“Happily ever after” isn’t a mechanism in which the horror genre is obligated to abide by. While many films see our protagonists successfully surviving their time spent with a killer, monster or spooky spirit, they don’t all turn out so well. These bleak horror endings are often more memorable than relieving finales, as the lack of an optimistic resolution proves unnerving and downright horrific. Be sure to chime in with your personal choices in the comments and on social media!
*Article contains spoilers*
10. The Exorcist (1973)
There’s nothing about William Friedkin‘s masterpiece that feels remotely happy. The dread of The Exorcist is suffocating, and though the ending itself is perhaps the most optimistic moment in the film (Regan is rid of the demon), it still doesn’t feel like a happy ending given what the viewer has sacrificed to get there. With both of our heroes perishing in the fight against evil, the emotional toll of the film lingers well after the credits roll.
9. The Last Exorcism (2010)
Sticking with possession films, this underappreciated found footage flick earns its place on our list of bleak horror endings by killing its three protagonists in the closing moments of the film. The Last Exorcism teases the viewer with a positive ending before everything unravels in the final ten minutes; and when our heroes return to stand against evil and save the particularly troubled teenage girl, they’re killed by cult members and the demon itself. The closing shot consists of the final survivor being beheaded by a character who had gained our trust throughout the film. If that’s not bleak, I don’t know what is.
8. Pet Sematary (1989)
Similarly to The Exorcist, there’s hardly a happy thing that occurs within the nightmarish, dreadful Pet Sematary. The sole joyful moment is quickly followed by a toddler being crushed by a semi-truck, so even that positive memory is tainted. Driven by the grief of his son’s death, Louis Creed buries his son in a Micmac burial ground in hopes of resurrecting him and things returning to normal. Instead, however, his young son kills his wife and his neighbor. Having lost (basically) everything, Louis buries his wife in the cursed cemetery and allows her to take his life upon returning.
7. The Fly (1986)
As evidenced by The Fly, love hurts. Normalized ideals of love typically consist of being romantically involved with a partner, settling down, possibly having children, and living happily until you both die aboard a cruise or some kind of sappy shit like that. David Cronenberg, however, leaves us with a pregnant girlfriend who must put down her genetically mutated fly-lover with a shotgun just before the credits roll. It deserves recognition among the greatest bleak horror endings because it’s a legitimately heartbreaking note to end on.
6. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Even without the brilliant marketing scheme that tricked people into believing that The Blair Witch Project was actually real, the finale of the iconic film remains especially bleak. After being lost in the woods with three college students as they are psychologically tormented by the entity in which they sought to document, viewers are left unnerved when neither of the three make it out of the woods alive. Finding the creepy witch house in the closing minutes is frightening enough, but having the mental distress of the protagonists rewarded with such an awful fate is harrowing.
5. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Jacob’s Ladder fucked me up for the entirety of its run-time, and if you claim differently, you’re lying to yourself. The film is as heavy and nightmarish as movies get, much of it feeling like a fever dream that you’re struggling to shake yourself awake from. When it’s revealed in the closing moments that Jacob Singer was mortally wounded in Vietnam and that we’ve been experiencing his dying thoughts throughout the film, it only adds to the heaviness, making for one of the most bleak horror endings of all time.
4. Don’t Look Now (1973)
Don’t Look Now is one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen, and I’m not sure that a happy ending could have remedied that whatsoever. How do you make a sad film even sadder? By putting your characters through a miserable amount of grief after the drowning of their young daughter, showcasing the burden it’s had on their marriage to each other, and having the husband shockingly killed at the end of the movie. That’s how.
3. Eden Lake (2008)
Of all the films on this list, Eden Lake‘s ending made me the most angry. In the film, a sweet couple takes a trip to a remote lake, planning to have a peaceful, romantic weekend together. Instead, they’re tortured by a group of shitty, thug children, and forced to kill the kids if they intend to survive. When her boyfriend is murdered by the kids, Jenny fights off the children and eventually escapes. However, the places she escapes to is revealed to be the home of the kids she’s running from, and she’s murdered by the parents of the children. This is an ending that elicits a burning anger in your gut, and it’s unforgettable because of it.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George A. Romero‘s Night of the Living Dead was revolutionary for the genre, and groundbreaking for bleak horror endings. In the film, the zombie apocalypse drives several survivors into a farmhouse where they clash with each other and struggle to stay alive with hordes of zombies threatening to break in and feast on them. The movie ends with Ben, the hero and only survivor of the group, appearing to be safe as a heavily-armed posse of survivors arrive and kill the zombies. However, when Ben is mistaken for a zombie, he is shot in the head by the survivors and thrown into a pile of bodies to be burned. It’s one of the bleakest endings ever conceived, and would have claimed the top spot if it weren’t for…
1. The Mist (2007)
Horror fans were likely able to guess the top entry on our list of bleak horror endings before even clicking the link. Differing from the ending of Stephen King‘s novella of the same name, Frank Darabont’s big-screen adaptation of The Mist features an ending as harrowing as endings come.
Trapped in a car with his young son and three additional survivors while the monsters of the mist grow closer, David Drayton, with the consent of the group (Save for his son who is too young to understand), shoots and kills everyone in the car other than himself. Shaken to his core by what he’d just been forced to do in order to save the survivors from a more horrific fate, he turns the gun on himself, opens his mouth, and pulls the trigger repeatedly, trying to kill himself. With no bullets in the gun, the disturbed David exits the vehicle and calls for the monsters to come and kill him. However, the mist begins to clear and it’s revealed that the sounds of monsters closing in weren’t really monsters at all- it was military tanks and a group of survivors. The film ends with David dropping to his knees in agony, screaming over the thought of murdering his son and friends when they were moments away from being rescued. It’s a gut-punch.