Almost since films have been long enough to have storylines, filmmakers have been putting revelations in movies that retroactively twist the nature of the entire movie. In the late 1990s, the success of movies with The Sixth Sense made putting a twist near the end of a movie fashionable. It’s supposedly an easy way to convince audiences that a movie was clever or shocking enough that it needed to be seen again and talked about to all your friends. More often it just revealed that the filmmakers had no idea how to do much of anything but look goofy in their attempts to be unpredictable.
Oh, and a very heavy spoiler alert, obviously.
10. Rock ‘N’ Roll Nightmare/The Edge of Hell (1987)
In this mostly run-of-the-mill horror movie from 1987, a family on a farm is attacked by demons. A decade later a hair metal band (Triton) arrives at the same farm to record 10 minutes of their album with their girlfriends. The demons are still there and have the evident ability to shapeshift. They begin killing off the band members one by one in typical slasher movie style, with many death scenes being interrupted by many sex scenes. Eventually the only survivor is Jon Mikol-Thor, which is only natural as it’s his band that wrote the music and he starred in it, not to mention that he wrote the script.
A demon in the form of his girlfriend enters the improvised recording studio/barn that Mikhol-Thor’s sitting in. The demon mocks him for having killed off his band, and then reveals itself to be Satan. That’s when the band leader reveals that Satan hasn’t actually killed anyone. He actually created illusory people of his own to draw Satan out. Because he’s the Archangel Triton, the “Intercessor.”
Goodness knows how it could occur to anyone trying to make an ostensibly serious horror movie and then completely undercut everything about it by telling the audiences that everything they just saw didn’t happen and that the supposed good guy was somehow manufacturing imaginary people and making them mate. It’s so ridiculous that it was far more deserving of the fame films like Sharknado or The Room received for being “So bad they’re good.”
9. Monster A Go-Go/Terror At Halfday (1965)
An irradiated astronaut named Douglas’s space vehicle crashes on Earth. He grows into a very tall person with a scarred face, then goes on a killing spree as scientists work to figure out a way to stop him.
After cornering the monster in a sewer and sending a team in after him, the movie suddenly shows one of the scientists emerging from a manhole, insisting that the monster wasn’t there. Then a telegram arrives saying that actually, the astronaut landed elsewhere and was safely recovered. So basically the movie, at the end, says ‘There was no monster, none of that stuff that we were watching was real.” How many movies seriously admit “yeah, just forget that this happened” at the end so flatly?
8. Shutter Island (2010)
Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is investigating a disappearance of Rachel Salando (Emily Mortimer) from the Shutter Island prison for the criminally insane. In the process, he becomes suspicious that illegal experiments are taking place on the prison grounds. He also has to deal with unnerving hallucinations as the investigation goes on, including visions involving dead children and World War II. In the end, he confronts the prison warden about his findings.
It turns out that Daniels is actually a patient of Shutter Island, and that those children he had hallucinations about are his own that he murdered. The entire phony disappearance, his being a marshall, etc. were all fake. What was real was his interaction with the administration, who were all roleplaying as if Daniels were a marshal, and since it’s been decided that failed, Daniels is to be lobotomized.
While there were numerous stories prior to Shutter Island which played the “the protagonist was crazy all along” card, where this one went bonkers was in assuming that an entire staff of a prison would be willing to let a dangerously deluded patient go hither and yon on prison grounds without so much as a safety escort. Indeed, at the beginning of the movie, Daniels has a gun on him that he surrenders in what’s supposed to be the course of his duties. Imagine how ludicrously dangerous it would be to give a known murderer with dissociative identity disorder a gun!
7. Flightplan (2005)
Recently widowed mother Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) is taking an overnight flight with her daughter Julia. After takeoff, she takes a nap. When she awakens, her daughter is missing. The tension ratchets immensely when she’s told that reports from the authorities are that she never had a daughter, let alone one on the plane. In a mix of terror and bewilderment, she begins doing things that make her seem dangerous to the crew of the plane which she knows how to do because her husband was an aviation engineer.
It turns out that her daughter was kidnapped and hidden in the front of the plane with a large amount of explosives, and that the very reason that this was done was to make Pratt erratic enough that she would become the fall person for the crime, since she was the one who was acting so madly during the flight.
The plot requires being willing to ignore a cheat about the size of a double decker passenger airliner to not be bothered by. It’s simply ridiculous that none of the dozens of people around Pratt not only didn’t notice Julia was taken away, but that she was ever there! That might just be something you could shrug off if this were an action movie, but it’s a psychological thriller and a vehicle for Jodie Foster. So you spend pretty much the entire movie pondering this puzzle, dismissing the notion Julia was just taken away pretty much instantly and there’s almost nothing else to take your mind off the central mystery. Nothing else, that is, until you become irate that they never bothered coming up with a satisfying way to pull off the movie’s enigma but went ahead and made it anyway.
6. Texas Chainsaw Massacre IV: The Next Generation (1994)
A car full of teens leave a party, get run off the road, then one of them named Jenny (Renee Zelleweger) gets abducted by the Sawyer family. They tell her they intend to kill her because they’re psycho murderers. Among the members is one who wears human skin with the nickname “Leatherface” and one named Kilmer played by Matthew McConaughey.
Jenny is told by Darla Sawyer that the family is part of an ancient order that murders people for the rich and powerful. They’re staying in Texas and allowed to keep murdering people as a payoff for services rendered to the people running the world. Then some people in suits from the organization show up, confirming that the stupid thing Darla said is true.
At the end of the movie, Jenny gets free again and is chased by the Sawyer family. A passing plane kills Kilmer, and then a limo shows up and picks up Jenny. It turns out that the group that was allowing the Sawyer family to murder random people has decided to rescue Jenny. So, arbitrarily the villains that are behind the whole thing at the last second become the heroes that save the main character! There’s a theory that this was an attempt to cash in on the popularity of The X Files at the time, but this might be the most confusing/asinine way to do that.
5. Color of Night (1994)
Bill Capa (Bruce Willis) is a psychiatrist in this “erotic thriller” who takes over his murdered best friend’s group therapy sessions, while staying in that friend’s home. He starts an affair with a mystery woman named Rose, who he met in a car accident. The people in his group counseling include a widower, a compulsive thief, a bisexual, a masochist, and Rose’s brother Ritchie.
It turns out that all of Capa’s patients are having an affair with Rose in various disguises except Ritchie. The only reason Ritchie isn’t is because he’s Rose disguised as her long dead brother. None of them are aware Rose has anything in her life except them and no one noticed that their current sex partner is sitting in the room with them in a rather thin disguise. Amusingly, all they need to do to recognize a photo of Rose in a book to recognize that they’re all sharing the same sexual partner. On top of the contrivance of how dumb it requires everyone to be, just imagine how exhausting it would be to maintain at least five affairs at once! Being a femme fatale never seemed to stressful.
4. Pieces (1982)
Warning: video is NSFW
A child kills his mother when she interrupts him assembling a puzzle of a nude woman. He grows up to be a mass murderer who kills women to collect a body part from each one for assembling a “doll.” Eventually, after he amasses enough of a body count that he’s almost finished, the police and the main male character track him down.
After the murderer is brought to justice, out of nowhere, the doll of corpse parts comes to life and attacks the main character. Nothing supernatural happened anywhere in the preceding movie and there was zero indication the killer meant for this to happen. It’s probably meant to be something of a ripoff of the ending of Friday the 13th, but it’s so bungled that it’s barely identifiable what they were going for. Longtime fans of the sci-fi comedy show Mystery Science Theater 3000 will probably be unsurprised to learn that the director also did the reviled E.T. knockoff Pod People.
3. Christmas Evil (1982)
A child named Harry sees his parents about to have sex on Christmas while his father is dressed as Santa. Naturally, by movie logic (or illogic), he becomes a rather twisted version of Santa himself. On Christmas he goes around killing people that he puts on his personal naughty list, and leaving toys for kids while wearing the traditional red coat and white beard.
When his crimes catch up to him and he’s on the run, Harry tries to flee in his van. He drives off a bridge when a lynch mob blocks his way; instead of falling, Harry’s van magically flies into the air as he recites the last few lines of “Night Before Christmas.” It’s a movie that’s completely down to Earth, albeit sleazy, but then this ending is nuttier than a fruitcake.
2. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 (2012)
In what is widely regarded the best movie of this polarizing series, a small band of vampires and werewolves line up to seemingly play Red Rover against an overwhelming number of vampiric enforcers called the Volturi. The Volturi suspect the main characters, former human/current piece of driftwood Bella Swan and vampire Edward Cullen, had a baby, which is dangerous to the vampires’ attempt to keep their supernatural nature a secret. The leader of the Volturi, Aro, is a telepath, and one of the vampires on Cullen’s side, Alice, can see the future. She tells Aro that no matter what she shows him, there will be violence. An immense, protracted battle begins wherein many of the characters that the audience had been following for multiple movies are killed in drawn out ways.
It’s a fakeout. At the end of the fight scene, there’s a closeup on the eye of the lead of the Volturi that had just been killed, and then the camera pulls back from to reveal that he and Alice are still standing there. The villain is thoroughly shaken by the vision that he is willing to be convinced to call off the fight.
While those familiar with the book knew something was probably suspicious, to anyone coming in cold it’s such a cheat that it’s likely to make them either angry or burst out laughing. Given that many people were watching the movies ironically at this point, they were likely to feel simultaneously cheated that the characters they had enjoyed hating were still fine and amused at the audacity.
1. The Game (1997)
In this film from critical darling David Fincher, Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is an investment banker who agrees out of ennui to take part in a mysterious program called The Game after his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) recommends it. It seems like he’s under scrutiny from a dangerous organization. With female companion Christine (Deborah Unger) that seems to either get roped into it or is part of the organization, he gets shot at, spied on with a clown doll, tormented with memories of his father who committed suicide by jumping off a building, etc. After a phone call under duress he is told by Christine that he’s just leaked the information that will allow the group to steal his fortune. It all culminates with him and Christine on an office building roof, Nicholas holding her hostage.
It’s set up like the whole thing is essentially a giant prank that’s about to go horribly awry. Conrad and an entourage of partiers and “actors” come through a door and Nicholas, now very high strung, shoots him in the chest. Thinking that misunderstanding the prank has compelled him to kill his brother, Nicholas walks over to the edge of the roof and jumps off.
And he happens to fall through breakaway glass onto a giant black crash pad, because the people running the game for Conrad (who isn’t dead) anticipated Nicholas wanting to throw himself off that portion of the roof.
Now, yes, many times in movies things can go very wrong for characters but turn out well so that there can be a happy ending. THIS is things going well for the protagonist while he is trying to kill himself. He’s not working for his happy ending, it’s people using a super-contrived method to manufacture a happy ending for him. Even if you assume they had things like a crash mat for every part of the roof, it would have been crazy easy for him to miss any one of them. All the ludicrously unlikely second twist does is show that Nicholas was never in danger, so there’s no reason to watch this again because the organization is going out of their way just to screw with him. It goes to show, even highly celebrated directors like David Fincher can make movies that fall into the nonsensical twist trap.
Adam & Dustin Koski’s short film (NSFW) certainly doesn’t feature any silly twists. Nope. None whatsoever.