Horror movies aren’t meant to be uplifting. Even if someone does manage to survive a scary movie scenario, they probably just witnessed their family and friends get slaughtered, and they probably had to kill a few people themselves in the process. Yet most main characters do survive, and the audience is happy because the human spirit conquers all. Except in these films, which are so dreary and miserable they cut the human spirit to pieces and then spit on its grave, just to make sure that any happiness inside of you was completely squashed.
10. The Mist
The Mist seems like your standard Stephen King monster fare. After a storm, a group of people in Maine are stuck in a grocery store because of a mist that’s enveloped the town. Inside the mist are horrible monsters that kill anyone who steps or gets pulled into it. It sounds like a pretty traditional stay-in-the-safe-zone horror movie, but The Mist deviates from similar films with a bleak and angry finale. While we won’t give it away here, it’s as unexpected as it is sad, and asks questions about the nature of hope and mercy.
9. In A Glass Cage
In the years following World War II, former Nazi doctor Klaus is in exile in the Spanish countryside. If being a Nazi doctor wasn’t bad enough, Klaus set himself apart with his sadistic acts against children. Even while living in Spain, he can’t seem to keep away from children. He tries to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of his house, but fails and ends up in an iron lung. Skip ahead four years, and his wife wishes he was dead because she hates taking care of him. Then, out of nowhere, a young man with a scarred face named Angelo arrives at the house. Angelo claims to be a nurse sent to care for Klaus, but it soon becomes apparent that he’s actually someone from Klaus’ past.
This movie is so miserable because it knows what the audience’s expectations are. If a former victim of a torturer had his abuser confined to an iron lung in an isolated house with easy access to the abuser’s family, you’d expect a revenge story. Instead, you get a dreary psychological thriller about the long-term effects of child abuse. In other words, skip this one on family movie night.
8. Eden Lake
To make a truly effective horror movie, filmmakers have to take a stab at human drama so when the inevitable does happen, you feel an emotional attachment to the characters. In this regard, Eden Lake knows all the right moves to make. Jenny and her boyfriend Steve are visiting the titular lake for the weekend. Steve has big plans, but the young couple is constantly pestered by a group of local teenagers. After a few run-ins, the teens go from being disruptive to brutally terrorizing Jenny and Steve.
When you have a movie with solid character depth and great actors, even the killers seem like real people. The teenagers aren’t emotionless murders in masks or inhuman monsters — they’re kids who got in deeper than they expected because of their sadistic and violent leader. Jenny isn’t your typical horror victim either — she makes mistakes and does some horrible things that you know she’ll regret for the rest of her life, which may only last for another few hours.
Events get progressively worse for both the victims and the perpetrators. The ending, while one of the least gory parts, is also one of the most heart wrenching letdowns in any horror movie.
7. Black Death
When you make a film called Black Death and set it during the greatest plague to ever descend upon humankind, you’re not exactly aiming for an upbeat heart-warmer. The title sets the benchmark for how dark the movie is going to be, and yet it’s still surprising how bleak it is.
The year is 1348, and England’s been ravished by the Bubonic plague. A young monk is struggling with the fact that he’s in love with a woman who’s asked him to run away from the monastery to be with her. He turns her down, but she says that she’ll wait for him in the woods for a short time in the hopes that he’ll change his mind. When he finds out that a group of men have to travel to a village near her hiding spot, he volunteers to guide them. He feels that the group heading there is a sign from God, but their terrifying mission is anything but holy — they’re traveling to the village because there are stories of someone raising bodies from the dead.
Every possible aspect of Black Death is dark and moody. The weather is gray, there are dead and diseased bodies littered about, and medieval torture is used on several brutal occasions. Almost any character could die a horrific death, and most do. Then comes the end, and you’ll see how much different the monk is from the quiet young man torn between his love for a woman and his love for God. He’s no longer the same, and neither is the audience.
6. Cannibal Holocaust
One of the most famous facts about this Italian film is that the director was arrested because the violence was so graphic and realistic that authorities thought he actually had the cast killed. The film is about a team of documentary makers who were shooting a feature in the Amazon rainforest when they went missing. A professor goes to rescue them, but only brings back reels of film which depict the horrible fate suffered by the crew.
What’s miserable about Cannibal Holocaust is that the murders aren’t the bleakest part of the movie. Yes, they’re shocking and realistic, and it’s truly a dark and disturbing movie on that basis alone. But what makes this movie so much worse is that while the human actors didn’t actually lose their lives, the animals did. There were seven animals killed on screen — six are depicted in the final film, as two monkeys had to be shot because the first take wasn’t good enough. The needless violence against animals is appalling, and even the director thinks it was wrong in hindsight.
5. The Last House On The Left
There have been plenty of imitators of The Last House on the Left, but nothing has been quite as starkly bleak. It has an unabashed mean streak that sets it apart from all other rape-revenge movies, and although it was released over 40 years ago it’s still an incredibly shocking and disturbing film.
On the night of her 17th birthday, Mari and her friend Phyllis are heading to a concert. Along the way they try to score some pot, but are instead kidnapped by three escaped sex offenders who gang rape them and make them perform degrading acts. The debasement is so shocking that it’s impossible to forget, and it’s an awful, grimy lead up to a horrific death. As the movie unfolds, it’s impossible not to get the sense that no matter what happens in the film, none of it will be good.
4. Funny Games
Funny Games is one of the few movies in history that was remade by the original filmmaker. It was released in 1998 in German, while the 2008 version was in English. The actors were also changed, but otherwise it’s pretty much shot-for-shot the same film. Both are about a family of three who are attacked in their home by two young men, Paul and Peter. What sets Funny Games apart from other home invasion movies is that Paul and Peter are aware they’re in a movie. Paul even breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience, telling them he knows what they expect. He wants viewers to make a bet with him — will the family be alive in 12 hours? By playing with the rules of the home invasion movie it creates a sense of entrapment similar to being stuck in a house like the characters.
Paul and Peter also know that what the viewer and characters have in common is a hope of survival — the viewers want it for the characters, and the characters want it for themselves. So throughout the movie Paul taunts the viewer into hoping, then crushes them if they do by debasing and murdering an innocent family. That makes Funny Games one of the most aggressively feel bad movies ever made.
3. The Orphanage
The Orphanage came out in the flood of scary kid movies after The Sixth Sense. Using that to their advantage, the filmmakers crafted a dark and beautiful story about loss and tragedy that stands apart from other films in the genre. That’s not to say that The Orphanage isn’t a spooky ghost story, because it’s incredibly creepy. But what separates it from other films is just how incredibly sad it is.
The film follows a woman named Laura, who grew up in, wait for it, an orphanage. When she’s older, Laura and her husband adopt a son named Simón, who was born HIV positive. After the adoption, the family buys Laura’s childhood orphanage, a big, spooky mansion in the Spanish countryside. Once they move in, Simón starts talking to an invisible friend. Meanwhile, a child with a sack on his head roams around the house, terrifying Laura. Is it Simón in a costume, or the ghost of one of the orphans?
The film has a chilly atmosphere and some impressive visuals, but what makes it so bleak is the ending — the twist is innovative and heartbreaking. It would be a disservice to any movie fan to spoil it, but prepare to be sad for days afterwards.
If the filmmakers behind Martyrs had a bigger budget, they said they would have used CGI tears because it was too hard to make the actresses cry for long enough. So yeah, this movie is a little depressing. It starts off on an incredibly dismal note when two women, Anna and Lucie, break into a house and gun down a family of four. And they’re the protagonists you’re supposed to get behind.
Martyrs manages to get more and more miserable through a number of twists that completely change the direction of the movie. With every twist it ignites a slight beacon of hope, but it’s quickly snuffed out and things only get worse. This movie is gory and morose in equal measure, making it uncomfortable to watch and depressing to think about.
1. A Serbian Film
This notorious film is one of those movies you always hear about when disturbing films are discussed. There are people who will dismiss it as over-hyped, feeling like they’re already too jaded and are now immune to disturbing movies. But A Serbian Film is as bleak as everyone claims it is.
The movie’s about Milos, a semi-retired adult film star. He agrees to do one last movie, which has been described as an “art film.” Of course, the film isn’t what Milos is expecting. As the film spirals further down, it’s amazing that a movie that’s so unbelievably depressing could still have a shocking ending. The end will leave a bad taste in your mouth, and you’ll need a shower afterwards.
The movie’s so offensive that the filmmaker has had to defend it numerous times. He claims that it’s art and a metaphor for life in Serbia, but critics say it’s mean spirited and ugly. You can judge for yourself, but be emotionally prepared if you do.