During a scrolling session not long ago, I stumbled onto Vivarium on Prime. What unfolded was ninety seven minutes of tense emotional discomfort. And an unsettled feeling that remained. Long after I’d finished watching. Also reminding me of other horror movies with unhappy endings. And how they left us feeling awkward or disturbed.
It’s natural to want things tidied up at the end of a story. As humans, we love a happy or hopeful ending. It’s uncertainty that’s so scary. The below movies took that from us. Whether it’s letting the antagonist win in the end. Or killing the lead star. Instead they opt for more unconventional, darker finales.
Hollywood endings, and their moodier alternates have always been a thing. In 1941 audiences responded poorly to Cary Grant being a killer in Hitchcock’s Suspicion. So the idea was scrapped for a much happier ending.
Because when a film ends with unrest, it can be difficult to digest.
Sally jumping in the truck in the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or Jack Torrance and Annie Wilkes seeing their karma. Payoffs like these are usually par for the course. And also expected.
But these movies dared to defy convention. They skip happy endings for a more complicated conclusion.
9 horror movies with unhappy endings that are truly upsetting
(This article contains some movie spoilers)
1. The Mist. Thinking of horror movies with unhappy endings, it’s the first that comes to mind. Thomas Jane’s character does the unthinkable in its final moments. And seconds later, we learn the truth.
The Mist is a lot of things. It’s a monster movie. A depiction of fear and the way it divides us. And It’s also a character study in how we face a crisis. The 2007 horror movie, adapted from a Stephen King novel has a heart wrenching final scene. And It’s hard to endure. Even when you know it’s coming.
2. Arlington Road. Twenty years later and I’m still thinking about Arlington Road’s messed up ending. The 1999 action thriller is sharp, and well acted. Yet, it seems to have disappeared into the vast film universe. And never seen or spoken of again. Although that may be changing now, with news of a spinoff TV series in early stages.
Jeff Bridges is Professor Michael Faraday. Neighbor and also would be hero to Oliver Lang, our maybe evil antagonist. Faraday’s convinced that Lang is a dangerous terrorist. But whether its true, or just Michael’s paranoia is questioned throughout.
Other films famously changed their endings to make them more audience friendly. But Director Mark Pellington didn’t go this route. In fact, few finales are as uncomfortable as Arlington Road. And It remains underrated. Despite it’s brutal ending.
Also worth nothing is apparently an alternate ending on the DVD. A satisfying version where Michael is implied to be redeemed by his son.
3. Blow Out. Even horror and thrillers give us some kind of hero redemption. So when sound man Jack Terri (John Travolta) tells of a sting operation gone wrong, we assume he’ll get a chance to make it right. But this Brian de Palma thriller doesn’t play by the rules.
Jack accidentally records a car crash one night, and winds up rescuing a woman inside. After saving Sally (Nancy Allen) he gets embroiled in a political cover up and murder. Desperate to protect her, and uncover the truth, Jack tries to solve the case. But there will be no tidy endings here.
In the end, Jack ironically gets the screams he needs to finish work on his slasher movie. But only with the pain of knowing he has it due to his inability to save the victim. AGAIN.
Though finally achieving personal success, he can’t redeem himself. Sally’s survival is something we’d assume. Blow Out challenges that by ending on a shocking note. And denying Jack the hero ending he rightly deserves. It’s tragic, but oh so powerful.
The classic 1981 sexy thriller turns 40 in July and its indelible mark on the thriller genre remains. It’s still one of De Palma’s best films. Also some of Travolta’s best work. So watch it for free now on Tubi or Pluto TV.
4. Vivarium. Couple Tom and Gemma go to see a new home in the community of Yonder. They quickly find themselves trapped in a skewed suburban nightmare. Palm Springs showed the lighter side of spending a lifetime with someone. Vivarium shows how dark it can get. We spend the entire movie hoping that our protagonists will find their way out. But their fate is far worse than we imagined.
Vivarium is a parable on the suburban dream and how it’s really a nightmare on the inside. It has some interesting ideas and imagery. But it also ended on such a depressing note it was hard to recover.
5. Piranha (78). Most aquatic horrors have happy endings. Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, The Shallows, and the list goes on. But not Joe Dante’s Piranha. Because it ends gruesomely with dozens of lifeless victims bloody on the beach. And a far cry from the happier, heroic Jaws. Piranha doesn’t compare to that classic. But the harsh ending also has unforgettable bite. Currently streaming on Prime Video.
6. Drag Me to Hell. Of all the facial expressions to end a movie, Justin Long’s at the end of Drag Me to Hell is the best. Sam Raimi’s 2009 horror is unconventional in so many ways. But the biggest one is how he chooses to conclude the story of protagonist Christine Brown.
And though Christine’s fate is undeserved, it’s also worth discussing. Drag Me to Hell is streaming now on Peacock. Watch it for free with a seven day trial.
(The below scene is the ending of Drag Me to Hell)
7. American Psycho. Was Patrick Bateman hallucinating at the end of American Psycho? Did the yuppie killer finally get caught or was he just paranoid and delusional?
These are all questions that viewers have had after watching Mary Haron’s 2000 film. And it’s still hard to know what’s real at the end. Because the finale leaves that unanswered. So when the screen goes black, we’re still left to wonder. But the idea that the psychopath keeps living the high life around 80’s Manhattan is hard to bare.
Also streaming for free on Pluto TV.
8. Black Christmas. Red herrings are often used in horrors and thrillers. But it usually ends with the real killer being exposed. Or killed in some kick ass manner.
Classic horror Black Christmas leaves it purposely ambiguous. And in the end, things seem resolved but they’re not. The true villain evades capture, and is also still in the house with the sleeping victim. It has a seemingly gratifying ending. Yet, there’s still so much left unanswered when the credits roll.
Watch it for free on Tubi, Vudu and multiple other places.
9. The Box. There are no happy endings for anyone in the 2009 Richard Kelly downer. The Pandora’s Box style horror fantasy. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play Norma and Arthur. A suburban couple willing to do anything to help their sick son. So when they receive a magical box, that tells them they’ll get one million dollars, in exchange for a strangers death, they’re faced with a big dilemma of what to do.
The film explores greed, grief, and marriage. But in the end, the tempted are punished and there are no victors.Views – 1913