Horror movie

10 most tragic horror movie endings

It’s almost become a wait for horror movies to end in shock or a twisted ending. By their very nature, horror movies are designed to shock and frighten audiences.

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Many of these films see good conquering evil, sometimes through the iconic trope of the Final Girl or through a heroic or devastating act of self-sacrifice. That being said, some horror movies are bent on keeping the fear alive until the credits roll, which often means leaving the main characters in tragic and traumatic circumstances.

The Skeleton Key

kate hudson skeleton key

While the tone of The Skeleton Key is unsettling and mysterious, its fears are much more subtle and understated than some other horror films. There are several clues throughout that some sort of witchcraft or voodoo is going on in the house where Caroline works, but the film’s shocking ending confirms it.


After the revelation of a body swap, Caroline is forced to fight for her life and while she certainly feels like she is going to run away, she suffers a fate arguably worse than death. Old Violet forcibly exchanges with Christine, the latter being paralyzed and unable to do anything about her new situation. The tragic and dark turn at the end of this movie leaves her “last daughter” alive but trapped and helpless, which makes this one so memorable.


Terrified Toni Collette in Hereditary

Unlike some of the other movies on this list, Hereditary reaches a level of tragedy in the middle and never really lets go from there. The main theme of the film is grief and its effect on the Graham family.

While Charlie’s mid-term death certainly puts things on a downward spiral for the characters, the final act is steeped in tragedy with the three remaining members of the Graham family succumbing to grief and demonic forces closing in on them. Steve is brutally burned alive, Annie is viciously beheaded, and Peter is possessed by the Demon King Paimon. Watching the remaining family members quickly wiped out one by one is devastating and makes it one of the best horror movies of the 2010s.

The foreigners

A still from the 2008 film The Strangers.

The foreigners sees a trio of masked assailants break into a young couple’s house and cruelly terrorize them. A cat-and-mouse game ensues between the couple and the house invaders, with things going from bad to worse as the film progresses.

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The public expects at least one of the victims to come out alive, but in a cruel twist the couple are captured and killed. Seeing the couple cruelly stabbed to death is a brutal and desperate way to end the movie. What makes this ending so tragic, however, is its utter lack of meaning; the masked intruders have no motive, are calm and serene when they commit the murders and afterwards, continue their day as if nothing had happened.

Drag me to hell

christine drags me to hell

Drag me to hell is more of a dark comedy than a strict horror, with much of the film being intentionally outrageous and exaggerated while still being terrifying. The overall tone of the film is what makes the ending all the more shocking and disturbing. After ridiculously fighting the old woman who cursed her with a stapler, the audience can’t prepare for Christine’s eventual fate.

As she thinks she’s freed from the curse and is about to make a fresh start, Christine falls back onto the tracks and the floor opens with evil hands dragging her downstairs. Christine’s pleas for help and her boyfriend’s confused, grief-stricken reaction leave audiences utterly bewildered by the delightfully miserable ending of this otherwise fun movie.


Ethan Hawke in Sinister

In Sinister, Ellison unwittingly moves his family to the site of a grisly family murder in order to be inspired by a new book he’s working on. It quickly becomes apparent that these murders are the last in a chain and that a more supernatural force is this piece. In supernatural horror films, the viewer often wonders why the victims don’t just move, but in a clever twist it actually works against this family and secures their horrific fate.

The film ends with Ellison’s daughter killing the rest of her family and then kidnapping by the demon Bagul who is one of the scariest horror movie entities of all time. The ending is particularly upsetting as Ellison places her work above her family and ultimately inadvertently causes their deaths; as the majority of the massacre takes place offscreen, the young girl who kills her own family is frightening.

Funny games

Peter and Paul from Funny Games

One of the more well-known horror subgenres is the Home Invasion, which is exactly what Funny games looks like at first glance. A couple and their young son are cruelly tormented by two madmen; However, in one of the best plot twists in horror movies, one of the intruders is able to use a remote control to turn back time in one scene and prevent the other from being killed. This moment leaves the viewer shaken as it is clear that the family has no chance of survival as their tormentors have this particular advantage over them.

After killing the whole family, there is a knock on the door and one of the men smiles at the camera, suggesting that they are about to start all over again. The film ends on a dark note, leaving audiences to wonder if the characters ever had a chance when the antagonists were so at an advantage and were able to defy the usual logic of the film.

Would you prefer?

Brittany Snow in the movie You Prefer

Iris attends a mysterious dinner in hopes of raising money to treat her sick brother in Would you prefer?. However, nothing can prepare her for what she will have to do to make money. After several deadly rounds of “Do you prefer? Iris is the last person standing and although she is traumatized by what she has been forced to attend and participate in, she is relieved to be able to walk away with her life and the money to pay for her brother’s treatment.

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When she returns home, overjoyed to tell her brother about her new windfall, she is traumatized to discover that he passed away while she was gone. Iris is forced to go to great lengths and participate in horrific acts to secure the money, so this ending is particularly cruel as it was for nothing.

The Descent (British end)

sarah the descent

Although Lowering is a monster movie, it clearly emphasizes trauma and psychological torment, and has one of the best horror movies of the 2000s. After a brutal fight for survival, the movie ends with an unhinged Sarah leaving her friend Juno at the mercy of the vicious Crawlers.

Sarah then crawls out of the cave and triumphantly escapes; However, the British ending reveals that this is a hallucination and that she is, in fact, trapped. She sits down silently imagining her dead daughter as the wild monsters approach her. The end of Lowering is scary and hopeless; all of the other characters are dead at this point and Sarah has clearly given up and will definitely be next (at least in the UK version of the film).

lake of eden

lake eden bar

What started as a disagreement between a young couple and a group of teenagers quickly turns into a nightmare in lake of eden. The audience is left on the edge of their seats as the couple are relentlessly pursued through the woods. Steve’s heartbreaking death and Jenny’s heartbreaking reaction kick off the film’s high-octane finale.

Perhaps the most tragic element of this ending is the false hope given to Jenny as she believes her ordeal is finally over after falling at a garden party. However, it is soon revealed that this is a tight-knit community and that many revelers are the families of the teenagers who terrorized her (some of whom she had to kill to defend herself). Jenny locks herself in the bathroom but several of the revelers burst in, calling her a murderer; Horribly, the movie ends with the bathroom door closing and Jenny screaming in terror.


David watches the military arrive after killing his son in The Mist.

Contrary to Hereditary which is pretty tragic all along, Mist tricks audiences into believing this is an action-packed monster movie for much of its duration. A father and son find themselves trapped in a local grocery store when a thick haze carrying monstrous creatures descends on their town.

While there are some shattering deaths throughout the film, it’s in the final act that he delivers his suckerpunch. Feeling that there is no way out of their situation, David decides to kill his friends and his young son in order to avoid a worse fate. However, after performing the heartbreaking act, the army arrives to clean up the mist and David sobs as he realizes that his son and his friends have died for nothing.

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