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Thursday, November 19, 2020

The 10 Most Depressing Endings in Horror Movie History

Horror movies put their characters through the wringer. Protagonists face their greatest fears and tend to come out alive but profoundly transformed by the trauma they endured. That’s not always the case, though. If there’s any genre that serves as a stark reminder of life’s fragility, it’s horror. The good guys don’t always win, let alone survive.

Sure, the genre aims to scare, shock, and repulse you, but it also often leaves you utterly devastated. These ten movies present horror’s bleakest and most depressing endings.

Burnt Offerings

Beware bargain-priced housing or vacation rentals; there’s often a grim string attached. For the Rolf family, they’re afforded a rare opportunity to spend their summer in a mansion thanks to its obscenely low rental fee. The only catch is that they’ll have to provide the owner’s mother, an attic recluse, meals during their stay. It’s an easy trade-off, or so the Rolf’s assume. The longer they stay, the more tragedy befalls them. More bizarrely, the mansion seems to repair and refresh itself. When young Davey Rolf (Lee H. Montgomery) nearly drowns, parents Marion (Karen Black) and Ben (Oliver Reed) agree it’s finally time to bid their summer home goodbye. Only it’s far too late. Marion is transformed into the attic woman while her husband and son meet grisly ends- the house rejuvenates to its former glory after claiming its latest victims. There’s no fleeing this haunted house, even though the Rolf family was so close.

Race with the Devil

Two couples embark on a road trip from Texas to Colorado in their RV. They don’t get very far when the men unwittingly stumble upon a Satanic sacrifice in the woods late one night. The Satanists are determined to cover their tracks, and Race with the Devil becomes an intense chase thriller with the couples desperate to escape the enclosing cultists. With Peter Fonda and Warren Oates as the lead protagonists, playing the heroes with a take-charge attitude, you’d expect them to best the Satanists. Especially when the couples seek aid from the authorities, and a harrowing encounter results in the heroes victorious over a Satanic attack. Their victory celebration turns into a gut-punch loss when they hear Satanic chanting outside their RV. The cult members, including their ally the Sheriff, found them and closed in. It ends the film with a grim realization that this foursome is destined for sacrifice after all.

Night of the Living Dead

George A. Romero set the blueprint for the modern zombie film. That includes the inescapable dread of death’s inevitability. For the eclectic bunch that found themselves fighting for their lives in a nearby farmhouse against the undead, none seem more suited for survival than Ben (Duane Jones). His leadership amidst the chaos instilled confidence that those with level-heads could prevail. That proved true for a period until infighting and panic caused the living to perish one by one until only Ben remained. Like the resourceful guy that he was, Ben hid in the basement, only roused from safety by the welcome sounds of sirens. Elation evaporated with a single gunshot; Ben’s potential rescuers mistake him for the undead and shoot him. Cue the depression.

Witchfinder General

Vincent Price plays his most ruthless villain of all as the witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins. While the English Civil War rages on, Hopkins takes advantage of the war-torn country. He travels village to village, inflicting brutal torture upon villagers to obtain confessions of witchcraft. The witchfinder general revels in his abuse of power, leaving shocking devastation in his wake. When Hopkins targets the fiancée of a young soldier, it sparks a vicious quest for revenge. Revenge, as horror teaches, comes with an extensive toll on the soul. While the soldier does eventually achieve his vengeance, it completely breaks him. Hopkins’s reign of terror comes to a close by the film’s end, but there’s no happy ending for the young lovers that began the movie full of hope for their future. It’s their mental break and anguished cries that cue the end credits, with the soldier’s court-martial and subsequent death sentence a foregone conclusion.

Wolf Creek

Greg McLean’s feature debut is a sobering one. Set in 1999, backpackers Liz Hunter (Cassandra Macgrath), Kristy Earl (Kestie Morassi), and Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips) travel together in Western Australia. McLean bides his time, letting viewers get deeply acquainted with the trio as they bond, flirt, and possibly fall in love. Then he has them cross paths with Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), a helpful local that promises to help with their car troubles. Except Mick doesn’t. He drugs them, separates them, then begins sadistic torture with the intent to murder. Liz and Kristy manage to break free, only to meet grisly ends at Mick’s hands. Ben, left to die slowly in a mine shaft, escapes to a nearby road, where a kind soul takes him to the hospital. Still, it’s a melancholy finale as Ben’s lady love and travel companions are never found, and it takes months for the authorities to clear him of suspicion. Meanwhile, Mick Taylor remains undetected.

I Saw the Devil

If Witchfinder General taught us that revenge might not be worth the emotional price to pay, I Saw the Devil smashes you over the head with it in the best possible way. National Intelligence Officer Kim Soo-hyun embarks on a quest for vengeance when serial rapist and murderer Jang Kyung-chul kills his pregnant fiancée. Soo-hyun wants to stretch out his revenge, ensuring he can inflict as much pain and suffering as possible. So he catches the serial killer, tortures him, then releases to repeat the process all over again. With every visceral encounter, more of Soo-hyun’s humanity slips away until the line between good and evil no longer exists. The emotional, harrowing journey concludes when Kyung-chul finally meets a deserving end, and Soo-hyun breaks down in the middle of the street. It’s soul-crushing.

The Fly

David Cronenberg’s operatic masterpiece follows the romantic journey between quirky scientist and tough reporter from its meet-cute until its gruesome, bitter end. Boy, is it a doozy. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) meets Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis) at a press event, where Brundle lures the curious reporter back to his loft to show off the teleportation device he’s been inventing. They quickly fall in love, but the honeymoon phase gets cut short when Brundle’s DNA splices with a housefly’s, kickstarting a long, tortuous transformation into an inhuman fly creature. Ronnie is forced to watch scared and helpless as the man she fell for slowly loses himself, like a slow decay from a grotesque disease. Cronenberg ends their tragic tale on the most somber note, with Ronnie left sobbing over the unrecognizable corpse of Seth, having just put him out of his misery.

Lake Mungo

This documentary-style horror film follows a family still in the throes of grief, looking for answers in the drowning of sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer. Her teen brother sets up cameras around the house, convinced Alice is haunting them. His eerie findings lead them to enlist the aid of a psychic. Their search for answers leads to multiple painful discoveries, both of Alice’s secret past and her brother’s faked camera footage. The Palmers eventually find closure over Alice’s death and decide to move away to start anew. It’s the film’s final shot and the subsequent photos over the end credits that deliver the emotional damage. Alice was indeed haunting the home, lurking nearby in hopes her family would see her. The realization that her family, unaware, left her behind to haunt their former home forever alone is a gut punch.

The Mist

Frank Darabont rewrote the ending of Stephen King’s novella to deliver a far bleaker conclusion that leaves your jaw and your heart on the floor. For David Drayton (Thomas Jane), nothing means more to him than his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble). They’re trapped in a grocery store, thanks to a mysterious mist harboring no shortage of Lovecraftian beasts; David’s sole purpose is to keep Billy safe. Between the creatures and the growing evils of man within the store, that’s no small feat. He finally mounts an escape, along with a handful of allies, and eventually drives away from the damned place in search of safety. All hope diminishes when the car runs out of gas, leaving the protagonists stranded with no way out. All resigned to their fate, David uses the remaining bullets to shoot the survivors, his precious son included, before exiting the car to let the creatures take him. That’s precisely when the mist dissipates, and the Army arrives with a rescue caravan. Nothing hits as hard as David’s realization that he killed his son for nothing.

Eden Lake

Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) plan a romantic camping trip away in the countryside. Relaxation and passion quickly give way to violence instead, when a group of vicious teens encroaches. Mean spirited pranks escalate, spurning a deadly game in which Jenny and Steve must fight for their lives. It’s a non-stop barrage of stomach-churning dread and tension. After multiple rounds with the teens that result in mortal injuries for Steve, Jenny discovers an engagement ring, prompting Steve to propose while dying. That alone would earn Eden Lake a spot on this list, but writer/director James Watkins is far from done creating wrath-inducing trauma for Jenny. She finally escapes and finds a backyard party where she seeks aid. The group comforts her until one of the teens comes home and convinces them she’s responsible for one of their children’s deaths. Men drag her into a bathroom, where her screams are heard while the teen deletes video evidence of his wrongdoings. No other ending in horror draws as much ire or desolation as this one.


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