The title of this top ten can be a bit misleading. Most horror movies, by nature, typically never end well. They almost always having some twist or "gotcha" moment at the end of the film to try to get one more scare in or lasting impression of dread.
Even some of the movies in this list by categorical standards may be stretching what a horror movie is, but I tend to believe that horror is something that would be a "horrible" situation to be in, after all that is where the namesake comes from that we classify it as.
That said, I tend to think movie makers are too scared to test audiences into a true sense of dread or understanding. For example, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is one of my favorite books of all time, with a delicious, surprising and depressing twist ending. When the Will Smith movie of I Am Legend was released in 2007, I immediately knew it wasn't going to be anything like the amazing book. A tale of the last man on earth trying to survive a newly inhabited world of vampires. Of course, I was right. The ending was absurdly stupid.
To my surprise however, the 2007 version of the movie was supposed to be more like the original ending of the book. As always however, the producers of the film thought that this ending was too "depressing" or audiences wouldn't get it. You can see the ending on the "extras" of the DVD. I was going to post it here, but Youtube pulled the video down. :(
I think Hollywood underestimates us trying to scale endings back so that movie goers are "happier" when they leave a theater. This list best exhibits directors and movie-makers who weren't afraid to go further and truly test its audience with some truly depressing and soul-crushing endings and show that those movies are great because of it.
I have a terrible fear of claustrophobia with caves. You can put me in a narrow closet or crowded elevator and I'll be fine, but something about inching your way through caverns of rocks terrifies me. My fear, I feel, is justified. Who wants to be buried by tons of boulders, impaled by a stalactite, or plummet down a black hole of the earth? No one, that's who.
The Decent, directed by Neil Marshall, the central focus is on main character Sarah, who's husband and daughter died in a car wreck where she is the only survivor. To help cope with the pain, a year later her friends convince her to go on this adventure to explore a fairly "routine" cave.
Sarah's friend, Juno, has convinced the group that they are going spelunking in the Boreham Caverns. While in the caves, the group decides to take a break for lunch. During the break, Juno tearfully apologizes for not staying in Scotland during Sarah's time of grief. They continue on and while crawling through a narrow chasm, Sarah gets caught, panics and the chasm manages to collapse blocking the group into the cave. Juno then admits during the tension that the group is in an unexplored cave, trapped, and people believe them to be at the Boreham Caverns, not in this undiscovered location, making rescue impossible.
By this story alone, we'd already have a pretty good, tense and scary movie. Nature versus mankind can always be a good antagonist and the struggles and egotism of others to try to overcome it can provide for a thrilling movie. However, the movie really comes in the stride as the group tries to navigate their way out of the cave, and comes upon blind, man-eating dwellers and Sarah finds out that Juno cheated with Sarah's husband prior to the accident.
Stuff goes bad, people start getting eaten and one of the best horror movie scenes of all time, in my opinion, happens in this film; when Sarah has to watch one of her friends get eaten alive in front of her.
Sarah in the chaos of when the creatures first attack, gets separated from the group and knocks herself unconscious. She wakes up a short time later , inside this seemingly endless cavern of bones. She is just about to move, when one of her friend's body is dropped from a hole in the ceiling, and the monsters swarm in after it, and tear her apart.
Sarah takes out the video camera with night vision that they were using to film the cave and tapes them doing it. The sight of what they're doing makes her sick, and she starts to throw up, when a the monsters turn and looks right at her. She notices they are blind and has to sit in silent horror as they continue ripping her friend apart.
The American ending of the film, sadly follows the above I Am Legend trope of censoring a "happier" ending for the audience. In that version, Sarah manages to be the only one to find her way out of the cave and escape the horrors. It's actually done very well as the scene when she breaks out of the cave and gasp for air while freaking out and screaming is very impacting and emotional after all the hell she has experienced. She makes her way back to the car they came to the cave in and while driving away, she pulls over and vomits. When she leans back into the car, she is startled by the ghost of Juno sitting in the passenger seat. Cut to credits.
The British ending however, is delightfully morbid. Taking the same cues from the American ending, when the camera shoes Juno in the passenger seat, instead of cutting to the credits, the scene shows Sarah awake from a dream still at the bottom of the cave. The voices of the creatures can be heard coming closer to her and are increasing in number as they close in, the movie cuts to credits. Just to recollect, Sarah's husband and daughter die at the beginning of the movie, her friends all die and she watches one get eaten in front of her, she finds out her friend Juno cheated with Sarah's husband, and she waits at the bottom of the cave, only to be certainly eaten? The British are mean, but without the American ending, I guess we wouldn't have the direct-to-home sequel would we? The Descent British ending.
Jacob's Ladder, is a great movie about schisms. The duality of reality that Jacob Singer has to go through between his happy life with his family and the hallucinations with suffering of cheating with another women and seeing crazy images makes for a truly cerebral horror movie.
It has inspired several other mediums. Video games such as the Silent Hill franchise and Twisted Metal: Black reference it. In music, bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, Nevermore, UNKLE, Therapy, VNV Nation's and probably tons more. Rightfully so that it has inspired very dark and violent video games and metal music; the imagery in the movie is messed-up. Seriously, watch this video, and see what I mean.
Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a U.S. soldier in the Vietnam War. Jacob's unit comes under heavy fire and while under attack, his unit begins to go nuts for no apparent reason. Jacob attempts to escape the unexplained insanity, only to be stabbed with a bayonet by an unseen attacker. The film then shifts back to modern day 1975 where Jacob is working as a mailman in Brooklyn dating a woman named Jezzie. It is also revealed that prior to the war, his son Gabe and wife Sarah died. As his new life after the war and as a mailman begins, he starts having two kinds of hallucinations; the good kind and the really bad kind.
After having good and bad hallucinations on and off some that consist of having sex with a demon, being run down by a car with demons in it, having a super hot "hellish" fever that's killing him, and being wheeled through the worst hospital ever, you are lead to believe that Jacob is a victim of experimental drug called the "Ladder" that was used on his squad which is making him have the hallucinations.
The truth however, is in the film's title. Referring to the biblical story of Jacob's Ladder, or the dream of a meeting place between Heaven and Earth (Genesis 28:12), it's fairly apparent early on that Jacob's hallucinations are of heaven and hell, and Jacob is actually dead and stuck in a purgatory type state. It turns out the "Ladder" drug was named for its ability to cause "a fast trip straight down the ladder, right to the primal fear, right to the base anger."
As such, his entire squad was exposed to the drug and actually killed each other, ripping each other apart. Jacob never made it out of Vietnam to the mail room/Jezzie relationship; the entire movie was his dying hallucination. Before the film credits, an on-screen title card states that reports of BZ testing by the U.S. Army on its soldiers during the Vietnam War were denied by the Pentagon.
Interesting fact, the film's director Adrian Lyne used a famous body horror technique in which an actor is recorded waving his head around at a low frame rate (the part in the creepy hospital with the guy who's head goes all crazy with no legs), resulting in horrific fast motion when played back. In a Special Edition's commentary track, Lyne said he was inspired by the art of the painter Francis Bacon when developing the effect.
I might get a little flack over considering Seven a horror movie, I mean it has a serial killer in it, horrible things happen, but it's really a thriller/cop drama. I remember however, in an interview with Rob Zombie, he was asked what his favorite "modern" horror movie was and he easily pointed to Seven. I also watched this movie when I was 11 in theaters (I have great parents) and shortly after my dog died, so it sticks out a bit more in my memory.
The plot is fairly simple: David Mills (Pitt) and William Somerset (Freeman) are police detectives working in a undisclosed crime-ridden city. Mills is a new recruit and eager to prove himself and get promoted and Somerset is about to retire and worn-out on the evils of the city. Both however become deeply involved in the case of a sadistic serial killer who meticulously plans murders based off the seven deadly sins of Christianity: gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, pride, envy, and wrath.
As it turns out, Mills has moved to this horrible city so that he can move up fast in his career. His ambitions are so high, that he doesn't pay a lot of attention to his wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), or notice that she hates the city and is pregnant. During a dinner where they invite Somerset over, she tells him that she is pregnant, but when Somerset presses why she hasn't told her husband, she tells him she is undecided on keeping the baby and fears raising it in the city. This key bit of info plays out big in the depressing ending.
Anyway let's go through the kills that lead to such an awesome movie:
Gluttony: The one that kicks off the whole case. Mills and Somerset find this victim is tied to a chair and forced to eat himself to death, although Somerset concludes it was probably a kick to his side that split his stomach that probably finished him off.
Greed: the victim is a lawyer that was forced to cut away a pound of flesh in payment for the greed he has shown in his career.
Sloth: Mills and Somerset find a drug dealer who has been strapped to a bed for a year in a chemically induced coma. There are several air fresheners around to prevent the smell, and the body is stick and bones. Upon think the body is actually dead, it turns out the body is alive and has been strapped to the bed they find it at a year ago to the day. The man dies of shock after coming out of the coma.
Lust: Mills and Somerset find the victim, a prostitute who was stabbed repeatedly in the v-jay by a "client" wearing a bladed S&M device. The client claims he was forced by the killer to do so at gun point.
Pride: A young model whose face had been mutilated by the killer, yet he does not kill her. Instead he gives her the ability to live with a disfigured face or pills to kill herself. She chooses the pills over living with a messed-up grill.
After returning to the station from the "pride" murder, the killer, John Doe (Kevin Spacey) unexpectedly appears to them and offers himself for arrest, with the blood on his hands. They find out that he has been cutting the skin off his fingers to avoid leaving fingerprints.
Doe convinces Mills with a reluctant Somerset to take a bargain where Doe will lead the two detectives to the last two bodies (envy and wrath) and confess to the crimes, or otherwise will plead insanity.
Doe directs the two detectives to a remote desert area far from the city; along the way, he claims that God told him to punish the wicked and reveal the world for the awful place that it is while explaining each murder.
All three arrive and a delivery van approaches. Somerset intercepts the driver, leaving Mills and Doe alone. The driver hands over a package to Somerset. While Mills holds Doe at gunpoint, Doe mentions how much he admires him, but does not say why. Somerset opens the package and recoils in horror at the sight of the contents.
Somerset races back to warn Mills not to listen to Doe and that he has the upper hand. Doe reveals that the box contains Tracy's (Mills's wife) head. Doe claims that his sin is "Envy"; he was jealous of Mills' normal life, and killed Tracy after Mills failing to realize what good of a life he had and putting his career before his wife. He then reveals to Mills that she was pregnant and to Doe's delight, finds out that Mills didn't know.
In a heated exchange, Somerset begs and pleads with Mills to not do anything, as this is what Doe wants, but is unable. Mills turns and shoots Doe in the head and several more times thereafter on the ground. Thus fulfilling "wrath."
This is definitely a "love it or hate it" film, no doubt about it. The entire movie is pretty much a big middle finger to any joy you might have inside of you. Directed and written by Michael Haneke, he did both the original Austrian version and American remake, with the only differences being language and location only. Everything else as far as story goes is the same, so choose your poison; it will certainly feel like you've drank some watching this film.
The depressing nature of this film seems like maybe Haneke's point about blending realism and fantasy wasn't getting across. Haneke states that the entire film was not intended to be a horror film. He says he wanted to make a message about violence in the media by making an incredibly violent, but otherwise pointless movie. Maybe it's because the actors are really convincing at the terror going on in this film, but what you get is really nothing short of a torture-porn film without all the gore.
The plot of the film involves two young men, Peter and Paul, who hold a wealthy family hostage, Anna, George and their son Georgie, and torture them with sadistic games.
The film tries to convey it's "lighter" message by breaking the fourth wall several times with one of the villains, Paul. He winks and smirks to the camera, asks the audience if they think the family will live through the night, and even rewinds the movie after his partner, Peter, is killed by one of the family members trying to escape. Peter then picks up a remote, rewinds the scene--the scene actually goes in reverse motion--then states, "that isn't how this story ends."
long as I keep winking at the camera, it's not depressing, right?!"
This movie has a few climaxes. The first and most gut-wrenching comes from a scene where Georgie manages to escape the house. In doing so, he goes to a neighbors house only to find out that family, including their little girl that was his friend, has also been killed. In the house, he finds a double-barrel shotgun and grabs it. Paul, chases after Georgie into the house and Georgie takes the gun and tries to shoot Paul with it, only to find out it's not loaded.
Paul gets upset at Peter for killing Georgie because he has ruined the suspense of the film if the kid is going to survive or not for the audience. Because of this, the killers leave the house with Anna and Georg alive and still tied up. In a moment of Last House on the Left, the movie leads you to believe that the parents will escape and or get revenge leaving you with some happiness even after the death of their son. Hell, the remake of Last House on the Left didn't even have the girl die because that's just how audiences these days are tuned, everyone wants a happy ending. Remember the rewind scene from above that I mentioned? Yeah...
The killers come back only to recapture Anna who tried to escape and give her the option of who dies first, her or George and how that end comes. Well after a game of reciting a prayer perfectly, Anna gets to choose, instead reaching for the shotgun and shooting Peter. That's when Paul rewinds the movie and when Anna reaches out for the gun the second time after the rewind, he grabs the gun from her hand. They shoot and kill George.
After being emotional and physically defeated, they decide to take Anna out on a small sailing boat, while she is still bound and gagged. There is a glimmer of hope for her, as she finds a small knife on the boat to try to cut herself loose. The killers notice her attempt and laugh catching her. They casually throw her overboard still bound and gagged, and dock at another nearby house starting the cycle over with a new family.
The movie isn't gory at all and you never see the violence. Haneke deliberately avoided showing those depictions, and the movie is supposed to show that the good guys don't always win like the movies show us, and that reality is really harsh sometimes and very depressing.
I must be thorough in saying this post is entirely in reference to the 1973 version, not the 2006 version starring Nicholas Cage. That version is a campy clusterfuck of a movie where Nicholas Cage punches everyone. No, the original weaves a horrific tale of an investigation on a small European town with heavy paganism that's a delicious treat.
The story centers on Police Sergeant Neil Howie receiving and anonymous letter to find a missing girl on the isolated island of Summerisle. The girl has been missing for a number of months and her mother is not really searching for her. Due to the island's isolation it is unlikely she could have left by herself, or abducted.
Howie is devout and celibate Christian, meaning he is still a virgin, though he plans to marry soon. He travels by seaplane to the remote island and upon investigation of the missing girl, learns that no one knows who she is, has ever heard of her, or is willing to talk about her.
During the investigation, Howie becomes upset that the society of the island worships the old pagan, Celtic gods of their ancestors and the people of the island sex-it-up openly in the fields, teach their children in school the phallic importance of the maypole, toads are placed in the mouth to cure whooping cough, and the island has no Christian ministers or priests. Its church and graveyards have long been desecrated and are now used for the idiosyncratic burial rituals of the locals, who believe in re-incarnation.
Howie continues his investigation, but encounters difficulty in extracting information from the islanders about the girl, who claim never to have heard of her, and even her "supposed" mother insists does not exist. He eventually finds a gravestone bearing the girls name on it. This puts Howie in contact with Laird.
Upon meeting Laird, Howie is introduced Lord Summerisle and learns of the island's history that they became fruit farmers and worshiped pagan and nature gods so that they would have good crops. As the crops came in, the people of the island began to denounce the Christian God and the clergy on the island driven away.
Howie learns the island decrees that the Christian god is "dead". This outrages him and, Howie demands permission to dig up the grave where the little girl's tombstone is. Howie believes that such a religious community is incapable of murder, and upon digging up the grave reveals only the body of a hare. He angrily confronts Summerisle once more, declaring that he believes that the girl was murdered as part of a pagan sacrifice and that he intends to bring the full weight of the law upon the inhabitants of the island.
Upon trying to find justice for the "supposed" murdered little girl against Summerisle, things begin to unravel against Howie's good intentions. Breaking into the local chemist's shop, Howie discovers a negative photo of the previous years harvest, with the little girl he is searching for, in front of a pathetic group of fruit boxes. Thus indicating that last year's harvest was a poor one and that the crops—the island's only means of income—had failed.
Howie draws the conclusion that the island is trying to appease to the "old gods" for the bad harvest, and the that little girl is indeed alive and that they may be sacrificing her to appease those gods so that the island's upcoming harvest will be plentiful.
He tries to leave the island to get more officials to come to the island to make and arrest and prior to his departure is even seduced by one of the women on the island, but keeping to his faith and honesty, avoids the temptation, which sadly will cost him is life.
His plane is sabotaged and he us unable to leave. He doesn't allow this to interrupt his investigation and begins to try to find the little girl himself. He finally finds her during a festival as she is tied up ready to be burned at the stake.
Howie manages to cut her down and runs with her through a narrow cave, only to be stopped by a large mob of islanders. The little girl who was acting afraid and scared at the stake, embraces the islanders leaving Howie confused. They began to surround him and capture him.
Lord Summerisle explains to Howie that, he was specifically chosen and lured to Summerisle because a sacrifice needed to be made to their Sun god for a good crop harvest. Lord Summerisle explains that, "animals are fine, but their acceptability is limited. A young child is even better, but not nearly as effective as the right kind of adult."
Howie's devout Christian lifestyle and career as a policeman mean that he meets the outstanding criteria for a human sacrifice in that he has come of his own free will, has the power of a king and he is a virgin. He cries out while the villagers tie him up and put ceremonial garbs on him that the crops failed because fruit was not meant to grow on these islands and that next year the sacrifice of Lord Summerisle himself will be called.
The villagers lead Howie to the summit of a cliff where he horrifyingly sees a giant, hollow wicker man statue. He is then locked inside and the statue set afire. The islanders surround the burning wicker man and sing the Middle English folk-song "Sumer Is Icumen In." Howie curses them in the name of God. The film ends, with a righteous man who only wanted to do well and find a missing girl, with the burning head of the wicker man falling from its shoulders and the sun setting in a crimson sky.
One of the most controversial films of all time, this 1975 Italian drama film written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini is truly soul crushing. Some may argue is it really "horror?" Remember, I classify it as being put in a situation that is truly horrible or horrific, and it doesn't get much worse that this movie.
Based on the book The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, the movie depicts insanely graphic scenes of violence, sadism and sex. Because of its graphic portrayals of rape, torture, and murder—mainly of people thought to be younger than eighteen years of age—remains banned in several countries to this day.
What's more depressing than the actual movie, the film was Pasolini's last film, as he was murdered shortly before Salò was released. That's some Twilight Zone shit there.
The film focuses on four wealthy, corrupted fascist libertines after the fall of Benito Mussolini's Italy in 1944. These aristocrats decide with their enormous wealth that worldly possession bore them and pay to have a total of eighteen teenage boys and girls kidnapped and take them to a private mansion in Marzabotto. They then due some extreme shit to them, and by that I mean they make the kids eat their shit and the aristocrats themselves eat their own shit. It's nuts.
For four months the kids endure extreme violence, sadism, sexual and mental torture. The film is said to explore the themes of political corruption, abuse of power, sadism, perversion, sexuality, and fascism. I'm not sure this comes off too well today. By modern standards this movie is the epitome of torture porn. And you'd think, that after watching this two hour gut-wrenching movie, one of the kids would make it out alive, or survive, or something happy would happen? Nope.
Some of the kids get killed off early for having affairs for one another, or getting close to one another for comfort (I mean, being with each other was the only happiness they had). The end of the film, the remaining victims are murdered. Prior to being murdered, each aristocrat takes a survivor and tortures them mercilessly by scalping, branding, and cutting their tongues and eyes out.
The final scene of the film shows two young soldiers, who had witnessed and collaborated in all of the prior atrocities, dancing and listening to merry music, completely ignoring the teens being murdered outside. This is supposed to be a metaphor for man's indifference to other men's suffering. To me it's like a battering ram to joy.
Part of the new era of French horror films, Inside is an insanely violent home-invasion horror film. Now, I normally hate home-invasion movies especially in horror.
The reason is, I find it very hard to believe that the intruder knows their way around the owners house better than them and can prolong that into a long game of cat-and-mouse. The only film I think successfully does home invasion is actually Home Alone, and that's because the intruders are put into traps over and over again and don't know the house better! In fact more horror movies could learn from Home Alone in my opinion.
The film has a pretty simple premise Expectant mother Sarah, gets in a car wreck. In the car with her is her husband who does not survive the accident. She does as does the baby in utero. Months later on Christmas Eve, Sarah is making final preparations for her delivery the following but is still very upset and depressed at her husband's death, and alone at home (or should I say home alone, zing!) wanting no company.
That evening, a mysterious woman arrives at Sarah's door asking to use the telephone to call for help. Sarah lies that her husband is sleeping and she does not want to be disturbed, but the woman tells her that she knows her husband is dead. When the visitor persists on coming in, Sarah, a professional photographer, attempts to take her photo through a window and telephones the police.
The police arrive but cannot find the woman. Assuring Sarah that she will be fine, they arrange to have a patrol car visit throughout the night.Upon developing her photos, Sarah recognizes the woman in the background of an earlier photo that Sarah had taken, indicating that the woman has been stalking Sarah. She sends the photo to a friend where she works to see if they could enhance the photo and bring it to her.
Sarah decides to go to bed. As she closes her eye and drifts to sleep, the woman hovers above Sarah in the bedroom and punctures her stomach with scissors. Sarah fights the visitor off and locks herself in the bathroom, where the woman tries to gain entry screaming that she plans to steal Sarah's child.
Sarah and prevented her from getting stabbed in the gut with scissors.
Seriously, Home Alone has it all covered.
Sarah's employer arrives at the house and shortly her mother shows up as well, both unaware that Sarah has locked herself in the bathroom with a scissor wielding maniac in the house. As Sarah's mother nears the bathroom, Sarah thinking it's the woman wanting to steal her child, furiously attacks and kills her mother with a shard of glass. Meanwhile her employer is stabbed to death with the scissors by the mysterious woman. The police arrive to check up on Sarah and seeing the dead body of her employer and mother try to stop the attacker, but they too get killed in a pretty gruesome fashion by the deadliest scissors on the face of the planet.
Finally, the lady with scissors begins to break down the door to the bathroom and a confrontation ensues between Sarah and the woman, with both of them injuring each other. Sarah manages to burn off half the woman's face with an aerosol container and cigarette. The woman flees, and upon being cornered by Sarah, reveals that she was in the other car and she too was pregnant, only the accident resulted in her having a miscarriage.
The two are interrupted by the revival of one of the police officers; who in his delusion attacks Sarah instead of the other woman. He brutally beats Sarah with his club, and the woman comes to Sarah's aid and kills the officer. The attack forces Sarah into labor, but the baby is stuck. Desperate to save the child, the woman takes her scissors and performs a Caesarian section on Sarah, splitting her completely open and left to die on the stairs drenched in blood. The woman takes the baby to a rocking chair and sits comforting it.
I'm going to be hyperbolic with Martyrs, because I love this film. A 2008 French-Canadian horror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier, is insanely violent and insanely depressing, yet original and considered along with Inside part of the new era of French horror films. I'm a little sad that the same company who produced the Twilight (yes the glittering vampire one) films is planning on releasing a U.S. remake.
This is going to be a tough one to describe especially for those who haven't seen it. If you haven't, I highly suggest you get a copy of the French version with subtitles, otherwise someone has posted the entire movie in segments on Youtube with the awful English voice-over on it. Either way, it's still worth watching.
The film begins with Lucie as a young girl, escaping from a abandoned warehouse where she imprisoned and physically abused for a lengthy period of time. Lucie is placed in an orphanage, where she is befriended by a young girl named Anna. Anna soon discovers that Lucie believes that she is attacked by a horrible, disfigured, ghoulish woman covered in scars.
Fifteen years later, Lucie bursts into a normal family's home and starts blasting the family with a shotgun. She kills the father, the mother and even the son and daughter with almost no remorse. Afterwards, Lucie calls Anna to tell her that she has finally found and killed the people responsible for her childhood abuse and requests her help in burying the bodies, but is then attacked by the emancipated woman again.
Anna comes to the house and is horrified at the carnage, and worries that Lucie may have murdered the wrong people. Anna, while trying to bury the bodies in the backyard, discovers the mother is still alive and Anna tries to help her escape, but Lucie finds out and bashes the mother to death. The scarred creature returns again shortly thereafter attacking Lucie, except this time Anna sees that it is Lucie attacking herself and the scarred woman is nothing more than a psychological manifestation of Lucie's guilt for leaving behind another girl who was also imprisoned and tortured with her as a child. Lucie pleads with the scarred woman to stop attacking her as she has killed the ones responsible for torturing them as children, but it has no effect. Lucie finally realizes that her insanity will never leave her and slits her throat.
This is where the movie gets really weird. After Lucie slits her throat, Anna tries to clean the house to take her mind off her best friend's death, and discovers a secret underground chamber. Imprisoned within is a horribly tortured woman, covered in scars with a strange metal contraption nailed to her head. While Anna attempts to care for her and clean her wounds, a group of men in suits arrive and shoot the woman dead.
The armed-men then capture Anna and take her to meet their leader, an elderly lady named Mademoiselle. She explains that she belongs to a secret society seeking to discover the secrets of the afterlife through the creation of "martyrs". The only way to discover these secrets to the afterlife is to inflict extreme amounts torture and pain upon young women in the belief that their suffering will result in transcending them into communicating with the world beyond ours. So far, all of their attempts have failed as non of the woman have reached the euphoric state only to die. Anna then becomes their latest subject to be imprisoned and tortured. Really, this is the stuff only rich people are crazy enough to do because what else are they going to spend their money on?
hairless cat and putting a sweater on it.
Anna becomes the new victim to their torture. She is beaten and degraded over and over again. Anna hallucinates a conversation with Lucie, who tells her to "let go" so she won't be afraid any more. Soon after, Anna is told she has progressed further than any other test subject, and has reached the "final stage" and will suffer no more. Anna is taken to a surgeon and is flayed alive. Yes, they strip her completely of her flesh.
Anna survives the procedure, and achieves the euphoric state that the rich-people society have been searching for and has communicated with the other side. Mademoiselle arrives, eager to speak to Anna about her experience. Anna turns to her and whispers into her ear.
After Anna whispers to Mademoiselle, the members of the society begin gathering at the house to learn what Anna has shared with Mademoiselle. A member of the society speaks to all the other members hyping them up and says he is going to go get Mademoiselle who we are lead is preparing herself in the bathroom to speak. He comes up to her door to speak with her asks if what Anna said was clear and precise. Mademoiselle replies that there is, "no room for interpretation", and asks him if he could imagine what comes after death. He says no, she tells him to "keep doubting" and places a pistol in her mouth and shoots herself. After, the words "martyr" appear stating it is Greek for "witness".
Leaving us to believe when you found out what comes after death, it's worth killing yourself. Yay!
At the time, it was not typical for an African-American man to be the hero of a film. In fact, most of the cast was composed of mostly white people, and giving typical movie "standard" the black guy always has to die early on right? So this ending is pretty bittersweet in the context of the "time" the movie came out as well. Romero said it was completely coincidental and that that Duane Jones "simply gave the best audition."
That doesn't make this ending any less impacting or depressing. It's funny to consider Night of the Living Dead such a "revolutionary" movie considering it was a blatant rip-off I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Romero even said himself he was really trying to just make a film version of that story with different characters.
"I thought I Am Legend was about revolution. I said if you're going to do something about revolution, you should start at the beginning. I mean, Richard starts his book with one man left; everybody in the world has become a vampire. I said we got to start at the beginning and tweak it up a little bit. I couldn't use vampires because he did, so I wanted something that would be an earth-shaking change. Something that was forever, something that was really at the heart of it. I said, so what if the dead stop staying dead? ... And the stories are about how people respond or fail to respond to this. That's really all [the zombies] ever represented to me. In Richard's book, in the original I Am Legend, that's what I thought that book was about. There's this global change and there's one guy holding out saying, wait a minute, I'm still a human. He's wrong. Go ahead. Join them. You'll live forever! In a certain sense he's wrong but on the other hand, you've got to respect him for taking that position." -- George RomeroSiblings Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) drive to visit their father's grave. When Barbra is announces her fear of ghost Johnny teasingly frightens her with, "They're coming to get you, Barbara!", soon they are attacked by a zombie (Bill Hinzman).Johnny tries to rescue his sister, but is then presumably killed when the man shoves him head first onto a tombstone.
Barbara flees, to a nearby farmhouse where she discovers the half-eaten corpse. Running out of the house, she notices several undead figures approaching the house. A man named Ben (Duane Jones) arrives in a pickup truck, drags Barbra back into the house, and barricades the doors and windows. Barbara insists that they must rescue Johnny, she hysterically slaps Ben, he slaps her back and she collapses in shock.
As Ben searches the house with Barbara still unconscious from the hit he finds in the cellar a married couple, Harry (Karl Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman), their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), and teenage couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley). Harry asks everyone to hide in the cellar, but Ben deems it a "deathtrap" and remains upstairs. Tom agrees with Ben and asks Judy to come upstairs. Listening to the radio, reporters say that mass murder is consuming the East Coast of the US. Ben turns on the TV to show that the dead have reanimated and are consuming the flesh of the living.
Harry returns to the cellar to Helen and Karen, are ill after being bitten. Ben hears of a local refuge that might have medical supplies to help Helen and Karen, but after the zombies attack him at a gas station destroying his truck, killing Tom and Judy in the explosion, he is forced to run back to the house with more zombies following him and surrounding the house.
Ben returns to the house with the ghouls after him to find Harry has locked the house and in the cellar. Ben outside with the zombies gets angry and manages to break into the house and attacks Harry. Meanwhile a report on the television reveals that, aside from lighting dead bodies on fire, a gunshot or heavy blow to the head will stop any zombie and that groups of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order.
The ghouls attempt to break into the house and Harry more concerned with Ben, grabs a rifle to shoot him but shoots himself instead. Zombies manage to pull Helen and Barbra through the windows, while Harry retreats wounded to the cellar to find that his daughter Karen has died of the infection on her arm. Helen manages to break free of the zombies and goes to the cellar and to her horror, sees a reanimated Karen consuming Harry's flesh. Karen starts to walk slowly towards Helen where she is forced to stab Karen to death.
Finally the movie gives you a break. With everyone of the survivors either consumed by the horde of zombies or killed by one another, the movie leaves you thinking that Ben will be the sole survivor and seals himself in the cellar. The next morning, Ben awakens as a posse arrives; but is killed when a member of the posse, mistaking him for a ghoul, fatally shoots him in the head and declares "that's another one for the fire." Ben's body is then placed onto a burning pyre along with other dead bodies.
This is a zombie movie by all traditional standards, except replace zombies with intergalactic monsters. The reason I categorize it as more a "zombie" movie is it has all the caveats of being one: survival, being holed up in a building, the biggest threat being each other not the actual monsters.
This movie gets the number one spot because the ending is so deliciously depressing and good that Stephen King (to which the movie is based off one of his short stories) said that he wished he came up with the ending that Frank Darabont gave to film. It is that good.
The morning after a violent thunderstorm, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his wife Stephanie (Kelly Collins Lintz) witness an unusual mist outside their lakeside home. The aftermath of the storm has destroyed a lot of property and David and his son decide to go to a local store to get supplies to fix up some damage while his wife stays home. Most of the community has lost power and police activity has increased heavily, and the fog has only grown thicker. A man runs into the store with a bloody nose warning of something dangerous in the oncoming mist.
The mist covers the parking lot and they hear the scream of a man who ventures outside into it. Everyone in the store decides it is best to seal themselves inside until it clears. The building is soon shaken by violent tremors, visibility reduces to nothing, and the customers grow more and more nervous about the fate of the screaming man, as they take refuge in the grocery store afraid to leave. One man walks out into the mist only to be sucked in and screams. He doesn't return.
Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), an insane religious fanatic suspects this is the beginning of Armageddon. Another woman in the store, begins to panic and exclaims that she has two young children at home alone that she must get back to them. She begs and pleads to others for help to join her, but she leaves alone walking slowly into the mist. This is the biggest queue for the amazing ending.
Tensions grow tighter in the store as half the group starts to side with Mrs. Carmody that this is indeed a sign of the rapture. The other half side with David that there is a rational reason for everything happening. Eventually, we get--in good old zombie style fashion--human versus human conflicts in the store as everyone begins to have different ideas and plans for what to do. One man bravely decides to venture into the mist to retrieve a shotgun from a car in the parking lot to protect themselves against anything that tries to come to the store. With a rope tied around his waist and other members of the grocery store holding on to him, the rope tightens as he walks into the mist. Suddenly, it goes completely slack and those holding on pull it back only to reveal the upper half of the mans body has been torn off and only his lower torso returns.
New creatures appear as night approaches attacking the store due to the lights (which have been activated by a generator). Enormous flying insects with pterodactyl-like animals attack and kill several people and one flies to Mrs. Carmody and instead of giving her a fatal sting, flies away. She claims this validates that the apocalypse is happening and she easily converts more followers among the distraught people, believing that the world is ending and a human sacrifice is needed to save them from the wrath of God.
Meanwhile, David and a group of volunteers try to retrieve medical supplies for the severely burned Joe from the pharmacy next door, but are attacked by spider-like creatures. The spiders kill several that went to the pharmacy. The failed trip leads more to follow Carmody.
Soon the group learns from Private Jessup, who has been trapped in the store with them, that the US government was working on something called the Arrowhead Project. The project was an attempt to look into other dimensions and the mist is likely a result of the project working and pulling in creature from another dimension. He speculate that they have liken taken over the city and possibly able to conquer the world. Carmody's commands that Private Jessup becomes a human sacrifice and is stabbed three times before he is thrown outside. Jessup pleads to be let in, but he is killed.
The next morning, after Private Jessup's sacrifice, David and his group decide to leave the store, but are intercepted by Mrs. Carmody, who decides that David's whole group should be sacrificed as well, but a member of David's group manages to shoot Mrs. Carmody, stopping her followers in their tracks and allowing David's group to leave.
On the way out of the store, only a few members of David's group make it to the car they are planning on using alive, including his son. One of the members killed in the scuffle to get the car had a gun with four remaining bullets that David gets before they drive off.
Driving through the mist, David returns home to find it destroyed and his wife Stephanie dead. Heartbroken, he drives the group south, witnessing the destruction left in the wake of the mist. As David continues to drive on, the group encounters a giant beast towering hundreds of feet tall.
Eventually, they run out of gas and pull over to the side of the road, disheartened that they hadn't seen any other survivors. While David's son is sleeping, the four adults discuss their fate, deciding that there is no point in going any further. With four bullets left in the gun and five people in the car, David shoots the three adults and his son to spare them violent death by the creatures.
Distraught and determined to die, David exits the vehicle, ready to be attacked by whatever is in the mist. A loud approaching noise turns out to be a self-propelled artillery vehicle, followed by a squad of soldiers equipped with hazmat suits and flamethrowers. As the mist clears, several trucks, filled with soldiers and survivors, pass David. Among the survivors is the woman from the supermarket that no one would help, and her two young children. Realizing that they were that close to rescue and that he killed his own son, a distraught David falls to his knees, screaming, while two soldiers look on in confusion.
The book ends with the group just driving in the car to an uncertain world. So you decide which is the better ending, but no doubt the struggle the group goes through and the gut-punch Darabont pulls with the theatrical release is amazingly depressing.
Honorable Mentions: The Road (2009), A Serbian Film (2010)
Both of these films are quite depressing. I had a real close call on The Road, mainly because the movie is 95% depressing and has a "slightly" happy ending, even if everyone and everything dies pretty much throughout the movie and has a terrifying scene with cannibals. But, the ending does have a bit of a ray of sunshine in it. A Serbian Film, is thoroughly depressing and is trying to have a similar theme to Salo, as it's a film depicting horrible visions of rape and violence as a metaphor for 100 years of suffering that the Serbian government has done to its own people. I think A Serbian Film fails at doing as good a job as Salo however, and I think the ridiculousness of that film doesn’t get you emotionally attached to be depressed because it’s not a very good film.