We love it when a movie gets one over on us. And there's really no better genre for delivering a proper gut-punch switcheroo than horror. These are 11 of our favorite scary movie sideswipes, which we're still not sure we're over.
(Warning: contains massive spoilers)
1| The Wicker Man
Good Christian policeman Sergeant Howie visits a remote Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. When he arrives, the locals behave very strangely and claim to have no knowledge of the missing girl, suggesting she never existed. Meanwhile, the crops are failing and some strange rituals are going on...
The girl isn't missing at all. Instead she was just the bait to lure the Sergeant over to the island and test his character. Howie, the big Christian virgin, is himself to be sacrificed to save the crops in a giant burning Wicker Man.
2| April Fool's Day
A group of college kids spend April Fool's Day weekend at the mansion of Muffy St. John, the sister of one of the group. One by one, members of the group are killed or have horrific accidents until the last two remaining members realise that Muffy has a twin sister called Buffy, who is insane.
'Muffy' has, in fact, been Buffy all along...
Actually, no, none of that happened. The whole thing was a dress rehearsal for a staged horror weekend—each 'victim' agreed to participate as things were explained to them along the way. There's no Buffy, it was all just a gag.
The movie ends with a final 'twist' (which is also a red herring) where one of the guests hides in Muffy's room and slits her throat. Only that's not real either. April Fool!
This horror thriller directed by Logan's James Mangold sees 10 strangers holed up in a hotel where a killer is on the loose, knocking them off one-by-one 'And Then There Were None'-style.
Meanwhile, elsewhere a mass murderer on death row is revealed to have dissociative personality disorder—his psychiatrist and defense lawyer attempt to get him a reprieve on the ground of insanity....
All the 'people' in the hotel are just embodiments of the mass murderer's personality. His ex-cop persona is instructed by the psychiatrist to identify and destroy the persona responsible for committing the murders, to save him from death row.
It looks like he's done this, but in a second sub-plot twist it turns out the real killer persona was a 9-year-old boy who we thought had died in an accident, but was faking it all along. Because of course he was.
4| The Descent
Six women go caving in an unmapped system and find themselves lost and trapped, before a bunch of sub-terrestrial monsters start hunting and killing them. Fighting for survival and having discovered one of her friends, Juno, was having an affair with her now-dead husband, Sarah sacrifices Juno, leaving her to be eaten by the cave monsters.
Sarah then slips down a hole and is rendered temporarily unconscious before waking up, blood drenched and feral, to fight her way through the creatures and out of the cave complex.
Only she doesn't—in the U.K. version certainly. In a very satisfying twist we see that Sarah didn't make it out at all, she was just hallucinating, instead she's stuck in the middle of the massive cave complex with no hope whatsoever of finding her way out, as the cave creatures approach from all around.
Alas, the U.S. version has her escape, with the The Descent 2 relying on the cop-out escape ending to bring Sarah back for the sequel. Lies!
Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) adopt nine-year-old Russian orphan Esther when they lose a child of their own. Esther is weird and violent, and inappropriately sexually aware for her age, and Kate and John's son Daniel is highly suspicious of her.
After an unnecessary number of red flags, Kate and then finally John accept there's something up here, but little do they suspect exactly what...
Esther is a 33-year-old woman called Leena who has a condition which severely stunts her growth. She masquerades as a little girl, wearing make-up and false teeth and binding her chest, and has killed at least seven people already.
6| Carnival of Souls
A young woman's car plunges into a river after an ill-advised drag race appears to kill her companions. She survives and drags herself from the river, but can't remember how she escaped the vehicle.
She goes on to take up the position of church organist in another city but is haunted by visions of a ghoul-like man, and the beckoning call of a pavilion where she sees ghouls dancing to strange music, one of whom looks like her. She tries to escape but the ghouls chase her down.
When her doctor and employer go to look for her at the pavilion, they find only one set of footprints which end abruptly. When her car is finally pulled from the river from the start of the movie, she's there dead behind the wheel with her companions.
7| The Others
A woman, her two children and their three servants live in a country mansion just after the end of the Second World War. The kids suffer from photosensitivity and so can't go out or even have the curtains open in daylight.
The family start to believe the house is haunted as they sense the presence of a little boy and his parents, as well as an old woman, in the house with them. The servants try to protect the family, though its clear they are hiding something.
They ARE hiding something! It's that everyone in the house is a ghost, and the apparitions they think they see are the real living people.
Despairing after her husband left for war, the woman killed her two children and then herself. The servants were all taken by a bout of tuberculosis. Waking in the afterlife with her children again, the woman convinced herself they were still alive. Now they must find a way to co-habit with the living, Beetlejuice style.
8| The Sixth Sense
Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) takes on the case of a nine-year-old boy, Cole, who says he can see dead people. Becoming increasingly estranged from his wife, and haunted by the memory of a previous patient who he felt he had failed, Crowe endeavors to help Cole by suggesting he talk to the ghosts he sees and try to help them complete their unfinished business so they might cross over.
Cole comes to terms with his ability and he and Crowe part ways, with Cole suggesting Crowe might talk to his wife while she's sleeping.
Taking Cole's advice, Crowe comes to realize that he was dead all along. Reconciling the mistakes he made with a former patient (by helping Cole) and reassuring his sleeping wife was Crowe's unfinished business—he's now free to cross over.
9| The Mist
A group of disparate characters shelter in a supermarket when a mist suddenly descends, bringing with it a host of crazy Lovecraftian creatures. Under siege, the group becomes divided when an unstable religious woman called Mrs. Carmody insists judgment day is upon them. Various individuals are killed while trying to escape or get supplies.
A father, his son, and three others from the supermarket attempt to leave in a car. The father finds his house destroyed and his wife dead, and, faced with impossibly towering creatures, when they run out of gas the group gives up hope. The father shoots his passengers, including his own son, and wanders into the mist to die.
In what must be one of cinema's cruellest twists ever, just after he's killed his kid, the mist starts to lift. It seems like the military has closed the inter-dimensional portal that was letting the creatures in and has the situation under control. Had the group hung on for another 10 minutes or so, they would have been rescued. Bummer.
10| Switchblade Romance
Friends Marie and Alex head to Alex's family's house for the weekend. Once there, a crazed truck driver brutally murders Alex's mother, father and brother, and then kidnaps Alex. Marie hides and initially tries to free Alex, but when she is unable, sneaks into the truck where the driver has her stowed.
When they stop at a gas station, Marie gives Alex a knife and sneaks out to get help. The store clerk is killed, so Alex follows the truck in his car, but the truck driver spots her and runs the car off the road. A fight between the two ensues, but Marie manages to bludgeon the trucker with a post covered in barbed wire and then suffocate him with plastic.
CCTV footage from the gas station reveals that's not what happened at all. Marie was the killer all along—she murdered Alex's family and the store clerk, and kidnapped Alex.
Once Alex is free, she confronts Marie with a knife and they fight, both sustaining serious injuries until Marie overpowers Alex and forces her to tell her she loves her. Marie ends up in a mental asylum.
11| The Orphanage
A woman returns to the orphanage where she grew up, with the idea of turning it into a home for disabled children. She has her own adopted son Simon, who is HIV positive. At a party for the reopening of the orphanage, Simon goes missing, and the woman sees a strange child wearing a sackcloth mask who Simon had described before, calling him Tomas.
Simon is nowhere to be found and it's suggested a mysterious woman posing as a social worker might have abducted him. They discover this woman (who some months later is killed in a car accident) once worked at the orphanage and had a son called Tomas, who wore a sackcloth mask to disgust a facial deformity. Coincidence?
When the other children stole his mask, he hid in a nearby cave and drowned. With the help of a medium, the woman discovers the bones of her fellow orphans—they were killed by Tomas's mother in revenge. Simon's body is not among them.
Simon's body is found inside the house, in a hidden room, where he had hidden after arguing with his mum. When searching for Simon his mother had moved some bits of scaffolding and blocked him in. The banging about in the house that she had attributed to ghosts was Simon trying to escape before falling and breaking his neck.
When she realizes the truth, she kills herself. To soften this horrendously bleak ending slightly, we then see the woman happily reunited with all the dead ghost kids, including Simon.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.