The 11 Best Endings in Modern Horror Filmmaking

A NOTE TO READERS

The following text contains no direct or literal description of the listed film’s endings, only hints and allusions to their moods and thematic strength.  In short, I’d like to say that I’ve done my best to avoid “spoiling” any of the endings for you.  However, if you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve seen many of these films; and if you have, I excitedly invite you to comment with your OWN lists or a REARRANGEMENT of mine. 

Enjoy,

 - CB

ABOUT THE LIST...

THESE FILMS ARE LISTED IN ORDER – FROM THE LEAST WONDERFUL ENDING TO THE MOST WONDERFUL ENDING – “11" BEING SAID “LEAST WONDERFUL” TO “1" BEING SAID “MOST WONDERFUL.”  THIS LIST IS BASED ON MY OPINION ALONE AND IS NOT A CONGLOMERATION OF STATISTICS OR AN AVERAGE BASED ON MULTIPLE VIEWPOINTS.

11

“Aftermath”

1994

Screenplay written by Nacho Cerda

Directed by Nacho Cerda

Spain



The very existence of this film is the only reason I had to include 11 films in this list. “Aftermath” is a Spanish short film from writer/director Nacho Cerda made with a paper-thin budget. One can get it on DVD as the first of a double-feature followed by a film (also by Cerda) called “Genesis.” The story of “Aftermath” is quite simple, very disturbing and – to the average audience member – reprehensibly graphic... A mortuary doctor mutilates and defiles a corpse. The end. Sort of – that is, that’s the extent of the subject matter covered in this brief exploration of necrophilia. The director’s commentary (part of the DVD ‘special features’) gives one a more thorough understanding of the purpose of his film; and by the end of his explanation, most will come away less disgusted by the notion of such grotesquery as being relevant or “worthwhile” to depict on film.

Necrophilia is a real human condition and, as such, is a real “problem” – particularly within circles of those regularly in contact with corpses (e.g. mortuary attendants, orderlies, morticians); but one on which little statistical data is available, both with regards to prevalence and rates of conviction. In fact, in the United States there IS NOT a federal law prohibiting sexual violation of a corpse – only individual state laws. And many of these state laws define necrophilia only as a misdemeanor of one type or another.

“Aftermath,” being a succinct, focused film does not touch on the possible reasons why the main character does the horrible things he does. Instead, the structure of the film (with a traditional beginning, middle and end) is devoted almost entirely to the act of man-on-corpse coitus. Thus, I rated the ENDING based on it’s stark, sobering and – yes – distastefully humorous flavor when compared with the preceding events.

The ENDING of “Aftermath” is not a reason to watch the film, but it is a brilliant touch which happens to be thematically relevant to the idea cloistered within the film’s nauseous gut. If you feel that you’re the type of horror movie fan that is always out to push the limits of your inner gorehound, then “Aftermath” is worth a watch; and you’ll dig the ending, but pay attention.

"Aftermath/Genesis" Promotional Cover
"Aftermath/Genesis" Promotional Cover

10

"SEVEN"

1995

Screenplay written by Andrew Kevin Walker

Directed by David Fincher

USA


Most people that embrace the horror/thriller genre have seen this film; and if you haven’t, you should. As far as horror goes, “Seven” (which is what I insist on writing, as “Se7en” -- its other marketed title -- is stupid and makes me want to say ‘sezen’) is quite good... It is sufficiently tense and painful, and its ‘religious’ connective tissue is forever taught and believable – especially given its presence as a motive for serial torture/murder.

As far as endings go, it’s top-notch... For one thing, the antagonist remains faceless throughout the film, only to be revealed as a face wholeheartedly welcomed by most as a sterling addition to any picture. Secondly, and most importantly, evil “wins” at the end of this film – at least, the antagonist’s goal is realized and fully attained on his own terms.

The ENDING of “Seven” left me with feelings I am always looking to attain when I watch an honestly-forged dramatic horror-thriller film... Hopelessness, despair and perfect satisfaction.

"Seven" promotional poster
"Seven" promotional poster

9

"THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS"

1991

Screenplay Written by Ted Tally

Based on the Novel by Thomas Harris

Directed by Jonathan Demme

USA


“The Silence of the Lambs” is – for all intents and purposes – a perfect film... Yes, it is a horror film, and thus it provides us with the rare treat of having a neglected genre win an Academy Award for ‘Best Picture’ (although the Academy preferred the moniker “Crime Thriller” – HA!)

Yes, this film was an especially fruitful copulation between several notable talents – to list all of them would be insulting to you and a waste of time for me. It should be sufficient to say that the film was a milestone in horror/thriller filmmaking and Anthony Hopkins achieved true greatness with his depiction – and epitomization – of the calculating, sinister, cannibal-genius-doctor, Hannibal Lecter.

Jodie Foster, of course, was brilliant; as was Ted Levine as Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb. The actors in ‘Silence’ were all top-notch, to be sure, but the pacing of the story – the climax, the resolution, the taught suspense throughout are what make the ENDING so thrilling...

“The Silence of the Lambs” closes with victories on the parts of both protagonist and antagonist... All in all, the antagonist’s dramatic and grisly triumph could easily be called the greater of the two; especially when one takes into account the carnage which is implied will undoubtedly result from ‘evil’s victory.’ Many films within our discussed vein end with a relative “victory” for “evil,” but few do so with such a menacing stroll and sauntering, confident leisure as ‘Silence.’ Hannibal the Cannibal sinks into his new shoes with an ease and a glide that seem to say “we all knew this was going to happen.”


"The Silence of the Lambs" promotional poster
"The Silence of the Lambs" promotional poster

8

"HALLOWEEN"

1978

Screenplay Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Directed by John Carpenter

USA


You’ve seen this movie, right? I hope so, because it’s THE best slasher film ever made – and one of the best American horror films of all time. I trust many can agree on those classifications? If not, that’s okay – maybe you’re a ‘Jason’ person or a ‘Freddy’ person. I do NOT consider, by the way, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to be a ‘slasher’ film. ‘Leatherface’ was just the grandest product in a wonderful equation.

Michael Myers is a fascinating character, if for no other reason than the blatant lack of explanation as to his supernatural origin... Clearly, as the franchise progressed, it became more and more evident that the group of contributing filmmakers were intent on riding the ‘indestructible force of pure evil’ train until it derailed and killed everyone. The dude can’t die and you can’t reason with him; and that is a perfectly frightening combination – perhaps the MOST frightening combination most humans can imagine... Vulnerability akin to being unarmed and blind and pursued as prey by a hungry tiger – a hopeless situation. “Halloween” is a wonderful horror film and Michael Myers is a terrifying menace; and the ENDING only adds fuel to the bonfire of fear by then established.

Certainly our “heroine” is rescued, but the absolutely relentless evil that victimized her – and will forever continue to do so – was, apparently, only stunned by the conclusive assault; and he is soon gone – disappeared – no longer a fallen villain, but soon again a rising horror...

“Halloween” ends, indeed, but in-so-doing instills an inevitability of further torment.

"Halloween" promotional poster
"Halloween" promotional poster

7

"SHALLOW GROUND"

2005

Screenplay Written by Sheldon Wilson

Directed by Sheldon Wilson

USA


This film, so far, is the highlight of a seemingly average director’s career. Frankly, based on the imagery and story, I’d love to believe that the writer/director of “Shallow Ground” is a visionary whose true potential has not yet been reached. I could be wrong, of course, and, given the efforts that followed this haunting gem, I very well may be. But, as a WRITER – a trade much neglected by crediting – Sheldon Wilson Has only produced a single script (our subject, “Shallow Ground”) which has found its way to the screen... Who knows how many stories this man has or hasn’t printed to paper? I don’t; and if you do, let me know – I’m curious.

“Shallow Ground” is an incredibly enjoyable film – a film that uses the settings and nightmarish situations many of us have spent sleepless nights mulling over as children, and exploits them with focus and intimacy. “Shallow Ground” redefines the capabilities of a “shoestring budget” by eliciting – based on the strength of Wilson’s script alone – FAVORS from some VERY talented special effects artists. And these “favors,” blended seamlessly with the clever story and succinct direction, allow the film to progress, culminate and conclude as a perfect whole.

After curious and titillatingly conservative helpings of plot points, “Shallow Ground” delivers an ENDING that I found myself replaying several times; and this ending is surprising and wonderful and plainly scary in its jolting immediacy. The sudden shift in mood and intensity was purposeful but, in doing so, Sheldon Wilson drove me to purchase a copy of his film and to place his movie on this list.

You should see “Shallow Ground” if you haven’t already. And, in a way, this particular film’s concluding seconds are alone worth viewing the entirety.

"Shallow Ground" promotional poster
"Shallow Ground" promotional poster

6

"THE DESCENT"

2005 (UK)/2006 (USA)

Screenplay Written by Neil Marshall

Directed by Neil Marshall

UK


This film was widely praised by both the public and, for the most part, the professional critics; and for good reason. “The Descent” is a wonderfully paced, brilliantly filmed take on your standard ‘zombies attack’ movie. The meat of the film, so to speak, is dished up within the confines of a pitch-dark subterranean cave system. The cinematography is just perfect – the direction both clever and insistent in the furthering of the viewer’s sense of panicked, claustrophobic dread and hopelessness.

“The Descent” did win several awards including ‘Best Horror’ at the Empire Awards in the UK and the ‘Saturn Award’ for ‘Best Horror Film’ in 2007 from the ‘Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA.’ It was also praised as a notable “technical achievement” in both direction and editing, winning ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Technical Achievement’ [in editing] at the 2005 ‘British Independent Film Awards;’ and ‘Best Technical Achievement’ [in directing] at the 2006 ‘Evening Standard British Film Awards.’ The list does go on... Suffice it to say that “The Descent” is forcefully effective in establishing and maintaining its “mood.”

The ENDING was something I was worried about as I watched and thoroughly enjoyed this film... It would have been very simple to muck it all up with some sort of tidy resolution, but then I remembered I was watching a British film and I stopped being worried. I was not disappointed – I was elated... The ending of “The Descent” forces the audience to ask questions. “What does that mean?” or “Were there really any monsters at all?” or “How much of what we’ve just watched was intended to be perceived as the film’s reality?”. No answer is given, of course – nor should it have been – and the blood-encrusted frays at the end of this cinematic rope are what make “The Descent” such a worthwhile film.

"The Descent" promotional poster
"The Descent" promotional poster

5

"A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET"

1984

Screenplay Written by Wes Craven

Directed by Wes Craven

USA


Not much should be written about this film... It was quite good, as horror films go – clever and dark and frightening, with a villain as iconic as they come – and it started a franchise that, like many films of the same era, spawned sequel after sequel after tired, tired sequel; some better than others, of course. But, like most horror franchises, the strength of the first film goes unmatched by any of its direct offspring.

The ENDING to this film is a sort of ‘bittersweet’ horror film ending. Clearly, Craven’s intention was to open the floodgates and allow the sequels to churn and flow forth like the torrents of the Nile (bitter), but the execution was skillful and surprising, and the pouncing attack of the final visuals made for one of the most effective and startling endings in American horror (sweet).

It’s just a shame Wes’ hill ran steep and downward thereafter – although, “New Nightmare” and “The People Under the Stairs” -- as guilty pleasures go -- were enjoyable enough for me.

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" promotional poster
"A Nightmare on Elm Street" promotional poster

4

"NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD"

1968

Screenplay Written by John A. Russo and George A. Romero

Directed by George A. Romero

USA


Romero is infamous for his thought-provoking and thus effective injection of serious social commentary straight into the main arteries of his [zombie] films – beginning unforgettably with the groundbreaking “Night of the Living Dead;” and continuing artfully and skillfully throughout his phenomenal ‘living dead’ saga. “Night of the Living Dead” is really too good for words – the film itself, I think, should be viewed during a night as black as pitch, with a nerve-plucking wakefulness born of fear and paranoia: These days, of course, a set of requirements too demanding for our collectively desensitized population.

So it goes.

Nevertheless, the ENDING of this black-and-white masterwork is an electrifying and sobering comment on the nature of man. Duane Jones starred as ‘Ben,’ our hero, thereby being the first African American cast as a hero in any horror film. Naturally, I believe Romero was fully aware of the gravity of this bold and admirable decision. Jones was a former English professor and theater director for NYU; and his casting could not have been more appropriate, as it yielded a poignant and altogether stellar performance, rich in passion and haunting subtext. Ben’s fate is, in itself, the most effective moment in this film; and interpreting said fate should come easily to any open-minded viewer.

"Night of the Living Dead" promotional poster
"Night of the Living Dead" promotional poster

3

"PET SEMATARY"

1989

Screenplay Written by Stephen King

Based on the Novel by Stephen King

Directed by Mary Lambert

USA


"Pet Sematary is one of my all-time favorite horror films. It’s always fun to watch and reminds one continuously of the power of a solid, focused story.

Stephen King is indeed an extraordinary American [popular] author, as he has proved, time and time again that devotion to a certain craft – to the expectations within one’s artistic niche – can result in some truly fine works... Works that would become firmly rooted oaks, standing up imposingly from the questionable soil of America’s popular culture.

To adapt King’s stories for the screen has proven to be a repeatedly arduous challenge – even with King himself at the helm as screenwriter (see “Sleepwalkers” and “Maximum Overdrive”). But “Pet Sematary” wholly succeeded as both frightening, stylish and wrought with painful visuals.

The ENDING itself deserves special recognition as both cinematically creative and rawly disturbing. To end such a film in such a way is uncompromising and, therefore, perfect – evil stops at nothing and its fuels are the base desires of the average man.

Perhaps to some, “Pet Sematary” was a film to be avoided – dodged as another [presumably] ill-fated attempt to capture the signature atmosphere of King’s literary ventures... This precaution was and is a mistake. “Pet Sematary” is a jolting and truly haunting film.

NOTE: The misspelling of "cemetery" as "sematary" is a purposeful plot device, both in the film and the source novel.

"Pet Sematary" promotional poster
"Pet Sematary" promotional poster

2

"MARTYRS"

2008

Screenplay Written by Pascal Laugier

Directed by Pascal Laugier

France; Canada


“Martyrs” could be a difficult film for many to watch... There’s a lot of violence, there’s a lot of bloodletting and bludgeoning; there’s a monstrous villain created by an even more monstrous organization... Murder, malice, mayhem – revenge, remorse and classism stew acridly at the core of the story. Fists, Guns, razors, scissors, staples, knives and chains all join for a perverse torture session. This perversion, however, has a focus and a theme and a meaning that make each wince and every second of bloody, on-screen flesh-raking believable to the point of being profound. Then, following a test of your tolerance for violence, comes the ENDING...

“Martyrs” ends with one of the most spectacular makeup/costume effects achievements it has been my pleasure to behold in a long, long time. We learn the motivation behind the highly disturbing, systematic torture of our protagonist and the others before her; and to learn this motivation and the faces behind it is to see humanity at its most frightened and therefore most merciless and cruel.

When it comes to horror film conclusions, “Martyrs” is near the top of my list for a very, very good reason, and you should find out for yourself what that reason is – if you haven’t already. And make sure to watch the introduction recorded by the writer/director on the DVD release – it will prepare your palate like a subtle appetizer.

"Martyrs" promotional poster
"Martyrs" promotional poster

1

"LET THE RIGHT ONE IN"

2008 (Norway)/2009 (USA)

Screenplay Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Based on the Novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

Sweden


As a rule, I steer clear of vampire movies, television shows, novels, comics – vampire stories in general. The genre is tired and weak and often completely vapid (I would cite the Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt abortion, “Interview with the Vampire,” “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (film and TV show), “Angel,” “Queen of the Damned,” “Van Helsing,” HBO’s “True Blood,” the wretched novels-to-films debacle known as “Twilight,”) and I HATE it – for the most part. There are exceptions of course, but, in my opinion, no exception has EVER stood out as a modern triumph... Until I saw the Lindqvist/Alfredson effort from Sweden, “Let the Right One in.” This is a masterpiece of the medium, not just of the genre.

“Let the Right One in” is a brilliant work on the parts of everyone involved... The writer, the director, the actors, the special effects team. Everyone. And for that reason, the entire picture shines and envelops the viewer, drawing he or she into this touching, creative and skillfully violent story. A tormented and bullied twelve-year-old student named Oscar befriends an androgynous-yet-strangely attractive vampire named Eli (EE-LEE). Indeed Eli is a girl, as she attests to – a twelve-year-old girl, in fact; but the truth behind her existence becomes a revelation that will not only force Oscar to make decisions that are difficult, but, in a way, more suited for a young boy like him to make.

The ENDING not only reveals the effects of Oscar’s decision, as well as Eli’s nature as an emotional creature; but it also delivers a climax that is so startlingly new and so jaw-dropping in its depiction of a supremely violent answer to Oscar’s problems, that I found myself replaying it several times in a row. Certainly, the ENDING of “Let the Right One in” is a kind of resolution – albeit sudden and brilliant and utterly satisfying – it also leaves the most important emotional question unanswered. Because of those unique factors, “Let the Right One in” takes the top spot in my list of the Best Endings in Modern Horror Filmmaking.

- JS (Chemical Brains)
08.05.2009

"Let the Right One in" promotional poster (Sweden)
"Let the Right One in" promotional poster (Sweden)

Out of Curiosity...

How many of the above-listed films have you seen?

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Comments 5 comments

satomko profile image

satomko 7 years ago from Macon, GA

I agree with almost everything on the list even if I'm not sure about the order (I'd have Nigt of the Living Dead in one of the top 3 spots for sure). I also applaud your recognition of Silence of the Lambs as a horror movie, possibly the most critically successful horror film ever.


Chemical Brains profile image

Chemical Brains 7 years ago from Connecticut Author

Hey, thanks for the input, satomko. You know, 'Night of the Living Dead' happens to be one of my favorite films; and the ending is spectacular. I've always thought of 'Silence' as a horror movie, and only a horror movie. It's just a brilliantly executed horror movie. Just because the story is compelling doesn't strip a film of 'horror' status, right?


jbgunn profile image

jbgunn 7 years ago

Good write up. I loved the ending for Se7en and Pet Semetary. I absolutely love The Descent, but only the UK version, not the crappy U.S version (in regards to the ending).

I would nominate Blair Witch Project, Sleepaway Camp, and Carrie.


Chemical Brains profile image

Chemical Brains 7 years ago from Connecticut Author

Thanks for the compliment, jbgunn. I completely agree with you when it comes to "The Descent." The only problem is, I did not watch the US version and went immediately to the original director's cut... Since I was only told by a relatively unreliable source that the US ending was different and, during the director commentary on the unrated cut, no mention was made of the abortive US ending, I wrote without mention of it.

- CB


ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

I hated Seven. Brat pitt's character was an idiot, he should have shot the killer in the knee. Then the cripple could spend his life in prison. I loved let the right one in, I have my own idea's as to what EE-LEE was up to. Halloween & Nightmare had basically the same ending. I saw nothing special in either ending. Only a set up for a sequel. All together a pretty good hub.

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