruel prank on dad’s new girlfriend, making her spiral into a state of psychosis from which she never returns. After the reveal, you’ll think to yourself “Oh, yeah, those kids are definitely getting murdered.” And you’re absolutely right. Dead dad, dead kids, and the mother of all mental breakdowns from the Heaven’s Gate survivor. It’s a downer ending where, unfortunately, some of our victims absolutely deserve their fate.
I mentioned this film last year when discussing the most disturbing, hard-to-watch horror films ever, and it goes without saying that most of the movies on that list also qualify for this one as well. But Eden Lake holds a special place in cinema hell, simply by virtue of how unfair and unjust the ending is. A lovely vacationing couple run afoul of some local teenage vandals, who they ultimately engage in a one-sided war with. By the end of the film, the boyfriend has been tortured to death, and most of the teens have been killed in the resulting scuffles. Injured and barely able to stand, the surviving half of the couple finds herself in the home of some local strangers, who turn out to be the young hoodlums’ parents. The parents drag our screaming heroine into a room and shut the door, and one of the parents erases all evidence of the crimes committed by their children from their phone. No lesson is learned, and everything happens entirely in vain. This is a mean movie, one you’ll only watch once.
Funny Games, in both the American and German versions, is a disturbing experience. Two psychotic young men force their way into a family’s vacation home and hold them hostage. Over the course of the evening, the poor, unsuspecting family is subject to all kinds of cruel, sadistic psychological torture. They kill their dog, break the father’s leg, and sexually harass the wife, before ultimately shooting and killing their son with a shotgun. Eventually, the mother and father manage to turn the tables and kill one of the intruders. In their moment of triumph, however, the surviving man reveals that they seemingly have power over the fourth wall, and rewinds the film in order to prevent this turn of events from happening. They then kill the remaining members of the family before casually moving on to the next family, apparently ready to rinse and repeat the whole ordeal. It’s equal parts depressing and surreal, blurring the lines between entertainment and engagement that will leave you sick to your stomach and chilled to the bone.
Although this movie might not hold up as well as the rest on their list, it’s still a brutal reminder that sometimes, it doesn’t matter how hard you fight: When your time is up, your time is up. After a long, unforgiving night of terror and peril, our protagonist (played by Liv Tyler) doesn’t manage to escape from her mysterious, masked attackers. Instead, they tie her up and take turns violently stabbing her and her partner. We watched her fight for her life through the entire film’s run time, and it just wasn’t enough. Our villains are just too good. And the real kicker? When asked why they’re doing all this, they simply respond with one of the most bone-chilling one-liners in horror history: “Because you were home.” Too real, The Strangers. Too real.
Well, that was a mood-killer, huh? And that’s just a few examples. It’s horror: Throw a stone and you’ll hit ten others with equally morbid finales. It comes with the territory.
Let me know your favorite traumatizing horror endings in the comments!
And Happy Halloween!